Saturday, July 07, 2018

FIFA World Cup Photos & Faces

UPDATE: France wins the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, defeating Croatia 4-2 on an own goal by Croatia's Mario Mandzukic (18') , a penalty kick by Antonine Griezmann (38'), and two beautiful goals by Paul Pogba (59') and Kylian Mbappé (65'). Croatia's goals were by Ivan Perisic (28') and Mandzukic (69'), who leapt on a major snafu by France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Croatia dominated the game from start to finish, but France pounced on several chances it got, making the champions and giving fans a glimpse of the immense talent they had this year, and will have for a few more World Cups to come.

In past years I've provided some imagery to illustrate the World Cup and other major sports competitions (rugby!), so here are a few more photos from the matches. Enjoy!

Dylan Bronn (TUN) trapping the
ball while facing Dele Alli (ENG),
Group G match, Volgograd, June 18, 2018
(Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Europe)
England's players (Lingard, Maguire, Sterling,
Alli, Trippier, Kane) walk out for second half
vs. Sweden, July 7, 2018, in Samara
(Alex Morton/Getty Images Europe)
Midfield Kylian Mbappé before France's
game with Uruguay, July 6, 2018
(Getty Images)
Samuel Umtiti (FRA) battling Paolo Guerrero (PER)
for the ball, June 21, 2018
(Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images Europe)
Nacer Chadli (BEL) tries to control the ball
while facing off against Gabriel Jesus (BRA),
July 6, 2018, in Kazan (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Europe)
Brazilian players showing dejection after Belgium
goes up 1-0 off Fernandinho's own goal
(l-r Gabriel Jesus, Alisson, Thiago Silva, Fernandinho,
Marcelo, Miranda, Paulinho, Willian), July 6, 2018,
Kazan (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Europe)
Nigeria's Bryan Idowu, John Obi Mikel and
Oghenekaro Etebo rush to protect the goal
against Argentinian supestar Lionel Messi
in Nigeria's Group D match against Argentina
in Saint Petersburg, June 26, 2018
(Francois Nel/Getty World Images)
Philippe Coutinho (BRA), on the right, races
to keep Romelu Lukaku (BEL) from controlling
the ball, July 6, 2018, in Kazan
(Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe) 
Belgian star Romelu Lukaku embraces French former
World Cup champion player and superstar Thierry
Henry, Belgium's assistant coach, after defeating
Brazil in Kazan, July 6, 2018
(Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Europe)
Bryan Idowu (left) and Alex Iwobi (middle) of Nigeria
try to keep Croatia's Luka Modric from reaching the ball
in the Group D match between Nigeria and Croatia,
Kaliningrad, June 16, 2018 (Francois Nel/Getty Images Europe)
Hector Herrara, Jonathan Dos Santos and Hirving Lozano
after their loss to Brazil, July 2, 2018, Samara
(Matthias Hangston/Getty Images Europe)


Cristiano Ronaldo reacting during Portugal's match
against Uruguay, June 30, 2018, in Sochi
(Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe)

Friday, July 06, 2018

2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

UPDATE 2 France wins the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, defeating Croatia 4-2 on an own goal by Croatia's Mario Mandzukic (18') , a penalty kick by Antonine Griezmann (38')and two beautiful goals by Paul Pogba (59') and Kylian Mbappé (65'). Croatia's goals were by Ivan Perisic (28') and Mandzukic (69'), who leapt on a major snafu by France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Croatia dominated the game from start to finish, but France pounced on several chances it got, making the champions and giving fans a glimpse of the immense talent they had this year, and will have for a few more World Cups to come.

UPDATE: England won their match against Sweden 2-0, so the quarterfinals are nearly set: France against Belgium, and England vs. Croatia, which went down to the wire, i.e., penalty kicks, against the wily Russian team!

France's Kylian Mbappé (right) controls the ball
against pressure from Uruguay's Lucas Torreira
(AFP)
As we near the end of the first week of July, the major tournament, the 2018 version of the FIFA World Cup, for the world's reputedly most popular sport, soccer--or (association) football outside the US--also approaches its end. Taking place across the vast nation of Russia, it has been a smoothly run and mostly scandal-free set of matches thus far, beginning with the opening group games that pitted 4 teams each against each other to decide who would advance to the knockout round. Although there were questions about Russia's efforts to secure the World Cup, much akin to previous financial controversies that have plagued FIFA, this World Cup has run perhaps more smoothly than the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which seemed to be in danger of featuring unfinished venues and the target of potential attacks right up to the moment when they went off without a hitch, or the 2014 edition in Brazil, which unfolded as the country was entering a several economic crisis.

Antoine Griezmann & Kylian Mbappé of France
(TASS via Getty Images)
For the first time in several World Cup meetings, the United States did not qualify, but neither did a few of the world's perennial soccer powers, including 4-time (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) prior winner Italy, nor Chile or the Netherlands. FIFA's ranking tables included most of the entrants numerically, in descending order (skipping the teams that did not make it): Germany (1), Brazil (2), Belgium (3), Portugal (4), Argentina (5), Switzerland (6), France (7), Poland (8), Spain (10), Peru (11), Denmark (12), England (12), Uruguay (14), Mexico (15), Colombia (16), Croatia (20), Tunisia (21), Iceland (22), Costa Rica (23), Sweden (24), Senegal (27), Venezuela (33), Serbia (34), Australia (36), Iran (37), Morocco (41), Egypt (45), Nigeria (48), Panama (55), South Korea (57), Japan (61), Saudi Arabia (67), and host Russia (70). Fortunately for fans--well, soccer fans in general--the rankings often correlate to teams' presence in the World Cup, which they achieve by winning regional association matches, but they do not guarantee success at the World Cup.

A distraught Neymar Jr.,
after Brazil's loss to Belgium
(AFP/Getty Images)
In the first round matches, this World Cup provided a few shockers. First, in Group F, South Korea's and Mexico's victories over Germany knocked the top ranked team and the 2014 World Cup victor out of the tournament; other top ranked teams that failed to advance included Costa Rica, Peru, and Poland. First time participant Panama also was sent off the pitch, as were the scrappy footballers from Iceland, who became fan favorites in part because of the tiny size of their country compared to many of the other competitors, and the Super Eagles of Nigeria, who carried the hopes of their country and much of sub-Saharan Africa on their shoulders, but only finished with three points, or one win and two losses. (What was not known was that Nigeria's captain, Jon Mikel Obi, was playing the Argentina match while keeping silent about the fact that his father had been kidnapped in Nigeria and ransomed for $28,000; his father, thankfully, was released several days later.) On the other hand, standout teams were Uruguay, Croatia, and Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, and France all advanced to the knockout round, as did host Russia, which was in the weakest group, A, yet played quite well, amassing 8 goals, the second-most of the round, tying it with England, and playing with forceful enthusiasm. Both Spain and Portugal showed signs of vulnerability, yet both also went onwards to the round of 16. Argentina, with its superstar Lionel Messi, barely did so after tying Iceland, losing 3-0 to Croatia, and slipping past Nigeria 2-1.

Belgium's Kompany (in air at right),
heads the ball which ricochets off
Brazil's Fernandinho (17), for an own goal
(Frank Augstein/Associated Press)
The second round proved to offer more shockers; France dispatched Argentina 4-3 on two decisive goals by its 19-year-old shining light Kylian Mbappé, thus sending the Albiceste back to Buenos Aires,  perhaps concluding Messi's World Cup career. Uruguay beat Portugal, perhaps closing out the career of the Portuguese Selecção's world famous Cristiano Ronaldo. Belgium played a lethargic match against Japan, which shone for nearly the entire time, yet the Diables Rouges came back to send the better team packing with a stoppage time winner and 3-2 score. Mexico, another fan favorite, lost to Brazil 2-0, and up through this game, the Brazilians displayed their trademark jogo bonito, showing brilliance at times in their passing and footwork, though they did not seem to be as eager to score as some of their opponents. Another huge surprise with the large number--three--games decided by penalty kicks, which aided the lower-ranked Russia to knock off Spain 4-3 in PKs, which sent shockwaves through the stadium. England triumphed over Colombia 4-3 in PKs after its goalie's heroics, and Croatia, the tournament's sleeper team, defeated Denmark 3-2 in PKs after 1-1 score.
Colombia's Yerry Mina (13) celebrating with
teammate Dávinson Sánchez (23) after scoring
against Poland (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

We are now in the quarterfinals, and so far, France and Belgium are giving every sign of providing the side of the draw that will produce in the eventual victor. In France's case, in addition to Mbappé, its veteran goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been stellar, and shut down an evenly matched Uruguayan team to preserve the 2-0 victory achieved by defender Raphaël Varane heading the ball in (on a beautiful pass by forward Antoine Griezmann) and by Griezmann on a pass by forward Corelin Tolisso. So evenly matched were the teams that both France and Uruguay took 11 shots, with 2 of les Blues on target vs. 4 from the Uruguayan side; each team had nearly the same number of fouls (17 for Uruguay, 15 for France); and each received 2 yellow cards. The difference was France's control of the ball, at 62% of the match, and the skill of its defense (Lucas Hernández, Samuel Umtiti, Varane, and Benjamin Pavard) in shutting down Uruguay's threats, while maximizing its few opportunities. Mbappé, Griezmann, Varane, Tolisso, and the rest of the French team constitute one of the best squads the country has fielded since its World Cup victory in 1998, and if they get past Belgium, they could and should win it all.

South Korean players (in red) in shock after defeating
Germany (in green) (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)
While Belgium played without brio against Japan, it came out in full force against Brazil, whose star, Neymar Jr., had begun to spur memes because of all of his histrionic diving and flopping around, though he was legitimately being pushed around during Brazil's opening match against Switzerland. The referees seemed to be averse to calling any penalties against Belgium whenever Neymar and his teammates ended up crumpled on the field, so Brazil would have to recalibrate and deploy its dazzling skill work to manufacture goals. Unfortunately, despite putting on a clinic in the first half, the Brazilian team could not seem to convert chances, and found itself down 2-0 on an own goal by defense Fernandinho, one of the goats of the 2014 tournament, offer a header by Belgian star Vincent Kompany, and a stunner by Kevin De Bruyne that Romelu Lukaku had set up. Brazil led in shots, 27-9, shots on target 9-3, in possession 59%-41%, and in corners 8-4, yet repeatedly failed to follow up on loose balls or potential scoring opportunities. Renato Augusto finally did score in the 76th minute on a pass from Philippe Coutinho, but it was too little, too late, and now the objectively best remaining team heads home. For its part, Belgium stretched Brazil's defense wide open enough on quick runs up field to create the opportunities that gave it the 2-0 lead, and looks to be a danger in the France game and if it heads to the finals. Brazil's exit was not as shameful as 2014, but once again, despite its impressive talent, the Seleção seemed less interested in winning than in putting on a show. The two, I hope someone reminds Brazil, are more than compatible and what many a soccer most wants to see.
Nigeria celebrate after scoring a penalty
kick against Argentina (Reuters)
The remaining match-ups, on the weaker side of the draw, are intriguing: both England and Sweden have played above their rankings,  but the Three Lions' squad has the edge in talent and defense, with the x-factor striker Harry Kane, who has been the team's standout player and converted a number of opportunities so far. It also has some of the better younger players in the tournament, chief among them midfielder Dele Alli, defender Harry Maguire and goalie Jordan Pickford. If England can stay on the attack and open up Sweden's defense, the game is theirs. Russia's host nation fairy-tale effect has taken it quite far (cf. the US, South Korea, France, etc. in past tournaments), but Croatia has shown itself to be of the best teams in the tournament and will put the home field Sbornaya to the test. The Blazers have played unflappably so far. Russia's play has been a bit heavy-handed, so one question will be whether the referees decide to call fouls and dole out yellow cards--or in some cases, red cards that should have come but remain in pocket--which they've seemed reluctant to, which could work in Russia's favor in knocking Croatia's scorers off their game. I should add that given the tensions now besetting the Russian-US relationship, and all of the mounting evidence in the alleged Trump-Russia criminal conspiracy, Croatia has my support in this match-up.

Brazil's players stretch Danilo during a training
session on July 3, 2018 (Andre Penner/AP)
A few final points I want to make are that at a time of increasing ethnonationalism across Europe and the US, as well as across the globe, it has been encouraging to witness once against the more racially and ethnically diverse "national" squads perform with aplomb, belying the discourse, promulgated by far-right and anti-immigration parties like the British National Party, Alliance for Germany, National Front, League of the North, etc., that cross-racial and ethnic diversity are a bad thing, that unity and cooperation, even temporary, is not possible and that their their teams are somehow weakened by "impurity." Former colonial and imperial powers France, Belgium and England (UK) would not be where there are in this tournament without their Black, Arab, and mixed-race players. There have been articles about the anger anti-immigration and white nationalist soccer fans have felt about the mixed-race cast of their teams, so it has been especially satisfying to see those teams--save Germany, which crashed out early--kick and shoot their way to the trophy. These teams' successes may be mostly symbolic, and does little to dismantle the underlying structures and systems that enable racism and white supremacy, nor do they provide any answers to the economic and political crises fueling the international migration flows, yet they do represent a publicly visible and global counterweight to the illiberal discourse that is increasingly sweeping across the West and other parts of the globe.

A victorious Belgium celebrate their
defeat of Brazil (AFP)
A second point is that the US, when it reappears in the World Cup, will have to overcome a considerable gulf in terms of coaching, development and skill levels to be competitive. This year's top teams, most European other than Brazil, have played with a sharpness I don't see the US yet able to achieve, but given the depth of US soccer talent, with the right coaching staff and the best players, the US could conceivably go as far as it dreams. The same is true for the African squads, and, as Japan displayed, Asia's best teams too, but between national developmental programs and the European leagues, European teams still have the advantage for the time being.

Monday, June 04, 2018

*Essays On Hilda Hilst* Now Available


Thanks to the dedication of editors Adam Morris and Bruno Carvalho, Essays on Hilda Hilst: Between Brazil and World Literature, the first English-language scholarly volume dedicated to the work of one of Brazil's most singular and path-blazing authors, is now available for purchase. Published by Springer this month, the book opens with an insightful introduction about Hilst (1930-2004) and her relation to the category of "World Literature," by Morris, a gifted translator and scholar who produced an exceptional rendering of Hilst's 1986 novella Com os meus olhos de cão (With My Dog Eyes, Melville House, 2014), as well as works by Jõao Gilberto Noll, Beatriz Bracher, and other major contemporary Portuguese-language writers, and Carvalho, a Princeton professor of Spanish and Portuguese, whose scholarly interests span an array of topics and whose study Porous City: A Cultural History of Rio de Janeiro (2013), received the Brazilian Studies Association Robert Reis Book Award in 2014. Other essays in the volume explore different aspects of the late author's oeuvre, ranging from her plays (Tatiana Franca Rodrigues Zanirato), fiction (David William Foster), poetry (Alva Martinez Teixeiro), and broader theoretical, political and ideological readings (Deneval Siqueira Azevedo Filho, Eliane Robert Morães, Morris, and Nathanaël).

For my part, I contributed a revision of a talk I delivered in at the New York Public Library back in 2014, "Translating Brazil's Marquis de Sade," which explores the complexities of Hilst's Cartas de um Sedutor (Letters from a Seducer), for which Carvalho wrote the introduction, and the challenges I--and anyone--might face bringing it and her work in general into English. (In "Derelict of Duty, "Nathanaël also discusses some challenges faced co-translating Hilst's A obscena Madame D (The Obscene Madame D, Nightboat and A Bolha Editora, 2013). It is especially exciting to see this essay in print and in this volume, which I hope will serve as an enticing overview and introduction that I hope sparks more studies in English about Hilst, and spurs more translations of Hilst's work. I believe a translation of Hilst's Fluxo-Floema is on its way soon, and this year, Hilst's Of DeathMinimal Odes, translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin, will be published by co•im•press.

Please consider getting a copy of this volume, or at least suggesting your nearest library do so. And please, read Hilda Hilst!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Hillmans' New Translation of Ana Cristina Cesar's At Your Feet + Poems: Ana Cristina Cesar

At Your Feet, by Ana Cristina Cesar
translated by Brenda Hillman
and Helen Hillman, with Sebastião
Edson Macedo, edited by
Katrina Dodson (Anderson, SC:
Parlor Press, 2018)
A few years ago at the Associated Writing Program's annual conference, I was on a panel that focused on translating Brazilian women writers, and one of the figures I had translated and shared with my co-panelists and the audience was the late Brazilian poet Ana Cristina Cesar (1952-1983). Although she committed suicide at age 31 and left only a small oeuvre, it has proved to be among the most significant and durable of her generation. She now stands as one of the important Brazilian poets of the last quarter of the 20th century, as well as one who continues to influence poetry in her native country as well as outside it.

What I did not learn until after that panel had concluded was that the distinguished American poet and professor Brenda Hillman and her mother, Helen Hillman, who was born in Brazil, had been translating Cesar's poetry as well. Specifically, they were bringing the poems in her acclaimed 1982 Brasiliense collection A teus pés (At Your Feet) into English, and had run into the challenge I faced, which was trying to get permission to publish the English translations in the US. (I had only sought journal publication, but they had the entire collection in mind.)

Unlike them, however, I never heard back from Cesar's estate, which I knew did permit some translations, as I had found a copy online of British publisher Boulevard's (now Boulevard Books The Babel Guides) 1997 edition of Cesar's Intimate Diary, translated by Patricia E. Paige, Celia McCullough and David Treece and edited by Treece roughly a decade ago. As far I know, other than individual poems published in journals and anthologies, that was the only book-length edition of Cesar's books of poetry in English. Interestingly enough, it contains poems not only from the titular volume, but also from At Your Feet (which itself gathered together the three chapbooks Cesar had published from 1970 through 1980, Luvas de pelica (Kid Gloves: Fragments of a Journey), Correspondência Complete (Complete Correspondence), and Cenas de abril (April Scenes), at times in versions whose original source remains somewhat unclear (more about this below).

Given Hillman's gifts and stature in the poetry world, and her mother's familiarity with Brazilian Portuguese, I was eager to see how they would capture and carry over into English Cesar's ironic, often casual and erotic tone, the often laser-sharp shifts and textual collaging her poetic speakers engage, and the often very subtle tissue of allusions she weaves into her work, sometimes from Brazilian and global literary traditions (especially Anglophone literature, which she was quite familiar with, having lived in the UK for a short period), sometimes from popular culture.

A few weeks back, I received the fruit of the Hillmans' labor, At Your Feet, a bilingual collection completed in conjunction with Sebastião Edson Macedo and edited by Katrina Dodson, published by Parlor Press, an indie publisher based in South Carolina. Their book and translations are certain to become n excellent entry point into Cesar's poetry, and the standard for future English translations of the author's work. Readers now have some of her best known poems, like "[Soundtrack in the background," "[The story is complete: wide sargasso sea]," and "Samba Song," along with others that have not previously appeared in English before. (I hope that this translation spurs a re-translation of  Intimate Diaries, as well as much more of her unpublished prose and poems like "Gramas," which I translated a few years ago.)

In her introduction, Hillman rightly describes Cesar as an "avant-garde" poet, which she was, both for her time and today. She also was a key figure in the Poesia marginal (Marginal Poetry) movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and a pioneer in Brazilian LGBTQ writing. As I noted above, Cesar's mediation between high and popular culture is crucial to how her poems look and sound, and the Hillmans and Macedo negotiate the shifts quite well. Same-sexual desire, and a queering of discourse suffuse her poems, making her love poems in particular feel very contemporary, as if they were written just yesterday, i.e., earlier in 2018 or last year. No wonder that this poetry continues to appeal to young writers and readers of all ages.

Hillman also notes in her introduction that she received help from Cesar's current publishers, Companhia das Letras, in establishing the correct lineation of the poems. What she does not say, and what a comparison between her and mother's collection and the Paige-McCullough-Treece collection demonstrates, are variant versions of the poems, in some cases considerably so, perhaps arguing for a fuller introduction in a future edition of this or another translated Cesar collection. I do not have the Companhia das Letras edition of Cesar's collected poems, Poética (2013), or A teus pés (2016), but I assume that these were the versions that the Hillmans worked from. A few years ago I translated some of Cesar's poems that appeared not just in A teus pés, but also in Antigos e soltos: poemas e prosas da pasta rosa (Rio de Janeiro, Instituto Moreira Salles, 2008), and Álbum de retazos: antología crítica bilingüe : poemas, cartas, imágenes, inéditos (Buenos Aires: Corregidor), a collection of her poems, letters, photos, and unpublished work translated into Spanish and edited by Luciana Di Leone, Florencia Garramuño, and Ana Carolina Puente.

I assumed the versions of Cesar's poems in A teus pés were the authoritative one, but with the ones in other volumes, like Antigos e soltos, I took them as drafts that she--or editors--very well might have refined, she if she had lived to do so, or editors based on drafts they had carefully studied. So I now am quite curious about what versions Paige-McCullough-Treece might have chosen in translating Cesar's poems. Given that the earlier anthology was published in conjunction with the Center for the Study of  Brazilian Culture and Society, now King's Brazil Institute at King's College London, and given that David Treece, now the Camões Professor of Portuguese, is still there, I probably should write him to inquire about this.

Here is one example, the Portuguese taken directly from the Hillmans' book, followed by their translation, and, just for comparison, the P-M-T version (which, as you'll see, contains what are freestanding poems in the Hillmans' version.)

SUMÁRIO


Polly Kellog e o motorista Osmar.
Dramas rápidas mas intensos.
Fotogramas d meu coração conceital.
De tomara-que-caia azul-marinho.
Engulo desaforos mas com sinceridade.
Sonsa com bom-senso.
Antena de praça.
Artista da poupança.
Absolute blind.
Tesão do talvez.
Salta-pocinhas.
Água na boca.
Anjo que registra.


SUMMARY


Polly Kellog and Osmar the driver.
Fast but intense dramas.
Freeze-frame of my conceptual heart.
In a navy blue strapless dress.
I take insults but with sincerity.
Sly with common sense.
Village gossip.
Savings artist.
Absolutely blind.
Lust for the maybe.
Limp wrist.
Mouth-watering.
Recording angel.


tr. Brenda Hillman and Helen Hillman,
with Sebastião Edson Macedo


SUMMARY


Polly Kellog and the driver Osmar.
Rapid but intense dramas.
Still frames of my conceptual heart.
In a navy blue strapless dress.
I swallow insults but with sincerity.
Artful with good sense.
Antenna in the square.
Artist of thrift.
Absolutely blind.
The hots for perhaps.
Puddle-jumping.
Mouth watering.
An angel who leaves his mark.


The story is complete: wide Sargasso sea,
     blue blue that does not
frighten me, and sings like a paper siren.
Without you I am a lake, a mountain.
I think of a man named Herberto.
I lie down beneath the window to smoke.
I breathe dizzily. Roll on the mattress.
And fearfully, heartlessly, I raise the price.


tr. Patricia E. Paige and David Treece


Portuguese original and first translation, as well as the two translations below, Copyright © Ana Cristina Cesar, At Your Feet, translated by Brenda Hillman and Helen Hillman, with Sebastião Edson Macedo, edited by Katrina Dodson. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press, 2018. All rights reserved.

Second translation above, Copyright © Ana Cristina Cesar, Intimate Diary, translated by Patricia E. Paige, Celia McCullough, and David Treece. London: Boulevard, 1997. All rights reserved.

The final section in the P-M-T version is two free-standing, untitled poems in the Hillman's version: "[The story is complete: wide sargasso sea]" and "[Without you I'm really a lake, a mountain.]" Each includes slight variations, capturing a truer sense of the Brazilian original:


A historia está completa: wide sargasso sea, azul azul que não
me espanta, e canta como uma sereia de papel.

The story is complete: wide sargasso sea, blue blue that doesn't
amaze me, and sings like a paper mermaid.


And:

Sem você bem que sou lago, montanha.
Penso num homem chamado Herberto.
Me deita a fumar debaixa da janela.
Respiro com vertigem. Rolo no colchão.
E sem bravata, coração, 
     aumento o preço



Without you I'm really a lake, a mountain.
I think of a man named Herberto.
I lie down and smoke under the window.
I breathe dizzily. Roll around on the mattress.
And without bravado, sweetheart, <
     I raise the price


In the Hillmans' version of the first now free-standing poem, "[A historia...]",  the English words become italicized; "espantar" is translated as "amaze" rather than "frighten," changing the meaning; and in conjunction with that change, the original "sereia," which Paige and Treece translate as "siren," becomes a "mermaid," a more benign figure. In the second poem, which is extremely simple yet wry, as Cesar's poems often are, just on the edge of heartbreak, we get a more mellifluous English translation--"smoke under" and "roll around"--as well as a crucial change, "heartlessly" to "sweetheart." I actually think both slightly miss the sly complexity of Cesar's original, since "sem," meaning without, both does and does not modify "coração" ("heart"), so the original poem is saying both "without bravado [and] heartlessly" and "without bravado, [my] heart"; perhaps "my heart" might have worked the best.

But either way, as she says, she raises the price. At any rate, please do check out the Hillmans' translation when you can.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Quotes: Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand
(The Canadian Encyclopedia)
"VERSO 5.5

I have plans; I have no plans. They disappear in the Gulf of Mexico like brown pelicans and hermit crabs in an oil spill. Isn't it time we stopped saying spill? That wasn't a spill it was a deluge. It has no mercy, nation. I have no mercy. I'm jaundiced. All the while through the hoots of democracy, I was looking for the women in Tahrir Square, in Yemen, in Tunisia. I am listening. Whatever, the author says. I don't want to hear any more about waiting. In September, and now October, I am unpinned from all allegiances. Of course you're not. But what if I wrote like this? Unpinned."


***


"VERSO 16

On hearing of my left-hand pages, ASJ, a poet, sent me this note from Edmond Jabès:

A book without room for the world would be / no book.
It would lack the most beautiful pages, / those on the left,
in which even the smallest / pebble is reflected.

Then I sent away for Jabès's book, The Book of Questions, and received it from England after some weeks. And there was his handwriting: pour Jane et Sidney Shiff / j'ai été heureux / de connaître / En souvenir et / avec la cordiale pensée / d' E. Jabès. This last note arrived with his cordial thoughts, says the clerk. Yes, so I suppose it is a sign that we continue, says the author."


***

"VERSO 41

Tonight my brain is full of beautiful things collected over three weeks: the ring around Jupiter in the southern hemisphere; three flamingos dancing brine shrimp to the surface; the mirages of harbours only I have seen; the lithium salt desert; the rush for the local train at Ollantaytambo; a frantic scramble for a bundle of goods left behind; the electrochemical sky. The silence was the best thing."

-- Dionne Brand, from The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos, Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming in August 2018.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Random Photo

This one is truly random, and I would have missed it had my friend Anthony Montgomery not called my attention to it. The lead-in: a few weeks ago the Daily Mail, as it's wont to do, posted an article on the death of a celebrity, Matthew Mellon (1964-2018), the banking heir and cryptocurrency billionaire, who had recently passed away after a struggle with addiction. Anthony must have scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the article, where he spotted the following photograph, which, it turns out, was one of the last Mellon posted on his Instagram account before he passed away. It shows him beside his close friend, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (daughter of environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.), who is hiding her face behind...well, you see! As I mentioned to C, my publishers, and others, you never know who's reading your work or where it might turn up.


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

National Memorial for Peace & Justice + Legacy Museum Now Open


National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Despite the fact that the US has a well documented history of nearly two and a half centuries of legalized enslavement (1640-1865/66), enshrined in the US  Constitution; nearly another century of legalized apartheid known as Jim Crow (1876-1960-1980s?) and multiple de facto forms of explicitly racialized and class segregation (continuing today); and centuries of racist terror and enforced white supremacist terror, policing, brutality, and violence against peoples of African descent (as well as Native Americans and other non-white peoples), there have been relatively few national or regional museums or monuments recognizing this terrible history.

The aftermath of a lynching
Across the US there (rightly) museums calling attention to the horrific Nazi Holocaust against Jewish people that occurred in Germany and across much of Europe from the 1930s through 1945. There are specific museums and commemoration cites honoring specific African American figures, regional events, and particular moments, like Civil Rights history. Yet until very recently, there were only a few general museums specifically recognizing African American history and culture, and almost none calling attention to the horrendous legacy of slavery, segregation and racialized terror, all of which have contributed in numerous ways to shaping the society in which all Americans live today.
A sculpture commemorating
the brutal history of chattel slavery
Thankfully, Americans and people from all over the globe are flocking to the architecturally stunning National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, which provides an exceptionally thorough overview and celebration of the richness of African American and Black life in the United States and North America. (I wrote about visiting the NMAAHC last February.) To the NMAAHC, as of a week ago you can also now visit a museum that acknowledges the legacy of lynching, one of the most horrific manifestations of racialized terror in American history, as well as chattel slavery and its many afterlives, which include the carceral state. The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), opened in Montgomery, Alabama 2 weeks ago on April 26, 2018. According to its website,
The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where enslaved people were once warehoused. A block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America, the Legacy Museum is steps away from an Alabama dock and rail station where tens of thousands of black people were trafficked during the 19th century....

The 11,000-square-foot museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned, and is located midway between an historic slave market and the main river dock and train station where tens of thousands of enslaved people were trafficked during the height of the domestic slave trade. Montgomery's proximity to the fertile Black Belt region, where slave-owners amassed large enslaved populations to work the rich soil, elevated Montgomery's prominence in domestic trafficking, and by 1860, Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama, one of the two largest slave-owning states in America.

and
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

Work on the memorial began in 2010 when EJI staff began investigating thousands of racial terror lynchings in the American South, many of which had never been documented. EJI was interested not only in lynching incidents, but in understanding the terror and trauma this sanctioned violence against the black community created. Six million black people fled the South as refugees and exiles as a result of these "racial terror lynchings."

This research ultimately produced Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror in 2015 which documented thousands of racial terror lynchings in twelve states. Since the report’s release, EJI has supplemented its original research by documenting racial terror lynchings in states outside the Deep South. EJI staff have also embarked on a project to memorialize this history by visiting hundreds of lynching sites, collecting soil, and erecting public markers, in an effort to reshape the cultural landscape with monuments and memorials that more truthfully and accurately reflect our history.

African Americans re-enslaved
through convict leasing
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), established by public interest lawyer, author and MacArthur Foundation "genius" award-winner Bryan Stevenson in 1989, was long known for its impressive work providing legal aid to innocent death row prisoners and successfully exonerating a number of them, as well as its manifold efforts on behalf of economically and socially marginalized communities across the US. As Stevenson looked at the history of the US prison-industrial complex, the school-to-prison pipeline and unequal applications of justice that African Americans faced, and the larger, profoundly skewed narrative about race in the US, he realized that one component of maintaining the structures and systems that allowed this narrative to take root was the absence of public recognition of the history that had helped to create it and the structures of oppression now in place, and one key element was the occluded history of US lynching, which usually went unpunished by federal or state authorities--and in the case of the latter, often had their complicity or tacit acquiescence--and which helped to support and further white supremacy and inequality.

Newly freed African Americans
in the post-Civil War era
Moreover, the absence of public museums and venues commemorating this history have helped in allowing narratives of white and national innocence to take hold; what the public doesn't know cannot exist, right? Out of site, out of mind. It only happened down there or far away, etc. Slavery ended and that was the end of it, right? Furthering this, the absence and silencing of the names of the more than 4,000 lynched, of their stories and voices, their families' and communities' traumas, except in specific works of art (films, photographic exhibits, works of fiction and nonfiction, etc.), has allowed the horror to become abstracted and thus, to a certain degree, ignored and dismissed. And yet, it waters the very soil and sand on which every American treads, much as the dispossession, forced removals and slaughter of Native Americans, to name but another frequently obscured component of US history does as well.

Stevenson and a group of fellow lawyers spent years delving into this history, combing through archives to notate names and stories of lynchings across the South, and documented roughly 4,400 across the South (though there were lynchings all over the US, including in the North and West), from 1877 to 1950, which are featured at the Memorial site. As a result, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice redresses this long silencing and invisibility; its architecturally striking building housing the tribute to those who were lynched and the site on which it sits have drawn considerable praise. The latter venue was inspired by the unforgettably powerful Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. To quote The New York Times's Campbell Robertson

At the center is a grim cloister, a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns, all hanging from a roof. Etched on each column is the name of an American county and the people who were lynched there, most listed by name, many simply as “unknown.” The columns meet you first at eye level, like the headstones that lynching victims were rarely given. But as you walk, the floor steadily descends; by the end, the columns are all dangling above, leaving you in the position of the callous spectators in old photographs of public lynchings.

The magnitude of the killing is harrowing, all the more so when paired with the circumstances of individual lynchings, some described in brief summaries along the walk: Parks Banks, lynched in Mississippi in 1922 for carrying a photograph of a white woman; Caleb Gadly, hanged in Kentucky in 1894 for “walking behind the wife of his white employer”; Mary Turner, who after denouncing her husband’s lynching by a rampaging white mob, was hung upside down, burned and then sliced open so that her unborn child fell to the ground.
At the second site, the Legacy Museum makes the connection between the slavery and apartheid past and the present prison system, showing how the past evolved into a system that continues to wreak havoc on countless Black and brown lives. As the Times article notes, the Museum guides the visitor through the compelling argument that Stevenson have made for how this system is still operating, ending on the hopeful note encouraging voter registration and political activism. Like the NMAAHC, where I witnessed groups of students eagerly queuing up to visit, the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice should be obligatory sites for American school children to spend time and study. Given the current state of our politics and society, the US can only benefit as a result.


The Guardian interviews museum founder Bryan Stevenson:

Saturday, May 05, 2018

New Comics (Comey + The Summit)

Some doodles to pass the time.

First, Comey commentary:

James Comey on George
Stephanopoulos's show

And second, since the "Summit" between North Korea and the corrupt chaotic gang running the US will supposedly take place at some point soon (June? never), here's a prediction (if they pull off a real peace deal, they'll earn my thanks):

The Summit

Friday, May 04, 2018

As Ignoble Scandal Unfolds, No 2018 Nobel Literature Prize


One of this site's perennials used to be my fall Nobel speculation posts. These would usually appear a week or so before the Swedish Academy named that year's Nobel Prize in Literature laureate each October. My predictions, often wrong and far off the mark, would follow a private email exchange with fellow writer Reggie H., who is and remains one of the most avid and discerning readers I know. We would toss out names to each other, and then I'd post a long-ish speculation about whom the Swedish Academy might select from the large pool of excellent writers across the globe.

Several suppositions shaped my choices: The Swedish Academy, though it had elected a woman, author Sara Danius, to lead it as its Permanent Secretary (i.e., Director), has mostly comprised 18 (or nearly that many) white, middle-aged and senior Swedish male academics, critics and writers. One of its prominent members, Horace Engdahl, was on record as denouncing contemporary American literature for its parochialism: "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." (Yes, by some lights, no by many others.)  Throughout its history, the vast majority of winners have been European men, or wrote in European languages if they lived on other continents (see most of the African winners).

Additionally, most of the Nobel laureates have produced work that was clearly in one genre--poetry, fiction, drama, and to a far lesser degree, historical or critical nonfiction--even if they wrote in a variety of genres; radical formal innovation, outside of some notable examples, has been rare among the winners. I also took into account that certain countries or language groups with significant literary traditions--Brazil, South Korea, India, Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Cuba, Argentina, etc. have been completely or mostly overlooked. Writers working on other languages--like those of southern India, for example--were like to be ignored completely. Lastly, the charge for this elite body has been, as per Alfred Nobel's will, to give the award for work of "an idealistic nature," and not, as I have always interpreted it, for groundbreaking, lasting, culturally or politically impactful and resonant literature. 

Thus, while some of the widely acknowledged great writers of the 20th century from across the globe but writing in European languages--William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, etc.--have received the award, many more, including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Wilson Harris, etc., did not, for a variety of reasons some known only the Swedish Academy. Meanwhile, writers who will most certainly fade into the shadows even of their own literatures have been recognized (Mikhail Sholokov, to give one example, Pearl S. Buck and Jaroslav Seifert two others), despite the temporary bump in attention the Nobel gave them. The limitations I note above therefore should lead anyone to approach the Nobel Prize in Literature with considerable skepticism, as Tim Parks argued in the New York Times today. Yet, because of its longstanding global reach, its sustained history and its sizable purse (roughly about $1 million dollars, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending upon the Swedish kroner's exchange rate), it remains the premier honor in the international literary world.

Or it did, perhaps up to the point two years ago when, bizarrely, the Swedish Academy passed over countless superlative living writers, particularly poets, and awarded the honor to Bob Dylan, a songwriter and composer who proceeded to act out by initially not acknowledging his selection, and then left the Academy hanging as to whether he would even show up to accept the prize. (Perhaps embarrassment left him somewhat socially paralyzed.) I am all for eccentricity in choice--Camilo José Cela, anyone?--and vision, but this pick struck me as the worst kind of spasm of Baby Boomer fanboy-ism, a comfort-foodish but also cynical thumb in the face of readers and writers everywhere. It was also, I imagine, an attempt to spark controversy and appear relevant, which is not exactly the purpose of the Nobel Prize in literature, though it succeeded on the first account. I could not bring myself to write about the absurdity of the 2016 debacle. This past year's winner, Kazuo Ishiguro, one of Great Britain's most highly regarded fiction writers, however, seemed like a compensatory, safe choice. Ishiguro is, at the very least, a writer, and one of great accomplishment.

What was unknown to the wider public until last fall, however, was the extent of the maelstrom engulfing the Swedish Academy, a result of snowballing sexual harassment and abuse allegations by 18 women against photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the 71-year-old husband of one of the Academy's permanent members, poet Kristina Frostensen, and friend to many others. In another literary world-specific instance of the #Metoo movement, he has been accused of using his position to coerce women into sex, including raping them, at his apartments as well as Swedish Academy-owned venues in Stockholm and Paris; allegations of his inappropriate behavior date back to the early 1990s up through to quite recently, when he is reported to have groped Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria. Adding to the controversy, Arnault also is alleged to have leaked the names of Nobel winners at least seven times before they were publicly announced, hinting that Frostenson may have revealed them to him in advance, and providing bookmakers with a potential windfall. In addition, though not a member of the Academy, Arnault co-owned and ran a cultural center, the Forum, in Stockholm, which received Academy funding, so its and his affairs were part of its purview.

In response to the cumulative allegations, some of which date back more than 20 years, several members of the Academy resigned, and former head Danius severed all Academy ties with Arnault and the Forum, then ordered a legal review of Arnault and his cultural center. For her troubles, however, Danius was ousted by fellow members from her post, though she remains an Academy member. The mounting crisis spurred the Nobel Foundation, which oversees and awards all the prizes, to issue a statement postponing the prize for 2018, given the jury's diminished ranks--it now lacks enough members to form a quorum--and the public glare on its internal turmoil. Instead, it will name two winners in 2019. As the acting permanent secretary, scholar Anders Olsson has put it, "Confidence in the academy from the world around us has sunk drastically in the past year...and that is the decisive reason that we are postponing the prize."

Because of its depleted ranks and a rule that members of the jury cannot resign or retire, the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, had to step in to change the rules to allow the resigning members to leave and new ones to be added. Only 10 of the current 18 members are active, and most of those remaining carry the taint of the Arnault debacle. As the Der Spiegel article I link to above notes, one option could be for the Nobel Foundation to replace the 232-year-old Swedish Academy, which has awarded the prize since 1901, with another one in the country or based elsewhere. For example, what about a rotating set of "academies," based in a different country every two years? (The Nobel Foundation, however, says no, the award will most likely stay in the Academy's hands, but that it needs to take the necessary steps to reform itself.). Another option might be to limit terms of service and cycle members in and out and, most importantly, bring in artistic and critical authorities from outside Sweden, while also requiring gender parity, age and racial-ethnic diversity, and a clearer statement of what the prize aims to reward. Critic Ron Charles argued in the Washington Post that the Swedish Academy should skip more than one year to get its act together. He even quoted some of Dylan's doggerel to underline how ridiculous the 2016 choice was. Perhaps several years of joint awards, to address the huge gaps in writers and writing the Academy has missed, might also be in order.  Why just two in 2019? What about two for the next ten years, or twenty?

Or, as Tim Parks asks, should there even be a Nobel Prize? Does it matter? Beyond sales surges, however temporary. Even if we account for the limits of any group of judges to assess quality in literary works written in a variety of languages, is there not value in calling attention to works that might merit wider attention based on their assessed excellence, beauty, social and political resonance? Scrapping the Nobel would be dramatic, but does anyone think that some other existing award, like the Man Booker, or the Neustadt International Prize, or a new prize created with funds from one of the world's small but growing ranks of billionaires, would not take its place? Moreover, as I point out in the previous paragraph, what should the Nobel Prize, when it returns, honor? Is Alfred Nobel's specific search for works "of an idealistic nature" still stand? What does "idealistic" even mean in today's world of perpetual war, mass inequality, almost uncontrolled technological advances, and climate change? Should we start honoring those SFF writers who offer glimpses, amidst their dystopias and post-apocalyses, of a better world? It is so unfortunate that Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler did not live to enjoy this possible turn of events, unlikely as it may be.

At any rate, then, this fall there will be no Nobel laureate in literature. Maybe the very idea marks an impossibility. On the other hand, as the continued popularity and acclaimed global performances and adaptations of works by figures such as William Shakespeare--who died far too early to be considered for a Nobel, of course--demonstrate, some writers and some works do translate, or can resignify, despite cultural barriers. So, in two years, we will see who the reconstituted Academy, if it can reconstitute and reform itself, selects.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Poem: John Yau



I end this month's run of ekphrastic poems with yet another approach to the genre, by John Yau (1950-), a poet whose work has garnered an array of awards over the years but who, I believe, remains still too little known or discussed. A native of Lynn, Massachusetts and a longtime professor of art history and criticism at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Yau began publishing his work in the early 1970s, and from the beginning, he showed a singular voice with his inventive, playful, humorous poems, drawn from his experience as an Asian American child and young adult growing up in mid-century America, viewing the work of Asian American and white artists, taking in the mass culture of those years, and engaging in dialogue with his avant-garde contemporaries as well as senior figures whom he studied with at Boston University, Bard College and Brooklyn College, including John Ashbery and Robert Kelly. Yau also has published fiction; established and runs a press, Black Square Editions; and serves as a freelance curator, and regularly writes for an online magazine he co-founded, Hyperallergic Weekend. He was the Art Critic for the Brooklyn Rail from 2006-11.

Yau's poetry can range from riffs on popular culture to readings of rarefied art, but his personal, incisive vision and sensibility always come through. By far the best and most subtle reading of Yau's poetry (and of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge's work, Asian American poetry and contemporary experimental poetics, particularly in relation to the politics of race and form in general) can be found in Dorothy Wang's award-winning scholarly monograph Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Asian American Poetry (Stanford, 2014). As Dorothy notes in the opening of her first chapter on Yau, in his work one can find "Film noir, Jasper Johns, Peter Lorre, Anna May Wong, Eugene Delacroix, Boris Karloff, Dashiell Hammett, X-rated movies, German Expressionist writers...." (Wang, Thinking Its Presence, p. 162). Yau has developed a unique means for bringing all of these strands together, even though, as he has said, he aims not to have a particular "style," but to leave open all avenues of experimentation.

Like Ashbery, Yau has written extensive art criticism, and published a hybrid book of poetic criticism, entitled Further Adventures in Monochrome in 2012. The title immediate tips off an astute reader to the book's subject and focus: the experimental genius and proto-conceptualist Yves Klein (1928-1962), whose untimely death cut short a path-charting career across a range of formal experiments. Klein was a painter, composer, sculptor, installation and performance artist, judoka (!), and exemplar of the Nouveau réalisme movement, while also prefiguring Pop and minimal art. And, as I wrote of Frank O'Hara but a few days ago, he accomplished all of this in a very tiny window of time. Perhaps best known for his International Klein Blue 191, the sublime, seemingly infinite blue monochrome that he made the subject of various works--and which is the color of the British edition of Counternarratives, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions!--he also created a number of other works that both critiqued the post-war moment of their appearance and looked forward to whole swaths of art to come.

In Further Adventures in Monochrome, Yau attempts to do more than write about Klein and his art. In 2013, Rachel May interviewed Yau for the Los Angeles Review of Books, and introduces the collection in this way:

The title poem of Further Adventures, written in 15 sections that alternate between poetry and prose, addresses issues central to Yau’s work: his insistence that “painting is not dead,” the materiality of paint and language, language’s plasticity. He takes on the voice of Yves Klein throughout the poem’s 15 sections, and also speaks to Klein’s own writing about painting in 1954, and engages with Baudelaire, Mallarme, Dickinson, Rilke, Trakl, Whitman, Pollock, Warhol, and Johns, among others. The work is sometimes playful, as in the section titled “(Robert Desnos and Yves Klein meet in the sky),” but he’s pushed past what might be categorized as ekphrastic poetry or criticism, to create a form that combines the two. He speaks from or with the art, rather than “about” it. The penultimate section opens in the voice of Klein:

What I wanted from art was impossible. This is what every artist wants. If you settle for the possible, then your failure is ordinary, although, in a few cases, spectacular. I didn’t want what was there for the taking, the images of things that could be named. I didn’t want to add names to the vocabulary.


 Yau goes on to say in the interview that

That’s part of it. In a way, what I learned from painters is that words could be treated as things, that you could put any one color next to any other color. And I thought, in poetry, you should technically be able to put any one word next to any other word. So, looking at painting made me look at language differently.

I’m interested in what language is capable of, and I am interested in collage without collaging. In other words, I do try to put one thing next to another — words, phrases — but I haven’t actually collaged. I haven’t taken it from one place and collaged it next to something from another place.

Here then, is the excerpt, borrowed (as I did with Shin Yu Pai's poems the other day) from Michael Leong's excellent curated selection, "Lines of Sight: Visual Art in Asian American Poetry," at the Asian American Writers Workshop's online site The Margins. I have blathered on enough, so let's read and hear what Yau's poetic speaker--and Klein and his work(s)--have to say.


FROM “FURTHER ADVENTURES IN MONOCHROME”

by John Yau

4)

I dwell in possibility, Emily Dickinson

I dwell in impossibility, Yves Klein

You should understand that I did not want you to read a painting. I wanted you to bathe in it before words domesticated the experience, and you turned to such stand-bys as “illumination” and “transcendent” to describe what happened to you. Painting should not be sentenced to sentences.
Painting is COLOR, I yelled at my first champion and biggest supporter. COLOR banishes words from its domain. When you read a painting, you turn it into language, but there is so much that cannot be turned into language that each of us experiences every day.

Red shadows leak out of rusting cars and collapsed bridges. Green smoke rises from behind horizons and rooftops. The spectrum of your mother’s voice the last time she spoke to you.
Every day there are thresholds that you must cross to reach the domain where words mar every transmission, rendering them intangible. We put our memory of these reverberations aside in favor of what is known and, we believe, knowable. We say we are going to the beach and we will look at the ocean and leave indentations in the sand, but that is not what happens. We go there to ponder a blue parcel cut from infinity.

True poets and artists know where language ends, which is why they go there. Some settle for going beyond the possible into possibility, but others want to dwell in the impossible. I am not talking fantasy here, because that version of the impossible is just a story about a girl named Thumbelina or a boy named Jack. The ones who go to where two roads diverge in a yellow wood are not poets, because they believe that experience can be reduced to a lesson about choices. True poets know that language is neither window nor mirror. The mistake is to believe that the opposite is true, that words (or signs) are arbitrary.

This is my example of why words are not arbitrary. Charles Baudelaire believed that there are perfumes for which all matter is porous. These perfumes can permeate the air of one’s dreams. Our thoughts quiver in the shadows that fall over us; they begin to free their wings and rise in flight, tinged with azure, glazed with rose, spangled with gold.

Azure, Rose, Gold.

I was not thinking of Baudelaire when I made my paintings, but the poet was clearly dreaming of me when he sat at his desk and wrote “The Perfume Flask.”

Can’t you see that this is how I, radiating outward, happened to appear on this planet, this speck of dust? Yves Klein was born because Baudelaire predicted this propitious event by naming colors, which, like all colors, escape the confines of their names, becoming more than an emanation of infinity. Even black can get away from its name, which is why Malevich had to surround it with white. But what is color that isn’t surrounded by another color? What is that boundless world we catch a glimpse of whenever we look up at the sky? Is it so vast that we must turn away from it, afraid that it will swallow us up, which it will? Astronomy, the Greeks believed, was a royal science, which means I am a royal painter. Do not confuse me, however, with a painter of royalty, with Ingres, who used lines to hold and improve the faces of his sitters, who believed in the despotic power of beauty.

I am not interested in beauty. I am not Andy Warhol. He longed for possibility, but was afraid of what it might tell him. I dwell in impossibility, and I want to be embraced by what it will tell me. My name is Yves Klein. There is a photograph of me that you might know. I have put on my best suit and jumped out a window. My arms are outspread, but they are not wings. I don’t need them to fly. Nor am I the prince of clouds, Baudelaire’s albatross, fallen from the sky. Screw that fascist Marinetti. My arms are not the wings of a drunkard beating against the wall. Mine are the outstretched arms of a diver. I fall effortlessly through the air, but I never am completely fallen. The cobblestones and I will never meet. I hover in a miracle, which is why you believe in the photograph, even after you have learned how I tricked you. It wasn’t that hard to do. The true magician shows everyone how the trick was done, and after seeing how you were deceived, you believe in the trick all the more. I jumped out the window and I stayed in the air, which is where you wanted me to stay. I dwell in impossibility—that zone that lies beyond here and there, while embracing both.

Copyright © John Yau, from Further Adventures in Monochrome, Port Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2012. All rights reserved.

And here are two of Klein's works, also borrowed from Michael's curated selection:

Yves Klein. Silence is Golden (1960). ADAGP, Paris.

Yves Klein, photographed by Harry Shunk
and Janos Kender. 
Leap into the Void (1960).
Gelatin silver print. 25.9 x 20 cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.