“Lyric Poetry Is Dead”: The Flourishing Obituary of Ezequiel Zaidenwerg

Friday, March 22, 2019

(translated by Robin Myers; drawing by Carmen Amengual)
Cardboard House Press / www.cardboardhousepress.org

THERE ARE GODS HERE TOO: Readings of Heraclitus — Michael Kincaid
The Buffalo Commons Press, 2008
(P.O. Box 525, Dickinson, North Dakota 58602-0525

Kenneth Rexroth’s “Thou Salt Not Kill: A Memorial to Dylan Thomas” is not cited as often as it should be. It certainly does not appear in many anthologies, despite its precedence to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” as a major, mid-century jeremiad. I have no idea of whether the Argentinian poet Ezequiel Zaidenwerg is familiar with Rexroth’s scathing indictment of American culture, but those who find themselves entranced with Zaidenwerg’s book-length poem should dig up Rexroth’s rant and note the insidious violence attributed to Thomas’s death. If lyric poetry is dead, it is a corpse with the aura of the continuous present tense, at least in the palimpsestual shroud in which Zaidenwerg has wrapped it; its death still seems painfully recent. If such were not the case, the appropriation and adaptation of twentieth century texts (Eva Peron’s autopsy; Che Guevera’s corpse) would not shimmer in these poems as if propelled by some inward, still palpitating vision. Zaidenwerg has descried a dystopia epic, and the bruises, amputations, beheadings, assassinations, and massacres of civilized history are all too visible, however. “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse” is not the advice to be found on lyric poetry’s tomb.

On the whole, the “death” of lyric poetry, in this fourteen part, book-length poem, reminds of Abel Gance’s cinematic call-to-arms, “Now is the time for the resurrection of all myths in light.” Orpheus, Odysseus, and the Sybil at Cumae, as well as Lot in the Book of Genesis, all contribute to an extended eulogy of narratives, each meant to remind us — the few who find ourselves willing to show up for a public memorial — of how resilient these archetypes remain, even if the form of imaginative conveyance has become a negligible art.

Zaidenwerg’s title, which gets repeated as the opening gambit of many sections, is most certainly not meant to stir up any lingering traces of nostalgia. The irony, of course, is primarily operating in the translator’s domain, for it is translation that operates with a Janus mask. Zaidenwerg’s book, and Myers’s translation deserve to be the focus of the following question: Is a translator a writer inherently committed to a conservative avant-garde?

Given the absence of any significant presence of avant-garde writers at the upcoming AWP convention, I don’t expect to have many conversations in Portland that take on this question by first quoting from Michael Kincaid’s THERE ARE GODS HERE TOO: Readings of Heraclitus (Buffalo Commons Press, 2008). This book should be on the shelf of every poet who wants to produce a body of work worthy someday of being translated. Kincaid, who is a very fine poet himself — perhaps the best “unknown” poet in the United States, exemplifies the positive response to my question in taking on this pre-Socratic poet as an avant-garde visionary of paradoxes’ mutability:

“What is cold warms, warmth cools, moisture dries, the parched moistens.

“Fire lives the death of air; air lives the death of fire. Water lives the death of earth, earth that of water.

“But it is death for spirits to become water, and death for water to become earth. But water is born of earth, and spirit of water.”

(page 37)

Footnote: As is the case all too often with something first read 50 years ago, Gance’s proclamation turned out to be a lengthier statement. It can be found at the start of an essay by Martin M. Winkler: https://books.google.com/books?id=WgpMAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA133&lpg=PA133&dq=Now+is+the+time+for+the+resurrection+of+all+mythis+in+light.+Abel+Gance&source=bl&ots=mZWStcXfdx&sig=ACfU3U1dhhOcVv025z7BTxUp8NxwunrJMA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjyp6H_lI7gAhWW14MKHe0iADwQ6AEwBnoECAMQAQ#v=onepage&q=Now%20is%20the%20time%20for%20the%20resurrection%20of%20all%20mythis%20in%20light.%20Abel%20Gance&f=false

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