Neruda XVII: Queue Jumper

Robin Williams performs (I use the word advisedly) Pablo Neruda’s sonnet XVII in a scene from Williams’s movie “Patch Adams” ( “Patch” recites the poem at the grave of his dead girlfriend.

I recoil at the acting out of poetry. I long to say to the poor man:

Desist, friend. Wipe your face, go home and grieve. Recite your Neruda sonnet when you feel able to get out of the sonnet’s way. Give voice to the poem, not to yourself. It’s not your vehicle; you’re its. Be worthy, and let it’s words work.

My embarrassment at histrionic recitation of poetry is deeply unexamined. Whether it comports with informed opinion or not, that’s where I am.

Here’s my translation of sonnet XVII, while I’m here:

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
or an arrow of carnations propagating fire:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
I love you as certain obscure things are loved,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
I love you like the plant that doesn’t bloom yet carries
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
hidden in itself those flowers’ light;
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
and thanks to your love there lives dark in my body
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.
the squeezed aroma that rose from the soil.

Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
I love you knowing neither how nor when nor whence,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
I love you directly without problems or pride:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,
I love you thus because I know no other way

sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
but this way in which I’m not me and you’re not you,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
so close that your hand on my chest is mine,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.
so close the eyes I shut in my sleep are yours.

Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. Cien sonetos de amor
1924, Pablo Neruda y Herederos de Pablo Neruda
1994, Random House Mondadori
Cuarta edición en U.S.A: febrero 2004

[English translation JMN]

(c) 2021 JMN

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Colors of Number

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Oneis orange, the color of Sunas she sets and rises.Twois blue, a hue Sky fakesfor inattentive irises. Threeis the olivescent greenof a certain stand of tree.Fouris a dour English colour,Marmite and chocolate fudgey. Fiveis alive with unexpected yellowlike engine oil … Continue reading

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‘Photographism’: Penn’s Eye

But is “photographism” even a word? Not entirely. It is, though, a term that was coined by the photographer [Irving Penn]. It isn’t a theory, but an idea supported by sketches, notes, photographs and posters.

“It was never clearly defined what he meant by Photographism… I like to think of it as Penn’s visual signature, the flavor of his work, his aesthetic. He wasn’t one to speak at length about his work, in terms of trying to describe it. He let the work speak for itself.”
(Vasilios Zatse, deputy director of the Irving Penn Foundation)

Penn died in 2009 at 92, remembered as one of the first photographers to blur the lines between commercial photography and high art.

(Nadja Sayej, “’His pictures are timeless’: celebrating the work of Irving Penn,”, 1-21-21)

(c) 2021 JMN

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‘Symphony of Tufts and Touches’

How is this doggyphile and wannabe painter not to love the rendition of a master?

The art expert Frédérick Chanoit said the painting, measuring 32.5cm by 24.5cm, had been produced in 20 minutes and is an example of Manet’s technical skill.

“It is not one of his chefs-d’œuvre [masterpieces] but it [is] a marvellous interpretation of Manet’s skill; a wonderful symphony of tufts and touches that show his pure genius,” Chanoit said.

(Kim Willsher, “Previously unseen dog painting by Manet to be sold at Paris auction,”, 1-21-21)

(c) 2021 JMN

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I’ve sometimes wondered what was meant by American “exceptionalism.” The term had a ring of smug superiority to it. A recent article by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker broadened my perspective, however.

Gopnik pointed out that autocracy has been the default mode of social ordering throughout human history. That sheds enormous light on how America is not “normal.”

The ever foundering American experiment in representative government goes against the human grain. Flawed from the outset, corrupted by slavery and “manifest destiny,” perennially messy and tainted by human foible, tortured into the present by gerrymandering and civil war, the idea of America strives fitfully to be an exception to the ancient, ever-present fallback of dictatorship.

It makes it more understandable, if no less sad, that the country’s fragile experiment in liberal democracy has teetered very recently, poisoned by the likes of Cruz, on the brink of a mob’s gibbet.

“America is good at protecting itself against the last thing that happened.”

Thus wrote Annie Karni, NYTimes White House Correspondent, on January 20th, about the barbed wire shrouding the nation’s Capitol since January 6th.

The occasion was Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s inauguration. The experiment will live another day, it seems. May it survive the next thing.

(c) 2021 JMN

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(c) 2020 JMN

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Harold Johnson Nichols, ca. 2005.

Photographed by his friend Robert E. “Buddy” Lee.

(c) 2020 JMN

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Words of a Stabbing Victim

On Sept. 20, 1958, while signing copies of his first book “Stride Toward Freedom” in a Harlem department store, Dr. Martin Luther King was stabbed in the chest by a young woman. The weapon, a letter opener, grazed his aorta.

His attacker, Izola Ware Curry, was a mentally ill woman who believed Dr. King and others were following her.

NYPD Officer Al Romano, age 31 and on the job three years, took the call accompanied by rookie Officer Philip Romano. Their alert actions helped save Dr. King.

Dr. King spent weeks in New York City recovering. He addressed reporters from Harlem Hospital: “First let me say that I feel no ill will toward Mrs. Izola Curry and know that thoughtful people will do all in their power to see that she gets the help she apparently needs if she is to become a free and constructive member of society… A climate of hatred and bitterness so permeates areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt.”

[Dr. King] later wrote a letter to thank the police. “I have long been aware of the meaning of the phrase ‘New York’s finest’ when applied to members of the N.Y. Police Department,” he wrote. “From the moment of my unfortunate accident, I have concurred, wholeheartedly, in that appellation. There are none finer.”

During a speech in Memphis in 1968, he would reflect on that day… “It came out in The New York Times the next morning that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died… I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze”…

The following day, Dr. King was shot dead.

(Michael Wilson, “Before ‘I Have a Dream,’ Martin Luther King Almost Died. This Man Saved Him,” NYTimes, 1-14-21)

(c) 2020 JMN

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On a Parlous Trek the Ground Slopes East

The gap between China and the United States is shrinking as China is the only major economy expected to report economic growth for 2020 despite the pandemic. And brawling with itself at some crossroad truck stop far over the horizon lay my lost homeland.

Paul Salopek is walking around the world. He’s at work on a book about his experiences. Two things leap from his essay in the NYTimes: (1) the eloquence of a prize-winning journalist; (2) the intrepidity bordering on death wish of his undertaking, partnered with a capacity for punishing exertion and privation.

Walking through Afghanistan in 2017, I saw how little the outside world’s disdain for Central Asia has changed since then… The only visible evidence of America’s catatonic, $2 trillion war in Afghanistan was the exhausted face in my pocket shaving mirror.

… Meanwhile, the world walks on. And the ground slopes east toward an Asian century… In Kazakhstan, Chinese workers dressed in spotless coveralls came out to gape as I led my cargo horse through their colossal oil field. I must have seemed a raggedy apparition from the distant past, some mirage conjured by the wild steppe. I felt like one. They fed me ice cream.

(Paul Salopek, “Shadows on the Silk Road,” NYTimes, 1-16-21)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Failure and Exultation

“Almost all poetry is a failure,” Charles Bukowski is said to have contended, “because it sounds like somebody saying, Look, I have written a poem.”

Never will I allude to the English Language or tongue without exultation. This is the tongue that spurns laws, as the greatest tongue must. It is the most capacious vital tongue of all, — full of ease, definiteness, and power, — full of sustenance, — an enormous treasure house, or ranges of treasure houses, arsenals, granary, chock full of so many contributions from the north and from the south, from Scandinavia, from Greece and Rome—from Spaniards, Italians, and the French—that its own sturdy home-dated Angles-bred words have long been outnumbered by the foreigners whom they lead—which is all good enough, and indeed must be. America owes immeasurable respect and love to the past, and to many ancestries, for many inheritances, — but of all that America has received from the past from the mothers and fathers of laws, arts, letters, etc., by far the greatest inheritance is the English Language—so long in growing—so fitted.

Dwight Garner quotes Bukowski and cites with link the Whitman essay (The Atlantic, April 1904) in his article “Dwight Garner Shares From His Stash of Other Writers’ Words” (NYTimes, 11-1-20).

(c) 2020 JMN

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