Tuesday, June 19, 2007

east european mytho-folk surrealism

picked this up at the half price books in north olmstead ohio last week. born the same year as jackson mac low, vasko popa is the great serbian surrealist. he tends to write short poems arranged into short cycles. his palette is colored with myth and the idiom of folkore (riddles, games, etc.) and allegory, all adding up to something quite different from the revolution and amour of french high surrealism. it's much closer to lorca i find. some of popa's animal cycles are a bit too totemistic for me, preferring as i do the more ludic, aggressive and philosophical cycles.

the cycle Games, for example, reads very much like a dick higgins or yoko ono piece from the fluxus days. i even imagine my nephews (ages 9 and 6) having some fun with these:
Before the Game

Shut one eye then the other
Peek into every corner of yourself
See that there are no nails no thieves
See that there are no cuckoo's eggs

Shut then the other eye
Squat and jump
Jump high high high
On top of yourself

Fall then with all your weight
Fall for days on end deep deep deep
To the bottom of your abyss

Who doesn't break into pieces
Who remains whole gets up whole
here's another from the same sequence, far more wicked and telling of la condition humaine, and very much echoes something from a 1978 robert duncan naropa lecture i transcribed a while back, "I mean there’s not a living form that isn’t working away day and night to demolish the earth it lives on -- chew chew, chomp chomp, scrabble scrabble, dig holes in it, the whole thing, uh -- in this fabric, where are you gonna put yourself?"

Some bite from the others
A leg an arm or whatever

Take it between their teeth
Run out as fast as they can
Cover it up with earth

The others scatter everywhere
Sniff look sniff look
Dig up the whole earth

If they are lucky and find an arm
Or leg or whatever
It's their turn to bite

The game continues at a lively pace

As long as there are arms
As long as there are legs
As long as there is anything
these are anonymous translations from a nice little 32-page PDF (132K) of translations done mostly by anne pennington, while charles simic did the selection from the oberlin press book above: apparently the two collaborated on a 1997 anvil press edition of the collected. (now out of print?) this PDF tho is noteworthy to me for the inclusion of the little box sequence, along with another, far within us, not included in the simic selection.

here's one i can't resist including, from the little box cycle:
The Tenants Of The Little Box

Throw into the little box
A stone
You'll take out a bird

Throw in your shadow
You'll take out the shirt of happiness

Throw in your father's root
You'll take out the axle of the universe

The little box works for you

Throw into the little box
A mouse
You'll take out a quaking hill

Throw in your head
You'll take out two

The little box works for you

here's a few from one of my favorites, the cycle give me back my rags
Give me back my rags

My raglets of pure dream
Of silken smiles
Striped premonition
And my lace-like sinews

My raglets of polka-dot hope
Of filigreed lust
Calico glances
And the skin off my face

Give me back my rags
I’m asking you nicely

later in the sequence things get a bit more aggressive and insistant:
Get out of my walled infinity
Of the star circle round my heart
Of my mouthful of sun

Get out of the comic sea of my blood
Of my flow of my ebb
Get out of my stranded silence

Get out I said get out

Get out of my living abyss
Of the bare father-tree within me

Get out how long must I cry get out

Get out of my bursting head
Get out just get out

definitely one of my favorite opening lines of recent memory. read the whole sequence in simic's rendering online at the exile quarterly.

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