Monday, July 23, 2018



THINK TANK by Julie Carr
(Solid Objects, New York, 2015)

An ethics is a technology. An implement selected to help me calibrate myself, measure up, negotiate my proximity to other beings—that is, to rationalize what it means to live a good life, to hold dear or have done. An ethics is a technology, too, in the sense that it is a techne. Different from epistēmē, disinterested knowledge, a techne is applied knowledge; meaning, in Greek, ‘craftsmanship,’ ‘craft,’ or ‘art,’ techne is about making or doing. As a techne, ethics (the question of living and breathing among others) is a making-doing—the art, perhaps, of building communities, giving justice, weaving the peplos for the social body. To the extent that techne is an active art, ethics as techne is an activist art.

For Julie Carr, poetry is just such an activated, activist art—an ethical technology. The enduring lynchpin of her work is engagement. The good life is an engaged life, a life that attends, that applies itself. The good life is a making-doing that imbricates the self and its body among other bodied selves and objects. The poet of the good life, the poet as ethicist, lives entwined, enmeshed, as essentially distributed as possible, abroad in the world so as to be inextricable from it. This poet understands belonging as a principle of proximate support. By belonging and drawing near, entities prop each other up:

…the phone balances the page
            wine glass balances countertop

But there are consequences to living a life so essentially distributed. Such a life is a gossamer, gaseous one. A flung-apart, wind-blown one, everywhere and nowhere diffused. A Keatsian non-identity. It becomes hard to stay in one place: “The mother says: ‘There is no you, so no way for you to fail or fall,’ so thus, “Nothing / keeps you here.” (You, here, meaning me, too.) This is one of the crises of Julie Carr’s Think Tank: a life that has given itself over to the “all, all” has a hard time focusing, devoting, loving fully. The paradox of the engaged ethical poet is that the principle of radical care that has for so long guided her life actually prevents her from caring for those closest—for her mother as she dwindles into dementia: “My Mama will not remember me.” So it is that

In the event of her death, the phone balances the page
            wine glass balances countertop

Blunt and wooden. Shrouded, sudden

The supportive, tensegral propinquity of thing to thing is, in reality, tenuous, riddled with and by mortality. In the light of death and loss, thing leans impossibly against thing, barely there. The slightest disturbance sends tremors through the whole structure. Everything sudden is shrouded. Think Tank is torn between two types of care, sympathies specific and general, local and global. Carr tries to negotiate a form of attention that is responsive to both kinds of sympathy, fielding the risks involved when the “I” dilates so into an “O.”

When it is busy caring most generally, beyond the personal, when it says “O” instead of “I”, Think Tank registers a world of chaotic hyperreality:

a bird in water. Girl in flames
A man walks onto a train: Anyone, anyone?
Windows blaze, all, all—the train jumps its tracks  

Everything appears on the horizon. Everything is recognized in its suddenness. In fact, “Any talk of transition is simply exaggerated // Sudden is all is all.” When everything shocks, nothing does. The world an arid sand storm—particular and proximate, yes, but particularized and proximated, pulverized into a swirling dust. This desperate, exhausted alertness is best illustrated in a relatively extended dreamlike anecdote in Think Tank:

The body is a scavenger under the cold common protection of roofs
From bus to piano, no one is home. My
Good Pen: I entered another poet’s hotel room
crawled into her hotel bed, and slept. When I awoke I lay still
gazing out the window. Eventually, a man appeared, biking up the driveway
in his red plaid shirt. Lying there I imagined us fucking
and came without stirring an inch. I slept again and when I woke this time

the poet was there, kissing her husband, laying her

            baby down

In this scene, the transient speaker seeks refuge in a transient space, confronting both her own exhaustion while still affected or burdened by her own erotic hypersensitization. The sequence concludes with a voyeuristic glimpse onto the tableau of another’s domestic intimacy. The poet as dust-storm struggles to settle, to see clearly dearness when everything is dear, scalding and touchless. The poet tries to get a grip while “gripping onto the self, eating it from the inside.”

Transcendence is held up against the friction of immanence: “things move beyond themselves through their indifferent relationships: motor oil, ketchup, boot polish, gold.” Interrelationships concatenate into an expanding network. The network-pronoun for negotiating between nodes is not “I” but “it”—“it” connects to “it,” object references object: “it simply doesn’t care if it’s ketchup or motor oil or a light bulb.” But Carr adds, “not like you, / you care.” Here Carr acknowledges that care ultimately routes back to identity. Care is a force that closes down the transcendent network of indifferent object-oriented interrelation. It cuts against “beyondness” and puts immediate presence in its place.

Perhaps it has always been the task of the poet to leap wing-footed between the planes of transcendence and immanence, mediator of the heavens and earth. In Think Tank, where Carr reflects on the ethical consequences that crop up in this middle ground, the mother is put forward as a figure of the gate between dimensions both near and far, a portal between non-existence and an emergent world, a world in emergency. But mother or poet or both, the problem with poems is that, in the end, there is “no milk” in them. No real sustenance, no pretense for nearness to breast. It doesn’t matter if “I want your voice in my poem, which is like I want your body in my own.” It doesn’t matter if “all readers and non-readers desire that pouring” of milk. After all, the poem is just a poem, words on a page—a no-thing; as a token of love, King Lear would cast it aside. A poem does not actually provide the reader with a tangible experience, something warm in their throat or belly. The poem does not, like “my mother…, wrap[] my body in a towel and carr[y] me from one room to another, comb[] my hair under a lamp.” And yet, as Carr has written about in her recent collection of essays on poetics, Someone Shot My Book (University of Michigan, 2018), the ethereal, unreal no-thing that a poem is can still return the reader and writer to the world of experience. Or, as she puts it in Think Tank, “these experiences are absolutely unwriteable which is why I am putting them here.” To acknowledge, in writing, the unwriteability of real events is to invoke the hyper-specificity of reality, but in negative relief. The struggle and subsequent failure to render any part of the world on the page—“mango skin, arch of the / foot”—is to preserve the presence of mango skin and foot-arch in the form of its attractive absence.

So when Carr writes “I'm asking a real question here. Can you hear me when I rustle my shirt? When I close my eyes?”, the rustle may not be real, but the question is. And the question gives me pause—I strain, suddenly, to listen for presence; I am made to attend. The poem is a technology of care.

Think Tank is a care-giving book that asks “Who’s breathing whom here?” It strives to account for who is present. It is set in the aftermath of the con-fusion of global attention, after attending to “sky-troubles”—rotten ozone, Iron Dome—which “no longer demand monologues.” Even still, Carr resolves to occupy the personal intimacy of the monologue, the monologic of the lyric “I,” insisting “but I'm the one who'll not not speak, not not eulogize / the ones I've loved.” Ever a witness, Carr’s “I” positivizes negatives. The “I” of Think Tank

Will present my body as a newspaper, will give you apples
to cool off your mouth, a windshield shot
through with sun

Perhaps, then, the lyric “I” is less a witness than a care-giver. Not administering actual care, coolness to fever, but dispensing instead what it is to care: the question, what was that? Was that me? Can you hear me, my eyelids as they rustle shut, and open again?


Kylan Rice has an MFA from Colorado State University, and he is working on his PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book reviews have been published by Colorado Review, West Branch, Carolina Quarterly and the Emily Dickinson Society Bulletin. Some of his poems can be found at Kenyon Review, The Seattle Review, and elsewhere.

Sunday, July 22, 2018



Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries edited by Martha Collins & Kevin Prufer
(Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, 2017)


PRESENCE OF LIFE by Eric Hoffman
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2018)

Before I even opened the book, it had me. I only needed to know of the concept underlying Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries edited by Martha Collins & Kevin Prufer to immediately be drawn: it’s a brilliant idea that should have become a book long ago. Essentially, Into English presents 25 translators who each wrote about a poem they chose and three translations of it. The anthology offers the original poem and the translations side by side, making it easy for the reader to compare them—for example, a reader who’s not fluent in Russian will receive insight as to why an Anna Akhmatova poem might begin in three different ways:

“My heart grew chill so helplessly,”


"How helplessly chilled was my chest, yet”


“I was helpless, my breasts were freezing.”

and a non-Spanish reader receive similar insight as to why a Federico Garcia Lorca poem might begin through these three varied ways:

“I want the water reft from its bed,”


"I want there to be no channel for the water”


“I want the stream to lose its banks.”

before going on to read an essay addressing translation in general and an “expert”’s point of view on the specific elements that went into translating the sample poem. The concept is so interesting that I’m game to see a Volume 2, 3, and so on…

I couldn’t find an online list of Into English’s 25 translators so I’m posting here the Table of Contents as such should show the wealth of riches in this book:
[Click on all images to enlarge]

For an example, I’ll show the book’s treatment of a poem by Basho:

Here are three alternate translations:

The end of autumn, and some rooks
Are perched upon a withered branch.
—translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain (1902)

On a leafless bough
A crow is sitting;—autumn,
            Darkening now—
—translated by Harold G. Henderson (1925)

A black crow
Has settled himself
On a leafless tree
Fall on an autumn day.
—translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa (1966)

By looking at three versions, one can discern and logically ponder the differences in translations. Note, too, that the translations are dated, a smart editing decision as the translator’s times can affect subjectivity (and possibly responses to prior translation versions). For Basho’s poem, the commentator Hiroaki Sato offers a wonderful analysis that begins (as it should) first with a note about general Japanese-to-English translations: “The translator from Japanese into English often faces a question: is this word singular or plural? That’s because most Japanese nouns don’t distinguish between countable and uncountable, whereas most English nouns do.”

Indeed, one of the strengths of Into English is when the commentators, before looking at the individual poem’s translations, offer insight into the idiosyncracies of translating certain languages into English.  Sato does so with Japanese, Bonnie S. McDougall with Chinese, and, to wonderful effect, Susan Stewart with Italian. Here's an excerpt from Stewart's essay regarding Giacomo Leopardi:

While the commentators are generally positively-inclined to the various translations (they do choose which ones to highlight), I am appreciative—indeed, humored—when they second-guess a translator’s choice.  For instance, when Joanna Trzeciak Huss notes about Stephen Berg’s translation of Anna Akhmatova in a poem entitled “Last Meeting”:

Another example comes from J. Kates’ commentary on the translations of Boris Pasternak’s “Hamlet”:

Relatedly, I appreciate J. Kates’ preface to his commentary:

All in all, Into English is educational as well as an accessible look into the many considerations of translation and, in particular, translations into English--it is an immensely satisfying read.


Speaking of translations, for the same reason that the commentaries in Into English are so valuable, it is to the reader’s benefit that Eric Hoffman provides a “Translator’s Note” before the poems in his PRESENCE OF LIFE. (The Translator's Note and sample poems are featured also in this GR issue HERE.) The note explains that the poems comprise “a translation of a translation,” in this case translating scholar Brad Inwood’s translation of writing fragments by pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles. Whereas Inwood apparently first translated Empedocles’ fragments “literal”-ly so as to address “meaning,” Hoffman chose to abide by “poetic values.”

Reading through Hoffman’s poems, though, reveals why Inwood would have wanted to privilege meaning even if the result was to be “inelegant.” Empedocles clearly had (specific) things to say and his intent should not be diluted (disrespected?) for even poetry’s sake; Empedocles was a philosopher after all. Thus do we come to Hoffman’s achievement—that in presenting Empedocles’ thoughts, he surfaces poetry. Here are examples:

The dutiful remain unarmed.

Earth makes night,
meddles with
sun’s light.

Night is blind
and lonely.

An eye desires the intellect.

Thick limbs above,
below, the delicate roots—

Water mixes with wine
more easily than with oil—

so sweet clasps sweet
and bitterness clings

to bitterness, heat to heat,
piercing to piercing.

As exemplified above, by successfully presenting both philosophy and poetry, Hoffman respected Empedocles’ views as well as abided by poetry’s values. There is nothing ponderous about these poems—indeed, they are elegant. Recommended.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects (GR)She loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago, MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator, TANKA: Vol. 1and ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems which is a bilingual English-Spanish edition with translator Rebeka Lembo. She invented the poetry form “hay(na)ku” which will be the focus of 15-year anniversary celebrations at the San Francisco and Saint Helena Public Libraries in 2018. While she doesn't usually let her books be reviewed by GR since she's its editor, exceptions are made for projects that involve other poets; in this issue, her IF THEY HADN'T WORN WHITE HOODS... collaboration with John Bloomberg-Rissman is reviewed HERE. She also is pleased to direct you elsewhere to reviews of her own books: her MANHATTAN: An Archaeology was reviewed in EMPTY MIRROR; her LOVE IN A TIME OF BELLIGERENCE was reviewed in Sticks & Stonesand her ONE TWO THREE: SELECTED HAY(NA)KU POEMS was reviewed in the San Francisco Review of Books. More information about her works is available at

Saturday, July 21, 2018


Excerpted from

PRESENCE OF LIFE by Eric Hoffman
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2018)

Translator’s Note

This is a translation of a translation. Or better yet, a version of a translation. Or a version of a version. In any case, the primary text under examination here is decidedly not Empedocles’ fragments, composed in Greek, a language with which this present author has little experience, let alone expertise. Rather, what’s under poetic examination and critique, as it were, is scholar Brad Inwood’s intentionally inelegant translation of these fragments, as well as, more pointedly, his interpretation of that text.

Indeed, all translation is to some degree interpretation, particularly that of ancient philosophical texts composed in a foreign language, in a foreign place, in a foreign time, by a foreign person. Empedocles’ reasons, inspirations, and intent, remain remote, despite the the scant extant historical evidence and ample textual exegesis. Indeed, there exists before this present translation, and the original fragments, not only the barrier of language, but that of location and of time—with all its inherent sociological, political, and intellectual complexities and peculiarities—and especially of meaning, a meaning explored and interpreted in the secondary literature—which Inwood helpfully dilineates—that spans thousands of years, from Empedocles’ contemporaries to my own.

As a result, this translation makes no claims toward a somewhat irksome accuracy. Instead, it means only to re-inscribe poetic values and intent to what is a self-describedly unpoetic text. For, as Inwood remarks in his introduction,

“The translation of the fragments of Empedocles is intended to be sufficiently literal that a Greekless reader can come to grips with the serious problem of meaning frequently posed by Empedocles’ poetry. The translation which results is in some places unclear—but that is true of Empedocles’ Greek and there is no benefit in hiding that from the reader. It is also inelegant. In that respect it is profoundly misleading to the Greekless reader. For Empedocles was ... a real poet; and no real poet can be translated into a foreign language. Moreover, no poet, good or bad, can be translated poetically without altering his meaning at least somewhat. I have preferred to save as much of the original meaning as possible and to sacrifice the poetic power of the original. If the translation manages to convey even a shadow of the beauty of the original words, that is a powerful testimony to Empedocles’ skill.” (Inwood, 4)

Because my translation, unlike Inwood’s, is concerned foremost with poetry, however one may define it, and not scholarship, my method depends greatly on intuition and emotion. Its style, naturally, results from the demands of the English language—its grammar, its syntax, its flow, and above all, its sound. As with Inwood, I have no doubt that Empedocles was an exceptional poet. I have heard audio of the poems read in the original Greek, in which the undeniable rhythms and the persuasive music of poetry is evident. A similar effect in English is my ultimate goal. Whether or not I succeed is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.

One final note on form: it was at times a necessity to combine a number of the fragments, many of them single lines, into single poems. Poetic convention demands it, and, as Inwood has them grouped—masterfully let it be said—many of these fragments possess similar themes, and seem almost a continuation or conclusion of the previous fragment, or an anticipation of the next. A simple side-by-side comparison of Inwood’s translation and the present text will illustrate this principal much more eloquently and succinctly than a long, drawn out (and perhaps tiresome) explanation here.

                        Also worth pointing out: infrequently I made use of a stray phrase or word choice of Inwood’s, or one of the other translators whose works I consulted during composition. For the most part, however, the words are my own, having pilfered, like Dr. Frankenstein, an arm here, a leg there, in construction of this particular beast. Having resurrected the monster, I can now let it stand—hopefully—on its own two feet.

                                                                        —Eric Hoffman,  Connecticut,  March, 2018




There exists an oracle of Necessity,
an ancient, eternal ordinance
sealed with oaths,

that when a daemon stains his hands with blood,
he is sentenced to wander Earth
for ten thousand years

and stumble through the many forms of life,
suffer its pleasures and wounds,
its torment of emotions.

The wind drives him into the sea
and the sea churns him back to shore
and from the shore he is lifted

into the beams of the blazing sun
then flung back into the wind.
Each accepts then rejects him.

And now I am this daemon.
Exiled from the gods, I wander
among men, trusting only Strife.


I will tell you a twofold tale:
Once, there was a singularity
until torn asunder,
and the one became the many.

This singularity, you see,
both creates and annihilates,
its disarray replaced by unity,
the progenitor of women and men.

Things commingle without end,
unified by Love, repelled by Strife –
there is no constant in this life
besides this constancy of Love and Strife.

Once the world was one, then many,
then the many became one.
Fire, water, earth, and towering air,
and Strife apart and Love among them, equally applied.

Turn your gaze to her,
but not with disinterested eyes.
She is in the ingredients
of their bones, and they do not know.

She is as invisible as the roots.
Under the influence of Joy and Aphrodite,
they love and accomplish the work of peace.
My speech has no trickery.

There is equality among things
as like phenomena in any age –
yet each thing has its intention,
its nature is distinct.

In every age a certain set
of instances comes to dominate.
What was never becomes –
for how can totality increase

and from where does this increase come? –
and what is will never be,
as any fraction of totality is eternal,
since nothing cannot be.


I shall retrace the path of songs
already sung, and from them find
new music. When Strife has reached
the whirlwind's lowest depths,

and Love finds its locus,
all things coalesce, mingle willingly.
From the whirlwind's center
ten thousand tribes materialize,

yet many are set apart, unmixed.
And when Strife outruns the rest,
immortal, innocent Love arrives,
and the eternal is made internal.

The gods, mortalized, pour forth,
find form a marvel to behold.


Eric Hoffman is the author of several collections of poetry, including The Transparent Eye (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016), and Forms of Life (2015), By the Hours (2013), and The American Eye (2011), published by Dos Madres Press. He is the author of Oppen: A Narrative (Shearsman, 2013 rev. US edition Spuyten Duyvil, 2018), a biography of poet George Oppen, editor of Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah: Essays on the Epic Graphic Satire of Dave Sim and Gerhard (McFarland, 2012), co-editor (with Dominick Grace) of Dave Sim: Conversations (2013), Chester Brown: Conversations (2013), and Seth: Conversations (2015), and with Grace and Jason Sacks of Jim Shooter: Conversations (2017) and the forthcoming Steve Gerber: Conversations (2019), and co-editor with Nina Goss of Tearing the World Apart: Bob Dylan an d the 21st Century (2017), all published by the University Press of Mississippi. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Robin and son Sailor.