Alifano: One of the most beautiful definitions of the aesthetic act comes from you, Borges. In one of your essays you state: ‘The aesthetic act is the imminence of a revelation which is never fulfilled.’
Borges: Ah, yes. I did say that. It’s true. Certain sundowns, certain dawns, some weathered faces are at the point of revealing something to us, and this imminence of a revelation which is not fulfilled is, for me, the aesthetic act. Now, language itself is also an aesthetic creation. I believe this is indisputable; a proof is that when we study a foreign language, when we are compelled to look at words closely, as though with a magnifying glass, we see them either as beautiful or not. This doesn’t happen with one’s own language, since we see and feel our words as integral to our expression.
Alifano: You have said that metaphors exist from out very beginnings. Could you expound on that concept, Borges?
Borges: Yes, certainly. I believe that metaphors, if they are truly metaphors, exist from the beginning of time. I don’t believe it is easy to invent them or to discover affinities that have not already been perceived. But we express them differently. I have occasionally thought of reducing all metaphors to five or six which seem to me to be the essential metaphors.
Alifano: What are those metaphors?
Borges: Well, time and a river; life and dreams; death and sleep; stars and eyes; flowers and women. These would be, I believe, the essential metaphors that are found in all literatures; and then there are others that are whimsical. I believe that the poet’s task is to discover metaphors, even though they may already exist. I think that a metaphor doesn’t come to a poet as a revelation of a similarity between disparate things: a metaphor is revealed to the poet in its wholeness, in its form, in its intonation. I don’t think that Emily Dickinson thought: ‘This quiet dust was men and women,’ and that afterward she changed the latter phrase to ‘gentlemen and ladies’; that seems unlikely to me. It is more likely that all this was given to her by someone–whom we could call the spirit, the muse–as a single even, at a single time. I don’t believe that one arrives at poetry by means of progressions, by searching all possible variations of words. I believe that one comes upon the proper adjective or adjectives. I remember a verse by Rafael Obligado which reads, ‘Estalla el cóncavo trueno’ (the concave thunder bursts). And I am sure that he didn’t arrive at such an expression by trying several adjectives accented on the antepenultimate syllable; I think he came directly upon the word cóncavo, which is the precise word, the word we feel as proper, and it is the one that gives the verse its beauty."
– Twenty Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983
"My race began as the sea began,
with no nouns, and with no horizon."
– from Names by Derek Walcott
he brought nothing
took everything i had
destroyed me when he left
he brought too much, took too much
destroyed me when he stayed too long
he brought nothing
blossomed into my heart
the one i never got enuff of
he left ghosts
he brought hope–days of it
and leaving, left love
Whereas I never had a good idea
About improving people in the world,
Here I am overfertile in suggestion,
And cannot rest from planning day or night
How high I’d thrust the peaks in summer snow
To tap the upper sky and draw a flow
Of frosty night air on the vale below
Down from the stars to freeze the dew as starry.
Why was I born among mirrors?
The day walks in circles around me,
and the night copies me
in all its stars.
I want to live without seeing myself
Federico Garcia Lorca
he didn’t know he was so shook
it started in his system/an erratic prance
some mechanism gone wet
codeine induced cellulitis, acid trails and flashes
he had nightmares about his mother pinching him in his sleep
his youth authority internment
the scar up his ass where they removed some thing
the lesbian he loved in Yucaipa
the black bird smashed against the window
of the stolen car
he began to sweat out his nights
when he woke his long dark brown hair was plastered
to his head. he was always dripping
it got so she couldn’t stand laying next to him
the stench nauseated her, caused her to vomit
sometimes she made him sleep outside on the porch
so she could get an occasional night’s rest
but most times she took breath by mouth
he went to the hospital
they took tests and found nothing
he went to the police
profuse sweating was not a crime
he took daily showers
the water bill went up
the seams in his clothes began
to mold and erode
the sheets and comforter would not
his septic sweat permeated everything
seeped down thru the mattress into
the earth beneath their bed
one summer’s midnight as they slept in his dampness
there was an earthquake
it measured 8.2 on the Richter scale
the bed split open the soft moist mouth of a scream
and she watched with mixed emotions
as he fell thru
"Is this what they have brought me, being hungry, the Sun and the Moon?"
– Notes From a Bottle Found at the Beach at Carmel by Evan S. Connell
"Love poetry was the outcome of the bitter feelings of loneliness and deprivation which overwhelmed the [Palestinian] Arab population after 1948. The feeling that they were a defeated minority began with the passage of time to change into a feeling of defiance, and they succeeded in confronting their hard circumstances face to face.
Resistance was not an easy choice; it was rather a daily battle with a ferocious enemy who considered it a question of life and death. And as the measure of persecution became fiercer, resistance consolidated. Contrary to the poetry of exile, the poetry of resistance emerged with an astonishing revolutionary spirit completely free from the sad and tearful trend. Strangely enough, it quickly reverberated with all the political upheavals of the Arab countries.
Resistance poetry did not only witness a change in purport and poetic effect but also in form and technique. It rejected the traditional poetic forms and adopted modern techniques without losing force. As to purport, resistance poetry resorted to various mediums of expression:
1. Love. The love from woman is completely integrated with the love of the homeland. Woman and Earth are completely assimilated in one great love and transformed into the great cause of liberation.
2. Satire. The enemy and the henchmen are ridiculed and the acts of suppression are expressed with bitter irony. This trend expresses a lively and an unconquerable spirit which considers all happenings as an ephemeral and transitional condition which sooner or later must and will be changed and put back to normality.
3. Defiance and challenge. The enemy is exposed and put face to face with the staunch and fearless spirit of the fighters."
– Resistance Literature in Occupied Palestine by Ghassan Kanfani.
The professor stabbed his chest with his hands curled like forks
before coughing up the question
that had dogged him since he first read Emerson:
Why am I “I”? Like musk oxen we hunkered
while his lecture drifted against us like snow.
If we could, we would have turned our backs into the wind.
I felt bad about his class’s being such a snoozefest, though peaceful too,
a quiet little interlude from everyone outside
rooting up the corpse of literature
for being too Caucasian. There was a simple answer
to my own question (how come no one loved me,
stomping on the pedals of my little bicycle):
I was insufferable. So, too, was Emerson I bet,
though I liked If the red slayer think he slays—
the professor drew a giant eyeball to depict the Over-soul.
Then he read a chapter from his own book:
He didn’t care if our heads tipped forward on their stalks.
When spring came, he even threw us a picnic in his yard
where dogwood bloomed despite a few last
dirty bergs of snow. He was a wounded animal
being chased across the tundra by those wolves,
the postmodernists. At any moment
you expected to see blood come dripping through his clothes.
And I am I who never understood his question,
though he let me climb to take a seat
aboard the wooden scow he’d been building in the shade
of thirty-odd years. How I ever rowed it
from his yard, into my life—remains a mystery.
The work is hard because the eyeball’s heavy, riding in the bow.
"Because I’m the size of what I see / And not the size of my stature"
– The Keeper of the Flocks by Fernando Pessoa
They played with the pebble
Pebble like any pebble
Played with it as though it had no heart
They got mad at the pebble
Broke it in the grass
Startled they saw its heart
They opened the heart of the pebble
In the heart a snake
Sleeping spool without dreams
They roused the snake
The snake gushed upward
They ran far away
They looked from a distance
The snake coiled itself round the horizon
Like an egg it ate it
They came back to the place of the game
No trace of snake grass or pieces of pebble
No trace of anything the circle
They looked at each other and grinned
They winked at each other
We lived in a pocket of Time.
It was close, it was warm.
Along the dark seam of the river
the houses, the barns, the two churches,
hid like white crumbs
in a fluff of gray willows & elms,
till Time made one of his gestures;
his nails scratched the shingled roof.
Roughly his hand reached in,
and tumbled us out.
How far from heaven the stars are,
how far the heart from the page.
We don’t know what counts–
It’s as simple as that, isn’t it,
we just don’t know what counts.
Mid-winter in Charlottesville,
soul-shunt and pat-down, crumbs
Snow-flecked across the back yard, then gone on the sun’s tongue.
These are the four lessons I’ve learned,
One from Martha Graham,
three others from here and there–
Walks as though you’d been given one brown eye and one blue,
Think as though you thought best with somebody else’s brain,
Write as though you had in hand the last pencil on earth,
Pray as though you were praying with someone else’s soul.
Sometimes there’s a wind in the Georgia dusk
That cries and cries and cries
Its lonely pity through the Georgia dusk
Veiling what the darkness hides.
Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk,
Left by a streak of sun,
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk.
Sometimes a wind in the Georgia dusk
Scatters hate like seed
To sprout its bitter barriers
Where the sunset bleed.
And I will show that there is no imperfection in the present,
and can be none in the future,
And I will show that whatever happens to anybody it may
be turn’d to beautiful results,
And I will show that nothing can happen more beautiful
And I will thread a thread through my poems that time and
events are compact,
And that all the things of the universe are perfect miracles,
each as profound as any.
I will not make poems with reference to parts,
But I will make poems, songs, thoughts, with reference to
And I will not sing with reference to a day, but with refer-
ence to all days.
And I will not make a poem nor the least part of a poem but
has reference to the soul,
Because having look’d at the objects of the universe, I find
there is no one nor any particle of one but
but has reference to the soul.