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As if toward Beauty

New Poetry by Gwendolyn Jensen

 

Poetry

As if toward Beauty

Birch Brook Press, 2015

Art by Helen Febbo

 

 

NIGHT RIDERS

 

In the wake of sleep they walk to where the mill run

runs through gnarly grasses, to where tomorrow’s cows

will clamber down, making water dark and wide,

making muddy puddles, which like little fears,

draw upon a larger water. They cross to where

the horses stand, heads hung down, leaning in

upon themselves. What would it be to ride, to nuzzle

flat against a smooth warm neck? What would it be

to jump the fence, to go where air grows deep? Beyond them

lies a curve of farmhouse and its stubbled field,

and in the field a fox, high-tailed, alert, stands soft

among the brittle stalks, listening for a mouse,

aiming at a sound. And overhead there is

a filament of moon, the best of all the moons,

partial and complete, beyond the reach of ruin.

 

 

BIRTHRIGHT

A letterpress edition by Birch Brook Press, 2011 (a second printing in 2012)

Art by Helen Febbo

 

First Blood

 

Myself am hurt. I bleed

the shy in me.

Not a scab

to pick, but sea

I cannot lean across.

Child is best.

Will it remember

me no more?

 

But the lava moves,

its pale taste

not yet worn,

a sentence

on the tongue

and belly stung.

 

 

birthright.jpg

Recently Published Work

 

DIRECTIVE

published in Salamander, spring/summer, 2016

 

See the ink below your knee. There

your veins were mapped and quarried. The line your groin

defines remains intact, smooth like timber,

the timber of a ship, a Viking ship,

long preserved before its harvesting.

 

Notice now your penis, folded round

a catheter. Here alone is faithfulness,

the glory of the young, the appetite

and joy of age, the arc of golden pee

beside the road, beyond the car.

 

Your pelvic skin is bruised where several soundings,

tunnelled deep into your vascular

geography, the femoral artery,

the aorta to its great divide.

Here they found things out, put things in,

 

took things out. Here they scraped the sides, 

releasing clots, clots that spread throughout

your body in a sudden surge, children

sprayed and scattered by the vigor of

a hose, or Chopin racing to the end.

 

Now see where the fortress of your chest

was broken, sternum cut and folded back

to make a place for work. Those intruders

are all gone now. Glue and wire have fastened

back together bone and fat and skin.

 

This line’s to your jugular, where meds 

and anesthesia go. You looked forward

to that sleep, whatever sleep it is,

to forget a while, to lose so small,

so small a piece of time.

 

I touch the tube that’s in your nose. It carries

food, passing by your mouth, your tongue,

esophagus, and stomach, slipping food 

directly in your bowel. You do not taste

or swallow. Your stomach never feels its force.

 

You cannot speak, you cannot sing or whisper.

A breathing tube is in the way. Your voice

was soft enough to bear the weight of joy,

deep enough for praise. It kept alive

astonishment of being, silenced now, and sealed. 

 

Your eyes are closed as if in sleep, 

where age no longer matters,

in the leisure of a summer day,

someone else’s laughter,

someone else’s day.

 

 

 

 

 

Translation

ALDA MERINI

Image Credit: Giuliano Grittini at it.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Giuliano Grittini at it.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons

Alda Merini’s linguistic and thematic passion, intensity, and mysticism made her one of the major Italian poets of her generation. She was born in 1931, and by the time of her death in 2009, had published more than 60 collections of poetry and an autobiography, L'altra verità. Diario di una diversa (The Other Truth: Diary of a Dropout) (1986) in which she explored madness in creative expression.

She was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature, once in 1996 by the Académie Française and again in 2001 by the Italian PEN Club. Her work is well-loved in Italy but is only beginning to be known in the English-speaking world, most especially with the recent publication of Susan Stewart’s Love Lessons: Selected Poems of Alda Merini (Princeton, 2009).

Jensen has a partner in this work, Chiara Frenquelluci, who was born in Rome and has been teaching language and literature for over twenty years. She has published articles on Italian theater, fiction, opera and poetry, a critical edition of 17th c librettos, as well as textbooks and multimedia eBooks. The translation below is by Frenquellucci and Jensen and appeared in tearsinthefence (U.K.) #63, Spring 2016, p. 57.

 

Quando ci mettevano il cappio al collo
e ci buttavano sulle brandine nude
insieme a cocci immondi di bottiglie
per favorire l'autoannientamento,
allora sulle fronti mandide
compariva il sudore degli orti sacri,
degli orti maledetti degli ulivi.
Quando gli infermieri bastardi
ci sollevavano le gonne putride
e ghignavano, ghignavano verde,
era in quel momento preciso
che volevamo la lapidazione.
Quando venivamo inchiodati in un cesso
per esser sottoposti alla Cerletti,
era in quel momento che la Gestapo vinceva
e i nostri maledettissimi corpi
non osavano sferrare pugni a destra e a manca
per la resurrezione degli uomini…

When they would slip a noose around our necks
and throw us on naked cots
along with filthy bottle shards
to push us toward self annihilation,
then on drenched foreheads
appeared the sweat of sacred gardens,
of those damned olive gardens.
When the bastard nurses
would lift our putrid skirts
and sneer, sneer green,   
it was in that precise moment
that we wanted to be stoned to death.
When strapped onto the crapper
to undergo the Cerletti,*
it was in that moment that the Gestapo won,
and our goddamned bodies
dared not strike to the right and to the left  
for the resurrection of mankind… 

*Cerletti invented electric shock treatment.


KAROLINE VON GÜNDERRODE

Karoline von Günderrode (1780-1806) was born in Karlsruhe to an impoverished family of the lesser nobility. Her meditations on love and death drew upon and advanced mythological scholarship. She wrote abundantly, often publishing under a male pseudonym, and had three loves in her life, each ending badly. After the third she killed herself on the banks of the Rhine.

The poem below was translated by Jensen and Monika Totten. Totten is a retired scholar whose doctorate is from the Harvard Department of Germanic Literatures and Language. The translation appeared in Tears in the Fence (U.K.), no. 57 summer 2013.

 

Vorzeit, und neue Zeit.    

Ein schmahler rauher Pfad schien sonst die Erde.
Und auf den Bergen glänzt der Himmel über ihr,     
Ein Abgrund ihr zur Seite war die Hölle,
Und Pfade führten in den Himmel, u zur Hölle.

Doch alles ist ganz anders nun geworden,
Der Himmel ist gestürzt, der Abgrund ausgefüllt,
Und mit Vernunft bedekt, und sehr bequem zum gehen.
Des Glaubens Höhen sind nun demolieret.
Und auf der flachen Erde schreitet der Verstand,        
Und misset alles aus, nach Klafter und nach Schuen.

THEN, AND NOW  

Once earth seemed a rough, tight path.  
And in the mountains Heaven glowed,      
And at earth’s side, a deep abyss was Hell,     
And paths led up to Heaven, and to Hell.

But now everything’s entirely altered,    
Heaven has collapsed, the abyss filled in
And paved with reason, and very easy walking.    
The heights of faith have been demolished. 
And knowledge strides across the smooth flat earth,
And measures everything, in fathoms, cords, and feet.

Biography

Gwendolyn Jensen was born in 1936 and grew up in Lansdowne, PA. She began writing poems when she retired in 2001 from Wilson College (Chambersburg, PA) where she had served as president for ten years. Her Bachelors degree is from the University of Hartford, her Masters from Trinity College (Hartford), and her Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut.

After teaching history at the University of New Haven she moved into administrative work serving as graduate dean at the University of New Haven, and then as academic dean, first at Western State College (Gunnison, CO) and then at Marietta College (Marietta, OH).

Her poems have been widely published in both electronic and print journals, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Harvard Review, Tears in the Fence, The Malahat Review, Measure, Salamander, and Sanskrit Literary Arts Magazine. 

Birthright is her first book of poems. It was published in 2011 in a letterpress edition by Birch Brook Press and had a second printing early in 2012. Her second book, As if toward Beauty, also with Birch Brook Press, was published in 2015. Her third book is Graceful Ghost, also with Birch Brook Press and in a letterpress edition. It will be published toward the end of 2017 or early in 2018.

She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 
 

Readings

 

Saturday, March 18, 2017, 2 o'clock

The Bryn Mawr Book Store

373 Huron Avenue

Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

Friday, June 2, 2017, 3:15-4:30

John Stewart Memorial Library at Wilson College,

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

 

 

 



 

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