Saturday, 28 July 2012


                  KAREN ALKALAY‑GUT
Born in London on the last night of the Blitz,KAREN ALKALAY‑GUT in Rochester, NY, where she received her PhD from the University of Rochester. She has lived and worked in Israel since 1972. There, she has raised a family and had a career as a writer in both English and Hebrew, as well as a translator into French, German, Italian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Polish. Her 31-page curriculum vitae details a rich and ranging intellectual life and career; it is clear that it would take more reams of paper than that to contain what her heart knows. But we can sometimes catch her in spoken word, as in the clip below from Bowery Poetry Project. WVFC was thrilled to receive an offer of the Pesach poem below. We bet more than one family will considers her words before next week’s Passover/Easter celebrations.
We were slaves
to Pharaoh in Egypt,
we sang extempore —
each with a different tune
each with a different memory.

Born on the outer edge of war,
I envisioned only Cecil B. DeMille
and the myriads of extras drowned
behind a trick glass wall.

(No. That isn’t true.
Years before,
when we were in our old home
—flimsy and small—
I would fear
that when we opened the door for Elijah,
Hitler and his men would push in,
destroying all, but my consciousness.)

In the new house
with the massive cherry dining set
my father and I bought secondhand
and the flowered gilt dishes
my mother saved all year,
we were our own leaders.

Our guests leaned on their pillows
and admired the oversized turkey
(symbol I see now of America—
freedom and relief)
the tsimmis, the compote,
and all the extra courses
—fish, liver, soup —
they had only dreamed of
even before the war.

And while I focussed
on the Hagada drawings of Moses,
with his strong, Heston chin,
did my father
think of his years in prison?
Did my mother
recall the boat
that took them back
from the Promised Land to Danzig
on the eve Hitler came in?

On this night of nights
we sang together offkey
that once we were slaves
that now we are ப்ரீ
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires


Believe me I didn't know

you were within me—

thought myself merely curious:

devouring strange concoctions in the night

while the family slept its righteous sleep,

the nausea a function of a menopausal system,

the malaise, illness—not creation.

Then there you were

smiling in your cradle

my breasts suckling‑ready

I know

how lovely you would grow

which corners you would reach

how far you would have taken me

And it will be years

before the things I link with you

will neutralize, not bear

the heavy weight of trivial incidents

And though I take the pillow

here to your sweet mouth

your voice will never

leave mine

Milk and Honey.wmv - YouTube

Part of the European intellect.

                          Eugenio Montale
Eugenio Montale, born in 1896, is one of the few obvious "true masters" of the last fifty years of Italian literature. Born in Genoa into a family of businessmen, he discontinued his secondary studies and started, on a private basis, to study singing with the baritone Ernesto Sivori. But the 1915-18 war (in which he served as an infantry officer), the death of Sivori and his decision to go in for a literary career, turned Montale away from that course, in which he had shown an extraordinary interest in melodrama, even its technical aspects. When he started to devote himself to poetry, he was already in possession of a rich and versatile culture and a taste for Bellini's and Debussy's music, impressionist painting and the art of the great novelists of nineteenth-century Europe, at the same time sharing the interests of the Ligurian poets Roccatagliata-Cecardi, Boine and Sbarbaro. However, the "regional" outlook of the poetry of his time was not allowed to limit the critical attention that he paid to Leopardi and Foscolo. It was not until after the war that the poet dedicated himself fully to creative activities and literature. In 1921, he contributed to "Primo Tempo", with Solmi and Debenedetti, revealing, besides his poetic gifts, a rare critical talent through his acuteness and independence of conventional patterns. His Omaggio a Svevo, published in 1925 in the Milanese paper "L'Esame", aroused much attention, determining, among other things, the fortune of the works of the Triestine writer.
Montale settled down in Florence in 1928, where he became director of the Gabinetto Vieusseux library. He was one of the first inspirers of "Solaria", always being one of the most active and politically non-conformist Florentine intellectuals until, in 1938, refusing to join the party then in power, he was dismissed from his directorship at the Gabinetto Vieusseux.
In 1925, he published his first collection of poems, Ossi di seppia, which quickly became one of the "classics" of contemporary Italian poetry; in his verses, sentiment appears desiccated by a severe intellectual rigour, evoked with intimate fullness in the fervid and striking sights of the Mediterranean landscape. Some critics aptly saw in Ossi di seppia a singular introspective continuity, as in a great modern novel, linked to the story of the protagonist, finding its most developed form in the poem "Arsenio".
When Le occasioni (1939) was published, it brought consistent confirmation of this inner line of development which, bearing a new classical-modern imprint, identified itself with the great contemporary metaphysical poetry. In Le occasioni, Italian poetry and culture as a whole were, from then on, to recognise a book that reflected the solitude and the agony over the human condition of one who lucidly opposed Fascist oppression, creating a song of noble stoicism.
Montale's biography is a chronicle of poetry. The Second World War saw the publication, in 1943, of Finisterre, a collection which, published in Lugano in two successive editions of modest print runs, constituted one of the cornerstones of the volume La bufera e altro, a consistent continuation of his whole work, printed in 1956. La farfalla di Dinard - which from the ninety-six pages of the 1956 edition was expanded, from one edition to another, into the 273 pages of the 1960 edition - showed Montale to be an original writer of autobiography and imaginative prose, almost a narrator, with malicious flashes of wit but with an elegiac spirit.
In 1961, Montale was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Rome and shortly afterwards, at the universities of Milan, Cambridge, and Basel. In 1967, President Saragat appointed him senator for life "in recognition of his distinguished achievements in the literary and artistic fields". This event relieved him, in a sense, of the obligation to go every day to the editorial office of the "Corriere della Sera", where he had been working as a music critic, editor and special correspondent since 1948. The following works, prose as well as poetry, confirmed the vitality of a writer who, true to the fundamental themes of his early career (the Universe marked by inevitable failure and pain as an existential stigma), managed to collect experiences and important moments from the spiritual transformations of our times. Auto da fé (1966 and 1972), Fuori di casa (1969 and 1975) and Quaderno di tradazioni (1948 and 1975) are books that give an idea of the vastness of his interests and of the versatility of his talent, later confirmed by La bufera e altro (1970).
In 1971, Mondadori published his fourth collection of poetry, Satura, which soon became a bestseller. The book, exhibiting the usual linguistic ambiguity typical of Montale, alludes to a poetry that disrupts its own and others' patterns, including, in a paradoxical manner, much more than is usual (even for Montale) to include in the stylistic and linguistic models of poetry: meditative solicitations, existential themes about man still in some way Christian and Western, a wisdom anything but senile, subtle and provocative humor in the face of a world that changes and proceeds along its tragic and mysterious route.
Montale's great poetry, in actual fact, is born out of the search for those presences that reveal and liberate the hidden world, such as spectres and amulets. Not insusceptible to the stylistic lessons of Pascoli and Gozzano, nor to contemporaries writing in English, Montale has in his turn influenced younger Italian poets, even post-Ermetismo poets and experimentators.
After a volume of cultural articles, La farfalla di Dinard, he published in 1973, still with Mondadori, Diario 1971-72, which contains more recent lyric poems, born of a moral meditation not very different from that which brought forth the poems of Satura.
Attentive to the effects of history, Montale's poetry stands out as congenial to spirits that are aware of the consequences (of which, from many aspects, we have not yet seen the end) of the second world tragedy, which the writer saw as temporary reflections of an evil without origin and without end, according to a parable which makes him belong to the more conscious part of the European intellect.
Some of his poems

At the Threshold

Be pleased if the wind that enters the orchard
brings back the surge of life:
here where a dead tangle of memories
sinks and founders,
there was no garden, only a reliquary.

The flapping you hear is not flight
but a commotion in the eternal womb;
you see how this strip of solitary earth
transforms itself into a crucible.

Beyond the sheer wall is rage.
If you proceed, you might bump into
perhaps you mightthe saving apparition:
here the stories are composed, the acts
that the game of the future will cancel.

Look for a broken link in the net
that holds us down, jump out and flee!
Go, I've prayed this for younow my thirst
will be lighter; the rust less bitter. . .
                                                              translated by David Young

Again and Again I Have Seen Life's Evil

Again and again I have seen life's evil:
it was the strangled brook, still gurgling,
it was the curling of the shriveled leaf,
it was the fallen horse.

I have known no good except the miracle
that reveals the divine Indifference:
it was the statue in the drowsy trance
of noon, the cloud, the cruising falcon.
                                                                translated by David Young

To Spend the Afternoon

To spend the afternoon, absorbed and pale,
beside a burning garden wall;
to hear, among the stubble and the thorns,
the blackbirds cackling and the rustling snakes.

On the cracked earth or in the vetch
to spy on columns of red ants
now crossing, now dispersing,
atop their miniature heaps.

To ponder, peering through the leaves,
the heaving of the scaly sea
while the cicadas' wavering screech
goes up from balding peaks.

And walking out into the sunlight's glare
to feel with melancholy wonder
how all of life and its travail
is in this following a wall
topped with the shards of broken bottles.
                                                                 translated by David Young

Glory of Expanded Noon

Glory of expanded noon
when the trees give up no shade,
and more and more the look of things
is turning bronze, from excess light.

Above, the sun
and a dry shore;
so my day is not yet done:
the finest hour is over the low wall,
closed off by a pale setting sun.

Drought all around: kingfisher hovers
over something life has left.
The good rain is beyond the barrenness,
but there's greater joy in waiting.
                                                                  translated by Jonathan Galassi

Bring Me the Sunflower

Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it
here in my own field burned by salt-spray,
so it can show all day to the blue reflection of the sky
the anxiety of its golden face.

Darker things yearn for a clarity,
bodies fade and exhaust themselves in a flood
of colors, as colors do in music. To vanish,
therefore, is the best of all good luck.

Bring me the plant that leads us
where blond transparencies rise up
and life evaporates like an essence;
bring me the sunflower sent mad with light.
                                                                 translated by Charles Wright

The Dead

The sea that breaks on the opposite shore
throws up a cloud that spumes
until the sand flats reabsorb it. There,
one day, we jettisoned, on the iron coast,
our hope, more gasping than
the open sea
and the fertile abyss turns green
as in the days that saw us among the living.

Now that the north wind has flattened out the cloudy tangle
of gravy-colored currents and headed them back
to where they started, all around someone has hung
on the limbs of the tree thicket fish nets that string
along the path that goes down
out of sight;
faded nets that. dry in the late
and cold touch of the light; and over them
the thick blue crystal of the sky winks
and slides toward a wave-lashed arc
of horizon.

                More than seawrack dragged
from the seething that uncovers us, our life
moves against such stasis: and still it seethes
in us, that one thing which one day stopped, resigned
to its limits; among the strands that bind
one branch to another, the heart struggles
like a young marsh hen
caught in the net's meshes;
and motionless and migratory it holds us,
an icy steadfastness.
maybe the dead too have an rest taken away from them
in the ground; a force more pitiless
than life itself pulls them away from there, and all around
(shadows gnawed and swallowed by human memories)
drives them to these shores, breaths
without body or voice
betrayed by the darkness;
and their thwarted flights brush by us even now,
so recently separated from us, so close still,
and back in the sea's sieve go down...
                                                                   translated by Charles Wright

The Storm

Les princes n'ont point d'yeux pour voir ces grand's merveilles,
Leurs mains ne servent plus qu' à nous persécuter . . .
                                                    (Agrippa D' Aubigné: À Dieu)

The storm that trickles its long March
thunderclaps, its hail, onto the stiff
leaves of the magnolia tree;
(sounds of shaking crystal which startle you
in your nest of sleep; and the gold
snuffed on the mahogany, on the backs
of the bound books, flares again
like a grain of sugar in the shell
of your eyelids)

the lightning that blanches
the trees and walls, freezing them
like images on a negative (a benediction
and destruction you carry carved
within you, a condemnation that binds you
stronger to me than any love, my strange sister);
and then the tearing crash, the jangling sistrums, the rustle
of tambourines in the dark ditch of the night,
the tramp, scrape, jump of the fandango. . .and overhead
some gesture that blindly is groping. . .
                                                           as when
turning around, and, sweeping clear your forehead
of its cloud of hair,

you waved to me
and entered the dark.
                                                                          translated by Charles Wright
Copyrighted Material