3.21.2017

Alaska

View of Resurrection Bay from the second floor of the Seward Library

In the summer of 2014, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake in southern Alaska, the Seward Public Library exhibited a series of crayon, pastel, ink and pencil drawings made by a class of Seward schoolchildren in 1964, one week after the 9.2 magnitude quake.

On display were marvelous renderings of the fires that burned on the waterfront, billowing black smoke, buildings and homes and cars destroyed, exploding Texaco and Standard Oil tanks, Resurrection Bay covered in a burning oil fire, boats washed up into the town, and tiny stick figures fleeing towards the mountains from a giant tidal wave. 

Most interesting among the drawings were two by little Jimmy Bradford. In what a half century later would be labeled "Fake News", little Jimmy Bradford had illustrated two alternate factual accounts of the tragedy and its devastation. 

In the first of little Jimmy Bradford's drawings a Nazi warplane flies over the town dropping its munitions onto the defenseless citizens. In the second, a giant reptile, perhaps a dinosaur, has emerged from Resurrection Bay and is rampaging through the buildings on the waterfront.

Perhaps the Seward boy was expressing his incredulity with the official explanation for his town's destruction. But it should be assumed possible too, that little Jimmy Bradford did indeed observe a giant sea creature and an enemy bomber from a war concluded 20 years previous, and that his account was deliberately left unreported by the main stream media.

3.17.2017

On This Day, 3 Years Ago

Some members of Front Dock at Tony's Bar, St Patrick's Day 2014

Only Jason was in green. The Russians were bringing in the p-cod. This was us at Tony's, where we started the celebration. Dominic, pictured laughing, was still with the dock crew. He would be fired in the last days of p-cod season, when the work ran 20 hours a day, the Russians arriving in boats one after the other through the night and it was blowing a gale with wind and sleet and snow. Dom couldn't handle it and walked off the crane. Even Charles was down on the dock pitching fish and running one of the cranes and raving like a madman. I got on the crane Dom abandoned and had to  forklift two boats at a time. It was a helluva spot Dom put the crew in walking off. But this picture comes before all that. Dom was a good guy after all. This was St Patty's Day and we were just getting started here. Mad Jack had brought us downtown in his quacking taxi. 

There was a movie crew rumored to be in Seward and on this night the locals thought I was an actor in this film that was to be shot. I did nothing to dissuade this presumption and encouraged it and Jason and Dom spread fabulous lies about my acting career. The movie plot was some sort of secret but we explained it all: there were Alaska bears and snowmobiles and Inuit hunters in the film. Extraordinary things were happening. We made promises to get these locals in the film and took their phone numbers. The locals offered their snowmobiles and expertise. We said we would need it all, most definitely. Dom, I said, was a production assistant. He would be in touch with them.

Then, naturally, we met more people as the night got drunker. These people were from Los Angeles and they were the actual film crew. Jason, fish pitcher and the film's head of cinematography, was now concerned our lies would be exposed, and had us flee to the Yukon where we ran into more of the Los Angeles crew. Things got sloppy after that. Things I cannot write, that I might tell you if we were together and there was a solemn promise made not to repeat these things. For a St Patty's Day is not complete if it does not get a little strange and Seward late in the night and early morning could get as strange as ever.

3.11.2017

Das Sausen Des Waldes

My German to English translation of Knut Hamsun's foreward to the 1909 German edition of Det Vilde Kor. The foreward is a letter from Hamsun to Dr. Heinrich Goebel, who wrote the book's introduction. Hamsun's original letter in Norwegian has been lost.

FOREWORD

My Dear Doctor!

The poems I have published make for only a small book, and perhaps they are not the best I've written, I do not know. Later, I will put out other collections, I have a great many verses. 

I do, however, find it disrespectful to my readers to publish early drafts and loose poetic sketches as finished poems.

Every poet knows that poems come about under a stronger or weaker pressure of mood. A sound buzzes in us, colors glow, there is the feeling of something inside trickling. It depends on how long this state of mind lasts. It has happened for me — in good moments — that before I have finished a verse the next one has begun to flow; I must then skip the half-finished verse, and begin with the new one further down on the page, and there is often only a single line here and there, which does not seem to follow the broader current. And why should I publish such a less than perfect draft? It would satisfy neither myself nor the readers.

So it is that I have a lot of poems that cannot be published until their form is improved.

I do not know how the great lyricists are working; their poems perhaps emerge completely finished and without mistakes at the instant a mood strikes them. I only wish to tell you, my dear Doctor, how my own verses have come about.

Incidentally, there is no major difference in my way of working with prose or poetry. A great part of what I wrote was penned at night after having slept a few hours and then awakening. I am at such moments clear-minded and extremely sensitive. I always have paper and a pencil beside my bed. I do not turn on the light, but begin to write in the dark when I feel something begin to flow. It has become a habit, and it is not difficult for me to understand my papers in the morning.

I do not wish to give you the impression of anything mystical in the development of my poems. That I am best writing in the dark at night is a sort of bad habit which began long ago when I had no light to turn on and was forced to make do. There is nothing mystical and nothing "ingenious" about it. The truly great poets probably have their own method, which is different from mine.

The summer is the most productive time for me. Many poems come about when I lie on my back in the forest. I try to get away from people and keep the memories of modern life far away, and I commit myself to those days of my childhood when I wandered about and cared for the animals at home. My feeling for nature — if such a thing is possible — came alive during that early childhood on the grasslands, in the woods, and in the mountains, and there I met the many animals and birds that have become my lifelong friends. Since the age of four the sea was also a part of the natural environment I grew up alongside. My home was on the Westfjord, and this fjord opens directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

Reports from the explorers on their explorations are my favorite reading. These people are not as skilled as professional poets with the adjectives they choose, yet they tell me so much. When I sometimes read descriptions of nature in modern novels, I am filled with disgust; I quickly see theirs is merely a somewhat learned knowledge of nature, influenced by some observation made on the spot, and not an inner and sacred empathy with the forest and its vastness.

Winter is for me the hardest time. I do not love the snow, its sight torments me, and I understand nothing but its deep and unnatural emptiness. I once wrote a long epic poem about winter during Christmas. But, sadly, it was not a success, although it was illustrated by one of our foremost artists.

If something happens in winter that reminds me of the summer, I always feel happiness and contentment. Rain falling upon the snow as a change in the weather, the chirping of a little bird in a tree, or the passing scent of a flower blossom, each put me under a spell for awhile; sometimes, when a fly buzzes in the window, a pang of joy passes through me in memory of the summer, now hidden beneath the snow.

Spring begins to take hold of me in February or March. The days are then clear again, one is given new hope, and the verses begin to come.

So many more poems are there ready and waiting to be finished.

This is, Doctor, what I can tell you about my poetry. Use these remarks as you wish, whether your plan is to translate them, or just to quote from the useful parts when you write your introduction.

Sincerely,
KNUT HAMSUN

2.05.2017

Swedish Box


Wooden box hand carved in 1963 at Santa Barbara, California by the Swedish exile Hans D. He then was 89 years of age and retired from steam turbine engineering. He was the holder of 19 steam turbine patents and was at one time a colleague and friend of the inventor Nikola Tesla.

1.30.2017

The Wild Chorus: Aphorisms

35. Even Reason itself is shot through with wild mystery. All the reasonable arguments have come to nothing; look at the history of your West, your politics and philosophy, your great civilization. It is not through more 'changing the world' that the world will be righted. To let the world alone, rather. Allow mystery its rightful place. The world is fine enough. But man must first recover his humility to accept a diminished place in it. 

36. Allow the wave to bear you up — those more powerful forces than men — to you know not where. There is pleasure and ecstasy in submission. To give in to the divinities once again.
 
44. When God did not answer his prayer for fiat wealth God was no longer necessary. Then no more did wealthy men attribute their financial success to divinity, only to themselves. In capitalism, men became gods.
 
49. The wild chorus is never unsung. Let the last land primates go extinct. Then remove the birds from the air, the fish from the seas. Let them all go away. Let men go next. Yet the wild chorus sings on. At that dark hour, when all appears dead, what is first heard as silence becomes a roar.
 
70. The economies of scale have defeated all other forms of life. The hunt is no more. Each summer in Alaska the fishermen are less. The world has been limited to a single species and a single language, and finally a single currency and a single form of life. The forests and rivers and mountains and skies have been transformed into numbers in a bank account. With the continuing concentration of global wealth into the hands of an ever select few, the idea of conspiracy becomes ever more plausible.
 
73. Men have learned the language of generality. They no longer can speak specifically of village life. They speak of the global, the virtual. Mars is next, they say.
 
79. Still the wild chorus sings of places and local practices, so many hidden transcripts, perhaps each year more forgotten. It sings of animals gone and animals hidden; of gods deceased and gods in waiting. And so the wild chorus will one day sing of Reason and argument, of the great ideas of men long passed. This time as all the others shall pass. There can be no progress, my brothers, and that is a good thing.

1.29.2017

"With Red Roses" by Knut Hamsun

 my translation of "Med Røde Roser" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

With hands outstretched I am knelt
despite having heard your nay.
Take these flowers with gratitude felt
for with them you adorned my way.
I behold you now like these roses aflame
though my eyes you refuse to meet;
perchance many memories have came
some of sorrow and some sweet.

Your tears like rain left my mind in a haze
your smile was my sun anon,
you created upon the earth beauty with your ways,
and my soul in your garden lives on.
It flowers — it flowers in that garden today
and with a fragrant plea.
O come, and cast all your sorrow away,
and keep my love only!

12.22.2016

"The Skerry" by Knut Hamsun

my translation of "Skærgaardsø" from Det Vilde Kor, 1904

The boat drifts now
towards a skerry,
an isle in the sea
its shores luxuriant.
Flowers grow there
never before seen,
they stand like strangers
and watch my landing.

My heart is more and more
like a mythic garden
with flowers like these
on the island.
They talk with one another
and whisper strangely,
like children meeting
with laughter and curtsies.

Perhaps I was here
at the dawn of time
as a white Spiraea
waiting to be found.
That fragrance I know
from long ago,
I tremble amidst
my memory of it.

I close my eyes,
the recollection passes
my head falls
towards my shoulder.
The night is thickening
over the island,
the sea is thundering —
Nirvana's thunder.
 
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