October 3, 2010

Stephen Kessler


for Pierre Joris

Sometimes I feel
like a motherless
tongue, an untongue-

tied motherfucker un-
able to lick the but-
ton of my love mere-

ly monolingually but
must multiply my
moves to include all

the landscapes my
restless lips have tra-
versed in the course of

roaming so many worlds
I can’t recall, record,
remember, recount or re-

collect them all, a
long blur in my back-
ground which obscures

my ever questionable
origins because after
all where was I any-

way when speech first
struck me like a lash
across my voracious,

my insatiable mouth, my
mind, my maw that
sucks in everything

in sight only to trans-
late it later into un-
speakably conceptual

yet loud sounds, like air-
craft landing on far-
flung runways or air

conditioners humming
in the depths of hotels
where multilingual

scholars & miscellaneous
scoundrels rendezvous
in momentarily shared

weltanschauungs to sip
martinis and hope
to seduce each other

while exchanging recipes
for revelation, as if
the sudden sight of

ancient schoolmates
were not enough to set
poems homelessly in

motion in pursuit of
what was missed in the
interim, attempting to

trace that unmistakable
outline of aged profiles
whose uncommon ambitions

have branched like
the lines on old maps,
rivers & roads that

changed as they flowed
& unrolled into worlds
their respective travelers

scarcely foresaw when
they set out but now,
in turned-back time,

have ripened &
dropped like sweet
fruit into the mouths

of eloquent orphans
who savor every last

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005


Stephen Kessler: “Pierre and I were student poets together at Bard in the late 1960s and our paths had crossed just once since then when we met again last fall in Las Vegas as translator colleagues at ALTA where he gave me a copy of his book A Nomad Poetics, to which ‘Homeboy Nomad’ is my response.” (web)

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July 13, 2010

Stephen Kessler


Any hack can crank out a hundred sonnets
if he has to; all you have to do
is set up your metronome and start typing,
taking dictation from the day’s small gifts,
whatever presents itself in the street
or dredges itself up from memory
or dreams itself out of your transcribing hand.
It’s an insidious form, because it’s almost
easy, leading you by the wrist through rules
and rhythms as old as the English language
translated down the ages in idioms
transformed by time and driven by dying breaths.
It gives you a false sense of what you meant
when the closing couplet clinches your argument.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Tribute to the Sonnet


Stephen Kessler: “When I started writing poems in earnest, as a teenager, I had no use for free verse, but the formal structures and rhythms of English poetry—especially that of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats—provided the models for my own earliest efforts. In time I became more ‘contemporary’ in my approach to form, opening up to more unpredictable lyric structures, but my ear had been trained to hear rhythm and rhyme in a way that continues to serve me more than 40 years later. These sonnets were written during what could be called a cool-off lap after translating about 70 sonnets by Borges for his complete sonnets, to be published in 2010 by Penguin. While they are not formal sonnets in the strictest sense, I think they are close enough to give an illusion of sonnetude.” (web)

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