Neruda at Machu Picchu (and D. H. Lawrence below)

Hereafter, I use Neruda’s spelling, “Macchu Picchu.”
Translations part mine, part Nathanial Tarn.
Quotes identified by poem number (twelve poems in Neruda’s set).

As with other poems I’ve read by Neruda (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, plus some miscellaneous bits and pieces), The Heights of Macchu Picchu (sic) is built of concrete blocks of imagery – mostly seasonal and nature imagery but with some metals and cosmic flashes too. The images are never remote from subjective coordinates, though, whether the subjective reverberations are those of love and intimacy (as predominate in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) or a longing for some lost primeval consciousness (as in The Heights of Macchu Picchu). In the latter case, Neruda stands close to D. H. Lawrence, the prolific English writer of both poetry and prose born one generation before Neruda. Lawrence, too, spent time immersed in the pre-Hispanic cultures of the Americas. He found both the ancient Mesoamerican and the pagan Mediterranean cultures more authentic, more fulfilling of our deepest human needs, than the anemic culture of Christianity and modernity. The longing for that lost authentic mode of being (living “breast-to-breast with the cosmos” Lawrence called it in Apocalypse) takes a theme running through many of Lawrence’s books and threads into this one by Neruda.

Beneath that shared vision, the sense of loss and the urgency of retrieval, I do see a few differences as I read The Heights of Macchu Picchu. Whether these differences point to the subjective registers of my personal response or to something objective in Neruda, you can decide, but they do help shape meaning in my reading of the poems. For one, there is a bit more native American nationalism in Neruda’s response to Macchu Picchu; he seems to feel it as a loss his people have experienced: “Ancient America, bride in the veil of sea … under the nuptial banners of light and reverence … buried America, were you in that great depth …” (X). Lawrence, for his part, seems more tuned to the loss of authentic human spirit in a more general, less nationalistic, way. But, even in Neruda, the nationalism is but a touch here and there, not a dominant idea in the set.

There is also a kind of death-wish that runs through Neruda’s collection, an element of abjection in the poet’s lament: “La poderosa Muerte me invitó muchas veces” (“powerful Death has beckoned me many times,” IV). Although Lawrence (e.g., in the non-fiction Apocalypse or Etruscan Places, or in the novel, The Plumed Serpent) laments the same loss of the primeval human spirit, the driving tone in Lawrence is a defiant celebration of what has been lost. Sure, there is a respect for the great cycles of life and death in both writers, but Neruda’s handling of death is tinged a bit more with melancholy, with a sense of personal abjection, as he feels an irresistible attraction toward “the true, the most consuming death” (VII).

In Lawrence, too, some element of abjection may be attributed to characters in The Plumed Serpent (e.g., modern Mexicans who lack the fullness of life of their pagan forebears and are thus “divided against [themselves]”), but abjection is peripheral, not in the central voice as we find in Neruda. In The Plumed Serpent (set in early 20th-century Mexico), some of the Mexican characters might be seen as working to restore that full pagan consciousness, some of the (modern) Mexican characters merely express the lost greatness of that pagan world as a form of abjection, and the European characters are too caught up in “mechanical dominance” and “mechanical connections” to get it at all, or they are just starting to perceive the big picture of spiritual loss and possible rejuvenation, but from the outside, as it were. To tentatively plot the voice of Neruda’s Macchu Picchu poems into this schema, Neruda feels the full pull of the old world view in his concrete vision of Inca life in Macchu Picchu but also feels the abjection of the modern Chilean, with a more visceral connection and more visceral sense of loss than was perhaps possible for the Englishman. In any event, the feeling you get in Neruda tacks a bit more to the personal whereas in Lawrence you feel more drawn toward the archetypal, despite the large overlap in their visions.

One other difference worth mentioning may be related to Neruda as a craftsman of poetry. If Poem VIII imagines the ancient pagan consciousness, as Lawrence might do, as “a long-dead kingdom” that paradoxically, dormantly “still lives on” but at a depth we cannot see (“El reino muerto vive todavia”), in Poem IX, the structure of the poem itself seems to suddenly emulate the pagan consciousness:

Aguila sideral, viña de bruma.                        Interstellar Eagle, vine-in-a-mist

Bastión perdido, cimitarra ciega.                    Forsaken bastion, blind scimitar.

Cinturón estrellado, pan solemne.                   Orion belt, ceremonial bread.

Escala torrencial, párpado inmenso.               Torrential stairway, immeasurable eyelid.

Túnica triangular, polen de Piedra.                Triangular tunic, pollen of stone.

Consciousness here takes the form of concrete images, discrete, without all the rational connectors that Neruda (and Lawrence) might associate with modern consciousness. The flow is not one of a causal nexus but of a throbbing heartbeat, uncluttered by the need to reduce everything to rational sequences.

Rejuvenating that primeval heartbeat remains a central theme beyond the structural experiment of Poem IX:

“Through a confusion of splendor,
through a night made of stone let me plunge my hand
and move to beat in me a bird held for a thousand years,
the old and unremembered human heart!” (XI)

And on to Neruda’s invocation in Poem XII, and back to an attitude he fully shares with Lawrence:

“Look at me from the depths of the earth
. . .
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow

Strike the old flints

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.”

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Hippies, Claws, and Maggie Leblanc

Books getting out to new stores — signed copies in stock now! This week’s features are New Orleans stores. Buy local if you can!

SCHEMATICS AND ASSEMBLIES OF THE COSMIC HEART at
Blue Cypress
More Fun Comics

LOVE’S RAGGED CLAWS  at
Frenchmen Art and Books

HIPPIES at
The Mushroom Records and Smoke Shop

And for you unfortunates who can’t chop local, find all through my website.

BONUS: Join me for a book club Zoom chat on my novel, Goodbye, Maggie, this Thursday, Feb. 24, 7 pm US central time. All are welcome. Zoom link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84153455299

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Gabriela Marie Milton’s poems

Gabriela Marie Milton, Woman: Splendor and Sorrow: Love Poems and Poetic Prose
Reviewed by Gary Gautier

The title and subheadings of this poetry collection — “Woman: Splendor and Sorrow” (Love Poems/Poetic Prose) might mislead you into thinking that the focus is narrower in content than it is. If the focus is love, it is love in the broadest sense, a love that encompasses narrative and lyrical and archetypal forms, a fantastic array of imagery, a panorama of human and divine experience.

Imagery always comes first in poetry for me, which bodes well for Milton. Imagery, rather than something rational or polemical, drives the structure and flow (although the polemical does rear its head in the “poetic prose” near the end).

peaches will grow on one side of the moon
injured lambs will scream on the other
taste of strawberries
my hair freshly cut

your hands nailed in white marble

my love
it’s spring
it’s me
free your hands from the marble*

(The Easter of Roses)

Two points worth noting: one is the reliance upon concatenated imagery to drive the flow; the other is the little conceptual hook at the end, where the field of imagery blossoms into some nugget drenched with philosophical or emotional value.

The imagery can be beautiful (“the marble net of rustling stars”), startling (“bones cracking with love,” “with pins in his heart the pigeon still flies”), or archetypal (“moon” and “stars” and “purple seas”; from “cotton candy sunsets” to “the arms of Morpheus”), but it makes every poem concrete.

To be sure, there are other laws of motion in Milton’s poetic universe – the narrative (“I fast for nine mornings. On the tenth, I walk barefoot toward the water … I love for nine nights. On the tenth, I look for …), the anecdotal and darkly humorous (“I keep a coffin adorned with lilies in my bedroom. I sleep besides death like Sarah Bernhardt”). But the dominant movement is the free association of images, images with personal and emotional power, but most importantly (for me) with archetypal power – whether the archetypal landscape associated with a religious mythos (““resurrection” and “prophets,” “sacrifice” and “creation”) or a landscape perhaps deeper in the collective unconscious, powerful images that predate religion as we know it. Milton is fairly straightforward about the ties to the collective unconscious in the “poetic prose” section.

“My poetry is that which comes from the realm of the unfulfilled. It is the echo of the waves that you can guess but cannot see.”

Thus, toward the end of the collection, she gathers her “wounds . . . in a large wicker basket” and recounts an apparent choice she made regarding which archetypal orientation would be her final resting place.

“I did not want to go to heaven. I wanted to go to the sea.”

She does not equivocate. She makes a choice. All agency goes back to the poet. In a collection based on imagery and suggestiveness, this moment of decisiveness is a nice hook, I think, for how the collection speaks to the splendor and sorrow of women, and in a larger sense, to all of us.

Click cover for link.

P.S. Last day to get Goodbye, Maggie for 99c: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1724881876/

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What dreams may come

the picture

Tumbling down the narrow
stone steps, the wet taxi streets,
I know nothing of your dreams,
your mood, your dark mystery nights.

Great things, little things,
rye and stout,

my hand on your waist
for the picture.

the sun

we danced around the room
we stood on the roof
we playacted
hamlet, macbeth, anything
to unsee the clouds heavy on the basilica
clouds now on the balcony,
tomorrow, your journey east
                       to die, to sleep, perchance
into the eye of the sun
                       to dream

the end

I remember the Rilke poem,
dark mystery as you turned your head,
the taxi ride, I stood on the roof and watched,
sweetest sadness of the lone wanderer,
the sound of a name, a wintry
season ahead

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More stores coming in

Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart is coming in all over.

Shortlisted for the Faulkner-Wisdom Poetry Prize
NEW YORK, Quimby’s Brooklyn, 536 Metropolitan Ave (718) 384-1215.
AUSTIN, BookPeople, 603 N Lamar, (512) 472-5050.
BOULDER, Beat Book Shop, 1200 Pearl St #10, (303) 444-7111.
CHICAGO, Quimby’s Wicker Park, 1854 W North Ave, (773) 342-0910.
GUANAJUATO, Escalera Librería, Benito Juárez #59, +52 (473) 103-0564.
Soon to be in NEW ORLEANS and more.

For you poor souls who live without a bookstore cool enough, hit the Amazon link above (or get me a contact to your local store … and to local reviewers 🙂 )

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La vie en rose

Swans and apples, balcony breakfasts,
skin hunger, a touch, no, a word,
not even a word
a sound

far away
past the cathedral
somewhere in the wind
a sound with just a memory

of meaning, of joy, of sadness

la vie en rose

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Schematics in Mexico

Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart now available at Librería Escalera in Guanajuato (Av. Benito Juarez).
Libería Escalera link HERE
Amazon link HERE

white stone, a cathedral of sorts, Medea
roiled a red and golden heat, the fleece gone,
and none left to bury the dead

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Schematics / Poetry Book Club

Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart featured in The Poetry Book Club. Buy a copy and drop a quick rating on Amazon. Spread the news. Word sculptures to entertain and nourish the spirit. $9.88 pap, $3.91 Kindle. Cheap and easy support for those of us toiling in the vineyard of the arts. Go ahead. Do it. 
         Schematics and Assemblies Amazon link HERE
         Poetry Book Club link HERE

mountain lantern light
breaking through bamboo and ice
a thousand angels

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Eat the Storms

I was lucky to have my poetry featured on Damien Donnelly’s Dublin poetry podcast, Eat the Storms. You can link to the episode (Spotify) here. (I’m at 33:05-41:40.) Or go straight to the podcast website and browse. You’ll find lots of good stuff from one of the great poetry cities of the world, hosted by the warm and friendly voice of Damien 🙂

Follow the podcast, say hi to Damien, and give him a shoutout for his efforts to give voice to poets of all stripes and stature.

Gary

Link to Amazon here

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Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart

My new book of poems, Schematics and Assemblies of the Cosmic Heart (117 pages), is now available on Amazon (pap. $9.88, Kindle $3.91). Read it. Rate it. Review it. Pass it on.

Link to Amazon here

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