Christopher Barnett 2 November 2013

asked in an interview about my relation with poetry of the english language. i replied very quickly, none

not now, or of my time or even of the last century. dylan thomas & hart crane, ed dorn but very little else & these three are very singular poets other than that william blake but he is beyond language, any language, dead or living. milton i love for his fanaticism

the real influences were always elsewhere, from the first, mayakovsky, hikmet, vallejo, ungareyy, quasimodo, elytis, ritsos, darwhich, dalton, pizarnik, rozewicz – from the arab & latin american worlds, so many, from the ancients to the present

tony harrison, i respect enormously but feel little affinity but possess so much respect for his implacability, like his countryman edward bond. their sublime work tells the lie that political work cannot be important work. both of them surpass almost all others in their language

i cannot understand, really cannot understand why irish poets for example never wrote one thing, not one line that alluded to the dirty blanket or hunger strikers or the hundreds of the gross miscarriages of justice – not one word. a crude mind might say, their publishers were english publishers but i know it goes deeper than that – though none of them had any difficulty in identifying with eastern european comrades – they learnt from nabokov, naipaul, & milosz – that western elites love silence in their poets & so they followed that, to the letter

in any case, for a young poet, mayakovsky, hikmet & vallejo were what walter benjamin demanded writers to be – teachers. these poets taught how a poetry could possibly speak, how it could talk to people & talk to souls, living & dead. pasolini & adonis also taught that, but perhaps in a more deflective way

i reminded the interviewer that the poetry of the oppressed had been my real teacher & why, even sick i remain committed to working in those communities. it is those who are close to the margins who really teach the function of language, in all its forms & in all its spheres, from the brutal to the abstract – how polyphony & discontinuity connected runs like like the tigris & euphrates, through it. it is this community who took me back to childhood, not in any psychoanalytic way but in a fundamental way to the imagery of my troubled, troubled childhood, prelanguage, what images remained & so it was little surprise to see these images reappear when i did a close reading of the preislamic poets before beginning to write the ‘improvisation for the memorial to the abolition to slavery’

these images, always there, give life when i am so close to death or reminded of its caress, of its contours each & every day

clearly, the interviewer, who was asking imagined i would praise the great depth of the english language. i did not. i could not. that is not my truth. my work from 14 years of age to this moment has been to tear that language apart with all the art i possess, with all the force i am able, to encircle my art – so that even if it comes from a dead language, it attempts to answer the wrongs of my culture & under the influence of my latin american brothers & sisters, suggest that another world is possible

ps

i have always felt a special affinity with the poetry of the shtetl & of the ghettos, what victims & survivors did to language, their own & others has had a profound affect on me as a man, perhaps as a poet. it is a point of pride to me that my french editor who introduced my work to france also introduced the work of paul celan to a french public

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