When I received Riccardo Duranti’s translations of CD Wright’s poems, I was swept away by elation washed over our absence toward everything in the increasing darkness, one of Wright’s circular poems (or amphisbena?), which, as Duranti himself explained, have the last verse as their title. While reading I forced myself to remain on the textual level – constantly failing in my attempt to put a limit on the expressive stimuli, dragged as I was by each digression onto the next image – and I realized that the tilting iteration, obsessively affectionate, of “My husband” kept forcing me, in its turn, to focus on the extratextual level instead, towards the subject in the writing. in short, I was not able to reach that necessary estrangement, that separation between writing subject and written object which is part of the process needed when wishing to build a serious relation with poems by a stranger.
I have never met CD Wright and I surely did not have the authority for such an approach, but for reasons of literary chronicle and criticism I knew that the “husband” in the poems is Forrest Gander, Californian poet, translator and essayist, professor at Brown University, Providence, together with his wife – with whom he also ran the Arkansas Lost Roads publishing house, a legacy from its founder Frank Stanford. What I did not know was that Gander’s last book, Be With (New Directions, 2018) – Pulitzer Prize winner 2019 and published in Alessandro De Francesco’s translation for Benway Series in 2020 in Italy – has been written mostly while its author was grieving the loss of his wife, as Gander admitted during two italian interviews with our collaborator Alberto Fraccareta (Il Manifesto, Avvenire). Inevitable to feel equally undetached while reading Be With – those poems could not be read with the right amount of distance anymore. Gander’s lucidity in grief had become tangible to me.
In her poem elation…, CD Wright writes: «Above the very ground / of our writing (even as power poles were falling / on volvos)»; «Our bed irrigated with my blood. Watching me burn from within; tendering his cross pen» (my emphasis). I felt like I was witnessing the extraordinary emotional relationship between two people, two poets. Hence, a spark of intuition: I had to ask Forrest Gander – the only surviving gaze on this dialogue between life and writing – this question:
Was there (is there) a relationship between such different poetic writings of two people bound by an emotional relationship? In what way did this “further life”, the “life of writing”, act on your existential and literary story? Can poetry say “something” about what is inexpressible in a loving relationship? Can it do so through two distinct voices but united by a life experience?
I obviously worried about how inappropriate this request of mine could turn out to be, demanding, as I was, to enter the private nucleus of the life of two people, a risky and indelicate endeavor that we would never attempt in front of a stranger. Yet, Gander and Wright were not strangers to me anymore, so I decided to ask Forrest this question, hoping he would welcome it and give us his testimony. What encouraged me most was the subtitle to Be With: “The political begins in intimacy“, something that seemed to me the outcome and achievement of self-conscience through poetic language, a language which found itself transformed within and after grief (and that, to Gander, cannot be defined “experimental”: «Experimental isn’t a very satisfying word to me. As someone said, No one has an experimental baby», he states).
It turns out Gander replied to my invitation only a few days later, moved and grateful at the idea of facing this theme for the first time (his words) since his wife’s passing. Here, the words of an author amply discussed by Gander himself, Roberto Bolaño, resonate with a special truth: «A poet can endure anything. Which amounts to saying that a human being can endure anything. Except that it’s not true: there are obviously limits to what a human being can endure. Really endure. A poet, on the other hand, can endure anything» (Phone calls).
Lay0ut is thrilled and proud to offer a translation of Gander’s testimony, together with a poetic dialogue between himself (four poems from Be With with Italian translation) and CD Wright (unpublished Italian translation of elation…). In so doing, we hope to give credit to the words closing the poet’s own testimony: «And it is some comfort to me that after I die, she and I are still bound— as Li Bai says in Ezra Pound’s translation— “forever and forever and forever” in the words we found in and through and with each other».
Translated by Serena Demichelis
A Testimony by Forrest Gander
CD and I were together for 35 years. She was, many say, the most talented and original poet of her generation, someone who would have been a contender for the Nobel Prize had she lived longer. Unlike John Ashbery or Frank O’Hara, who still have legions of imitators, CD Wright was, as her obituary noted, «so original, so fiercely independent that she belonged to a school of exactly one.» No one could imitate her changing styles or her voice which was smart and funny and always marked by her rural Southern roots. We were each other’s constant and dedicated readers and editors. We ran a book press together and we ended up teaching together at the same university. And although we were two poets in the same house, we didn’t feel competitive because we were too different as poets to be compared. Also, to be frank, I was always in awe of her. We lived on poetry and love. Anything else was just extra. Because we were often passing books we liked back and forth, we occasionally would learn the same new words and both of us would use them in our poems. I remember that we once, after we gave a reading together— which we often did— our host commented that it was very unusual for two poets to use the word “frass”— a term that refers to the wood dust and excrement that falls from branches where beetles are boring their holes. Yes, indeed, it’s unlikely that two poets giving a reading will ever both use that same word, which few people know, again. Over a period of thirty-five years of writing, with each of us so tuned to the other, many of our poems came to refer to each other. Even dreams that we had of each other— dreams which seem to me among our most intimate experiences because when we tell them, we offer something that never existed outside our own unconscious minds— appear in our poems. When we passed through periods of grief, when we were suffering from the death of parents or the turmoil of our son, it was in poetry that our griefs soldered us together again. Just as our joy and sensual lives were articulated and given nuance in our poems. In her absence now, I find her alive again in her poems and in my poems for her. And it is some comfort to me that after I die, she and I are still bound— as Li Bai says in Ezra Pound’s translation— «forever and forever and forever» in the words we found in and through and with each other.
A Poem by CD Wright, from Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (2005)
elation washed over our absence toward everything in the increasing darkness. The soft coloration of his longing in the indifferent environment has never deserted me. My husband saving the spermaceti to light our eyestrings. My husband charting my obsessions with characteristic cool. Singing sacerdotally in the shower, my husband intoning every cleft in my skin. Our syncopated breathing. My husband who flew often at night as a child. Above the very ground of our writing (even as power poles were falling on volvos). My husband equally popular with women of all ages. His nail parings, his running legs, his scriptoria. O his ludic hard head. Who cut down his own hair with a bone-handed knife. His rack of gorgeous unworn ties. My husband touching even the insular men; whenever fear bred its mushrooms under rugs, a cleaning frenzy commenced. Our bed irrigated with my blood. Watching me burn from within; tendering his cross pen. O predominately my white guilt. Whenever it rained
l’euforia inondava la nostra assenza verso ogni cosa nell’oscurità crescente. La sfumatura delicata del suo desiderio nell’ambiente indifferente non mi ha mai abbandonato. Mio marito che risparmia grasso di balena per illuminare i nostri sguardi. Mio marito che registra le mie ossessioni con una calma tutta sua. Che canta ieratico, sotto la doccia, mio marito che intona ogni piega della mia pelle. I nostri respiri sincopati. Mio marito che da bambino scappava spesso di casa la notte. Sorvolando il terreno del nostro scrivere (anche quando i tralicci crollavano sulle volvo). Mio marito che ha lo stesso successo con donne di tutte le età. Le unghie tagliate, le gambe da corridore, i suoi scrittoi. O la sua giocosa testardaggine . Lui che si è tagliato i capelli da solo con un coltello dal manico d’osso. La sua sfilza di magnifiche cravatte mai indossate. Mio marito che commuove persino gli uomini chiusi. Ogni volta che la paura faceva crescere funghi sotto i tappeti, cominciava una smania purificatrice. Il nostro letto irrigato dal mio sangue. Mi guardava bruciare da dentro; mi prestava la sua penna cross. Oh mio senso di colpa prevalentemente bianco. Ogni volta che pioveva
(italian translation by Riccardo Duranti)
4 Poems by Forrest Gander from Be With (New Directions, 2018)
Beckoned At which point my grief-sounds ricocheted outside of language. Something like a drifting swarm of bees. At which point in the tetric silence that followed I was swarmed by those bees and lost consciousness. At which point there was no way out for me either. At which point I carried on in a semi-coma, dreaming I was awake, avoiding friends and puking, plucking stingers from my face and arms. At which point her voice was pinned to a backdrop of vaporous color. At which point the crane’s bustles flared. At which point, coming to, I knew I’d pay the whole flag-pull fare. At which point the driver turned and said it doesn’t need to be your fault for it to break you. At which point without any lurching commencement, he began to play a vulture-bone flute. At which point I grew old and it was like ripping open the beehive with my hands again. At which point I conceived a realm more real than life. At which point there was at least some possibility. Some possibility, in which I didn’t believe, of being with her once more.
Convocato A quel punto i miei suoni di lutto rimbalzarono fuori dal linguaggio. Qualcosa come uno sciame d’api alla deriva. A quel punto, nel tetro silenzio che seguì Fui invaso dallo sciame e persi conoscenza. A quel punto non c’era via di uscita neanche per me. A quel punto andavo avanti in un semi-coma, sognando di essere sveglio, evitando amici e vomitando, cavando aculei da volto e braccia. A quel punto la voce di lei era appuntata a uno sfondo di colore vaporoso. A quel punto le penne remiganti della gru si arrossarono. A quel punto, arrivando, sapevo che avrei pagato tutta la tariffa base. A quel punto il conducente si girò e disse non c’è bisogno che sia colpa tua per ridurti in pezzi. A quel punto, senza alcuna esitazione iniziale, cominciò a suonare un flauto in ossa di avvoltoio. A quel punto diventai vecchio e fu come rompere di nuovo l’alveare con le mie mani. A quel punto concepii un regno più reale della vita. A quel punto c’era almeno una qualche possibilità. Una qualche possibilità, in cui non credevo, di essere con lei ancora una volta.
Epitaph To write You existed me would not be merely a deaf translation. For there is no sequel to the passage when I saw — as you would never again be revealed — you see me as I would never again be revealed. Where I stand now before the throne of glory, the script must remain hidden. Where, but in the utterance itself? Born halt and blind, hooped-in by obligations, aware of the stare of the animal inside, I hide behind mixed instrumentalities as behind a square of crocodile scute — while cyanide drifts from clouds to the rivers. And in this too might be seen a figuration of the human, another intimately lethal gesture of our common existence. Though I also wear my life into death, the ugliness I originate outlives me.
Epitaffio Scrivere Tu mi hai esistito non sarebbe soltanto una sorda traduzione. Perché non c’è seguito al passaggio quando vidi — come non saresti mai stata rivelata di nuovo — mi vedi come se non fossi mai stato rivelato di nuovo. Dove mi trovo adesso di fronte al trono della gloria, la scrittura deve restare nascosta. Dove, se non nello stesso enunciato? Nato infermo e cieco, nella spirale degli obblighi, conscio dello sguardo fisso dell’ animale dentro, mi nascondo dietro usi strumentali misti come dietro un quadrato di scudo di coccodrillo — mentre il cianuro vaga dalle nuvole ai fiumi. Ed anche in questo può essere vista una figurazione dell’umano, un altro gesto intimamente letale della nostra esistenza comune. Benché anch’io porti la mia vita nella morte, la bruttezza che origino mi sopravvive.
The sounding What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark? And into what do you stumble but this violet extinction? With froth on your lips. 8:16 a.m. The morning’s sleepy face rolls its million eyes. Migrating flocks of your likesame species incandesce into transparency. A birdwatcher lifts her binoculars. The con- tinuous with or without your words situates you here (here (here)) even while you knuckle your eyes in disbelief. Those voices you love (human and not), can you hear their echoes hissing away like fiery scale from an ingot hammered on some blacksmith’s anvil? And behind those voices, what is that blowing the valves of your ears open as black rain, not in torrents, but ceaselessly comes unchecked out of everywhere with nothing to slacken it.
Lo scandagliamento Cosa si chiude e poi luminoso? Cosa si apre e poi buio? E in cosa inciampi se non in questa estinzione viola? Con schiuma sulle tue labbra. 8:16. Il volto dormiente del mattino rotea i suoi milioni di occhi. Stormi migratori della tua medesima specie diventano incandescenti fino alla trasparenza. Una bird-watcher solleva il suo binocolo. Il con- tinuo con o senza le tue parole ti situa qui (qui (qui)) anche quando ti stropicci gli occhi per l’incredulità. Quelle voci che ami (umane e non), puoi sentire la loro eco sibilare via quale scoria ardente da un lingotto martellato su un qualche incudine di fabbro? E dietro quelle voci, cos’è che, facendo scoppiare le valvole dei tuoi orecchi come una pioggia nera, viene non in torrenti, ma incessantemente senza freni, dappertutto, e non c’è niente che lo rallenti.
from Tell Them No Here is a steel wire with a ring at one end. Intuition of the infinite. At its other end I’ve screwed a conical cap with sharp cutting edges at the base. The infinite always intuited against the background of the infinite. If it doesn’t serve to open up a sound, the particular sound for instance of my lips releasing your name, then a gland may be involved and another kind of treatment called for. Won’t you please toss a handful of your infinite phosphene into my gloom-sopped eyes.
da Dire no Ecco un cavo d’acciaio con un anello a un’estremità. Intuizione dell’infinito. All’altra estremità ho avvitato un coperchio conico con spigoli affilati e taglienti alla base. L’infinito sempre intuito per contrasto sullo sfondo dell’infinito. Se non aiuta dischiudere un suono, ad esempio il suono particolare delle mie labbra che rilasciano il tuo nome, allora una ghiandola può essere usata con un altro trattamento richiesto. Potresti per favore lanciare una manciata del tuo infinito fosfene nei miei occhi inzuppati di tenebre.
Italian translation by Alessandro De Francesco
Forrest Gander (Barstow, 1956) is an American poet, essayist and translator, among the greatest exponents of ecopoetry. Graduated in geology and English literature, he married the poet CD Wright, with whom he had a son, Brecht Wright Gander. He has published poetry collections (including Redstart: An Ecological Poetics, Science & Steepleflower, and Be With, with which he won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize), essays (A Faithful Existence), and novels (As a Friend, The Trace).
C.D. Wright (Mountain Home, 1949 – Barrington, 2016) published sixteen books of poetry and prose. She worked at Brown University and so did her husband. Wright’s collection One With Others (2010) was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize. She has also received awards from the Lannan Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and was named MacArthur Fellow in 2004.