Wednesday, August 19, 2009

René Daumal: Memorables

Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers has been putting out some of the finest publications of poetry, particularly in the short form, for many years. Their little accordion booklet series (4¼ x 11, folded 3 times) has always been a source of wonder and great delight for me. One of their latest publications is a new translation by Louise Landes Levi of René Daumal's 1939 work Memorables.

Memorables is, as translated, a prose poem of 18 individual verses of intermittent length. Each of the individual verses stand on their own, yet the entire work is very much a piece, with a powerful cumulative effect. Each verse opens with the injunction to remember:

Remember your first insult ...

Remember the evenings of terror ...

Remember your accomplices and deceits ...

Remember the day when you split open the web ...

Remember the beautiful mirage of concepts ...

Remember you have to pay for everything ...

At first, it can almost seem as though the speaker is gently reminding her/himself to remember certain incidents, certain pivotal moments. As the poem builds, however, it feels to me that the speaker is using direct address and that the tone is not so gentle.

Of course, perhaps, it is both simultaneously.

Sometimes the instances remembered seem literal, at others metaphoric to the point of being surreal. In any case, each seems to a be a piece of a larger whole, resulting in a fragmented yet lyrical of the collective unconscious.

Remember: your mother and your father, and your first lie, the
indiscrete odor of which crawls in your memory.

Remember magics, fish and tenacious dreams - you wanted to
see, you stopped up your two eyes in order to see, without knowing
how to open the other.

Ultimately the poem is the mystery of existence; the details are real, with the aforementioned cumulative effect just beyond understanding, no matter how focused one's awareness. It is a beautiful, at times frightening piece, finely translated and beautifully produced. I suspect each reader will be moved by different particular verses. These two touch something deep within, a remembrance of a shared dream, true for all, just as ephemeral, yet as real as the setting sun, as the rising moon.

Remember that you have to pay for everything, remember your
happiness but when your heart was run over, it was too late to
pay in advance.

But remember that love is of no one, that in your heart of
flesh is no one, that the sun is no one, blush seeing the
swamp in your heart.

In a recent post at the excellent Longhouse Birdhouse blog, here is the booklet in its entirety. They describe the Daumal booklet thus:

Three color foldout booklet of one long poem Memorables translated by Louise Landes Levi tucked into sky blue papers with signed and unsigned wrap around band. Unsigned $8.95 / signed $12.95.

The signature, of course, is that of the translator as Daumal died back in 1944. Why buy the booklet when you can read it in its entirety at the website? Why, indeed. Well, it seems to me the Arnolds know the answer to that question and the answer is the reason they published it electronically. Holding it now in my hands, I know the answer.

Hold it in your own and you will, too.


For those who might be interested, I recently posted "Why Anne Sexton Matters" over at the Eleventh Stack blog. I've spent the better part of this summer rereading the complete poems of Anne Sexton for the first time in 20 years and am even more moved, amazed, and saddened than I was first time round.

Finally, here's a selection from an issue so recent it hasn't made it into the Back Issue Archive. Issue #167 was published in March 2009. Enjoy.

I recall myself
As I was in the spring
Of my twentieth year
A peony-pale outside
But crimson inside.
Yosano Akiko
translated by Dennis Maloney


John Martone

Mountain River

In the mountains run
--the hieroglyphics of trout
Read them if you will; they will
--nonetheless draw you down into their water.
Jeffrey Skeate

Chrysanthemums slow
to bloom I find
no joy in autumn.
The west wind heartless
Blowing my gray hair.
Dennis Maloney

the emaciated chrysanthemum
into bloom
translated by David G. Lanoue



Tim Buck said...

Thanks for this. Renee Daumal has lived in my imagination since 1972, when I first read *Mount Analogue.* Years later, his "Night of Serious Drinking.* Two years ago, I bought his fascinating biography by Rosenblatt. I've always been drawn to that general type back then: those of a certain bent who came to Gurdjieff as if drawn by a magnet. A friend of Daumal's -- the surrealist poet Lecomte -- also wrote some stunning verse.

Ed Baker said...

my introduction* to her work:

To Bedlam and Part Way Back.

* by "introduction to" I mean I bought or stole or was gifted the book of (someones work) To Bedlam and Part Way Back is around here somewhere.

Anne read in Baltimore a cpl times in mid 70's her daughter was with her..


as I recall Maxine Kumin was also reading

Anonymous said...

Hi Don:

I enjoyed your "Why Anne Sexton Matters" - thank you for an interesting commentary. One of the poems I've had marked in my copy for years is "Song For A Red Nightgown". I can't remember why I bookmarked it, but as you say, sometimes things still resonate, and in rereading the poem just now I see it still does. Rather haunting, perhaps in part because I haven't read it in a long time. I remember her referring to the color red quite often, in a number of poems . . .


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tim, this is my first serious encounter with Daumal and I believe I will be seeking him out. Funny, this is the second discussion in two days that brought up Gurdjieff - I think you mentioned him in connection with John Lilly.

Ed, Maxine Kumin was a close friend of A, confidante and co-author of childrens books. The last day of her life Sexton had lunch with Kumin, went home, closed the garage door and turned on the car.

J, "Song of a Red Nightgown" - thanks for pointing me to this one, it has many of her signature touches, not the least of which is an enigmatic personal mythology. Bees as a recurrent symbol is almost all pervasive and I haven't got a clue. Also, the final sentence over the last few lines has real pop (as her closings often did) - Talking Heads did a song reminiscent of this:

She is not terrified of
begonias or telegrams but
surely this nightgown girl
this awesome flyer, has not seen
how the moon floats through her
and in between.


Charles Gramlich said...

I like the "Remember." it creates a nice rhythm.