Monday, December 15, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 10

Alcalay, Ammiel
From The Warring Factions


Ammiel has been my compadre the past few years on the OlsonNow project. I met him in, I think, 2004 or 2005. Nick Lawrence, nearing his departure from Buffalo to the UK for a teaching gig, said he wanted to do a last reading here before he left, and asked if Just Buffalo could bring Ammiel to read along with him, which we did.

Up late one night discussing poetry and everything else, Ammiel and I discovered a common interest in Olson. He told me his parents, Sephardic Jews who'd fled Europe during the war, had been a part of Olson's circle in Boston and Gloucester and that he had memories of playing badminton with Olson when he was ten. It's kind of hilarious to imagine a man that large waving at a shuttlecock with his dainty racquet!

From The Warring Factions is still my favorite book of his. A meditation on war, empire, history in five parts, it is Olsonian in its constant digging, its appropriation of texts, and its sense of history of an activity for which one is responsible. Here's an excerpt from section 3, "migration/hegira":

suddenly like shapes of hidden stone clothed in the light of dreams I tore the veil the shrouds which wrap the world the frost of death the flood of tyranny a paradise of flowers within which the poor heart loves to keep the earnings of its toil a common home stains of inevitable crime pride built upon oblivion to rule the ages that survive our remains violence and wrong an unreturning stream the grief of many graves snow and rain on lifeless things this is not faith or law opinion more frail or life poisoned in its wells that delights in ruin as endless armies wind in sad procession the earth springs like an eagle even as the winds of autumn scatter gold in dying flame we learned to steep the bread of slavery in tears of woe these faded eyes have survived a ruin wide and deep which can no longer borrow from chance or change what will come within the homeless future that gold should lose its power and thrones their glory that love which none may bind is free to fill the world like light whose will has power when all beside is gone faint accents far and lost to sense of outward things some word which none here can gather yet the world has see a type of peace some sweet and moving scene returning to feed on us as worms devour those years come and gone like the sip which bears me in this the winter of the world

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