Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15 (Paul Celan)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Celan, Paul
Joris, Pierre, tr.

This is the first of eight Celan books on my shelf. It is also the first one that I read. I think Pierre Joris informally visited Charles Bernstein's class in 1998 -- yes, I remember now -- it was when Allen Fisher visited. His next stop was SUNY Albany, so Pierre drove up to retrieve him. I was about to say that that was the first time I had heard of Paul Celan, but it wasn't.

I remember I handed Pierre my first chapbook, The Necessary Elephant, and asked him when the other translations were coming out. He gave me this slightly pained look which I came to recognize as the "forthcoming Sun & Moon book" face, which communicated the unique combination of hope and frustration, anticipation and desperation, that Sun & Moon authors often experienced as they waited for the their books to come out. (The "Green Integer" face is much more relaxed, I am happy to report.)

I am sure I bought Breathturn at Borders in Sarasota in December 1997, the first time I visited my mother after she had moved there. That was two months before Allen visited Buffalo. I remember when I bought it, but I don't remember why was interested in buying a book by Paul Celan at that particular time.

Wait, I do remember: I bought a book of criticism/theory at Talking Leaves called Poetry as Experience, by Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe. I bought it because I liked the title. It's essentially a book-length reading of two Celan poems, "Tübingen, January" and "Todtnauberg." I had no idea who Celan was, but I discovered I really liked these two poems.

I don't recall much of the Lacoue-Labarthe book, but I do recall telling Ben Friedlander, who I had just met, that I was reading the book, and I remember him voicing an objection to it, though I don't recall what that objection was. I didn't know at the time that Ben had worked with Pierre on translating some of the German citations in the footnotes of Breathturn.

Anyhow, there are several poems in this book that I keep going back to. This famous one later helped me get my first book going.

above the grayblack wastes.
A tree-
high thought
grasps the light-tone: there are
still songs to sing beyond

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