Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dan Pagis, Bukovina, poetry

Dan Pagis
Bukovina, in the northeastern Carpathian Mountains, is one of those eastern European countries whose existence was fleeting--part of history's annexations and redrawn borders. Once sovereign, once part of Rumania, once part of the Ukraine, of Poland, of Russia. Paul Celan was born there.

Dan Pagis was too, which is why I mention it. I read Variable Directions, an anthology of Pagis' poems, not long after I started writing poetry, and fell into it. He  spent three years of his adolescence in a concentration camp (he escaped). Yet (yet?--what's the right conjunction for a segue from horror?) his sort-of airy touch was what made the owners of Open Books: a Poem Emporium in Seattle lead me to him. My poem Everyday I Write God a Letter by Way of Maintaining Connection and Lessening Rage includes this (this = Pagis and Open Books).

I think. I keep stopping to reread him and keep feeling consciousness layering on me, eiderdown on eiderdown, as if I were dropping to sleep down a spectrum of whites and luminescent, insisting turquoises, and aware of it.

I'm not sure what of his is in print right now but it's easy enough to get your independent bookstore to find used copies for you.  Here's the final poem in Variable Directions.

End of the Questionnaire

Housing conditions: number of galaxy and star,
number of grave.
Are you not alone or not.
What grass grows on top of you,
and from where (e.g., from your stomach, eyes, mouth, etc.).

You have the right to appeal.

In the blank space below, state
how long you have been awake and why you are surprised.

Dan Pagis, Variable Directions, tr. Stephen Mitchell, North Point Press, 1989.

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