Monday, March 31, 2008



Rapid Departures / Partidas Rapidás by Vincent Katz, Trans. by Regina Alfarano
(Ateliê Editorial, 2005)

Rapid Departures is a bilingual volume of poems by Vincent Katz (with facing-page Portuguese translations by Regina Alfarano), with art by Mario Cafiero. While it would be wrong to say that the poems are Brazilian-themed, it would not be wrong to say that they are to some degree embodiments of his Brazilian experiences, since they were all written in Brazil. In his endnote, Katz calls this book “an essay in poetry of the city”, and claims in that sense lineage with “Catullus, Propertius, Baudelaire, Apollinaire, and O’Hara”. “City” here must be taken in a Platonic-archetype sense, since this in fact a book of poems of several cities, and sometimes of the highways and byways between.

Katz’s inclusion of Propertius is not fortuitous, as Katz is Propertius’ translator. In his introduction to his Propertius translations, Katz writes of the Roman poet’s “highly compressed phraseology”, how “[i]t was in his character to write in a way that was half-challenge, half-insouciance”, how he had “a highly literary and subtle approach to both subject and language”, and how, “with all his literary and verbal sophistication … [he had] the ability to write lines of the most down-to-earth frankness”. He might as well be describing himself.

As Katz mentions in his endnote, when commiserating with his translator, the poems in Rapid Departures “range from the deceptively transparent to the turgidly opaque”. But isn’t that, as they say, life in the big city?

There are echoes of many poets in these poems (which isn’t to say that Katz is derivative; it’s just to say that wherever we go with senses open we can’t help but hear echoes of others who have passed by … and that novelty is an invention of modernity, and if it ain’t got that swing, well …). I hear a bit of Blackburn in the following:
                              In a couple of years, his girl
will look weathered, maybe bitter. Her breasts
will be sad. But tonight, while the boys play, she is perfect.

And I hear Apollinaire in
Christ is caught up in antennae
the city is beautiful in the rain
it washes its sins away

And so on. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hear Katz. It just means that these poems are indeed highly literary.

Of course the literary can be deeply felt (I don’t know why I need to say this, it’s not as if the literary cannot be felt; but there does seem to be some sense still alive in the culture that there is a binary, “real/artifice”, and I feel myself wanting to say no no no … tho I’m guesing I don’t really need to say this to GR’s audience …):
My emotions can’t keep
pace with the beauty,
drops of water on roses
in my wife’s hands
as she stands with me
in front of the world
in a tiny, private, spot,
which passes instantly
and never goes out.

So far, I’ve made no mention of what Katz calls his “turgidly opaque.” There are several such poems, though to my ear they seem equally as urban, literary and felt, and in no way more artificial than the “deceptively transparent” poems quoted so far. “Rapid Departures”, the long poem that give the book its title, is one such poem. It begins:
Krates crawl
Wander lay
in syntax
sax by
at 1:38

Later mention is made of “incessant unkempt prattle” and how “here, our manuscript / turns to mush”, but, while normal semantic meaning may not be easy to extract and it very well may not be meant to be, there is nothing unkempt or mushy about this poem (or any of the others in this volume). Katz is in as much control of his materials as he wants to be. This, again from “Rapid Departures”, is for me the funniest moment in the book (and perhaps the most “moving” and “literary”):
to bloom, to be in one’s
prime, to foam, ferment,
be eminent, abound in,
swarm with clutched
story, this’ll be as good
a spot as any to tell
this little tale:

Once, four men entered
a carriage. It headed
over registered half
rising setters rough

And away it goes … expectation set up, expectation denied, only so something better can happen.

It occurs to me that a poem like “Rapid Dapartures” couldn’t have been written before the so-called “linguistic turn” of the latter half of the 20th century. But this is where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I’ve just been reading a creation myth from early First Dynasty Egypt, in which, as in Genesis, logos precedes world. Which makes me wonder: have we always been living under the sign of the linguistic turn? Have we ever set foot outside the “prison-house of language”? I’m not the person to answer this. I still don’t know, and probably never will, how language relates to consciousness, how consciousness relates to body, how body relates to world …

Katz is willing to live with it both, or more than both ways (perhaps this enables his range). Sometimes consciousness (logos?) precedes world:
any view is ultimately
your view, where
you grow up, sun
in the bathroom lands
on your significance
               -“Suco Integral

Sometimes world doesn’t need consciousness/logos for anything:
The shape of a palm tree
A large dead cricket
Scuttling clear crabs
Detritus of tiny shells
The beach paints itself
Before you have seen it

(I take “paints” here as a poeticism, so to speak, rather than a bit of epistomology.)

As Katz puts it at the end of “Rapid Departures”, “I think I’ve found a way of fitting it all in”, and while no-one fits it all in, what this having it every which way adds up to is a very big book (in only 40-odd English pages) indeed. I take this as a lesson in poetry and in living. As they say, when forced to choose between two good things, choose both of them. (Obviously, this “philosophy” has limited applicability (e.g. certain choices and my wife will literally – literally – kill me), but that’s a different sermon/essay, isn’t it? In any case, it’s often possible to choose and over or, and not a bad poetic strategy.)

Besides Cafiero’s accompanying illustrations (rather gentler than some of the poems yet still pleasing), there are four full-color collaborations between Katz (and Cafiero?) and a number of uncredited LP sleeve artists. Fans of e.g. Raymond Pettibon’s disjunctions between image and text (of which I am one) will get a kick out of them.


John Bloomberg-Rissman's most recent publications are World Zero and No Sounds Of My Own Making. Work of his will soon appear in The Hay(na)ku Anthology, Vol. II. He is one of four collaborators on the recent hay(na)ku sequence "Four Skin Confessions", which has served as a seed project for a number of other collaborations also to be anthologized. His current project is called Autopoiesis, of which he has completed 100+ parts and though he expected it would be time to move on to something else when he put paid to no. 100, surprise! 2008 seems to be the year of the sonnet-shaped thing.

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