A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation

Mantis 6


Mantis 6: Geographies continues the journal’s commitment to providing an open forum for new international poetry alongside critical scholarship. At times, such an internationalist orientation runs a Babelic risk. How can one hope to “know well” both the reciprocal landscapes of love from Old Tamil anthologies, presented here in translations by Martha Selby, and the way in which a modern Ukranian poet like Serhiy Zhadan navigates his cultural map? How can a given reader manage full admittance into the tremendous linguistic diversity that marks the activities of poetry and translation as global phenomena? We have chosen to define these questions not as readerly difficulties, but rather as requirements to canvas the international literary landscape. Mantis 6 is titled “Geographies” in the hopes that the journal can itself contour the complexity and richness of global poetic culture.

Of the “geographies” tracked in this issue of Mantis, one emphatic preoccupation is with the mediation of geographical space by entrepreneurial capital and various facets of neo-liberalism and post-industrialization. Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, a German poet who had himself internalized much of the poetic outlook of the New York School and Pop Art aesthetics from the late 1950s until his untimely death in 1975, offers us, in “Some Very Popular Songs,” an extended nightmare vision of the collusion of world currencies with natural resources and global wastage. His poem charts a new geographical territory that finalizes the fears of Ezra Pound’s economic Cantos or Ed Dorn’s North Atlantic Turbine. In “Space to Breathe: The Late Poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann,” scholar Martin Kagel explores the politics of perception in Brinkmann’s work, his photographic and poetic negotiation of urban and cosmopolitan spaces, and finally the emergent topography of his poems, which delineate “spaces in and beyond the negative reality he experiences.”

Chilean poet Raúl Zurita’s long poem INRI, though written in our new century, also takes a geographical tact in responding to a moment in the 1970s when the neoliberal project in the development world chimerically emerged. The passages from INRI printed here, in William Rowe’s translation, treats Chile’s vast, elemental, sublime landscapes as the ultimate location of the Pinochet-era disappearances. As Rowe describes the project, “the flesh of the dead returns as a landscape of redemption” and INRI accomplishes “the restitution to the language of what had been kept in silence.” Meanwhile, Eleni Sikelianos’ poem, “The Sweet City,” creates an elegy out of the language of a city’s changing particulars that swirls obliquely around recent historical events. Korean poet Ko Un’s poems manage to be both compact and monumental at once, wresting moments of lyrical intensity from landscapes troubled by their politics and history. Keith Ekiss, in a review of the many new volumes of Ko Un’s work translated into English, shows just why there has been such a boom in attention directed toward Ko Un in the last few years.

Yet, if poets like Brinkmann, Zurita, Ko-Un and Sikelianos all bespeak the fraught nature of lyric utterance in moments of national or geopolitical reconfiguration, a second set of work in this issue locates the way in which particular regions have been sites of consistent imaginaries. Maria Hummel and Jill McDonough compile a lexicon of New England poetic phrases that measures the metallic and wintry qualities so often charging those poems, while poems by Anne Duden and Huub Beursken eerily reflect such wintry palettes across the Atlantic. Alaskan poet Elizabeth Bradfield meditates on the Arctic as an unlikely but frequent space for Edenic fantasies, while the early 20th century religious poet Patrice de La Tour du Pin echoes these Edenic projections onto the sparse verbal landscape of his own poems: “It’s not just under my feet, the earth—/even my eyes, my head are filled with it.”

Elsewhere in this issue, poet-critic Vincent Katz seeks to derive a poetics of place from careful readings of well-known 20th century poets, who, it curiously appears, may be quite cosmopolitan in their most vigorously provincial moments (Apollinaire), or tied to intense localisms in their farthest flung travels (Bishop). His essay charts the way in which notions of place have oscillated across the 20th century between a descriptive, notational mode of poetic exteriority, and the “psycho-geographies” of lyric affect. A number of poems printed here are illustrative of the antinomies Katz delineates: William Hubbard’s “The Area” takes a spatial metaphor as the ground of erotic and emotional speech.

Ultimately, our hope is that the poetry and criticism selected here comprises something other than a poetic atlas in which to pick destinations for literary tourism, but rather manages to juxtapose the wealth of lyric voices active, across the map, in all their difference.