This Poem Seems Appropriate Today

Che Fece . . . Il Gran Rifiuto

For certain people there comes a day
when they are called upon to say the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has
the Yes within him at the ready, which he will say

as he advances in honor, in greater self-belief.
He who refuses has no second thoughts. Asked
again, he would repeat the No. And nonetheless
that No–so right–defeats him all his life.

–C.P. Cavafy [Trans. Daniel Mendelsohn]

A Dog in Hanoi

Hữu Ngọc asked me yesterday on the way to lunch whether I had written any poems about Hanoi. “Only one,” I told him. This appeared a while back in the Beloit Poetry Journal & it is the second poem (currently) in the book manuscript I’m trying to finish putting together:

A Dog in Hanoi

Maybe Ngoc Ha is nothing
but a vivid dream & here
I am nothing but an animal
who does not understand

the higher order of things.
Maybe the traffic is only
a tumbling hallucination
& I am nothing but one of

these charming, silent dogs
who watch & listen with
detachmentthe way that
I listen to the language of

my fellow creatures. Maybe
only quiet dogs survived
the war. They walk along
the curb but seldom speak.

Redundancy & Style in Vietnamese

Vietnamese poetsthis may be common in everyday speech, but I havent run across itwill pile up two words with essentially the same meaning. Here is an example: The poet T Ngọc Thạch begins a line with the phrase Lớp lớp địa tầng in which, as near as I can tell by dictionary crawling, both Lớp lớp and địa tầng can straightforwardly be translated as layers or strata in English. I dont know whether I should render this as just layers or strata or something more like layers of strata. Clearly, I need to seek the help of a Vietnamese poet on this, but I’m beginning to think that Vietnamese writers use these doublings & sometimes triplings to elicit shades of meaning. That is, redundancy — that’s what we’d call it in the West — is a fundamental element of style in Vietnamese, particularly in literature, but also in everyday speech.

The Sentence as a Miniature Narrative – NYTimes.com

The Sentence as a Miniature Narrative – NYTimes.com. Sentences are hot right now. The writer’s Chronicle had a terrible essay, Stanley Fish wrote an okay book, but this series of articles looks promising. I’m always trying to get my students to pay attention to sentences, but they mostly take them for granted, just the plastic cup that holds the beer.