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Notes on Solon & other poems

By Pierre Joris.

Three Little Proses

I. From genotype to phenotype

  In the beginning they say was the rod. And, I say, it was double from the word go: the cool black-on-white word of the book, and the hot-and-fast word of the radio. And the word on the radio let me cold to begin with, while the word on the page was what asked me to light up my nights — with a flashlight under the covers.


  Kafka’s take that the downfall of Babel had to do with bad foundations, shoddy architecture suggests that those who built it were originally tent-dwellers, nomads, & that the destruction was a nomad god’s way of criticizing the attempt at bricked-in sedentariness — it is after the tower has collapsed that the people went back to their travellin’ ways, which the priests of the Bible of course try to push as a curse: “So YHWH scattered them over the face of the earth, and they had to stop building the city.” De la récupération, pure et simple. The end of that chapter of Genesis brings in Abraham, who chooses to become the ultimate nomad, leaving Ur, to wander, not so much in pursuit of an earthly paradise but following a calling, a spiritual direction (or maybe just a word voiced on the radio) — a spiritual direction he does not know whereto it will lead him, rather than some well-established route of transhumance.*


*   from “trans” + lat. “Humus” ground cf. dhghem—


     Notes on Solon

surarmoras bien kai diken
“seeing to it that violence & justice
are combined”

a poet, a traveller, a man
   rejecting tyranny

remains at the center
of the city

“so that neither those
  who were on one side
or those who were on the other
  could triumph & succeed
in conquering unjustly.”

     nikan adikos [my transcription, ?quien sabe¿

This join
   Kratos & nomos
   bia & dike

acolytes of Zeus, now linked
to the law, & justice —

* * *

“the strength of hail & snow
   come from the clouds
thunder is produced
   by lightning

but the city perishes
from its overly great men.”

But Solon was
at the center of the city
“like a boar
he will push back both packs
thus to prevent an unjust
victory — nikan… adikos”

[via Freeman, The Work & Life of Solon.


we register the fall of
the instruments
   the ice-claw releases
the early
   21st century totem pole
at the former edge of the snows
of Kilimanjaro —

the instruments measure
we register their fall
   ironic measure
of their
   our unmeasure —


“this is happening” she said
in the muddle purge
oratory. can
Ned, not I, in
fuse the middle
stand. ground. class.

a container trans-
parent sentences.

the two you. The to
you. The us of
things, the rex of
things no rex.
unqueened anorexia.

freeze and rotate
he flips forward through
the gymnastic hour:
rotate with feet in bucket
arms on horse.

a container. body
in the middle,
the muddle.

into the middle
I insert the beginning.
you’ll come to it.

I start anywhere.
wolf it down from
out between Jekyll & Hide.

The conjunction, an elegant
glyph, glosses where we are.

here & there. now & then.

Photograph by Margaret Randall

Pierre Joris has moved between the US, Europe & North Africa for 45 years, publishing over 40 books of poetry, essays and translations. Coming later this fall are Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems) from Chax Press & The University of California Book of North African Literature (vol. 4 in the Poems for the Millennium series), coedited with Habib Tengour from the UCP. Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader edited, introduced & translated by Pierre Joris (Black Widow Press) came out in early 2012 as did Pierre Joris: Cartographies of the In-between, edited by Peter Cockelbergh, with essays on Joris’ work by, among others, Mohamed Bennis, Charles Bernstein, Nicole Brossard, Clayton Eshleman, Allen Fisher, Christine Hume, Robert Kelly, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Jennifer Moxley, Jean Portante, Carrie Noland, Alice Notley, Marjorie Perloff & Nicole Peyrafitte (Litteraria Pragensia, Charles University, Prague, 2011). Forthcoming in 2013 are Barzakh (Poems 2000-2012) from Black Widow Press, & The Collected Late Poems of Paul Celan, translated & annotated by Pierre Joris, from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. Other recent books include The Meridian: Final Version—Drafts—Materials by Paul Celan (Stanford U.P. 2011), Canto Diurno #4: The Tang Extending from the Blade, (poems, 2010), Justifying the Margins: Essays 1990-2006 (Salt Books), Aljibar I & II (poems) & the CD Routes, not Roots (with Munir Beken, oud; Mike Bisio, bass; Ben Chadabe, percussion; Mitch Elrod, guitar; Ta’wil Productions). Further translations include Paul Celan: Selections (UC Press) & Lightduress by Paul Celan which received the 2005 PEN Poetry Translation Award. With Jerome Rothenberg he edited Poems for the Millennium, vol. 1 & 2: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife, performance artist Nicole Peyrafitte & teaches poetry & poetics at the State University of New York, Albany.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 1st, 2012.