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Summer 2007

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About this Issue

Mantis was born out of the desire to facilitate conversation among the variety of writers engaged in the practice of poetry and poetics today. We believe that poetic practices — the production, translation, reading, publication, and critical reception of poetry — is always too complicated and multivalent for rigid categorization; the lines drawn between "creative" and "critical" poetic practices are too often so starkly made, at times limiting the possibilities of poetic endeavor. Mantis celebrates the overlapping and merging practices within the world(s) of poetry. And, to the multiplicity of approaches that we see in the world around us, we want to contribute the richness of a diverse set of voices responding to specific poetic concerns. Both Mantis 1: Poetry and Community and Mantis 2: Poetry and Translation celebrated issues central to reading and writing; with Mantis 3: Poetry and Performance, new concerns emerged. Mantis 4: Poetry and Politics clinches, in many ways, the previous issue themes, exploring poetry's indispensable role in upholding critical dialogues in societies both contemporary and ancient. The selection in Mantis 4 of poems, critical pieces and translations offer various ways of reflecting on this role.

George Oppen once wrote, "It is possible that a world without art is simply and flatly uninhabitable, and the poet's business is not to use verse as an advanced form of rhetoric, nor to seek to give political statements the aura of eternal truth." While it is difficult to generalize about the poetry in this issue —the poems range from Lucia Perillo's culinary gallop through gender politics to Nigerian activist Ogaga Ifowodo's lament of well-known atrocities — we can at least say that the poems do not wear 'the aura of eternal truth.' Instead, the poems approach the political more subtly through particulars and the unexpected, through lived and imagined experience. Deborah Tail's "Seraglio" pieces together the history of the harem in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace ("the most beautiful prison in the world," in her words) combining careful observation with a textured language that floats decorously in its own "zone of separation." Presenting a certain wariness of beauty and its underlying violence, the poem, like its "rival sunset," becomes ravished in an urgency to tell. Oppen once again comes to mind: "the emotion which creates art is the emotion which seeks to know and to disclose." Similarly, Matthew Hittinger's "What Part of Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't You Understand?" leads us through a matrix of place, identity, and intolerance complicating and blurring each. Finally, Bryan Penberthy, in "Expatriatetown" and "Hometown," lends an eerie resonance to the idea of "rootedness" in a world where such words as 'patriotism' and 'homeland' grow increasingly unsure of their staple significations. Taken together, the poems selected for this issue attempt to embody, understand and rewrite, in ways contradictory and confounding, but with constant beauty, the particulars of history and of the present time.

The criticism chosen here reflects a similar emphasis on the particular and contingent. Once upon a time the "autonomous" status of art was a precious value only sullied by political utilization. Niklas Luhmann notes in his Art as a Social System (published in its English rendition in 2000), "the defensive attitude that the autonomy of art ought to be upheld and protected" is not to be advocated in our days. He concludes, "modern art is autonomous in an operative sense. No one else does what it does."

This remarkably simple way of setting down an old problem could express quite well the spirit with which the critical articles made their way into this issue of Mantis. The critical pieces found here represent differing approaches to the problem of the always sensitive relationship between poetry and politics. At no point, though, do they succumb to an imaginary confrontation between, on one side, the partisan usage of poetry sheerly to illustrate a critical thesis, and, on the other side, poetry as something that should remain in an absolute pristine condition, remote from any political reference.

Plurality of approaches and diversity of agendas characterize the selection of critical essays in this issue. From Robert Archambeau's vision of Robert Pinsky's poetry as ideologically appealing to a new "Bobo" (bourgeois/ bohemian) dominant class in American society, to Gary Grieve-Carlson's description of Charles Olson's direct engagement in classic politics; from Lisa Block de Behar's complex review of the political dimensions of a brilliantly pursued translation/ transcreatrion project in the Brazilian poet Haroldo de Campos, to Holly Zehr's warnings about the perils of a "rhetorics of oppositions" in use by both critics and poets since the 1980s, poetry criticism is understood here as an exercise of exploration. And such an exercise lowers the defenses of poetry against social engagement, making it a citizen of all countries and discourses, but a captive of none.

In his statement on the relation between poetry and politics, Vitaly Chernetsky suggests that the political message of a text "can be encoded in many unexpected ways" — that is, prysmatically refracted in the linguistic material chosen. The translator's art offers here a chronotopic journey into the land of politically-engaged poetry. As Adam Sorkin contends about Ioan Flora, in his "web of poetry, the political is inherently part of a continuum of past and present, world and psyche". From the 8th century Chinese poet Du Fu to the young Romanian poet Ruxandra Cesereanu, Mantis offers a dense weaving of lyrical engagements into the complex fabric of the real. And the translator wields the binding tools of this tapestry.

Outside of any activism per se, the poets featured here in translation express their existential freedom against the grain of the "colonial" language, as in the work of the Uzbek poet Shamshad Abdullaev; they are resistant subjects against institutions that neutralize individuality, as in the Polish poetry of Jacek Podsiadlo; or they poignantly describe imperialist policy and its aftermath, as in the Persian poems of Nima Yushij (Ali Nuri). José Gomes Ferreira writes about the Civil War in Spain viewed through the eyes of a Portuguese and Yu Jian finds ways of decoding protest in the simple gestures of countryside people in China. The act of translating such poems is an act of flaunting boundaries — linguistic, cultural, geographical. Such a transgressive act, though, echoes the original spirit of the works these translators have newly rendered.

In the Georgics (as translated here by Kimberly Johnson) Virgil declares, "I must essay a path by which I too may rise from earth a triumph fluttering on the lips of men./ I first, if only life prolong, into my country returning/will lead the muses from the Aonian m o u n t . . . " In varying ways each of the pieces presented in Mantis 4 poses politically-engaged poetry as a daring attempt to make the muses follow the poet, and not the other way around.

Available Online

Adam J. Sorkin and Alina Cârâc - Translation: From loan Flora's Medeea si masinile ei de razboi (pdf)

Burcu Alkan - Translation: Rifat Ilgaz's "Beyaz" (pdf)

Bei Doa - Interview: "In my writing, I'm continually seeking a direction" (pdf)

Issue n° 4 Contents

Deborah Tall - "Seraglio"; "Odyssey"; "The Game Continued"

Wang Ping and Ron Padgett - Translation: Yu Jian's "Zhong Tudou De Ren"

Matthew Hittinger - "What Part of Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't You Understand"; "He Who Lies on the Promenade"; "Phallic Magic"

Lucia Perillo - "The Ministry of Food"

Paul Sohar - Translation: Sandor Kanyadi's "Pergamenttekercsekre"; Lajos Magyari's "Mikor Már . . ."

Bei Doa - Interview: "In my writing, I'm continually seeking a direction" (pdf)

Brian Penberthy - "Expatriatetown"; "Hometown"

John Mateer - "Industry: Two Kinds"

Contributor's Statements - Poetry and Politics: Declarations

Iraj Omidvar - Translation: Nima Yushij's "Del-e Foolaadam"

Steven Bradbury - Translation: Du Fu's "Qianxing" and "Yu Hua Gong

Holly M. Zehr - "In Search of Better Desires": Lyn Hejinian, Jorie Graham and the Politics of American Poetry

Christian Knoeller - "Puppeteer"

Moira Fradinger - Translation: From Estela Alicia Lopez Lomas's El Fuego Tras El Espejo

Adam J. Sorkin and Alina Cârâc - Translation: From loan Flora's Medeea si masinile ei de razboi (pdf)

Daniel Morris - A Great Figure of Troubled Borders: Williams, Demuth, Indiana and the Number 5

Eliot Schain - "Beyond Merchandise"

Laura Carter - "It is Possible"

Robert Archambeau - Identity Politics and the Modern Self: Robert Pinsky's An Explanation of America

Kimberly Johnson - Translation: From Virgil's Georgics III

Brett Cook Dizney - Collaborative Voice: The Harlem Development/Gentrification Project

Margret Grebowicz - Translation: Jacek Podsiadlo's "Drugi przeciw panstwu"

Sam Hamill, Carol Muske-Dukes and Deborah Tall - Panel Discussion On Poetry and Politics

Kolawole Olaiya - "Letter to My Daughter"; "The Children Are Waiting"

Vitaly Chernetsky - Translation: Shamshad Abdullaev's "Letniaia Tiazhest'"

Randall Martin - "Election Day"

Lisa Block de Behar - Portents of Paradise: Haroldo de Campos' Poetic Premeditation

Wang Ping - "Jerusalem, Jerusalem"

Elaine Verdill - "Science as a Second Language"

Gary Grieve-Carlson - Charles Olson's Polis: Politics and Vision

Ogaga Ifowodo - "Where is the Earth's Most Infamous Plot?"

Lauren Elena White - "Protest Song", 1-3

Burcu Alkan - Translation: Rifat Ilgaz's "Beyaz"

Kathryn Kirkpatrick - "Worldliness"

Jean Métellus - Interview: The Shape of Bread

Ernest Smith - Mapping Post-Reagan America: Adrienne Rich's "An Atlas of the

Difficult World" and "Alfred Corn's "1992"

Carter Revard - "Memo to the Emperor Zero"

Jason Lee - Translation: Pablo Neruda's "Vienen por las islas (1493)"

George Reis - Translation: From José Gomes Ferreira's Heróicas

Republic of Poetry - The Politics of Writing Poetry with Young People: A Conversation

Laura Smith - "Introduction"; "Quitting"

Nneoma Amadi-Obi - "The Importance of Artistic Collaboration"; "Did you see the news tonight?"

Becky Cole - "Butterflies"; "I am Not a Poet"

Kenny Carroll - "The Awful Roar of Teen Writing"

Zahra Gordon - "What Makes It Perfect"; "#17 Ride On, 4:55p.m. Bus"

Reuben Jackson - "If You Were the Wind"; "a day in the life"

Ruxandra Cesereau - Self-translation: From Letter to American Poets

Featured Poems

Bob Perelman - "The Task of the Translator"

Kate Schapira - "Poem from the English"

Aaron McCollough - "Prisoner's Wreath #3 and #5"

Alfred Arteaga - "Lilac, Serial, Stasis"; "En Lugar de la Nada"

Laura Minor - Ida in the Lilacs

Stephanie Bolster -Winning the West

Fred Chappell - The Genealogist

Yusef Komunyakaa -Sappho of Mytilene

Reetika Vazirani - Radha

Featured Translations

Ann Cefola - Translation: Hélène Sanguinette's "De la main gauche" (pdf)

Adam J. Sorkin and Alina Cârâc - Translation: From loan Flora's Medeea si masinile ei de razboi (pdf)

Burcu Alkan - Translation: Rifat Ilgaz's "Beyaz" (pdf)

Featured Audio

Michael McDonagh - Once (with Lisa Scola Prosek)
Download Format:
WMA | MP3 | text

Michael McClure - Maybe Mama Lion (with Ray Manzarek)
Download Format:
WMA | MP3 | text

Yusef Komunyakaa - No Lowdown Blues (recorded with Hamiett Bluiett)
Download Format: WMA | MP3| text

Featured Interviews

Bob Perelman - A Discussion: Poetry and Discipline

Bei Doa - Interview: "In my writing, I'm continually seeking a direction" (pdf)

Featured Essays

Matthew Hart - Taking the Unity out of Community

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