Sunday, April 24, 2016

Singing Instructions

A challenge in a poetry discussion group I’m in--as part of a broader discussion of what makes a poem a poem, a question arising from the discussion of what distinguishes, say, a prose poem from flash fiction--was to rewrite Julio Cortazar’s “Instructions on How to Sing,” if we may consider it a poem, by breaking it into lines, a distinction traditionally made in distinguishing poetry from prose.

While I like prose poems--for example, those by Russell Edson, James Tate & Louis Jenkins, to name but a few--I prefer writing in lines & stanzas because it allows me to control how the poem looks & reads, rather than leaving the poem subject to such random elements, depending on its venue, as margins & page size that dictate the way paragraphs appear.  Of course, none of this speaks to the question of what a poem is as much as it addresses what makes a poem better.  At least that's my opinion, be it ever so humble, which it isn't.  

Since I, sad monoglot, neither read nor speak Spanish, I based my rendition of Cortazar on online translations, particularly one by Paul Blackburn, as it appears in Cronopios & Famas, as well as a translation by my son, Aaron.  Although he's not posted or published his translation, I can provide a link to a recent publication of his poetry here to give you an idea of his skills as a poet & just to brag on him.

Anyway, my interpretation/rendition follows:


Step one, trash every mirror
in the house, drop your
arms to your sides, absently
eyeball the wall, forget.  Sing

but one note, listen
to it from inside yourself.
If you hear—though this
occurs quite a bit later—

a landscape flooded with fear,
bonfires between stones
where silhouettes, scantily
clad, squat, believe me,

you’re on the right track.  Ditto
if you hear a river, boats
painted gold & black
ferrying down it, if you

hear fresh bread, fingers
caressing you, a horse’s
shadow.  The next step is buy
an instructional guide for

vocals & a claw hammer
tailcoat & please don’t
sing through your nose & just leave
poor Mr. Schumann alone.

Monday, April 18, 2016


                 for Richard Brautigan