By Michael Harlow
From New Zealand we read this review on the music of a very short lived Nicaraguan poet, narrator and essayist whose poetic ouvre includes antiwar, love and ethnographic poems. Not to be mistaken for a better known American poet with a very similar surname.
For Nicaraguan poet Joaquín., that his poems 'go about on foot' shows that he has not forgotten to keep himself grounded, without disappearing into the aether. It is the astonishing reach of his mytho-poetic imagination that earmarks the poetry of Pasos. An imagination that goes around corners with ease and delight to discover what it is that makes the world such a mysterious place. A place where the poesía of Pasos opens doorway and windows to the wider world to explore what the mind and the heart can make happen when a flying imagination is at play. It is a poetry at play that wants to risk delight and happiness, but also loss and sorrow, life and the death experience, eros and thanatos. These archetypal, universal experiences transfigured into extraordinary image making and music making that can and does strike the ear and the eye with stunning effect. Taking the ordinary and with it 'making strange' what is released from the storehouse of language. This is a poetry of soul-making. Here I am, and I smile as tall as can be With the five fingers of my liberty I recount my travels Here I am quivering and joyful like a small boy's heart. I like the laughter of words and wear an acrobat's tights. I smile and look about like a bird . . . . Here I am , here I am raising my left arm, with the five fingers of my liberty. [Courtyard, translated by Roger Hickin] A poem that is a fulsome declaration by way of a credo of belief, of what happens when "A Poem Goes About on One Foot". All poems have shadow texts, and this is one of them. Because Pasos is both composer and conductor and first chair concert master, we need to hear the music and the song in its original language, as in his poem "Cuatro" Cerrando estoy mi cuerpo con las cuatro paredes, en las cuarto ventanas que tu cuerpo me abrió Estoy quendando solo con mis cuatro silencíos: el tuyo, el mió el del aire, el de Dios Voy baihando tranquilo por mis cuatro escaleras, voy bajando por dentro, muy adentro de yo, donde estan cuatro veces cuatro campos muy grandes. Por adentro, muy adentro; ¡qué ancho que soy! Y qué pequeña que eres con tus cuatro reales, con tus cuatro vestidos hechosen Nueva York. Vas quedando desnuda y pobre ante mis ojos; cuatro veces te quise; cuatro veces ya no Pasos... / 2 / Harlow Estoy cerrando mi alma, yo no me asomo a verte, ya no te veo el aire que te diera mi amor; voy bajando tranquilo con mis cuatro cariños: el otro, el mío, el de aire, el del Dios. This is music and the sound-of-sense striking the ear and the heart with lyric wonder. It is uncanny how like this sonnet is to the sonnets of Shakespeare in their resplendent music and song, and sheer verbal dexterity. This poem Cuatro is poetry as pure act. As original as one can be in search of a language to articulate how it is that love as Eros can be so exhilarating, in both its desire, and sorrow and loss. And you can hear the echo of Dante's Nessun maggiore dolore, que ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria
«Taking the ordinary and with it ‘making strange’ what is released from the storehouse of language. This is a poetry of soul-making.»
There is no greater sadness than to remember times of happiness when in misery. Surely a truth of poetry that it makes intimate everything that it touches. Delineating the surface of a poem, its arabesques and shapes is one thing and always charming, even sometimes spellbinding. But that is only half the poetic performance. It is when Pasos goes deep, when deep equals true, that we are treated to a full performance. It is when the unconscious comes into play, rising into the light of consciousness, its mytho-poetic images, and words looking for a relationship to other words, to settle down for the occasion of the poem itself. These are moments of discovery and that quick surprise that turns a poem into a number of directions, some of which are touched by the surreal, making strange the familiar. In a Pasos poem little if anything is 'like', it is what it is. Oh! this is Norway with its metal trees and itsyoung women reared in refrigerators. And in his poem, Drop everything Drop everything. Drop everything, now There are new things to see ... at the shipwreck that awaits us the shipwreck our family has marked on the map, aboard which the old manservant will take care of gathering the shoes of the dead. Much of the music in Pasos' poetry uncoils with a rhythm of lyric wonder. In this, Pasos is a poet at play discovering that Pasos / 3 / Harlow We still don't know what town we're in. At five in the morning a Polish musician plays a Hungarian flute and on the second floor of this nameless hotel we all leap out of bed to toss out the window what's left of last night's money to see out the window what's left of last night's shadows. [X-Town translated by Roger Hickin]
And we discover at the final stroke, that all of what has taken place in X-Town is a love poem, "full of you" It is no wonder that Pasos declares he is Mad with Joy. It is worth quoting in full his poem Liebpostal to hear and see his life as a poet alight with joy, risking such delight A house. A tree. A road. A dog. White house. Green tree. Grey road. Black dog. The green tree by the grey road. The black dog by the white house. The black dog on the grey road. The green tree above the white house. The grey road goes off beyond the green tree. The black dog enters the white house. No more black dog, no more grey road. Alone. Mad with Joy. The green tree and the white house.
This is song unadulterated. A musical round. And what it is to be at play en la casa de poesía, the house of poetry. And it tells a truth of poetry that L'écriture est la peinture de la voix. [Voltaire]. If there is a credo as Arts Poetica, somewhere there always must be, we can hear this in the lyric line of Pasos' poem Day Dark and bright day that reminds me my duty is to sing. Día moreno y brillante que me recuerda mi obligación de cantar.
Michael Harlow is an American born poet of Greek and Ukrainian origin based in New Zealand for over fifty years. In 1968, he was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship and the University of Otago Robert Burns Fellowship in 2009. In 2018 the New Zealand government conferred him the Primer Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement. He has published twelve books of his own poetry and has also written also the process of writing poetry. We welcome Michael Harlow’s contributions to our magazine.
A Poem Goes About on Foot is a translation in by Robert Hickin of twenty one poems by Joaquín Pasos. Published by Cold Hub Press in a bilingual format