DIVERSIFICATIONS: MAYAKOVSKY, BRECHT AND ME
Diversifications begins with an innovative
version of Mayakovsky’s A Clouds in Pants, where the original
bureaucratic terminology is updated into ‘management-speak’, and continues with
adaptations and responses to Brecht’s poems about the politics of work and
intimacy. Finally, in The Long Habit of Living, Young draws on
Baudelaire and Verlaine, to write about his own mortality.
Translation is one poet’s attempt to understand another. Young, with Diversifications, moves beyond this into a form of collaboration: ‘No poet is an island. Making poetry is a matter of promontories. Imitating fellow practitioners is the sterile one. The fertile promontory is engagement with poets who seem to offer a jetty.’
Diversifications cover: Tall Writing Table, 120x80cms, oil on
canvas, by Huib Fens, reproduced by permission of the artist. Copyright © Huib Fens, 2008
from WORKING POEMS WITH BERTOLT BRECHT
After Der Insasse (1935)
When years ago I learned to drive a car
my instructor made me smoke a cigar
and if in heavy traffic it went dead
he took the wheel from me and drove instead.
He made good jokes to measure my control
and if I did not laugh like Old King Cole
he spoke of passengers and how they feel
when drivers are deadset. And took the wheel.
Since then when working I keep half an eye
open to the world around me, and try
to pay attention to my fellow man,
and don’t forget myself and where I am.
Driving too hard to smoke a cool cigar
is hazardous in life as in a car.
I distract myself when the passions stir.
The good driver thinks of the passenger.
After Das Abschied (1937)
We embrace in the street.
I smell your aftershave.
Does my stubble cut you?
My hands brush your serge suit.
You don’t disdain my rags.
We are in a hurry.
You’re off for a good meal.
And I am on the run.
We speak of umbrellas
and enduring friendship.
More would be unbearable.
from THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING
‘The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying.’
Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia,1658
A Maker of Light Verse Having a Sunny Time
‘Flairant dans tous les coins les hasards de la rime,
Trébuchant sur les mots comme sur les pavés,
Heurtant parfois des vers depuis longtemps rêvés.’
Baudelaire, 'Le Soleil', Les Fleurs du Mal
I see myself as others do. They accept me
now as an old man, not without his vanity,
who’s allowed to kiss the bride and hold the baby
and is honoured for grey beard’s humanity
and parting sadness. Someone who life is leaving.
Montaigne, you said life was all about the good death.
Didn’t you hesitate on the threshold of believing
that life is good in itself, and let live this let?
‘I leave the fruits of my studies for death to taste.
We shall see if I speak from the mouth or the heart.’
These are not the words of a sad soul who has chased
life into a grave and jumps in to die apart.
Blaise Pascal chose not to think about death at all,
rather than fake a happy one. A Jansenist
believes that nothing better than life can befall
a human sinner, unless it is not to exist.
But I’m with Montaigne who did not give in
to ‘the terrible bite of necessity’ in the dark.
He faced it with a calm mind, peacefully living
in the hope that when he came home his dog would bark.
Nor did he abandon the life his youth once wished
would surprise him, but sadly watched it to the close,
suffering family feuds and kidney stones. He kissed
the scarecrow in the mirror and thumbed his nose.
The sons that he brought up by his own book were blind
to his wisdom and joined their mother to rescind
a quiet life. So be it. Knowledge is never mind.
‘We grasp at everything but catch nothing save wind.’