Cole Swensen

Timed instants

A review of Cole Swensen's 'Landscapes on a Train'

Swensen’s anaphora is both visual and audible. The turning of the train’s wheels, the up-and-down of the hills, the words and end-stops, the rise and fall of gears and gaskets, noun and verb like metal pressing metal, run the train faster and faster through the landscape until outside is confounded and melds into such twinned, twined images as: “A / Train across open land opens night. (A train lands all night across an open field)” (11).

I am on the TGV Lyria from Paris to Mulhouse reading Cole Swensen’s newest poetry collection, Landscapes on a Train. I am awash in “The infinite splitting of finite things”[1] as these one to five long-lined prose poems pass before my eyes with the rush and rumble of the train, the staccato catch and jostle of unexpected punctuation, the blur of the greens outside echoed in:

Green. Cut. And I count: the green of the lake the green of the sky and the field
Which is green and is breaking. (7)

The resonance continues: From the constellation of Diana Arterian

Two black holes merge into one. Credit: the SXS Project.
Two black holes merge into one. Credit: the SXS Project. Courtesy Caltech/MIT/LIGO Laboratory

If you work with words anywhere within a thousand miles of Los Angeles, you're likely familiar with the extraordinary force of literary citizenship that radiates from poet, editor, scholar, and translator, Diana Arterian. Her generous presence here shimmers in a sequence of conversations compelled by the wonders of strangeness. How is it age-old questions spiral into new responses? How is it that from the crashing of steel triangles to supernovas, new resonances arise? From one week to the next, a silent mystery of the universe revealed?

Sounding the triangle: Sarah Stickney & Diana Thow on collaboration, translation, & the poetry of Elisa Biagini

L'Allegra by Angelica Kauffman, 1779 | Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini
L'Allegra by Angelica Kauffman, 1779 | Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini

As a kid, you might have made a new pal on the schoolyard—over a game of kickball, say, maybe even after you'd kicked someone, or they kicked you. Such are the strange shifts of human relationships. The friendship of Sarah Stickney and Diana Thow began far less traumatically, though impelled by a similar desire to connect—if not on a playground, far from their respective home turfs.

In her essay, "Translating Writing/ Writing Translation," Cole Swensen articulates the sensation of palpable contact brought about by the process of translation, "the collision of … deep structures, assumptions, and traces" that simultaneously inhabits the translator and influences the yet-to-be-written. "The foreign here is the agent that prevents stagnation."

Cole Swensen responds

What follows is a response to PoemTalk #52 written by Cole Swensen, whose poem “If a Garden of Numbers” is discussed by Al Filreis, Ann Seaton, Gregory Djanikian and Michelle Taransky in that show.

I wanted to respond to the reading given to one of my poems in a recent number of PoemTalk. I was thrilled to hear that it was on the program because it’s such a wonderful series, but then I was disappointed to hear the actual discussion. It seemed dominated by Ann Seaton’s very particular agenda, which is an extremely important one, but not the only lens through which to look at 17th-century French gardens.

As Seaton herself stated, she was interested in “everything that wasn’t in the poem,” but because of that, what is in the poem never got addressed. Even its basic subject — the construction of the concept of nature by the sciences, which characterizes the modern world — wasn't discussed, nor was the dominant image in the poem, the golden section. And by extension, geometry as a whole, and with it, perspective, subject positioning, and the constitution of collective subjectivity were all left out. Discussing these, which are the agenda of the poem, might have opened the talk up to the critique attempted by many parts of the book.

Where the real exceeds the ideal (PoemTalk #52)

Cole Swensen, "If a Garden of Numbers"

The Gardens of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Cole Swensen’s book Ours is a sequence of poems — or is perhaps best described as a poetic project. André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) was the principal gardener of King Louis XIV; he designed and led the construction of the park of the Palace of Versailles. The poems in Swensen’s book indicate a range of interests in Le Nôtre’s work and beyond, but his Gardens of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte are of special interest, and they are the topic of the poem we chose to discuss, “If a Garden of Numbers.”  The poem, and our talk about it, raised a number of compelling questions. Are historical research and the lyric compatible?

Where the real exceeds the ideal (PoemTalk #52)

Cole Swensen, 'If a Garden of Numbers'

The Gardens of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Cole Swensen’s book Ours is a sequence of poems — or is perhaps best described as a poetic project. André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) was the principal gardener of King Louis XIV; he designed and led the construction of the park of the Palace of Versailles. The poems in Swensen’s book indicate a range of interests in Le Nôtre’s work and beyond, but his Gardens of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte are of special interest, and they are the topic of the poem we chose to discuss, “If a Garden of Numbers.”  The poem, and our talk about it, raised a number of compelling questions. Are historical research and the lyric compatible?

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