Commentaries

When poems change

Carla Harryman’s Artifact of Hope (Kenning Editions, 2017) is a creative/critical encounter with the work of the German philosopher Ernst Bloch. Through a variety of forms — daydreams, letters, meditations, quotations, classroom assignments, and even a conference paper — she engages with Bloch’s key concept of “hope.” These too are transpositions, insofar as they expand the meaning of translation beyond issues of linguistic or cultural equivalence.

The quotidian

Orchid Tierney

J2 reviews editor Orchid Tierney reads three collections interrogating the poetic forms of the everyday — or, “the intimacy possible in the fractures”: Thousand Star Hotel by Bao Phi, Days and Works by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Abandoned Angel: New Poems by Burt Kimmelman.


J2 reviews editor Orchid Tierney reads three collections interrogating the poetic forms of the everyday.

Running into capitalism: John Ashbery's 'Girls on the Run'

Henry Darger, from 'In the Realms of the Unreal.'

If we push the uncritical romantic views of the outsider artist aside, it’s difficult not to read Henry Darger’s In the Realms of the Unreal as embodying the dynamics of an abuse narrative. His epic uses multiple mediums: newspaper clippings, stenciled drawings, watercolor paintings, and narrative fiction to depict a child slave rebellion against their Glandelinian overlords. The heroines of Darger’s allegory of Christian martyrdom are the Vivian girls, rendered by the author in a range of disturbing, one-dimensional fashions: the girls are shown, by turns, adventuring through idyllic, Edwardian landscapes, and falling prey to the grotesqueries of absolute violence, hanged in a field or strangled. Notable is that Darger often draws male genitalia on the little girls, a fact overlooked by many as mere curiosity. John Ashbery encountered Darger’s work in the 1990s and this encounter inspired the corresponding long poem, Girls on the Run. In Darger’s simplistic world, the girls are unquestionably moral and good and the author gives them no room to deviate from their characterization, which feels particularly misogynistic.

If we push the uncritical romantic views of the outsider artist aside, it’s difficult not to read Henry Darger’s In the Realms of the Unreal as embodying the dynamics of an abuse narrative. His epic uses multiple mediums: newspaper clippings, stenciled drawings, watercolor paintings, and narrative fiction to depict a child slave rebellion against their Glandelinian overlords.

Dear beloved humans

A still from "Grzegorz Wróblewski do ludzkości." (c) Krzysztof Jaworski.

For eight years now I have been translating the poetry of Grzegorz Wróblewski, a Polish writer and visual artist based in Copenhagen. So far we have published two volumes: Kopenhaga (Zephyr Press, 2013) and Zero Visibility (Phoneme Media, 2017). We are now working on our third project, Dear Beloved Humans: New and Selected Poems. The title poem offers a good example of transposition.