Monday, June 25, 2007

Berrigan’s Ungaretti

Two Tanks

Things keep me bird-dogging the second-generation New York School coterie, Ted Berrigan in particular—snout to the breeze. Ron Horning—who used to work at the Eighth Street Bookshop and maintains a sharp critical outlook (and knowledge) about that bunch—sent me copies of the two Ted Berrigan “transliterations” of Giuseppe Ungaretti that’d got “discarded” out of Bean Spasms (Kulchur Press, 1967). Whereas in it the poems clump’d together under the title “Life of a Man” lack’d “Tonight” and “Joy of Shipwrecks,” later publications of the sequence (in In the Early Morning Rain (Cape Goliard / Grossman, 1970) and So Going Around Cities (Blue Wind Press, 1980)—though not identical themselves, the latter lacking “Tooting My Horn on Duty” and “Corporal Pellegrini” —both lack’d two short poems: “Long Time No See” and “Que Sera, Sera”). (Chiaro? —Rather lutulent.) Missing, too, out of the Collected. (Probably on the grounds that Berrigan himself’d “reject’d” them by failing to republish them.) Here’s the first:
Long Time No See

Long Time No See Old Pardner
Come over and shake
Hands, Try out my old lady
Homonymically translating (barely) off of Ungaretti’s “Lontano”:
Lontano lontano
come un cieco
m’hanno portato per mano
The veerings off the original here’re both of a cut—a kind of “cowboy” (“Old Pardner”), “one of the boys” clubbishness, that “manly” world of “here’s my shirt off my back” (“Try out my old lady”)—a common enough “stance” in the history of American poetry (not, either, today, wholly forsworn, just less visible, particularly amongst the more “heroic” members of the “avant-garde.”) “Come over and shake / Hands” coming out of a straightforward mix of visual and aural (cieco) clues. For what it’s worth, the Allen Mandelbaum translation of the poem reads:

Distantly distantly
like a blind man
by the hand they led me
Possible that Berrigan pick’d up “hands” out of it, though just as likely that hanno provided it. The other “discarded” poem’s got a smidgen of a similar boyish sexual smarminess:
Que Sera, Sera

And as you took your pants off
Her brother came in bringing some begonias
Que sera, sera
Out of the Ungaretti title’d “Stasera”:
Balaustrata di brezza
per appoggiare la mia malinconia
A looser fit—though in some ways more enticing for all that. That Stasera to “Que Sera, Sera”—is a brash sidestepping recontextualization of “sera”—the kind of gleeful thing one associates with Berrigan, and Padgett, and Clark. Didn’t Tom Clark begin “You (IV)” in Stones (1969) with “Euphoria, yes” or no, that’s how I myself—in a poem with the same name—toss’d down my youngster’d homage to what I’d learn’d off the bunch: proceed by ear, remapping context, and “sillyly.” Clark’s poem begins “the chords knotted together like insane nouns,” though “You (II)” begins “You are bright, tremendous, wow.” (How many other adjectival triumvirates emerged out of O’Hara’s impeccable timing ear? See “democratic and ordinary and tired.” See “feminine, marvelous, and tough.”) “Que Sera, Sera” being that cloying (by the late ’sixties) “hit” for Doris Day, out of Hitchcock’s remake of ’s own “Man Who Knew Too Much,” circa 1956—whatever, “the future is hard to see.”) What’s “enticing” here—in Berrigan’s re-penning of the Ungaretti ditty—is whether or not brezza led to “pants” (by means of, say, “britches”). Somehow I doubt it. It’s more a matter of clinging to the tiniest of threads—the malinconia transfer to “begonia” is “about it” in the evidence department. Mostly it’s Berrigan blasting along in Berrigansville, no? The Mandelbaum version:
This Evening

Balustrade of breeze
where leans my melancholia
this evening
No help, as the croupiers say. Although its succinct though unavailable (hardly and heartily invisible) image is itself of some interest (I am a goner for breeze refs.)

Odd: in my slow unmethodical sleuthing, one thing’d never occur’d to me: two Berrigan versions of a single Ungaretti. Look, though, at Berrigan’s “Tonight”:
Winds in the stratosphere
Apologise to the malcontents
A poem that hews closer to the same Ungaretti. Is “Tonight” a glance at “Evening”? (Disregard’d later, for the smart “Downstairs”—making of the piece a little story of daily urban mediation, space-age style.)

Is it a stretch to argue that Berrigan’s “As Usual” is Ungaretti’s “Eterno”? (Berrigan—a literalist in some sense—rarely proceeds other than line by line, meaning two lines of Ungaretti’ll likely yield two lines of Berrigan.)

Tra un fiore colto e l’altro donato
l’inesprimibile nulla
As Usual

Take off your hat & coat & give me all your money
I have to buy some pills & I’m flat broke
Something brilliant about getting “flat broke” out of nulla and to extract the indispensable “pills” out of l’inesprimibile. Causing me to wonder—it’s tiptoe’d across the brainpan before—if Ron Padgett work’d with (or alongside) Berrigan in composing some of these pieces—Ron Horning did say: “In Bean Spasms, it [“Life of a Man”] rhymes with Padgett’s translation of Reverdy’s Quelques Poemes, Some Bombs”—were they sometimes sounding the poems to one another (Padgett reading Ungaretti in Oklahoma-inflect’d halting Italian?). Something about the syllabic count in l’inesprimibile and “I have to buy some pills &” points that way. The first line seems pinned to colto equaling “coat” (and donato to “donate” or donner—if Berrigan had a little French?—to “give”), though a sequence of fiore to “fedora” to “hat” is “not impossible,” though—quoting Wittgenstein—“not likely.” (The Mandelbaum here, again, seemingly of no account:

Between one flower gathered and the other given
the inexpressible Null
Which goes theological and Big, maybe bigger ’n the original . . .)

Fruit of the two Berrigans out of one Ungaretti—I note now that “Allegria di Naufragi”—source of “Joy of Shipwrecks”—is, too, the basis for Berrigan’s “A Reply to the Fragile”:
If he bites you he’s friendly
If it hurts you
Go away
Don’t give him a fresh try
Unless you have titties
Like a fast horse
Now the come that metamorphosed into “Mayday!” becomes—typical sly joke—“Go away”—and the subito / “torpedo” aural move goes visual subito / “he bites,” while the previously overlook’d superstite provides fodder for the “titties / Like a fast horse.”

I had no intention of being a manic compleatist about Berrigan’s “Life of a Man.” I see now though where two short pieces are versions of Ungaretti poems provided before, and I mention’d earlier the connection between the longer “On the Road Again” and “In Memoria.” So: Berrigan’s “After Breakfast” (I wager) is another version of Ungaretti’s “Eterno” (and puts the kibosh on my claim for Berrigan’s match’d lineation):
Flame & Fury
The colt and the dolt became outlaws

The automobile slew them
Fiore slipping into “Fury,” colto becoming (with obvious satisfaction) “colt,” “dolt” emerging out of a scramble of l’altro donato, “outlaws” part of Berrigan’s personal-use arsenal, and Colt (the gun) and Fury (the horse), “automobile” viddy’d in the bile part of l’inesprimibile, the rest of the word suppress’d, nulla still nothing, a termination (and what happens to “outlaws”): “slew them.” (One tries to imagine—in the cases of two, or several, versions—what’s the order of composition. The difficulty of rejecting (ignoring) one’s own previous decisions, making space for something different.)

The other little one, Berrigan’s “December”:
Brother and sister departed
With apologies to the mother for intercourse
In their hearts.
A stretch based mostly on appoggiare becoming “apologies”: apparently another version (along with “Que Sera Sera” and “Tonight”) of Ungaretti’s “Stasera.” (What’s “December”’s source? “November”: “I will sleep / in my little cup.” Padgett or Clark?)

Here’s Berrigan’s “On the Road Again” with Ungaretti’s “In Memoria”:
He called his Mama
Mohammed Scee-ab

He put his hand on
Her rear to be funny
She killed herself
You can bet no one ever told
His father

He made love to Frances
The talking mule

He’s no sap either
He chopped her head off
So she can’t yell and
He’s plumb vanished

Let’s go with him to Naples
To insult the old priest whose belly
Bulges over his belly-button
Like a piggy
And at number 5 Subnormal Street
We’ll see his sad Victrola

You sap!
If you aren’t turned on by now
It’s your earache!
Out of:
Si chiamava
Moammed Sceab

di emiri di nomadi
perché non aveva più

Amò la Francia
e mutò nome

Fu Marcel
ma non era Francese
e non sapeva più
nella tenda dei suoi
dove si ascolta la cantilena
del Corano
gustando un caffè

E no sapeva
il canto
del suo abbandono

L’ho accompagnato
insieme alla padrona dell’albergo
dove abitavamo
a Parigi
dal numero 5 della rue des Carmes
appassito vicolo in discesa

nel camposanto d’Ivry
sobborgo che pare
in una giornata
di una
decomposta fiera

E forse io solo
so ancora
che visse

fino al mio turno
di morire
Sizeable chunks reject’d by Berrigan, though whether he did so in the midst of the translating—no immediate fire in the paws, move to the next stanza—or in a “revision”—removing what didn’t “fit”—who knows. I like to think the former, processual mewler that I be. So: the fourth, seventh and eighth stanza boot’d. Again, the outlaw lingo (two-cent hoods: “sap,” “He’s plumb vanished”). Prefer’d translations (think of Ezra Pound staring into the interstices of Chinese characters, making out roots, inventing pictures): Parigi (Paris) become “piggy,” sciogliere (its momentary mouth-visciousness) yielding “He chopped her head off,” and di nomadi (of nomads) “to be funny” (whether through “mad” or mere tempo, one cannot say.)

The mystery: where’s the Ungaretti for Berrigan’s “Tobacco”?

A regret: that Berrigan never hunker’d down over Ungaretti’s “Levante” with its lines Picchi di tacchi picchi di mani / e il clarino ghirigori striduli.

Pertinent Faulkner quote (out of Soldier’s Pay): “like Henry James, he attained verisimilitude by means of tediousness.”

Ted Berrigan