Posted by: cousinbrandon | February 25, 2011

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

I’ve written about one of my biggest influences, poet Bruce Weigl, on more than one occasion. In fact, I’ve linked to his poem “Song of Napalm” previously, but it’s so goddamn incredible that it seems worth doing so again. What’s more, here’s a link to an online interview I conducted with Bruce Weigl about 7 or 8 years ago for Memorious. To this day I maintain that he’s one of the most impressive and genuine people I’ve ever spoken with.

When I was finishing up my BA at Columbia College in Chicago, I worked on a “translation” of Weigl’s poem “Amnesia,” which I would not only go on to include in my thesis, but actually published in, I believe, the Cimarron Review. Now, when I call it a translation, I don’t mean it in the traditional sense. A translation is typically a rewriting of a poem between two different languages, and is a pretty common undertaking for reknowned poets to undertake. My translation, though, is an English to English translation, wherein I reimagined the language of Weigl’s poem in an attempt to capture a similar sense, albeit with different imagery. Yes, it’s a confusing process, but a worthwhile one all the same. It was actually a lot of fun. Interesting, when I submitted the poem for publication, I did so with the two poems intertwined. That is, Weigl’s first line was followed by my first line; his second line followed by my second line; and so on. In fact, I once gave a reading wherein my friend, Sam, read the Weigl lines while I read my own.

So, what follows is first Weigl’s original version of “Amnesia,” followed by my poem, “A Variation on Amnesia.” Thanks for reading, as always.

Amnesia

If there was a world more disturbing than this
where black clouds bowed down and swallowed you whole
and overgrown tropical plants
rotted, effervescent in the muggy twilight and monkeys
screamed something
that came to sound like words to each other
across the triple-canopy jungle you shared,
you don’t remember it.

You tell yourself no and cry a thousand days.
You imagine the crows calling autumn into place
are your brothers and you could
if only the strength and will were there
fly up to them to be black
and useful to the wind.

A Variation On Amnesia

If there was a sequence of constant downpour
where everything clanged like wet metal and bent inwards
where new stars and slickers
burst into flame, brilliant in the creosote-dusted twilight
like sparklers, something
that had a want for clarity and sound
across the smog-drenched skyline you wandered,
you don’t remember it.

You’ve taken to long pours of bourbon and bad music.
You imagine the telephone poles erect like men
are the foundation of something great and you could
if only the rains would taper off into a drip
wrap yourself around the base to be heavy
and connected to the noise.

BD

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Responses

  1. Nice. I actually like the imagery of your second stanza better than the original.

    I also enjoyed the “wilderness” aspect of the original poem’s world contrasted with the almost dystopian, industrialized view of yours.

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words, MM, but I would never dare suggest that my take is better than Weigl’s. The guy is an absolute genius. Just wanted to be clear that in no way was I attempting to make his better.

    The wilderness aspect you refer to is dead-on, but that’s because Weigl is considered the foremost American Vietnam War-poet. He was born in Lorain, Ohio and served in Vietnam. His poetry is haunted by images and memories of the war. In “Amnesia,” the “triple-canopy jungle” he shared with his brothers is no myth.

    Weigl is such an interesting man in that he doesn’t actually seek out or propegate the notion of himself as being a Vietnam War poet. That’s not really what he’s about. Rather, as he pointed out in his interview, he realized, thanks to the poet James Wright, that he had a subject, and to ignore it would be pointless.

    Again, I can’t suggest enough picking up his collection Song of Napalm. It’s life-changing.


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