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- The Best Reviewed Books of the WeekMay 25, 2018
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Whereas Surrealist art and film have achieved widespread success, Surrealist poetry has languished in their shadow. While generation after generation of poets has absorbed Surrealism’s lesson, while they have revitalized modern poetry in general, their efforts have received relatively little attention. At best their work is known to a small group of cognoscenti who are either practicing poets themselves or who take a scholarly interest in the subject. Since Surrealism was originally conceived as a literary movement, this is highly ironic to say the least. Founded by André Breton in 1924, it sought to examine the unconscious realm by means of the written and/or spoken word. In the first place, it attempted to expand the ability of language to evoke irrational states and improbable events. In the second place, it consistently strove to transcend the linguistic status quo. By stretching language to its limits and beyond, the Surrealists transformed it into an instrument for exploring the human psyche. Like the Dada movement, from which it gradually emerged, Surrealism aimed not only to redefine language but to reconceptualize its basic function. Henceforth, words were viewed as independent entities rather than static objects. “Les mots … ont fini de jouer,” Breton explained at one point; “les mots font l’amour” (“Words. . . have finished playing silly games. Words have discovered how to make love”).
So Many Moons
So many moons come and gone
Stripes and more stripes tigers and more tigers
And the luxury hotel to sleep in
Dreams and more dreams kisses and more kisses
What will remain of so much moon
What will remain of so much water so much thirst
so much drinking glass
Window destined for you
So you can depend on it more perfect
You make of your beauty
What others make of the sky
Federico García Lorca
Dawn in New York has
four pillars of muck
and a hurricane of black pigeons
splashing in the putrid waters.
Dawn in New York moans
on the immense staircases
searching between the corners
for spikenards of depicted anguish.
Dawn arrives and no one receives it in his mouth
because neither morning nor hope are possible:
at times furiously swarming coins
perforate and devour abandoned children.
The first to arise know in their bones
there will be neither paradise nor leafless loves:
they know the muck of numbers and laws awaits them,
of simple-minded games, of fruitless labor.
The light is buried by chains and noises
in a shameless challenge to rootless science.
Insomniacs stagger around in each district
like refugees from a shipwreck of blood.
The Illustrated World
The same as your non-existent window
Like a hand’s shadow in a phantom instrument
The same as your veins and your blood’s intense journey
With the same equality with the precious continuity that ideally
reassures me of your existence
At a distance
In the distance
Despite the distance
With your head and your face
And your entire presence without closing my eyes
And the landscape arising from your presence when the city was
only, could only be, the useless reflection of your slaughter
In order to better moisten the birds’ feathers
The rain is falling a great distance
And it encloses me within you all by myself
Within and far from you
Like a road that vanishes on another continent
From Surrealist Poetry: An Anthology. Used with permission of Bloomsbury. Copyright 2017 Willard Bohn.