to an old friend who asked why I post so much world literature on my blog

Leonard Durso discusses translation, culture and the misconception of the “other.”

Leonard Durso

Recently an old friend of mine from my NYC days in the 1970s who found me through a Google search a while back and who is a facebook friend and an occasional reader of this blog asked me in an email why I post so much literature, especially poetry, of other writers from other countries/centuries even. He knew me as a fledgling novelist and so was even surprised at my own poetry but could understand that. He just didn’t see why, even though he liked some of it, I posted all those other poets/writers. I answered the email, after giving my reply some thought, and then thought there might be other people out there, especially facebook friends from my past who remember me in a different light: teacher, administrator, bookstore owner, boy scout leader, actor, shoe store manager, warehouse supervisor, madman who liked to perform tricks with beer bottles at…

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Obsession: Books, or, Poetry Finds Me

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In another life books framed my days. I slept with them, dreamt about them, woke to their presence stacked by the bed and in various corners throughout the house, read them, handled them, discussed their merits with friends, co-workers, beer-drinking buddies, bartenders, customers, strangers, relatives, and even enemies. Traced my fingers slowly down their spines, identified some by odor alone, others by weight and feel. Bought, sold, cleaned, lent, skimmed, traded, gave, borrowed, collected, repaired, preserved, received. Traveled to acquire more, returned home to find still others languishing in never-opened, partially read or barely touched states. There were always too many. There were never enough.

The relationship began innocently. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of five, and over the years developed a knack for uncovering uncommon modern first editions. I’d walk into a thrift shop and spot a copy of William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, snuggling up to Jane Fonda’s workout book, for a buck. Or at a small town antique store, something especially nice, perhaps a near-fine first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, would leer at me from a dark shelf – $1.50. John Berryman’s Poems (New Directions, 1942) found me at a garage sale, for a quarter. Good Will yielded Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. There were others, of course. Many others.

I partnered with a few like-minded friends and opened a store, and when that didn’t work out, started my own home-based book business, which eventually expanded into a small brick-and-mortar shop, a true labor of love. And I mean labor. The forlorn space we rented was cheap and had housed for years a low-end, illicit massage parlor. Cleaning it out was, oh, shall we say interesting? I’ll never forget the furry massage table, the naked lady lamp or the various implements left behind after the joint was finally forced to close. But we hauled out the filthy carpeting, stripped and refinished the hardwood floors, fixed, painted and patched what we could, and hid what we couldn’t. It was exhausting, but well worth the toil.

My work schedule ran from Monday through Sunday, a minimum of eighty hours a week – in a seven-year period, I took off only two long weekends. It consumed me, but in the end I emerged mostly intact, a little more aware of my proclivities, of an unhealthy tendency to immerse myself wholly into an enthusiasm, to the detriment of family and friends. When we sold our store’s wares, I embraced the change; some dreams simply deplete you. But the itch remained.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself perusing an accumulation of books in a storage facility across the street from a junk shop in Llano, Texas, a small county seat an hour’s drive west of my home on the outskirts of Austin. The shop’s owner had purchased an English professor’s estate, and judging by the collection, the professor had specialized in poetry. My first thought was “I want it all,” but reason set in (I could very well imagine my wife’s reaction were I to arrive home with a trailerful of books) so I glanced over the criticism, fiction, drama, essays and biographies, and concentrated on the poetry. In the end I walked away with thirty-one books, including H.D.’s Red Roses for Bronze (Chatto & Windus, 1931), Randall Jarrell’s Little Friend, Little Friend, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Questions of Travel, a brace of Berrymans – His Toy, His Dream, His Rest and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – both the U.S. and U.K. first editions, which differ – and Love & Fame. A good haul, to say the least, but one that left me only partially satisfied and contemplating a return. But I remain resolute. So far.

As I said, the itch remains…

This first appeared in April 2015.

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Kim Chun-su: Chalet 산장 (san jang) a translation

Daniel Paul Marshall’s brief but excellent glimpse into translation and its difficulties.

Daniel Paul Marshall

Kim Chun su Chalet (san jang)

i can’t take complete responsibility for this translation. My copy of the text is a dual one, with Korean on one side & English on the other. However, as i study more i am beginning to notice glaring errors, clear omissions that i think sully the complexity & completeness of the poems. Therefore i am doing what i think are more complete translations.

For example in this poem, the translator first of all completely omits the line beginning “in January…” well actually, he oddly, replaces it with “nothing happened to the sun & moon.” This has nothing in common with the text.
This may seem like the greatest error, but i was more intrigued by two other, much more poetic & subtle omissions, which i will do my best to explain.

the sun covered the hill all day long,
made red flowers dozily bloom.

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Aubade (Inca Dove)


Aubade (Inca Dove)

Such delicacy
evokes the evolution of hand
and wing, a growth

reflecting all we’ve come
to know. Two doves

sit on the fence, cold wind ruffling
their feathers. What brings them
to this place of no

shelter, of wind and rain
and clarity defied? Fingers

often remember what the mind
cannot. Silence
complicates our mornings.


This first appeared here in February 2015, and was originally published in The Balcones Review in 1987. Seems I was enthralled with birds back then, too…


My Poem “Two Cranes on a Snowy Pine” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize


The editors of Panoply have nominated my poem, “Two Cranes on a Snowy Pine,” for a Pushcart Prize. Many thanks to editors Ryn Holmes, Jeff Santosuosso and Andrea Walker for this honor, the first such nomination I’ve ever received.

Their full list of nominees can be found here.

See the woodblock print that sparked this poem: Hokusai





Placing the dead is seldom arbitrary.
The Marquis de Sade’s grave in the forest at Malmaison
was planted with acorns so that he might be consumed by
trees, but my wife desires a shady plot in rural Texas,
where no one will claim her. In old Christian
graveyards the unclean were buried at the gospel side for
sinners. When her best friend died, she and his former lover
split a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and listened to Puccini.
The Nuer of Sudan place deformed dead babies by the river,
returning them to their true fathers, the hippos. After the fog
crushed Stevie Ray’s helicopter, I played Texas Flood on the juke
box and quit my job. In China, bones channel feng shui, becoming
part of the active landscape. Though she wanted her ashes to drift
in the Pacific, my mother’s body lies in a national cemetery in
San Antonio. On the northwest coast of Canada, the Kwakiutl
left their dead to the ravens, and my father has proposed
on numerous occasions that we shove a hambone up his ass
and let the dogs drag him off. I do not believe we’ll follow his
suggestion. In old England, suicides were often interred at
crossroads, impaled, to impede their restless wandering spirits.
The Torajans sometimes keep bodies wrapped in layers of absorbent
cloth in their homes for years. I’d like my incinerated, pulverized
remains released in the jet stream, if only to escape economy class for
once. Jellyroll Morton’s grave is in Section N, Lot 347, #4, in the northwest
quadrant of Calvary Cemetery, but some villagers bury stillborn
near a dwelling’s outer wall. Hugh Hefner is rumored to have acquired
the spot next to Marilyn Monroe. Placing the dead is never arbitrary.

Originally published in Middle Gray in 2013, “Ritual” was reprinted in the anthology Heron Clan IIIand is included in The Circumference of Other, my offering in IDES: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks. It also appeared here in July 2015 – the poem that refuses to die…

For those who might be interested, a glimpse at the genesis of the poem is included in this interview conducted by Dariel Suarez, the editor of Middle Gray:


I Have Misplaced Entire Languages


I Have Misplaced Entire Languages

Neither this tongue nor that still dwells in my house.
The hole of remembrance constricts, leaving behind only debris.

As a child I mixed three languages in family discourse.

Now only one is comprehensible, and I abuse it daily.

The woman in the blue dress stands alone on the pier, weeping.
A pidgin is a simplified language developed between groups with no

common tongue. Sounds form easily, but meanings struggle.

My father is shipped to Korea without warning.

Some words insert epenthetic consonants to separate vowels. Years
later we arrive in Italy and my mother starts receding.

A fourth language emerges.

This morning I asked, “Ame?” “Yes,” she said, “but just drizzling.”

Some families share no common language and must forge without.
We have used pain, pane and pan without reference to etymology.

Having abandoned the familiar, she chose another, never accepting the loss.

These forms we can’t articulate, these memories we have not traced.

* * *

This was originally published in April 2014 as part of Boston Review‘s National Poetry Month Celebration, and also appeared on this blog in July 2015.


Refusal Charm


Refusal Charm

Every rock a precept —
a fist in a garden of palms

a skull is a skull
she says

and I am        no iris

overnight the green beetles
have learned flight

now they lumber
into windows

bright asteroids        falling

I prefer other voices
in the lantana        or dirt

mounded in grids
asking        may I come out

no      it is late      too late