When I first encountered the poetry of Paul Celan, I was going through a mental breakdown, a part of which coincided with a loss of language. I was unable to speak for several weeks. When I discovered Celan, his fragmentary reconstruction of his mother tongue, after the Nazis, who spoke the same language, killed her and his father, was a draw that lead me into some kind of a rabbit hole in the following years.
This book, Around the Faded Sun, is an homage to the importance that took on for me as a young poet just starting out, trying to revive in myself the will to speak through poetry, as well as having fallen silent in the face of atrocity.
My connection to Celan was immediate and personal in origin, and its historicity can only be applied effectively in relative terms today, from a political vantage point. That is why I am saying, there’s a mythos there that I wish to reach for here regarding Celan, and Osip Mandelstam, Celan’s poetic “brother” whom he never met, Mandelstam’s wife Nadezhda, too, and Ingeborg Bachmann, etc. René Char makes an appearance as a dedicatee, as do Bei Dao and Adonis, whose poetry speaks to the exiled condition of all poets, as well as a few friends & mentors without whom I never would have followed my artistic practice to where it has continued, in unarriving, until today. Coltrane also runs through these pages heavily.
I recently traveled to Köln, where I recorded the first two sections of this book with a band of musicians who go collectively by the name of Our Hearts as Thieves – Asger Thomsen , a bassist from DK, Jonas Engel, a saxophonist from DE, and Etienne Nillesen, a percussionist from NL – live at a venue called Loft.
(Video: Portions of a concert we performed back in 2017)
These new recordings are now mastered, and we are shopping for labels. The album, when it comes out, will be titled: What the Wildflower Witnessed. This work is difficult. My goal with the music was to see what happened when I brought this new poetry, much of which is based on Celan, into an improvising group whose format is to work with my poetry as a narrative anchor. I guess it tells the story, in poetic terms, of my interaction with the world through the lens of history, and having been thrown into music, the poetry is transformed, and allows me to see how the poems respond to outside forces & influence through the veil of noise and sound, recalling Osip Mandelstam’s prose work “The Noise of Time.” I think I succeeded in opening up a new window for myself into my process, and have started responding in my current poetry to that experience as it unfolded then, and how it unfolds now, in retrospect, as I listen back.
This whole practice stems in large part for me, from Pierre Joris’s work translating Celan, and his and many others’ scholarship surrounding both Celan & Mandelstam, such as Jerome Rothenberg, Clarence Brown, & Charles Bernstein.
In effect, these are my own “reading stations in the late word,” finding a clearing in which to speak, reading into and out of the later poetry of Paul Celan, always as if for the first time.