The poetry of the desert is sparse. To locate a poem in the desert you cannot just look, you must smell, touch, hear and taste your surroundings. Never attempt to write about the desert, the result will be too much like writing. These notes form clues as to finding poems in the desert. Whilst the notes may be extensive the poems themselves live a tenuous existence & are barely clinging to life.
Seek out the poems.
p ix Epigraph: Excerpt “Novelty and the desert are so abhorred by man that I was glad one of the troglodytes had followed me to the last.” from the short story “The Immortal” by Jorge Luis Borges (translated by James E. Irby) – page 139 – “Labyrinths” (Penguin Modern Classics 2000) ISBN 978-0-141-18484-5
Part One Epigraph: “I find that out in the desert my words wander too because here thoughts and words are things unleashed.” From the short story “Mischief” by Eley Williams – page 139 – “Attrib. and other stories” (Influx Press) ISBN 978-1-910312-16-2
Page 7 ‘longifolius’ is a cento using found text from Mathias Enard’s “Compass” (translated by Charlotte Mandell) – page 260 – “A few pages after the ‘Opary’, I let my finger glide at random, closing my eyes, then opening them: ‘Great are the deserts and everything is desert.’ oh lord, the desert again, by chance page 428, by chance still Álvaro de Campos, so one begins dreaming for a while that everything is in fact connected, that every word, every gesture is connected to all words and all gestures. All deserts are the desert, ‘I light a cigarette to put off the journey till later / To put off all journeys till later / To put off the entire universe till later.’” (Fitzcarraldo Editions 2017) ISBN 978-1-910695-23-4
Page 9 ‘triodia’ is a remix using found text from László Krasznahorkai’s “The Last Wolf” (translated by George Szirtes) – page 69 – “…but most powerfully only on the way back as the sky grew dark when José Miguel told him how the young male wolf vanished, his tracks leading them to think he had migrated toward the Portuguese border and however much, he said staring into the desert of the Hauptstrasse, however much he wanted José Miguel’s story to be over at this point, that is with the line that the young male wolf vanished over the Portuguese border, just like that, the story did not end there because they made a considerable detour to view the stretch between the thirtieth and thirty-first mile post on the Badajoz road, then retraced their route, without any explanation…” (Tuskar Rock Press, 2016) ISBN 978-1-78125-813-2
Page 13 ‘heresiologist’ is a response to the statement “Impulse and counter impulse ooze away as in a desert.” – page 18 – from “Crowds and Power” by Elias Canetti (translated by Carol Stewart) (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984) ISBN 978-0-374-51820-2
Page 15 ‘heraldic’ is a response to Anne Carson’s statement “The desert of after Proust”, taken from her lecture “59 Paragraphs About Albertine” which can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofR3Qd2E_A0 the piece uses words from “Sodom and Gomorrah” by Marcel Proust (translated by John Sturrock) “We bear Or with three bars embattled, counter-embattled Gules of five pieces each charged with a trefoil of the field. No, those are the arms of the Arrachepels, who weren’t of our stock, but from whom we inherited the house, and those of our line have never wanted to change it. The Arrachepels (Pelvilains in the old days, so it’s said) bore Or with five piles couped Gules. When they intermarried with the Féternes their coat of arms changed but remained cantoned with twenty crosses crosslet with pile pery fitchy Or with dexter a vol ermine.” (Penguin Modern Classics, 2003) ISBN 978-0-141-18034-2
Page 17 ‘IX’ is a redaction using César Vallejo’s poem “Nervestorm of Anguish” (translated by Clayton Eshleman) – the original line “Regreso del desierto donde he caido mucho;” translated as “I am back from the desert where I have often fallen;” – page 31 – “The Complete Poetry; A Bilingual Edition” (University of California Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0-520-26173-0
Page 21 ‘Larapinta’ is a response to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes”, and the line “The desert is beleaguered.”– page 37 – (Penguin Classics, 2004) ISBN 978-0-14-143946-4
Part Two Epigraph: “…the humility of nomadic life was one of the strongest images in Islam, the great renunciation, the stripping away of worldly trappings in the nakedness of the desert.” From “Compass” by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell) – page 199 – (Fitzcarraldo Editions 2017) ISBN 978-1-910695-23-4
Page 37 ‘Thymus (Lamiaceae)’ is a scientific expose based on the writing of Sadegh Hedayat “The Blind Owl” (translated by Naveed Noori), “In the desert I recognized the thorns, rocks, tree trunks and small shrubs of thyme” – Page 45 – (Iran Open Publishing Group, 2011) ISBN 978-91-86131-44-9
Page 43 ‘obolus’ is a response to “The man emerged from sleep one day as if from a viscous desert.” From the short story “The Circular Ruins” by Jorge Luis Borges (translated by James E. Irby) – page 74 – “Labyrinths” (Penguin Modern Classics 2000) ISBN 978-0-141-18484-5
Page 49 ‘luscious skin’ is an imagined conversation between Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima in an imaginary desert. The text was computer generated using random words taken from conversations in “The Savage Detectives” by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer) (Picador, 2012) ISBN 978-1-4472-0285-1
Tony Messenger is an Australian writer, critic and interviewer who has had works published in Overland Literary Journal, Southerly Journal and Mascara Literary Review. He blogs about translated fiction and interviews Australian poets at Messenger’s Booker. He is on Twitter @messy_tony.