Tag Archives: Pushkin

“The Exiled Mind” by Zireaux

The Exiled Mind

In this passage, the California-born narrator of Kamal digresses a moment, reflecting on what it means to be an exiled poet with the task of writing an epic poem set in his former homeland.

To M.

'...my own tableau of beasts and tribals / below a Cartouche of priests and bibles...'

‘…my own tableau of beasts and tribals / below a Cartouche of priests and bibles…’

O Reader! You know not what’s ahead.
I do! I lie awake in bed
(alone, alas – my wife is prone
these days to sleeping on her own)
and in my mind I see outspread,
just like an 18th century chart, a
detailed but vast, mapped but untread,
known but untamed world — my Carta
still unwritten, unread,
untold, unheard! To you, ethereal.
To me, no greater or more material
kingdom has ever existed. A giant
of countries – strong and self-reliant,
yet private, secluded, monasterial.

It is, you see, a land designed
by shifty sextant: the exiled mind,
detached but still in hearing’s range
of all the ways my homeland’s changed
(to help you better estimate
the course my former country’s on,
see stanzas sixty-six through eight
in canto ten of Byron’s Don);1
— and all these changes grow ornate
with Distance’s hyperbole,
which renders even more superbly
my own tableau of beasts and tribals
below a Cartouche of priests and bibles.
O Reader! To take you there verbally!

Just ask that convict Kenneth Lay: / Discordant views should not be scoffed at.

Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation, in handcuffs: ‘Just ask that convict Kenneth Lay: / Discordant views should not be scoffed at.’

But how? The country’s no longer mine;
for though our lawyers might define
our status as a “separation,”
the laws of cline transcend relation.
(How much we changed). But hear me through!
For if you pause your game controllers,
turn your headphones’ claws askew,
ignore the latest wartime pollsters’
news and from the Tube unglue
yourself – or as my son says, “off it!” –
and listen to me, no greater profit
possibly could come your way.
Just ask that convict, Kenneth Lay:
Discordant views should not be scoffed at.

Uneasy planet! East and West!
To you I make this same request:
Tranquilize your telephones,
and temple bells and megaphones
which for your soul’s devotion call.
Free your mind of Wall Street’s numbers,
the music in your shopping malls,
and SUVs, the latest Hummers
(there’s nothing wrong with feeling small),
the pills to help your loins grow bold,
your dreams of gold from daughters sold
or children’s PhDs endorsed
by foreign firms, or those out-sourced,
or what your priests or stars foretold –

ignore it, world! Ignore it all!
And hear my story of Kamal.
For you will be my orphan’s parent,
and like Cervantes’ poor knight-errant,
my hero’s born to give you pleasure,
not me – for I have seen his life
already, heard the mingled measure
of his strivings and his strife,
his strains and struggles mixed together.
Like I said – these words you read
are stains of blood. Kamal will bleed.
And if he is to long outlive me,
(and fame, you know, in yours to give me),
it’s through his pain. For he will bleed.

Kamal will bleed.

Lord Byron (1788 - 1824)

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824)

To listen to the entire First Canto of Kamal, by Zireaux, read by Nick Ellsworth, click here.

1Here are stanzas 66 through 68 in Canto 10 of Byron’s Don Juan (to which the poet refers above):

I’ve no great cause to love that spot of earth,
Which holds what might have been the noblest nation;
But though I owe it little but my birth,
I feel a mix’d regret and veneration
For its decaying fame and former worth.
Seven years (the usual term of transportation)
Of absence lay one’s old resentments level,
When a man’s country’s going to the devil.

Alas! could she but fully, truly, know
How her great name is now throughout abhorr’d:
How eager all the earth is for the blow
Which shall lay bare her bosom to the sword;
How all the nations deem her their worst foe,
That worse than worst of foes, the once adored
False friend, who held out freedom to mankind,
And now would chain them, to the very mind: –

Would she be proud, or boast herself the free,
Who is but first of slaves? The nations are
In prison, – but the gaoler, what is he?
No less a victim to the bolt and bar.
Is the poor privilege to turn the key
Upon the captive, freedom? He’s as far
From the enjoyment of the earth and air
Who watches o’er the chain, as they who wear.

As mentioned in my review of Barbara Reynolds’s excellent book on Dante: ‘As talent agency, Exile (and its partner agents Poverty and Lost Love) boasts a remarkable portfolio of lyric writers, not just Virgil and Ovid, but Voltaire, Byron, Pushkin, Hugo, Nabokov, Brodsky, Soyinka, Zireaux – and this is just a sampling from the A-list.’

Note: Quite a few guesses but still no solvers of my poem: “A Little Morsel of Immortality.” First person to solve it receives a free signed copy of my next novel. -Z

Published as part of the dVerse Poetry group.


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“On Fame” by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Portrait of John Keats by the English painter William Hilton

Portrait of John Keats by the English painter William Hilton

On Fame
by John Keats


Fame, like a wayward girl, will still be coy
To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy,
And dotes the more upon a heart at ease;
She is a Gypsy,—will not speak to those
Who have not learnt to be content without her;
A Jilt, whose ear was never whispered close,
Who thinks they scandal her who talk about her;
A very Gypsy is she, Nilus-born,
Sister-in-law to jealous Potiphar;
Ye love-sick Bards! repay her scorn for scorn;
Ye Artists lovelorn! madmen that ye are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.


“You cannot eat your cake and have it too.” -Proverb

How fevered is the man who cannot look
Upon his mortal days with temperate blood,
Who vexes all the leaves of his life’s book,
And robs his fair name of its maidenhood;
It is as if the rose should pluck herself,
Or the ripe plum finger its misty bloom,
As if a Naiad, like a meddling elf,
Should darken her pure grot with muddy gloom;
But the rose leaves herself upon the briar,
For winds to kiss and grateful bees to feed,
And the ripe plum still wears its dim attire;
The undisturbed lake has crystal space;
Why then should man, teasing the world for grace,
Spoil his salvation for a fierce miscreed?

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur, shot and killed at age 25

On our gypsy-jaunt across the genres of poetry, one must pause lengthily at the divine “crystal space” that is John Keats. There’s no more appropriate theme — amidst this medium of sex-tapes and 12,479 followers on Twitter — than the theme of fame. As Shakespeare showed us, and showed Keats, too (and as Darwin confirmed some 50 years later), fame and sex are two sides of the same genitalia.

You’ll remember — of course you’ll remember, my dedicated reader — our brief encounter with Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” on Tuesday, May 31 of this year, and how, when it comes to attracting immortality, an “excess of moderation” makes for an effective babe-magnet (I remember a car dealer once telling me, “This one’s a real babe-magnet”). As I pointed out, the word “temperate” in the second line of Shakespeare’s masterpiece (“Thou art more lovely and more temperate”) is the most important word of the poem.

Keats appears to have admired the word as well, for here it is again — “with temperate blood” — also in the second line of a Shakespearean sonnet. Keats was imitating and even attempting to one-up the Master, adhering to the great one’s rhyme scheme throughout “On Fame I,” and most of “On Fame II,” only to add a distinctive flourish when concluding the latter, with an awkward albeit distinctive FEGGF pattern all to his own.

We could, in fact, look at “Sonnet 18” as a serenade to Fame. Though Fame and Immortality are different ladies, they’re still women at heart; they can still succumb to true love – and even the Gypsy Jilt, the wayward girl, the coy coquette, can sometimes transform into a faithful widow; or, if not a woman of purity, then an eager necrophiliac.

Keats's tombstone

Keats's tombstone at the Protestant cemetery in Rome

For all its self-touching and onanistic muddying of the Naiad’s grot, there’s a line in “On Fame II” that forever remains with any artist who happens to read it and who knows of Keats’s fate: “The undisturbed lake has crystal space.” It’s here, with “crystal space,” that Keats breaks free of the Shakespearean rhyme scheme – a “G” where the “F” should be – and so himself becomes a crystal space in undisturbed water. “Here Lies One Whose Name was writ in Water, Feb 24, 1821” are the words etched into Keats’s tombstone. So with his death, his immortality crystallized.

Some relevant lines from my Kamal, Book One:

Each year, reader – each year the jaundiced stare
of beat-up Poe, of Shelley gasping for air,
of sad, consumptive Keats (beside whom cries
Bernini’s fountain), of Byron as he lies
in cold ague, of Plath, that over dramatic
half-baked spouse of Hughes, and poor rheumatic
Burns (mad, but unsoused), a stunned
and bleeding Pushkin, out-dueled, out-gunned,
and other lead-filled poets: Jam
Master Jay, Tupac and Biggie, a lamb
called Lennon, that self-shooter Cobain (his head
found with no brain) and all those left dead
in bathtubs or vomit, including one – how grim! —
by ‘soap under-toe slain’ – I mean, that Doorman, Jim —

each year, my reader, they’ve glared at me! Their eyes
increased in number and ridicule. ‘There lies
a living poet,’ they’d say, ‘older, more dead than us
His name is write in air! Our scattered dusts
a far more stable substance than this living
statue able yet to write!…”

Keats made his “best bow” and “bid adieu” at a very young age. Fame clearly liked it; Immortality, too.

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“Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G.

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Notorious B.I.G. singing Juicy

“Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G.

It was all a dream
I used to read Word Up magazine
Salt’n’Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine
Hangin’ pictures on my wall
Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl
I let my tape rock ’til my tape popped
Smokin’ weed and bamboo, sippin’ on Private Stock
Way back, when I had the red and black lumberjack
With the hat to match
Remember Rappin’ Duke, duh-ha, duh-ha
You never thought that hip hop would take it this far
Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight
Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade
Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner
Peace to Ron G, Brucey B, Kid Capri
Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starsky
I’m blowin’ up like you thought I would
Call the crib, same number same hood
It’s all good

I made the change from a common thief
To up close and personal with Robin Leach
And I’m far from cheap, I smoke skunk with my peeps all day
Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way
The Moet and Alize keep me pissy
Girls used to diss me
Now they write letters ’cause they miss me
I never thought it could happen, this rappin’ stuff
I was too used to packin’ Gats and stuff
Now honies play me close like butter played toast
From the Mississippi down to the east coast
Condos in Queens, indo for weeks
Sold out seats to hear Biggie Smalls speak
Livin’ life without fear
Puttin’ 5 karats in my baby girl’s ears
Lunches, brunches, interviews by the pool
Considered a fool ’cause I dropped out of high school
Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood
And it’s still all good

Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this
50 inch screen, money green leather sofa
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur
Phone bill about two G’s flat
No need to worry, my accountant handles that
And my whole crew is loungin’
Celebratin’ every day, no more public housin’
Thinkin’ back on my one-room shack
Now my mom pimps a Ac’ with minks on her back
And she loves to show me off, of course
Smiles every time my face is up in The Source
We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us
No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us
Birthdays was the worst days
Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay
Uh, damn right I like the life I live
‘Cause I went from negative to positive
And it’s all good.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
If poetic depth is “miles per word” (see my discussion of last Tuesday’s poem), then the poetry of Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, appears to be a real gas guzzler. Apart from the metonymy of brand names — Private Stock malt liquor, Moet champagne, Alize vodka, Nintendo and Sega video games, Acura cars, Gatling guns, the “Up Close and Personal” TV show, The Source magazine — all of which once signified rap success (or failure) in America, Notorious’s verse is all sound and style, all swing and bling.

Let’s start with the most important line: “Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight.” The scansion here is pure jazz. On paper we’d see a trochee, trochee, spondee, trochee, spondee. But Biggie — like most rappers — lets the rhyme shape the rhythm, so that the second foot (“in the”) becomes a pyrrhic (no stress); it dissolves completely amidst the heavier I’m/lime/rhyme material. So the “limelight” line does both what it says, and what it sounds: it “rhymes tight.” And note the head rhyme (also stressed) that opens the next line — “Time.” Which gives us I’m/rhyme/lime/time. Even tighter.

The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin

The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin

Whereas Edmund Wilson could happily scan 500 years of English (and some say Russian) literature in standard stressed/unstressed metrical units, rap poetry has clearly divided the stressed syllable into two distinct species — rhymed and unrhymed stresses. This distinction is critical, and applies to all rap from the 1980s Salt’n’Pepa and Marly Marl, to Tupac and B.I.G. (“Juicy” came out it 1994), to Eminem’s latest song, “Not Afraid.” As with jazz, there’s a kind of tripping, or rather skipping here, pugalist-like, skipping between the beat, heels just off the ground, never landing flat-footed anywhere.

As legal council, I’d advise most of today’s popular rappers (including Notorious, were he still alive), to plead guilty to letting their rhymes slap around their metaphors (the rapper Eminem being one of the worst offenders). Look at this line: “Now my mom pimps an Ac’ with minks on her back.” The mink belongs around her neck, or on her shoulders, especially if she’s sitting in her Acura, where her back would not be visible. A serious offense of imagery; and it deserves serious punishment. But the lovely, subtle assonant pressing together of “mom-pimp” into “mink” amends for the misery of any jail time.

So does sofa/chaeuffer (practically a homonym in Biggie’s mouth), and all the wonderful double-rhymes (dissed us/Christmas/missed us, or birthdays/worst days/thirst-ay), a fantastic triple combination (happen/this rappin’ stuff/packin’ Gats and stuff), all the leonine, interlaced, internal, wrenched, oblique, assonant rhymes — it’s all there, and it’s all tight, and it’s all good; and as this poetry mingles with the Muses through time, I hope master Biggie shares some of that champagne with Pushkin. Moet was Pushkin’s favorite, too.

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