I dropped by the Mid-Manhattan Library and visited their ongoing sale, coming away with a couple of poetry books for a buck each. One, Robert Kelly‘s 1973 The Mill of Particulars, is a signed limited edition (#190 of 200 hardcover), worthless, of course, because of the library stamps (I can’t believe what libraries put in the sale bin, but that’s a rant for another day), but irresistible at the price. It’s worth mentioning here for the first poem, “prefix:) Against the Code,” which begins:

Language is the only genetics.
“in which a man is understood & understands”
        & becomes
        what he thinks,
becomes what he says
            following the argument.
. . . .
So the hasty road
& path of arrow
must lead up
from language again
            & in language the work be done,
work of light,

The other is a very strange book called Gut Yuntif Gut Yohr, by Marie B. Jaffe; this 1966 “revised and enlarged edition” cost $3 at the time, and (amazingly) it’s still in print for only $7.95, well below the rate of inflation (for books anyway). It contains Yiddish poetry in transliteration, some original but mostly translated; I’m not sure in what spirit Ms. Joffe intended the translations to be read, but they range from the respectable:

In der fertzarter Caravanserai,
Vu mir gefinen zich i tog und nacht,
Bemerk vie yeder Sultan in zein shtoltz
Voint zein besherteh shoh, und shtarbt avek.
Der Rubaiyat

to the dissonant:

Ver is Sheyndeleh? Vos is zie,
Geloibt bei alleh mentshen?
Gut und frum und sheyn is zie,
Der oilim vil ihr bentshen.
(after Shakespeare’s “Who Is Sylvia?”)

to the just plain bizarre:

‘Sis geven erev krismess, und shtill is in heizel,
Kein nefeshel rirt zich, afileh kein meizel…
(after “A Visit from St. Nicholas”!)

I’m still shaking my head in bewilderment, but I couldn’t pass it up.

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