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Blazons: New and Selected Poems, 2000-2018

Blazons: New and Selected Poems, 2000-2018

by Marilyn Hacker


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A Poetry Book Society Spring 2019 Special Commendation Chosen as a TLS Book of the Year 2019 This generous volume collects new work by one of the most elegant and pertinent poets working in English. Hacker writes pantoums, sonnets, canzones, ghazals and tanka; she is witty, angry, traditional, experimental. Her poetry is in open dialogue with its sources, which include W. H. Auden, Hayden Carruth, Adrienne Rich, and latterly a host of contemporary French, Francophone and Arab poets. Hacker’s engagement with Arabic, almost a second language in Paris, where she lives, has led to her exchanges and engagement with Arabic-speaking immigrants and refugees in France, whose own stories and memories deepen and broaden her already polyglot oeuvre. Her poetry has been celebrated for its fusion of precise form and demotic language; with this, her latest volume, Hacker ranges further, answering Whitman’s call for ‘an internationality of languages’.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784107154
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 09/26/2019
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including Blazons (Carcanet 2019), A Stranger's Mirror (Norton, 2015) and Names (Norton, 2010), and an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices ( Michigan, 2010). Her sixteen translations of French and Francophone poets include Venus Khoury-Ghata's A Handful of Blue Earth (Liverpool, 2017) and Emmanuel Moses' Preludes and Fugues (Oberlin, 2016). She received the 2009 American PEN Award for poetry in translation for Marie Etienne's King of a Hundred Horsemen, the 2010 PEN Voelcker Award and the international Argana Prize for Poetry from the Beit as-Sh'ir/ House of Poetry in Morocco in 2011. She lives in Paris.

Read an Excerpt


Street Scenes


Inhabit daylight, unfurl where it's found filtering through the curtain, where there is a cup circled with steatyopygous peaches floating on white porcelain.
Given, the tintinnabulation in the ears at dusk will usefully pipe down behind some music, street-noise smorgasbord,
hiss of a loss, of what's not possible any longer, that's a shell clamped shut on an unpromising fragment of grit although a nacreous mother-of-pearl sky is contained within. A dozen plump oysters of hours, plate of a winter day embossed with cloudy gilt chinoiserie.
The hours are hung with clouds, not flags,
epiphanous, ephemeral. Light drags down, lingers more briefly, fades and dims to indoor warmth, domestic solstice hymns.

Praise even the tea-stained quadrilled paper, praise the notebook which descended three decades untouched, with yellowed charts of Latin verbs genealogies, datelines of empires,
kings and academicians being crowned on pages years of claustral air had browned.
I opt for its utility and fill its pages in a language it was not intended for, but it is innocent of opinions, unless I need some tense of laudare or an approximate date for the archetypal Trojan war.
Now, maculated by some matinal buttered bread, or coffee, while it rained outside, its gesture is a curve, embrace of what's within the arc, time within place


I woke up in the middle of the night because there was a noise. I vaguely heard rustling, as if pages were being turned.
In the half-darkness (light was filtering in from streetlamps affixed to the façade of the building across the street) I saw a book as massive as a cinder-block on my desk. It was open to a page where, even from my pillow, I could see ciphers within illuminated scrolls.

Ciphers within illuminated scrolls of paisley on the summer draperies drawn on a dormant window facing mine were, in the penumbra, visible.
You could open the window, said a voice which might have been a child's, except I knew it was my sister's, distorting my own,
a mirror facing a grimacing child.
The streetlamp caught, irrelevant detail a scimitar of scar across her chest.

A scimitar of scar across her chest identified the outbound voyager
(if only for the annals of the scar)
waiting for the southbound five-o-clock train.
It was Pentecost and the trains ran late.
A pyramid of canvas suitcases was guarded by a brindled mongrel with the white harness of a seeing-eye dog.
Had the blind man gone for cigarettes?
Dog, woman, man, someone is in disguise.

Dog, woman, man, someone is in disguise masked in a carnival of departure.
Winged and illuminated from within,
the season hangs heavy from the branches.
A crowd gathered on the station platform around the suitcases. Unguarded bags have not contained manuscripts or foundlings since Oscar Wilde was sent to Reading Gaol.
The woman in dark glasses asked herself if every shrouded object were suspect.

If every shrouded object were suspect the tower sheeted for a year in white waxed sailcloth would menace the avenue.
The martyr's flop of bodies between sheets does after all suggest that 'little death'
but to whom exactly, who might have felt ungratified after orgasm, regret that a small fizzle of the nerves was not epiphany. Elusiveness provokes suspicion of the hooded clitoris

Suspicion of the hooded clitoris which has no conscience but which rarely lies suggests implies remembers this or that:
her skirt spread out, astride his thighs surprised into multiple climaxes. Eighteen,
the girl is not in love, the girl is in a fable about curiosity.
The moral of the fable has perhaps to do with what keys into memory:
prime numbers, rhymes, gunpowder synapses.

Prime numbers, rhymes, gunpowder synapses,
genera and species of herbaceous plants, case endings of Greek nouns, breeds of working dogs, three psalms in two languages constitute the mnemonic furniture,
redemptive pastimes, of the desperate or the recidivist insomniac.
The traveler whose train is late recites multiplication tables to delay not coming, but going unwelcomed home.

Not coming but going unwelcomed home from somewhere imagination was piqued to somewhere that would flatten it, tense on the quai, extended like a leitmotif,
the sister of the writer, in her dark glasses and a cap which covered her shaved head (bared, out of place as open flies),
remarked that waiting attenuates time and the boredom which precedes the train gave an illusion of immortality.

An illusion of immortality in gestures which become quotidian:
being in the same place at the same time daily, or once a season, once a year.
A haircut in the second week of May;
in December, the pelvic sonogram.
Twenty-six years ago, her mother died.
At ten in the morning at the café
the waitress with the pony-tail arrives for the lunch service and the afternoon.

For the lunch service and the afternoon coffee to be served, there must be water,
cups, tables upright, only traffic noise,
the adrenaline of recollection.
The train pulls to the platform in sunlight;
the woman in the cap, dark glasses, black shirt, shoulders her bag and climbs aboard as do others. At the station café
arrivals and departures are discussed.
And was it called Spring Wind? Or Summer Rain?

And is it called Spring Wind, or Summer Rain when sonic booms shatter kitchen windows and present tense subverts a narrative's deliberately aleatoric motion? A row of vintage buses parked near the entrance to the covered market;
police in short-sleeved summer uniforms divert traffic. Someone is making a film.
Here and Then are remembered Here and Now while a veil dissimulates Now and There.

While a veil dissimulates Now and There as if it were a woman's censored face here, the quotidian opens its eyes on the disorder of the room it turned from at midnight, face to a cool pillow.
Another boring day in paradise disintegrating into a heat wave beneath an imperturbable blue sky.
Nothing was confirmed but a question when I woke up in the middle of the night.

Again, for Hayden


This morning at five fear seized me and clung like a leech, a tick, napalm:
what could calm its ravening?

Flicked on the switch of a round pine bed-lamp which was wedged among books piled there:
Montaigne, Flaubert, Gallant, Rich

and Carruth.
Either a book or a bath will do when the hour's a drop down the slope: loss, age, pain, death.

(A pilot trapped in the gyring cockpit or just the old soul upstairs,
ninety years old, losing it.)

I've my own words, but I read yours: snow, stone,
logs, stars, to push back despair.
I read bear. I read mountain.

I read thaw when there's rarely enough snow in this city to warrant that event – but fear's soft paw

might lift, might follow the lingering night off in silence, while named birds cry their own words and take flight.


I hear the gears of your own old engine,
revving up, growl: this is too damn vague.
Developers blasted your numinous green mountain in the seventies: highways, logjams.
And on the rue Saint-Antoine,
Monsieur Latronche, the best traiteur has gone
(retired): no more aubergine flans, wild-boar ham off the bone.
There's another fast-food, panini-to-go and Coke, for the tourists.
You walked across your aster-constellated meadow what may now have been twenty Augusts ago, counting the losses, noticing rust, coral, crimson, what changes, what lasts,
what sharpened fear and sorrow into song.

Friends and Daughters

The mother, in a flannel dressing-gown,
holds her thin, flame-haired daughter on her knees,
the Shorter Version of her energies.
Here, three girls lark on the muddy lawn,
her two in shorts, despite the chill of June in Dublin, mine in paisley jeans, a Sixties rip-off, taller, smiling, almost at ease.
Here is the mother reading at noon, alone.
Turn your eyes from the children, heated to flames in spring-sap brandy, uprushing to be grown,
and, evanescent rainlight, they are gone into air, liquid, fire. Turn your eyes from the friends setting all their volatile precedents:
three snapshots, with a date on the back, their names.


Another morning opens up its hand on loss and possibility at once.
Your face is wrinkled. The blank page is lined.
A year turned over in its furrows; months narrowed the light, which now has widened three weeks past solstice, lengthening beyond the cloudbank or the elegy,
the unlucky anniversary.
The father who outlived his daughter writes something about the snow which covered the cow pasture in last night's sub-zero freeze. The four-New-Years'-ago manuscript's a book – cold as a monument, the daughter who outlived her father thinks. Outside her study window blackbirds preen on iridescent water.

Ghazal: Across the Street

Three cops – what are they waiting for across the street?
I'd make some quip, but you're not with me, or across the street.

Sedentary traveller, facing my window blinds rise on provinces I still explore across the street.

Who'll move into the newly-renovated four-room flat (opposite mine) on the fourth floor across the street?

I bought Le Monde late afternoons at the newsstand replaced by one more pricey menswear store across the street.

I still knot a scarf to stand in the bakery line
– you teased me, for caring what I wore across the street.

Fat drops fall. Shoppers huddle under the awning till the bus comes. It starts to pour across the street.

I write 'you,' shorthand for one more absence.
A motorcycle revs up with a roar across the street.

The bus heads eastward with its sodden passengers out of my vision like a metaphor across the street.

Now the cops – two boys, one girl, not thirty ?
seem less inquisitive than jocular across the street.

The rain has stopped as quickly as it started but there's no news-fix anymore across the street.

If they imagine women forget dead babies in those countries, they don't imagine war across the street.

A window opens like a book on evening,
Light silvers grillwork on a door across the street.

Pollution gives the sky to feral pigeons.
They coo over more territory than before across the street.

Above the frieze of chimneys, antennas and window-gables,
swallows in V-formation used to soar across the street.


For Jacques Roubaud

'Le Sancerre', July

Your morning guts slowed down by Migralgine,
you caffeinate into a present tense where nothing makes as much of a difference as sunlight on the fanned spectrum of green post-solstice foliage overflowing the square
– japonica, mimosa, marronnier.
Two small black girls on bikes wobble and sway toward balance on the shaded sidewalk where secular newlyweds leave the Mairie.
Disaster is inexorable somewhere:
a timed device; treads of a bulldozer,
no more contained by meter than by free salsa concerts, miscegenation in July or dependable black coffee at 'Le Sancerre.'

Square du Temple

Artery of the workaday Marais,
the rue de Bretagne leads past the Square du Temple. The sun burned off the clouds, the air is brisk and chilly for the end of May.
Released, like springs, school's out, the children play on grass, in sand, on pavement, everywhere dashing and dodging, charging the atmosphere with light; like ancients, bidding the light to stay.
'My own breath' – in this book – 'impelled me 'write!''
A car backfires: massed pigeons take flight perch on the green-tiled dome of the bandshell,
soar back, V-flocked, to the arboreal perimeter's stained boughs and re-alight.
The book unwrites itself, whiter than night....

Quai de Valmy

The 3ème becomes the 10ème and 11ème on the other side of the Place de la République:
beyond that, the canal St. Martin, colour of piss and phlegm,
is slow and local. The tow-bridges squeak back against the lock walls and let a low barge wallow in and wait as the water floods down from the lock until it's level with the one that follows;
the stout lock-keeper trudges importantly back a block to his bridge, and the barge slides one square tub closer to the tunnel under the Boulevard Jules Ferry.
I lean on the railing and wait for it to disappear since I don't think I have anything pressing to do as the clouds suddenly break and the sky comes clear with a January afternoon's brief clarity.


As I sat on the Quai de Jemmapes looking back at the Quai de Valmy with quadrilled cahier on my knee I could see a gray man in a cap with a similar book on his lap on the other side, opposite me.
I'd been writing in mine – so had he.
When I shut my notebook and got up
(having screwed the black top on my Bic)
he walked off at a comfortable clip,
or he would have. But I was unique and the bench on the opposite quai remained empty. A crow flew away over the Hôpital St Louis.

Square du Temple II

Moon on late daylight: green fruit plucked from a stalk.
Almost July; almost the end of cherry season. I walked out on a literary cocktail early, because I couldn't make more small talk and because it's a pervasive joy to walk across the square at not-yet-dusk. Its tutelary geniuses, preadolescent, very slender and supple African children, hawkswoop on skates around the resting lawn.
(The toddlers and their guardians have gone home.) A breeze flies from their shoulder-blades,
loquacious and invisible, in banners.
The duck pond is refreshed by small cascades,
as silence cures an overdose of manners.

Rue Beaurepaire

On a wide side-street that leads to the canal job-seeking Meridional families,
retired mail-clerks, philoprogenitive Chinese textile workers, Tunisian grocers have found an issue everyone agrees to disagree on – IV drug users'
right to a safe haven among neighbours:
a hostel instead of a hospital ER, with coffee, washing-machines and showers,
a Moroccan intern who serves as nurse,
weekly rap groups, small tables to converse across. From balconies, spanning the street hang homemade banners, spray paint on white sheets:
send them to another street? not ours.

Rêve Champêtre

If, in the Cité Dupetit-Thouars there were a three-roomed flat for sale, I would leave my tourist-infested neighbourhood for semi-rural quiet off the Square du Temple. You can only drive a car in if you live there. Next to a dusty woodworker's shop's an ancient saddlery.
Behind a shopfront, two grey women were turning clay on wheels that softly whined.
Stiff blue hydrangeas stood importantly on guard on windowsills; on a clothesline two work-shirts flapped above a cobbled yard.
(It's not five minutes from the Cyber Bar,
and, in the Rue du Temple, Monoprix.)

Rue Beaurepaire II

The banners across the rue Beaurepaire are gone, those 'for' and also those 'against'
the shop-front drop-in centre. Someone's rinsed away the angry slogans spray-painted across the elegant discreet façade stencilled with quotations from Voltaire,
Sartre, Aragon, Camus. The mayor stayed out of it: nobody was convinced and rumour once more outweighed evidence.
(The school's one street over – really, next door!
Don't they have AIDS? Dealers will come. They'll steal ...)
They won't be driven into the canal;
just relocated to the Gare du Nord a site indicative of transience –
– according to the ACT UP bulletin.
But on a brilliant summer afternoon below the white, newly anonymous façade, the door was open nonetheless.
In the doorway, two women and a man were talking. One woman, I guessed,
might be a client, so I went on past and sat by the canal, which, in the sun,
looked less like bodily effluvium;
a few discreet minutes later, returned.
The young man, in orange scubs, fresh on brown/
olive skin, was the intern who'd been there last June.
They're backed now by la Ligue des Droits de l'Homme;
keep clinic hours, but quietly. They've learned.

Rue de Bretagne

That afternoon in the rue de Bretagne
(I think back often to that afternoon)
I pushed a shopping cart through Monoprix where anything you'd like to eat or own:
Roquefort or bath FA, shrink-wrapped lots of three bottles of Badoit, pâté de campagne,
a coffee-maker engineered by Braun,
is there to contemplate, covet and buy.
Fulfilment in a supermarket's fast:
would that it were desire's paradigm,
I thought, in line, sure that a stretch of time could, like the summer's evening sunlight, last on an uncomplicated day in June remembering those lines of Aragon.

26 rue de Turenne / 26 December

Across the street, the widow weighs the storm that woke her in pre-dawn dark when the wind rattled her tall old windows. Lights blink on in other buildings: flares. A car-alarm enters the howling, full of screech and thud:
clay on macadam, glass on metal, wood on plastic. A café awning rips, flaps.
A green trash-can skids down the street. She wraps a moth-eaten blue shawl that she peels from an armchair around her, covering her head.
It seems as if she's always lived alone.
It's ten years, or two months, that he's been dead.
Her grandmother's chandelier tinkles behind her, seasick, swaying like a pendulum.

Librairie l'Arbre à lettres

The February noon was more like March.
A wind that smelled marine pushed a soak-through rain in from nowhere, veiling a gaze as blue as hydrangeas around a fieldstone church which I was content to notice more than watch while browsing in Biography and New Releases in the bookshop on the Boulevard du Temple: an aleatoric search for a novel cited in Le Monde.
Books are clannish; I wasn't sans famille
opening that one. The rain thinned; the rain stopped.
An afternoon proposed itself to me.
My serviceable brown umbrella dripped dry, as the sky cleared, in the umbrella stand.

Square du Temple: Another August

Two long-legged black girls jump double-dutch in turn on a stretch-band looped over the fence around the lawn. A high-cheekboned intense and Slavic-looking pregnant woman touches the white bandanna on her hair, her much-dog-eared Pascal closed on her lap. Her pants'
black satin sets off the magnificence of her high-tech running shoes. We watch three Chinese toddler boys circle and circle the bandshell, holding hands, singing Marlbrough s'en va-t'en guerre. A stout young African-print clad brown mother kicks a soccer-ball to her small boy and girl who kick it back.
When will the moment be enough again?

Place des Vosges: October

There is memory, and there's the haze of misted afternoon becoming memory if you're lucky, on a damp October day you wish were just one of a string of October days in the same city, at the same address:
small spark no one is likely to take away of appetite for a conversation, curiosity about the nights and thoughts that bronzed a face.
In the square, beneath unleafing horse-chestnut trees autumnal as yourselves, but acquiescent,
you trash a notable lapsed Communist.
Your friend says, 'Turncoats sell their arse to the flies and then complain that history is unjust.'
For a breath of paradox, you are in the present.


Excerpted from "Blazons"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Marilyn Hacker.
Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Street Scenes

Lauds 3

Blazons 4

Again, for Hayden 8

Friends and Daughters 10

Paragraph 10

Ghazal: Across the Street 11

Itinerants 13

Ghazal: Style 20

Vendanges 21

A Farewell to the Finland Woman 24

Road Work 28

Ghazal: Myself 31

Canzone 32

Some Translations

Fadwa Suleiman: from 'Genesis', Laurel 37

Habib Tengour: First Apparition: Illustrious Stellar Alphabet 41

Sania Saleh: Autumn of Freedom 47

Guy Goffette: Five Poems 51

Golan Haji: Four Poems 55

Yasser Khanjer: Between Two Cells 59

Samira Negrouche: To Invent the Word? 62

Marie Étienne: from 'The Japanese Notebook' 65

Calligraphies and other poems

Le Sancerre: September 73

Calligraphies I 77

Ghazal: $$$ 84

Glose 85

Ghazal: Arabic 87

Pomegranate 88

Ghazal: Nothing 90

Calligraphies II 91

For Despina 97

Calligraphies III 99

Pantoum 104

Calligraphies IV 105

Nieces and Nephews 112

Calligraphies V 114

Ghazal: Your face 119

Calligraphies VI 120

Ghazal: The Dark Times 126

Ce qu'il reste à vivre 127

Calligraphies VII 131

Calligraphies VIII 136

After Forty Days ('Arbaoun) 143

Calligraphies IX 144

Calligraphies X 151

Index of Poem Titles 157

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