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Rosmarie Waldrop

1935–

On August 24, 1935, Rosmarie Waldrop was born in Kitzingen am Main, Germany. At the age of ten, she spent half a year acting with a traveling theater. She has studied at Würzburg, Freiburg, Aix-Marseille and Michigan Universities, earning her PhD in 1966. She has lived in the United States since 1958.

Waldrop began publishing her poetry in English in the late 1960s and since 1968 has been co-editor and publisher of Burning Deck Press with her husband, the poet and translator Keith Waldrop. The pair met in 1954 while he was stationed in Kitzingen after the Second World War.

She is now the author of more than three dozen books of poetry, fiction, and criticism, most recently her trilogy Curves to the Apple: The Reproduction of Profiles, Lawn of Excluded Middle, Reluctant Gravities (New Directions, 2006), and a collection of essays, Dissonance (University of Alabama Press, 2005).

Her other poetry titles include Splitting Image (2006), Blindsight (2004), Love, Like Pronouns (2003), Well Well Reality (1998, with Keith Waldrop), Reluctant Gravities (1999), Split Infinites (1998), Another Language: Selected Poems (1997), A Key Into the Language of America (1994), Lawn of the Excluded Middle (1993), Peculiar Motions (1990), Shorter American Memory (1988), The Reproduction of Profiles (1987), Streets Enough to Welcome Snow (1986), Differences for Four Hands (1984), Nothing Has Changed (1981), When They Have Senses (1980), The Road Is Everywhere or Stop This Body (1978), and The Aggressive Ways of the Casual Stranger (1972).

In the early 1970s, she spent a year in Paris, where she met several leading avant garde French poets, including Claude Royet-Journoud, Anne-Marie Albiach, and Edmond Jabès. These writers not only influenced Waldrop's work greatly, but worked with her as she became one of the main translators of their work into English, with Burning Deck acting as a major vehicle in introducing their work to an English-language readership.

She has since translated more than twenty books, including works by Paul Celan, Elke Erb, Joseph Guglielmi, Emmanuel Hocquard, Friederike Mayröcker, Jacques Roubaud, and Alain Veinstein. She received the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for her 1993 rendering of The Book of Margins by Edmond Jabès.

About her work, the poet Diane Wakoski has said, "Rosmarie Waldrop writes the poetry of everyday life and asks her reader to look beyond it, not by dazzling you with spectacular images or fancy metaphors but by simply quietly invoking you to look, listen, reflect."

Waldrop's honors include the Rhode Island Governor's Arts Award, the PEN/Book-of-the-Month-Club Citation for Translation, a Translation Center Award, and Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in Poetry and Translation.

She has taught at Wesleyan University and, as occasional visitor, at Tufts and Brown. She currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

By This Poet

7

Aging

Aging. Being in pain. Finishing. Rotting.
             —Emmanuel Fournier
 
 

We feel we’ve contracted into very dim, very old white dwarf stars, not yet black holes. Wrinkled, but not quite withered. Dropped out of summer like a stone, we watch time fall. With the leaves. Into a deeper color. Wavelengths missing in the reflected light.
 

The road toward rotting has been so long. We forget where we are going. Like a child, I look amazed at a thistle. Or drink cheap wine and hug my knees. To shorten the shadow? To ward off letting go?
 

So much body now, to be cared for. What with the arrow, lost cartilage, skeleton within. Memory no longer holds up. A bridge to theory and dreams. Impervious to vertigo. Days are long and too spacious.
 

Though the sun is a mere eight light-minutes away elderly dust hangs. Over the long sentences I wrote in the last century. Now thoughts in purpose tremor, in lament, in search of. Not being too soon? Going to be? Unconformities separating strata of decay?
 

You say aimlessness has its virtues. Just as not fully understanding may be required for harmony. And blow your nose. You sing fast falls the eventide, damp on the skin, with bitter wind. And here it is again, the craving for happiness that night induces. Or the day of marriage.
 

The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities. But gravity is always attracting, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.
 

Distant galaxies are moving away from us. Friends, lovers, family. Even the sky shifts toward red. Where every clearness is only. A more welcoming slope of the night. And I don't remember why I opened the door.
 

Mouth full of moans, you believe the natural state. Is a body at rest. And close your eyes to the threat of your face disappearing. Without thought or emotion. Into its condition. And I thought I knew you.
 

Are the complications thinning to a final simplicity? The nearest thing to a straight path in curved space? Clouds of gas slowly collapsing? With only one possible outcome? But unlike a black hole I keep my hair on. As I move toward the unquestionable dark.
 

This dark, Mrs. Ramsay thinks, is perhaps the core of every self. The deep note of existence the ear finds, but cannot hold on to. Across the vicissities of the symphony. Or else this dark could be our shelter in the time of long dominion. And though we are not well suited to the perspectives it opens it is an awesome thing to see. Once you can see it.

from "Inserting the Mirror"


Is it possible to know where a word ends and my use of it begins? Or to locate the ledge of your promises to lean my head on? Even if I built a boundary out of five pounds of definition it could not be called the shock of a wall. Nor the pain the follows. Dusk cast the houses in shadow, flattening their projections. Blurred edges, like memory or soul, an event you turn away from. Yet I also believe that a sharp picture is not always preferable. Even when people come in pairs, their private odds should be made the most of. You went in search of more restful altitudes, of ideally clear language. But the bridge that spans the mind-body gap enjoys gazing downstream. All this time I was holding my umbrella open.

 

 

As long as I wanted to be a man I considered thought as a keen blade cutting through the uncertain brambles in my path. Later, I let it rust under the stairs. The image was useless, given the nature of my quest. Each day, I draw the distance to cover out of an anxiety as deep as the roots of language. I keep my eye on the compass while engaging the whole width of the field, and whereas, to others, I may look like a blur of speed from one point in time to another, I know I am not advancing an inch and will never arrive. Even if I could arrive the mirror would only show the other mirrors I have set up at every stop to catch the spirit of passage.

 

 

It rained so much that I began to confuse puddles with the life of the mind. Perhaps what I had taken for reflection was only soaking up the world, a cross of sponge and good will through the center of the eye. But to describe the inner world, you know, by definition, even the patient definitions of psychology, is impossible. Hard to know if it can be lived. Revoked edge of water and dry land. A falling fear. The sudden color of a word. But it's the sky, pale gray, abundantly thrown back from far enough behind the eye, as you imagine an image, seeing earth in every direction.

Pleasure Principle

							     For Joan Retallack

Of course it’s not easy to believe in your own dream. The working of instinct near water. Not orchards. Not apples or pears. Not nowadays. I don't know how psychoanalysis has no hesitation on how dark the night can get. The world, which is unfinished, occupying more and more of the sky.


Emotion as unpleasurable tension, the high passage of the moon. The laundry. Sensitivity won't do it. Therefore and quite often we lie down in stubbled fields. The voice of the cicada. Tells nothing.


Any day lies thick in the garden I propose to enter. Then fills with secret rivers that darkness feeds on. Lapsed sense of history. No massacre. The cicadas relentlessly.


It doesn't matter if your feet are small. When you're asleep. The fruit trees enormous. A motor idles in the foreground. If, with quicker travel, things did indeed turn out according to one's wildest. If a child could be born from something not a mother.


The circumstance that the wife occupies the inner room and rarely if ever comes out is called the pleasure principle. In certain societies. Suddenly made clear by the cicadas. The meaning of life, absolutely. Distinguished from the now moonless garden.


And hooded with fabric like mirrors not in use. And like appearance refusing itself. A pleasure that cannot be felt as such to transcend becoming strange.


An orchard in the foreground. With beginnings of unease immediately behind.