Nathaniel Tarn's Critical Reads

June 1st, 2018
Nathaniel Tarn is an American poet, essayist, anthropologist, and translator with some thirty books and booklets published in his various disciplines. Born in Paris, Tarn graduated in history and English as a Scholar of King’s College, Cambridge. He returned to Paris and, after some journalism and radio work, discovered anthropology at the Musée de l’Homme, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, and the Collège de France. A Fulbright grant took him to Yale and the University of Chicago where Robert Redfield sent him to Guatemala for his doctoral fieldwork. He completed this work as a graduate student at the London School of Economics. In 1958, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation sent him to Burma for 18 months after which he became Lecturer in South East Asian Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. In 1970, he immigrated to the US as Visiting Professor of Romance Languages, Princeton University, and became a citizen. Since then he has taught English and American Literature, Epic Poetry, Folklore, inter alia at the Universities of SUNY Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, and Manchuria. He now resides in New Mexico.

Collected Poems, by Edward Dorn (Carcanet) -  For me Dorn is up there with major poets Olson and Duncan. His "Gunslinger" is probably the first totally American poem.
Nothing More to Lose, by Najwan Darwish, tr. by Kareem Abu-Zeid - This and the next two titles are from the wide-ranging NYRB Poets series. A very fine, lyrical but also activist Middle Eastern poet who is able to sympathize with the problems and disasters both of the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Berlin-Hamlet, by Szilard Borbely, tr by Ottilie Mulzet. - A depressive Hungarian poet's linguistically brilliant journey thru Benjamin's Arcades Project both in a Pre War situation and in postwar Berlin in company with Kafka mainly but also with Hungarian poets like the great Attila Jozsef. The suite anticipates Borbely''s tragic suicide.
Dante Alighieri & Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The New Life - One of the most appreciated of the Vita Nuova translations with a preface by a major contemporary poet Michael Palmer.
The Sampo, by Peter O'Leary (The Cultural Society) - A brilliant, vigorous and beautifully written short epic poem inspired by the far longer Kalevala: this young poet's finest book to date.
Variazioni Belliche by Amelia Rosselli, tr. by Lucia Re & Paul Vangelisti (from Otis Books) - A large collection of poems seeing the author thru World War II by a highly significant Italian poet. Her Serie Ospedaliera, tr. by Diana Thow, has just arrived from the same publisher.
Dark Church, by Joseph Donahue - This is the latest, IX-XII, section of the author's ongoing long work Terra Lucida (from Verge Books), a treasure of critical spirituality which will stand high in this period's canon when a greater number of eyes and minds are open to its virtues.
Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season, by Forough Farrokhzad, with the Farsi, tr. by Elizabeth Gray (distributed by Dr. Gray) - This Iranian woman was another activist and a supremely lyrical poet, tragically killed in a dubious motor accident at the age of 34: for me one of the greatest voices of the XXth century and requiring a far more extensive body of translations.
The Absolute Letter, by Andrew Joron (Flood Editions) - A lovable and extremely wise set of poems by a poet with a background in the Philosophy of Science and Linguistics, one of the most technically brilliant writers of the present scene.
Envelope Poems by Emily Dickinson, presented by Susan Howe (New Directions) - Another amazing retrieval by a much loved and admired major poet.

About Gondwana: Gondwana: an ancient supercontinent long dispersed into fragments. Contemplating the ethereal blue is of Antartica, once part of it, Nathaniel Tarn writes in the opening section of his magnificent collection: "They said back then / there was a frozen continent / in those high latitudes encircling globe: / are you moving toward it?" From there, the rising and falling stairs at Fez in Morocco meld into a cantata on marriage, empire, and the meditational nature of climbing. In a series of beautiful, short poems "Il Piccolo Paradiso," Tarn creates a haven of home, bird flight, and innvervating fligh. In another section, the heroic WWII fighter Pilot Lydia Litvyak is personified as Eurydice speaking to her lover captain, Orpheus. The book concludes with the powerful poems of "Exitus Generis Humani," its polyphonic lines slowly pouring over the reader in a mournful, yet often humorous, reverie that reveals allegiance to Earth as the essential divinity, while calling for radical change if we want to prevent a definitive ending.