To Build My Shadow a Fire: The Poetry and Translations of David Wevill

Michael McGriff, Ed.

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This collection showcases the creative range and essential writing of David Wevill, an elusive and enigmatic poetic figure. His work shines among a generation of postwar poets known for their literary invention, dissemination of poetry in translation, political witness, and obsession with the image.

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This collection showcases the creative range and essential writing of David Wevill, an elusive and enigmatic poetic figure. His work shines among a generation of postwar poets known for their literary invention, dissemination of poetry in translation, political witness, and obsession with the image. Wevill is a careful observer of the details of life both as pilgrim and exile. A Canadian born in Japan, Wevill was educated in England and lived in Burma and Spain before he moved to Austin, Texas, where he has spent more than 40 years as a writer, translator, teacher, and editor. These selections were chosen from more than one thousand pages of published work largely unknown in the U.S. and invite further exploration and discovery of this gifted writer.

To Build My Shadow a Fire is an extraordinary collection of the varied writings of a poet whose work deserves to be much better known than it is. David Wevill is not an easy poet to sum up. His work ranges from the prose poem to traditional stanzaic poetry, to the open field poetics of the activated page, but however the river of his words flows, whether in turbulent rapids or in slow swells, the poems dazzle. When he writes, “I touch / The river as if skin met skin,” we feel his erotic attention to language and image, but also to the forces running like groundwater through the world’s things, like the “gaunt skyline geometry, / Abstracts jerking out of human / Eyes a like jaggedness.” He is a lovely poet, ravishing even, and this book is a gift.

—Tony Barnstone

These powerful poems build a shelter, through music and story and image, for a compelling voice. That voice fills each poem and stays with the reader. There is something so deeply humane, wise, and sociable about these tones that we can forget how unswerving David Wevill’s work is in its insistence on a private truth and how carefully crafted in delivering it. This is a wonderful book—a rare harvest of a lifetime’s truth-telling.

—Eavan Boland

David Wevill is one of the great souls of contemporary poetry, a voice with such depth and emotional range that it is hard to imagine that his work has not garnered the attention it deserves up to this point. To Build My Shadow a Fire casts a new light on this important voice, and reveals the true nature of the shadow—the soul in all its complexity—that is the hallmark of Wevill’s work.

—Bruce Meyer

Contents

Author’s Preface

Editor’s Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Part One Poetry
from Penguin Modern Poets 4 (1963)
     The Two-Colored Eagle
My Father Sleeps
Spiders
Last Settlers
Monsoon
The Venturers
Separation
Impression During an Interview
Clean Break
Puddles
At Rideau Falls
The Crèche

from Birth of a Shark (1964)
     Poem
Germinal
Fraying-Stocks
A Legend
Wine-Cask
Fugue for Wind and Rain
Third Time Lucky
The Birth of a Shark
The Black Ox’s Curved Back
Cockroach and Star
The Circle
Two Riders

from A Christ of the Ice-Floes (1966)
     Love-Stones
A Christ of the Ice-Floes
Winter Homecoming
Catkins
Last Snow
Meditation on a Pine-Cone
Self-Portrait at Ten
Visit of the Son
Diamonds
Either/Or
Dirge
Construction Site
Wherever Men Have Been

from Firebreak (1971)
Poem
Taos
Texas Spring
For Woodwinds
A Beginning
Three
Nocturnes
Memorial II
X4
Lament
October
Sickness
From a Yoruba Poem

from Where the Arrow Falls (1974)
Part One (excerpts)
1
8
10
13
14
16
20
26
29
32
36 (excerpt)
39
41
46

Part Two
  1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

from Casual Ties (1983)
They That Hunt You
The Big List
Birthday
Being Absent
Telephone
Talking
The Text
Ring of Bone
Tiger Tiger
A First Drawing

from Other Names for the Heart: New and Selected Poems 1964–1984 (1985)
Spain
Rincón for Paco the Fool
Rincón for the Face in Hotels
Grace
The Unapproachable
Redtails
Late Sonnet V
Shallots
Polonaise
Scavenging
Visitors
Snow Country
Other Names for the Heart
Neutrons
Cante Hondo
The Conquest
Inktonmi, a Prayer
Paracentric

from Figure of Eight: New Poems and Selected Translations (1987)
Premonition
Figure of Eight
Interstice
Patterns Leaves Make
Proof of How it Should Look
Spain and Kafka
And Language is Everything
Assia
Climbing

from Child Eating Snow (1994)
     Baby Upside Down in a Light Snowfall
Child Eating Snow
Exuberance (Paul Klee)
Separation in the Evening (Paul Klee, 1922)
Paris, 1957
Poem Depending on Dashes
Namelessness
Old Legends
Ethnic Poem II
Night Bus South
Beyond
A Window in London
Vigil
An Event About to Happen
Bettelheim
In Late June
Conversation
Heat Wave
Summer Morning

from Solo With Grazing Deer (2001)
Lamp
Sabi
Rune
Landscape
|
Stump
Railroad Tracks, House for Sale and Clouds
Happiness
Wild Eyes
Frictions
Sunlight Through Blinds, Four O’clock, Facing West
Answers
Departures
Time Out
Solo With Grazing Deer

from Asterisks (2007)
3.
5.
9.
11.
12.
17.
19.
21.
24.
27.
33.
36.
44.
45.
49.

Part Two Translations
Ferenc Juhász

Introduction to Ferenc Juhász
     Silver
Gold
Birth of the Foal
Then There Are Fish
Comet-Watchers
Mary
The Tower of Rezi
November Elegy
The Boy Changed into a Stag Clamors at the Gate of Secrets
Hunger and Hate
Four Seasons
The Flower of Silence
A Church in Bulgaria
A Message Too Late
Black Peacock
The Rainbow-Colored Whale
Thursday, Day of Superstition

A Note on Fernando Pessoa, San Juan de la Cruz, and Alberto de Lacerda

Fernando Pessoa
     After the Fair
Every day I discover
Henry the Navigator
Ode
On a Book Abandoned on a Journey

San Juan de la Cruz
   The Dark Night

Alberto de Lacerda
     Four
Bones of man
In Hadrian’s Palace
Poem for Octavio Paz
Here
Palace of Piero Della Francesca
Your beauty hurts
Ceremony
Sun within

About the Editor

Index of Titles

Index of First Lines

Authors

Michael McGriff was born and raised in Coos Bay, Oregon. He is the co-translator of Tomas Transtromer's The Sorrow Gondola, and his poetry collection Dismantling the Hills appeared in 2008 from the Pitt Poetry Series. Among his many awards are a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and a James Michener Fellowship.

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