Happy Surprise! Recovering Words’ Favorite Honoured at 2014 Griffin Poetry Awards

Winner of the 2014 Griffin Trust Lifetime Achievement Award -Brazilian Poet Adelia Prado

Winner of the 2014 Griffin Trust Lifetime Achievement Award -Brazilian Poet Adelia Prado

 

DAY

The hens, startled, open their beaks
and freeze in that style, immobile
—I was going to say immoral—
their mandibles and ruddy crests,
only the arteries pulsing in their necks.
A woman spooked by sex:
but liking it much.

POEM BEGUN AT THE END

A body wants another body.
A soul wants another soul and the body as well.
This surfeit of reality confuses me.
Jonathan saying:
it’s like I’m in a movie
If I tell him you’re stupid
he would say I am too.
If he said let’s take a walk through hell
I would go.

Adelia Prado ( 1935 – ) from Seven Poems published in The Puritan – 2014 Spring Supplement, trans. by Dean Thomas Ellis

A month since the last post. Not a lot of my words but lots of poetry that culminated in two days in Toronto feasting on the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize celebrations sponsored by The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry – the public readings to a sell-out crowd of a thousand by the seven short-listed poets and the awards dinner the next day. You can read a thorough review of the readings here from the Descant poetry blog. (These poetry prizes  are said to be the most prestigious and lucrative on the planet! The winners of the Canadian and International prizes receive $65,000 each!)

Highlight? The chance to see and meet Adelia Prado, the celebrated Brazilian poet who was announced, without prior notice at the reading, as the winner of Lifetime Achievement Award from the Griffin Trust. Other winners of this award include Seamus Heaney and Tomas Transtromer,

In her brief acceptance remarks Prado gave a wonderful line translated by her translator, American poet Ellen Watson: The smallest of poems is a servant of hope! Now, ain’t that the truth!!!
(For my most recent post on Prado click here.)

As an extra treat celebrated American poet and a trustee of the Griffin Trust, Robert Hass, introduced Prado and read from three of her poems. Hass said so wonderfully of Prado: Brazil has produced what might seem impossible, a really sexy, mystical, catholic poet!

Earlier in his remarks he said: she is a theological and devotional poet who can make you think William Blake had been studying Pablo Neruda. She knows what the devil is. She knows that it’s thinking the ordinary is ordinary. She knows it’s the middle of the night anxiety and self-loathing that makes you wonder if you exist. She knows what the divine is: socks and roads and chicken coops.

(As a quick aside. Hass is  the husband of Brenda Hillman who won this year’s Griffin Prize for  an international poet. ( Anne Carson was the Canadian winner.) Both Hass and Hillman are social activists and they were both roughed up by cops at an Occupy Wall Street protest a few years ago.

Before the short list reading I told Hass how wonderful it was he could be there to see his wife celebrated. He replied yes but said he had asked the Trust if there wasn’t a conflict somehow with him as a trustee and she as a nominee. They were clear, he said, that since he wasn’t a judge there was no conflict. But there would be one if he was nominated!)

Prado is a spiritual and indeed religious poet whose words would not grace a Hallmark card. Her poems celebrates life but without a gram of mawkish sentimentality! In the body of her work I have read translated into English she achieves an exquisite balance between darkness and light,  joy and despair.

As Hass made clear Prado is no Gnostic worshipping some intellectual construct. God and Christ (referred to as Jonathan in her poems) are familiars whom she gives physicality with heft!  In a poem called Spiritual Exercise recited by Hass at the reading, she writes: I pray your son to show me the Father: a tooth, a vulva, a turnip appear, born as I was out of nothing. No devil here. No thinking the ordinary is ordinary! My kind of sexy mystic.

Prado fits the cliched image of the “sweet grandmothery type” to a T! But you might think twice before you ask her to read one of her poems when she babysits the kids! Her poem Day included above would be a good example! A woman spooked by sex:/ but liking it much.

I had a chance at the awards dinner to tell Prado, through her  translator Ellen Dore Watson, how much I appreciated her poems and especially these lines from her poem Passion included in Alphabet in the Park, translated by Watson and published in 1990 by Wesleyan University Press:

Once in a while God takes poetry away from me.
I look at a stone. I see a stone.

She responded warmly in her native Portugeese – smiles all around!  I  am grateful God only takes poetry away from Prado once and a while – that when she sees a stone she sees something much more, the grand chaos of our world! And with grace she can venture into the silence behind words and snatch out a live fish…….pure terror!

Here, two more poems translated by Watson:

Before Names

I don’t care about the word, that commonplace.
What I want is the grand chaos that spins out of syntax,
the obscure birthplace of “of,” “otherwise,”
“nevertheless,” and “how” all those inscrutable
crutches I walk on.
Who understands language understands God,
whose son is the word. It kills you to understand.
Words only hide something deeper, deaf and dumb,
something invented to be silenced.
In moments of grace, rare as they are,
you’ll be able to snatch it out: a live fish
in your bare hand.
Pure terror.

Adelia Prado ( 1935 – ) from The Alphabet in the Park, Wesleyan University Press, 1990, trans. Ellen Watson

Eternal Life

Half a century.
The weight of that word used to send me straight to bed.
No more. I’m gathering wisdom.
Alchemists aren’t law breakers —
sure, they’re naïve sometimes like the saints,
believing in stones, fish seen in dreams,
signs written on the sky.
Where is God?
April is reborn out in the cosmos,
in the most perfect silence.
Inside and outside of me.

Adelia Prado, translated by Ellen Dore Watson, from Ex-Voto, Tupelo Press, 2013

Here are some powerful words of Prado’s that sum her up so well! They were recited by Hass at the Griffin short-list reading:

Compared to the desires of my heart the ocean is a drop of water.

Amen.

 

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