sna poems, series anthropocenum #15: north mendota wildlife area, prairie unit

the bureaucratically-named north mendota wildlife area, prairie unit is a 63-acre prairie restoration close to the northwestern shore of lake mendota, sandwiched between governor nelson state park and holy wisdom monastery (an ecumenical benedictine community) along cty highway m.

this is one of those natural areas that i am so grateful for and that also can be hard to be in at the same time. it’s fantastic that the good work of preservation is being done here, yet one also sees the new development with its box stores, massive houses, and roads named after the habitats destroyed in order to build (prairie kettle road etc.) immediately adjacent. it’s not the adjacency that bothers me, as if natural areas should be free of human activity and building (cronon taught us how problematic the very idea of “wilderness” is, and would that all human development retained prairies etc. right nearby!), but that clearly the area was prairie too or could have been restored just as readily as the parcel that was.

anyhow, it was the day of our only lasting snow so far this winter here in southern wisconsin, and my brother and i made the most of it. refreshing to visit in the brisk yet desolate winter air and sun, but looking forward to visiting in summer’s height too.

a.

burred balls and seedpods

reaching out

to subdivisions

b.

all this wonderful

tangled mess—

cellulose soil-helm***

(***couldn’t help but laugh out loud and announce my “brilliant” line reminiscent of old english half-lines to my brother after i wrote the last line of this one…)

new poem and translations in _dappled things_

dappled things has just released their new issue, in which i have one original poem and three translations of old english galdru. while i do encourage any and all to buy a copy, thankfully, they’ve made mine accessible on the issue’s webpage as well. you can read the original here and the translations here.

this is a particularly satisfying publication for me because 1) the poem is about my extended family and our time together in different areas i have great fondness for, 2) the translations are of galdru (“charms”) which i think are some of the most interesting material remnants of early medieval culture, and 3) dappled things was where my first ever poem, a triolet about st. levan’s in cornwall, appeared almost a decade ago now. thanks, dappled things!

here’s that triolet, in case you have an interest:


st. levan’s well

we walked along a forest path

and drank from selevan’s well.

for a moment, we lived the past;

we walked along a forest path.

and tho’ we knew it wouldn’t last

as the spring flowed to the wind-swept swell,

we walked along a forest path

and drank from selevan’s well.

Three New Poems in _Macrina Magazine_!

I’m very grateful to Macrina Magazine for accepting what is a quite a seriously mixed bag of poems—I think it shows a real willingness to experiment and be open to lots of different ways of coming at poetry. You can read them here, and stick around to read other stuff on the site.

In their varied ways, the set together says a lot about what I find valuable in life. There are some notes on the page, but: the first is a translation of an Old English poem that is set into an anonymous translator’s rendering of Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae, that features Weland the Smith; the second is a “tour poem” of a nature preserve in Sauk County, Wisconsin; and the third is an imitation poem in honor of the Mazatec curandera Maria Sabina set at a roadside shrine to the Sacred Heart in Door County, Wisconsin. Something for everyone! 🙂

New Elf-charm translation in _Ancient Exchanges_

One thing I enjoy about the early medieval period is that folks still recognized elves, mares (think: “night-mare”), dwarves, etc. as existing. Not as a throwback or counter-cultural belief, but it was “just the way things were”—to the point that they had medical recipes and “charms” or incantations or spells (or something!) called galdru (singular: galdor) to help those who fell victim to them.

I’ve been translating several of these verse compositions in Old English that deal with how to handle elves, dwarves, worts (plants), in ways that are what most of us would refer to as “magical.” Several are forthcoming, but here’s the first in the journal Ancient Exchanges, with text and audio: “Against the Water-Elf-Disease.”

“Unus Deus et Pater Omnium,” a translation of the Old English “Homiletic Fragment II”

In the interest of continuing to promote appreciation of Old English poetry and the anonymous poets behind the poems, and because it’s Friday, here’s a reading of an Old English poem.

This poem appears in the Exeter Book between the two big sets of riddles. It may not actually be a fragment, and you can see from the editorial title (“Homiletic Fragment II”) that it hasn’t received much love from editors and scholars of Old English literature. But I think it’s a nice little work, offering an exhortation to wisdom in light of the sweep of salvation history, and based in part on Ephesians 4:5-6. It does a lot in a little bit of room.

I thought it was interesting enough to have Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO and Sr. Sarah Schwartzberg do readings of the poem in a forum essay I did in the journal Religion & Literature too, and they mined monastic riches from it readily.

Anyhow, here’s the poem and my translation. It’s included in my chapbook Lofsangas: Poems Old and New, which features translations of oft-neglected Old English poems like this one.

Original text:

Gefeoh nu on ferðe ond to frofre geþeoh

dryhtne þinum, ond þinne dom arær,

heald hordlocan, hyge fæste bind

mid modsefan. Monig biþ uncuþ

treowgeþofta,      teorað hwilum,

waciaþ wordbeot;      swa þeos woruld fareð,

scurum scyndeð      ond gesceap dreogeð.

An is geleafa,      an lifgende,

an is fulwiht,      an fæder ece,

siþþan geong aweox     

mægeð modhwatu      mid moncynne;

ðær gelicade      þa… …op

in þam hordfate,      halgan gæste,

beorht on br…      …e scan,

an is folces fruma, se þas foldan gesceop,

duguðe ond dreamas. Dom siþþan weox,

þeah þeos læne gesceaft longe stode

heolstre gehyded, helme …edygled,

biþeaht wel treowum, þystre oferfæðmed,

se wæs ordfruma ealles leohtes.

*

Translation:

Let your spirit rejoice, take solace, and thrive—

set your glory in God’s service.

Hold well the inner wealth of your thoughts,

boldly binding your mind and heart,

for true friends often turn out

to be strangers: their big words stray

from the truth. And so this world sails on,

disturbed by storms and enduring its destiny.

There is one faith, one eternal Father,

one baptism, and one blessed Lord.

There is one Creator who made the world,

its goods and its joys. Its glory grew—

although this passing world was wrapped

in darkness, covered in cloud, totally

enveloped in a vast thicket of gloom.

Among Adam’s kin a girl grew,

a virgin and vessel for great wealth.

That handmaiden pleased the Holy Spirit,

and the Son shone bright from her breast:

he, the origin of all Light.

A (Very) Short Old English Poem for February

As it continues snowing here in southeastern Wisconsin, it is a prime season for reading Old English poetry, which seems so at home in the cold and frost and dreary skies.

So, I thought I’d send a short Old English poem out into the world. I translated this little poem (mircro-poetry before micro-poetry!) in my chapbook that St. Francis University Press put out several years ago. Its editorial title is “A Proverb of Winfrid’s Time” and is found in an early-tenth-century manuscript copy of St. Bonfiace’s (born “Winfrid”) letters. It’s the earliest independent verse proverb in the English language that we know of. Text and audio below.

.

Old English:

Oft daedlata dome foreldit,

sigisitha gahuem, suuyltit thi ana.

.

Present Day English:

The idle man puts off glory

and fruitful deeds—then dies alone.

If you’re interested in some poetic translations of less frequently translated Old English poems, and some originals, you can pick up a copy of the chapbook on Amazon here.

New Short Poem in _The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls_

Delighted to have a short poem of mine from a couple years back featured in The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls!

Based on an afternoon spent on the shores of Lake Michigan up in Door County, the scene is shaped into a basic imitation of the Old English alliterative long line. (Four stresses, a caesura dividing the stresses in two, alliteration bridging the caesura.)

While you’re there, check out the other poems going on!

Audio of Old English and Modern English “A Journey Galdor”

For anyone wondering what a magico-protective prayer for journeys from the eleventh-century sounded like (who isn’t?!), I’ve recorded a reading of the original Old English version and my translation published in Trinity House Review.

This poem/prayer was written in the margins of an eleventh-century copy of the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. The book was one of those given by Bishop Leofric to Exeter Cathedral.

You can hear it immediately below, and below the audio is further description from my earlier post when the translation was published.

–From earlier post: My translation of the Old English “A Journey Galdor” (usually called “A Journey Charm” by editors) appears in the issue. The galdru are a strange “genre” of poetic and prose texts in Old English: half-prayer, half-magic, half-recipe. (!) They are a relic of a time when the self was more porous than moderns tend to think of it.

“A Journey Galdor” is one of my favorites of the genre, because it is a prayer for protection (and so, very practical) and because of its vague mentioning of various kinds of early Germanic “terrors”. This is a world in which elves and dragons and other wights are still very much a live option and need to be defended against. It’s a hoot, and deadly earnest.

A Nomination for the Pushcart!

It’s an honor and a pleasure to share that the literary journal Presence has nominated my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” for the 2021 Pushcart Prize.

“The Ruin” is a poem composed in Old English and copied down in the tenth-century Exeter Book, the first anthology of English poetry. My translation brings the poem into Present Day English but also “translates” the poem’s scene (an Anglo-Saxon looking at Roman ruins in Britain) to a modern one (a Midwesterner looking at the Middle Woodland mound in Lake Park, Milwaukee).

It’s good fun, if a bit morose, and I’m so pleased to have it nominated. Thanks, Presence, anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet and scribe, and Woodlanders!