Edward Smyth Jones, “Harvard Square” (1910)

“I would like to submit one last example of a writer of color who turns to Dante in a moment of personal crisis. Consider the case of Edward Smythe Jones, who ‘in his over-mastering desire to drink at the Harvard fountain of learning tramped out of the Southland up to Cambridge. Arriving travel-worn, friendless, moneyless, hungry, he was preparing to bivouac on the Harvard campus his first night in the University city, when, being misunderstood, and not believed, he was apprehended as a vagabond and thrown into jail. A poem, however, the poem which tells this story, delivered him. The judge was convinced by it… and set him free to return to the academic shades’ (Kerlin 163-64). The poem called ‘Harvard Square’ ends on this note: ‘Cell No. 40, East Cambridge Jail, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 26, 1910.’ But the familiar scenario of a black man harassed by the police and thrown in jail for no discernible reason is transformed into a magical encounter with the muse. The divine goddess of inspiration comes to the poet’s aid with a brief lesson in literary history in which she compares his fate to Dante’s — ‘I placed great Dante in exile’ — suggesting that she has now done the same to Jones. Dante’s actual banishment from Florence sheds light on the figurative exile of Jones: the Negro in the white man’s world; the southerner in the North; the backwoodsman in the ‘University city’; the autodidact amidst the hypereducated; and the would-be Dante at the very center of Dante’s American home.”   — Dennis Looney, Freedom Readers: The African-American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 201-202

An excerpt of the poem “Harvard Square” is printed below. You can access the full poem, in Jones’s collection The Sylvan Cabin, on Project Gutenberg, as well as the volume by Kerlin cited above.

“Weep not, my son, thy way is hard,
Thy weary journey long—
But thus I choose my favorite bard
To sing my sweetest song.
I’ll strike the key-note of my art
And guide with tend’rest care,
And breathe a song into thy heart
To honor Harvard Square.

“I called old Homer long ago,
And made him beg his bread
Through seven cities, ye all know,
His body fought for, dead.
Spurn not oppression’s blighting sting,
Nor scorn thy lowly fare;
By them I’ll teach thy soul to sing
The songs of Harvard Square.

“I placed great Dante in exile,
And Byron had his turns;
Then Keats and Shelley smote the while,
And my immortal Burns!
But thee I’ll build a sacred shrine,
A store of all my ware;
By them I’ll teach thy soul to sing
A place in Harvard Square.”   — Edward Smyth Jones, “Harvard Square” (1910)

Dante Micheaux wins 2019 Four Quartets Poetry Prize for Circus

“Congratulations to Dante Micheaux who has been awarded the prestigious Four Quartets Poetry Prize for his 2018 collection, Circus.

[. . .]

“Circus was selected as the winner by judges Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Carmen Giménez Smith, and Rosanna Warren, whose citation reads: ‘How right that this poet’s first name should be Dante. For his Circus is a Comedy: a savage comedy, lacerating dialects, fingering wounds, looking for loves right and wrong in the crevices of history and of humiliated bodes. And yet, and yet. His language exults, triumphs, and freely rummages in the treasuries of the Bible, Baudelaire, Whitman, Eliot, Baraka, and Mahalia Jackson, taking what it needs, making it his sovereign own, a wrested blessing. Congratulations, Dante Micheaux, on your astonishing Circus.'”   — Dan Sheehan, Lit Hub (May 1, 2019)

Ocean Vuong, “Seventh Circle of Earth” (2016)

“I wrote ‘Seventh Circle of Earth’ [from Vuong’s 2016 collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds] shortly after hearing the news of two gay men being murdered by immolation in Dallas, TX. I originally wrote the poem in tercets, echoing Dante’s terza rima format. In the Inferno, the stanzas work as a network of rooms the speaker moves through as he descends through the circles of hell. In ‘Seventh Circle of Earth,’ however, this grouping felt off, even fraudulent, to me. A persona poem at its core, it takes on the voice of one of the men speaking to his partner. And in the midst of that fraught position, a poem in tercets, or, in other words, a ‘traditional’ poem, felt like a diluted, forced recasting of a horrific event. I ultimately abandoned the poem.

“It was not until three years later, while reading a critical work on violence and scholarship, did I see, more clearly, the footnotes on the bottom of the page. I found myself slipping right to the notes as I progressed, reading them first. They possessed, in that reading, an urgency that began to stitch itself into a fabric of broken utterances fused together by parataxis. It was, in a way, found poetry. That gave me the idea to re-work ‘Seventh Circle of Earth’ into a piece written entirely in the footnote. This time, the vast and utter emptiness one confronts on the page felt more faithful to the violent erasure of the two murdered men. It felt right to begin the poem with its own vanishing.” [. . .]  — Ocean Vuong on “Seventh Circle of Earth” for Poetry School

Read the rest of Vuong’s comments and the poem at poetryschool.com.

Contributed by Su Ertekin-Taner (The Bolles School ’22)

“Celebrate Dante and Help Fight the Coronavirus”

 

“Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz has a heart for God. It’s evident in his works, such as ‘Homeless Jesus,’ his popular portrayal of Jesus sleeping on a park bench, and more recently, ‘Angels Unawares,’ Schmalz’ three-ton sculpture based on Hebrews 13:2. That latter sculpture, which depicts a boat carrying 140 migrants and refugees from periods of stress throughout recorded history, was unveiled by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in September 2019.

“In Italy, March 25 [2020] was the first official ‘Dante Day’ — a day dedicated by the Italian government to celebrate the accomplishments of the Florentine poet who penned the long narrative poem titled The Divine Comedy. On that day, Schmalz introduced a new set of sculptures through an online book which will include a series of 100 sculptures, representing all 100 cantos in the Divine Comedy. Modern readers have found the existing translations of the Divine Comedy from the original Italian, including one translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, somewhat cumbersome — so Schmalz is partnering with translator Daniel Fitzpatrick, who is working to produce an easy-to-read version that will appeal to a wide audience.

[. . .]

“Schmalz had originally intended for the book’s initial release to be in hardcover March 25, 2021, when the nation of Italy will celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. That plan changed, however, when Schmalz became aware of the scope of the tragedy emerging in Italy due to the novel coronavirus. ‘As I was coming to my studio early last Friday,’ Schmalz told the Register, ‘I was listening to the news about the horrors and the tragedy that’s happening in Italy. I thought, “Isn’t it ironic? Here I am, creating this greatest hero of Italy, while Italy is going through such a horrible situation!” Then I put the two things together: I could use the book to help Italy!’

“Daniel Fitzpatrick, the translator, agreed, and plans were made to release the book of poetry and art in a series format, and to donate all proceeds from sales of the e-book to help the hospitals of Italy better care for their critically ill patients. For a donation of just $5, readers can sign up to receive two cantos each week — one on Wednesday and the second on Sunday — beginning with Dante’s first vision of the Inferno, and culminating in the Paradiso, in time for Italy’s 700th anniversary celebration.”    –Kathy Schiffer, National Catholic Register, March 30, 2020

See our original post about Timothy Schmalz here.

“Dante’s Inferno as Limericks and Comics”

“Circle I (the unbaptised)

Underway with the underworld herewith,
and I’m with – no, you’re with – fine, we’re with
the dwellers of Hades
born BCs, not ADs –
not all, but the ones you’d have beer with.

[. . .]

Circle VII

‘By these treestumps, my Master, what’s signified?’
‘These souls are eternally lignified.
We saw others scream
in an ichorous stream:
for the violent, no ending is dignified.’

Circle VIII

The fraudsters inhabit these cum-pits,
the forgers and classical strumpets.
And going down levels
we stumble on devils
whose derrières double as trumpets”    –Harry Cochrane and Leonardo Cardini, The Florentine, February 26, 2020

 

David Shapiro, “Dante and Beatrice (at Forty-Seven)”

David Shapiro’s “Dante and Beatrice (at Forty-Seven)” appeared in vol. 29, no. 5 of the American Poetry Review (full text available here). Here is how it begins:

“are kitsch six inches of a gold bronze toy
sculpture on my wife’s dead grandmother’s
delicate endtables ours
separated by a red grace and pink
candles and some smaller
horribly-shaped vegetable-like candles pointing
Dante looks like the mayor showing not pointing
of a small-town corruption
in a small cap he wears not against the
winter a cruel righteous careerist
grim as glucose and morose to boot
boasting of pride like a tiger on a street
Beatrice in nightgown her sin hope
a girl always about to go to bed
by herself and her long ringlets
as voluptuous as her nightgown
She is sexual and sad and refuses
to look at that businessman of words
all this is a gift from Mickey Mouse who
said when he saw them it had to be
for me Goofy who took the sleep
out of the Comedy and took the
flowers and took the fathers, too
until what was left for a fatuous cento
like a student who translates
all vulgarity into ancient Greek a mistake

So if a person loves you they could say
I want to be in Hell with you forever
like two bats summoned on a windy
word by a poet having a mid-life decision

[. . .]”

Read the rest of the poem in The American Poetry Review 29.5 (2000).

“Bang’s Purgatorio

“Heading over waters getting better all the time
My mind’s little skiff now lifts its sails,
Letting go the oh-so-bitter sea behind it.

The next realm, the second I’ll sing,
Is here where the human spirit get purified
And made fir for the stairway to heaven.

Here’s where the kiss of life restores the reign
Of poetry—O true-blue Muses, I’m yours—
And where Calliope jumps up just long enough

To sing backup with the same bold notes
That knocked the poor magpie girls into knowing
Their audacity would never be pardoned.”    –Excerpt from Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Purgatorio, The New Yorker, December 23, 2019

Illustration by Berke Yazicioglu.
See more about Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Purgatorio here.

Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı, “Otuz Beş Yaş” (1946)

“Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı’s poem entitled ’35 years old,’ when translated from Turkish to English, references coming to the middle of your life, 35 years old, like Dante did when he took his journey to hell (referenced in Canto 1). The line reads, ‘35 years old, that is half way through life, we are in the middle of our lives like Dante.'” –Su Ertekin-Taner

The collection Otuz Beş Yaş was published in 1946. Here is the opening of the poem, in the original Turkish:

“Yaş otuz beş! yolun yarısı eder.
Dante gibi ortasındayız ömrün.
Delikanlı çağımızdaki cevher,
Yalvarmak, yakarmak nafile bugün,
Gözünün yaşına bakmadan gider.”

Read the full poem here.

Contributed by Su Ertekin-Taner, The Bolles School ’22

“Beauty Awakens the Soul to Act” by Angelica Hopes

“We visited the house of Dante Alighieri. It’s rebuilt to celebrate the place of Dante Alighieri’s birth and its location is based on old documents reported from 13th century of the houses of the Alighieri family. [. . .]

“On the first floor, documents of the 13th century Florence and the younger days of Dante, his baptism in the Baptistery of Santa Maria del Fiore, his public life, his election in the office of prior of the town and his participation in political/military struggles, there are plastic model of the Battle of Campaldino and interesting weapons of that time.

“Going to the 2nd floor, shows the documents in connection with his painful exile in 1301, year of condemnation. In the 3rd floor, there’s the collection of documents on the fortune of Dante through the centuries, iconography. While sitting inside, admiring the historical artefacts and rich information on the influences of Florentine history to Dante Alighieri’s work, I was speechless and absorbed the moment with gratitude reflecting from my English term paper project in fourth year high school on the Divine Comedy, twenty three years later here I am and I got a copy of La Divina Commedia in its original language.” [. . .]     –Angelica Hopes, Landscapes of a Heart, October 27, 2012.

“Mary Jo Bang Discusses Purgatorio

“Well. And I think that the other aspect of the note is my trying to rationalize my own translation decisions. So, for instance, in in one of the cantos, in one of the early cantos in Purgatorio, Dante and Virgil encounter Belacqua, who is lounging in a shadow and being very sarcastic about Dante’s hurry to get up to the top of Mount Purgatory. He says, Fine, Mr. Lightning Bolt, you go right on up to the top. And at that point, Dante realizes who he is. And commentators link this to a bookseller that Dante used to know who would sit around all day. And Dante was always teasing him about his laziness. And so he’s using him as an example. But this. You go right on up, Mr. Lightning Bolt.”    –Mary Jo Bang, in an interview with Kevin Young for The New Yorker, December 23, 2019

See excerpts from Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Purgatorio here.