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Two Great Exiles Create Great Poetry Discussion | SF

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm | Cost: FREE
The Green Arcade | 1680 Market Street, San Francisco CA

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Victor Serge (1890-1947) played many parts, as he recounts in his indelible Memoirs of a Revolutionary. The son of anti-czarist exiles in Brussels, Serge was a young anarchist in Paris, a syndicalist rebel in Barcelona, a Bolshevik in Petrograd, a Comintern agent in Central Europe, a comrade of Trotsky, a prisoner of Stalin, a dissident Marxist in exile in Mexico . . . He was also a the author of a series of “witness novels,” as well as a poet in the great arc of French poetry from Baudelaire to Surrealism. Like other poets in that tradition, Serge was in essence a deeply politicized poète maudit, a critical outsider, or, in his words, “a torn man of Eurasia.”

In A Blaze in a Desert: Selected Poems, Serge bears witness to decades of revolutionary upheavals in Europe and the advent of totalitarian rule; much of the poetry was written during the “immense shipwreck” of Stalin’s ascendancy. In poems datelined Petrograd, Orenburg, Paris, Marseille, the Caribbean, and Mexico City, Serge composed elegies for the fallen who, like him, endured prison, exile, and bitter disappointment in the revolutions of the first half of the twentieth century. A Blaze in a Desert includes Serge’s one published book, Resistance (1938), and an unpublished manuscript, Messages (1946), as well as his last poem, “Hands,” written the day before his death in Mexico City.

“Victor Serge was a major novelist, a revolutionary, and a historical witness, so it is perhaps not surprising that his poetry has been overlooked. But his poetry is for real. It is as grounded in specifics as you might expect from a fighter in some of the twentieth century’s great struggles, and as visionary as you’d hope from a disciple of Rimbaud and a friend to the Surrealists. Reading it is like coming upon an unsuspected corridor in the house of literature. James Brook’s lucid translation does it full justice.” — Luc Sante, author of The Other Paris

James Brook is a poet whose translations include works by Guy Debord, Henri Michaux, Gellu Naum, and Benjamin Péret. He is the principal editor of Resisting the Virtual Life (with Iain Boal) and Reclaiming San Francisco (with Chris Carlsson and Nancy J. Peters). The New York Times named his translation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s The Prone Gunman a Notable Book.

Luis Cernuda (1902-1963) was a leading member of Spain’s fabled Generation of 1927. In 1938, during the civil war, he left the country, never to return. He lived in Great Britain for most of the next decade, migrated to New England, where he taught at Mount Holyoke College, and spent the last eleven years of his life in Mexico. In the 1961-62 academic year he taught literature at San Francisco State, and in 1962-63 at UCLA. Cernuda’s triple alienation as a poet, an exile, and an openly gay man, combined with his great lyric gift, have given his poetry enormous resonance with poets and readers in Spain and Latin America and made him one of the most influential and revered modern poets in the Spanish-speaking world.

Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems is Stephen Kessler’s generous selection from Cernuda’s work up to 1950, to complement his earlier translations of Desolation of the Chimera: Last Poems and Written in Water: Prose Poems. From early experiments with surrealism through the increasingly classical clarity and eloquence of his years of exile, Cernuda explores themes of desire, beauty, heartbreak, time, fate, and nostalgia with a love-hate longing for his native Andalucía and grief for his country through the horror and tragedy of war and dictatorship.

Stephen Kessler is a poet, essayist, editor, and translator whose versions of Luis Cernuda have received a Lambda Literary Award, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the PEN Center USA Translation Award. His translation of Save Twilight: Selected Poems by Julio Cortázar received a Northern California Book Award. He is also the editor and principal translator of The Sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges. www.stephenkessler.com

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Cost: FREE
Categories: Literature
Address: 1680 Market Street, San Francisco CA