Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
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Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Translations from Hans Arp

Child of an Alsatian mother and a German father, Hans Arp was born in Strassburg at a time when it was German. When it became French again at the end of WWI, French law mandated that he call himself Jean. Thus his very name draws attention to the nationalist contention that struck him as absurd.
An originator of the Moderner Bund (“Modern League”) and an exhibitor with the Blaue Reiter group prior to being a founding member of dada in 1916 Zürich. The creator of sublime abstract sculpture and other visual work, Arp is also a major poet. Educated as an artist in both France and Germany, he was already dodging the draft in Switzerland when he was called up. He recounts writing the date in the first blank of a stack of forms, then proceeding to write the date in every other space, after which he painstakingly added the column of numbers thus produced. He then took off all his clothes, folded them with care, placed the paperwork on top and presented the stack to the officer in charge, upon which he was told he was unsuitable for the military.
Later associated with the highly political Cologne dada group, he also participated in the first Surrealist show at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. During the ‘thirties he worked with the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création whose members, including Mondrian, Kandinksy, and Mary Cassatt, considered Breton’s Surrealism to be dogmatic.
Arp pioneered abstract art, though his early association with Kandinsky is evident in his preference for van Doesburg’s term “concrete” as more appropriate for forms that originate in the mind and occupy space. Regarding “the law of chance as the highest and deepest of laws,” he employed aleatory elements in works such as his randomly tossed papiers déchirés. He loved to reshuffle image sets (as here in “Roses Stroll the Streets of Porcelain” and “Westoily Roses”).
His poetry strikes me as a pyrotechnic display of images, a one-man band, a word-collage. He shares with a prominent school of poets today the proposition that, as Jacques Riviére said of the dadaists in general, for them language "is no longer a means; it is an entity." If his lyric persona is sometimes difficult to follow, this is hardly surprising given his goal of “break[ing] down the language into atoms, in order to approach the creative.” In Arp the background is a vast and cosmic laugh and he does not shrink from whimsy, yet he insisted to the end that dada was no farce. Using the same religious language favored by Huelsenbeck, he notes of his circle of young revolutionaries “our lot of earthly joy was meager. But by way of recompense we were visited by angels.”

Opus Null

I am the great great Thisthatthey
a rig or ous re gime
the stem of ozone prima qua
the nameless one-percenter
The P. P. Tit and trom as well
trombone without a mouth or hole
I’m Hercules’ great earthen bowl
the left foot of the right right chef.

I am the entire lifetime long
the ovary’s dozeneth meaning
totality of Augustine
in cellulose gown preening

He pulls from out his coffin black
one coffin, then another
he wraps himself in a black crepe sack
and weeps with his front end.
Half wizard and half maestro
without a cane the time he’ll beat
a greeny clockface on his hat
and falls down from the driver’s seat

With that he pokes the ghetto fish
off his well-equipped easel. He
finds his long cubistic socks are torn
twice in two and thrice in three.

He sits with himself in an arc
A circle sits right by his side.
A bag that holds a comb that stands
must be his sofa and his bride.
The of-of and his left-hand skin
his own bag and his own life
and tick and tack and tipp and top
he own body falls from the wife.

His steam dynamo turns out
hat upon hat from his hat and then
he stands them in formation in
a ring just as one does with army men.
Hew greets them then and tips his hat
and three times greets them all as friends
They always trust a caca-you
replaced by him with caca-too.

He sees them not but greets them still
He’s with them and they’re all about.
The hats are all included
they screw the top from his ego

Roses Stroll the Streets of Porcelain

just on the edge of the fairy-tale
the night knits roses for itself;
the tangle of things resolves into
storks, fruits, pharoahs, and harps.
death puts down its nattering wreath
by the root of the void.
and the storks chatter on chimneystones!
and the night is a stuffed fairy tale.

and the roses stroll the streets of porcelain and knit from the tangle of their years
one star after another.
between stars there sleeps a piece of fruit.
the empty lands stuffed years laughing foot-lockers dance!
the storks eat the pharaohs.
from chimneystones roseblossoms!

death eats one year after another.
and pharaohs eat storks.
between fruits sleeps a star. often it laughs lightly in its sleep
like a porcelain harp.

growing chimneystones eat harps porcelain wreaths dance.
pharoahs have roots of roses!
the storks pack chimneystones in their footlockers and fly off
to the land of the pharoahs!

The Swallow Testicle

Oh no, oh no, good Kaspar's dead!
Who now will hide the burning banners in cloudbraid
and daily build a black mare's nest?
Who now will turn the coffee mill in its old, old barrel?
And who will lure the idyllic deer
from its petrified paper bag?
Who'll blow the noses of ships, parapluies, wind-udders, ancestral bees, ozone spindles,
and who will bone the pyramids?
Oh no, no, no, our good Kaspar is dead! Pious bimbam Kaspar's dead!
The shark will rattle his teeth with heartrending grief when he hears his given name -- so
I sigh on -- his last name Kaspar Kaspar Kaspar.
Why hast thou forsaken us? In what form has your great and beautiful soul
transmogrified? Are you a star? or a chain or water hanging from a hot whirlwind? or
a transparent brick on the groaning drum of rocky BEING?
Now our tops and toes dry up, and fairies lie half-charred on the funeral pyre.
Now the black bowling alley thunders behind the sun, and no one winds up compasses
and pushcart wheels any longer.
Who now will eat with the phosphorescent rat at the lonely barefoot table?
Who now will chase the siroccoco devil when he wants to fuck the horses?
Now who'll explain the monograms in the stars?

His bust will grace the mantel of all the truly noble men,
but that's no comfort, no tobacco snuff for a deadhead skull.

Second Hand

that I as I
one and two is
that I as I
three and four is
that I as I
what time now
that I as I
it ticks, it tocks
that I as I
five and six is
that I as I
seven eight is
that I as I
if it stands it
that I as I
if it works then
that I as I
nine and ten is
that I as I
eleven and twelve is.


And she was delivered of a healthy strong boy
who enjoyed the name Baobab.
The boy grew and grew
and grew up to the blue of heaven.
And Baobab’s people liked to look
right in the eyes of interlocutors
However, for one as tall as Baobab
this no longer could be done.
So they dug out lots of soil
And opened a great abysmal hole
in which Baobab entered by choice
for he too could never bear
not to look into the eyes
of those to whom he spoke.
The earth that they had dug
they tossed over their starlet’s edge
into the bottomless space.
And after Baobab had had passed
a hundred years in this hole
he began to dwindle.
Every day he was smaller and smaller
until in the end he evanesced.
Now those who dwelt in that small star
sat there with nought
but a great abysmal hole
and one small strip of land around the hole
and they looked
now into the starlet’s abysmal hole,
and then over the edge
of their small star
into the bottomless space

Westoily Roses

the roses will be crucified on hats the lips
the roses fly forth
the bloody organs drip on the visible
throne of the half-grown Near Eastern stones and
on the white skulls
the three shaven summers and the three shaven
crosses stagger forward on crutches like the May
the lyre body tells of bloody slaughter
against the hairy stones, the lyre body shoots out a poison foam
stony crutches bloody noses hairy stones against
the shavehead skulls

the lyre body drips blood on the white shirtfronts
as though in a battle unpacked and tosses its
three snowballs behind its three summers.
from the retorts roll the skulls of the Itosis.
the lips of the hats return on crutches.
gloves will be crucified on hats.
the crosses support one another half-human like
by the bridegroom and the other half-mannish by
the bridegroom

the lyre body tells of the birth from foam of a
half-grown Near Eastern stone must certainly and
heath-soul sits on a visible throne and
tosses the bloodier parts of the foolhardy and carthardy
on the fifth of May. then the foam birth shoots poisonous
accent-hens against the signature-organ of
the lyre body clings to the clapper by their balled-up wings
and rings out and the winged words fly forth.
wings shave the hairy hearts.
the air of the bit shakes and calls who goes there.
and that’s the way it goes up and then down like in a letter.

it rings out in the heart.
The foam birth wraps white May air in a
the half-grown Near Eastern stone throws its
three gloves over its three hats and clings
to the roses.
the lyre body shaved the slaughter-clapper.
winged roses fly to the snow-lyre.


  1. Could they have had a sense of what breaking language means now... In a befuddled conference room on automated translation, the makers of Dada come to mind. Arp would make for a few go-to quotes, if anyone knew who on Earth he was.

    Oddly, I have not found any solid ground to put such musings onto. Solid state feels better. Better still: someone else's blog.

    Thanks for the spot!

  2. And what to do after the language is broken? The next step, I think, remains to be conceived.

  3. It's wonderful to see Arp being translated. I'd seen earlier translations, but none recently!

  4. I'' ll add your blog to one my dadaduffy blog... there are so many dada links and connectins world wide...