Regular Features Pages
African Poetry with Michael R. Burch
Sentimental Poetry with Anthony Watkins
The Interview with Charles Baudelaire
an Imagined Encounter . . . by Kevin McLaughlin
Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), French poet, critic, and translator, was one of the most compelling poets of the 19th century. A controversial figure in his lifetime, Baudelaire’s name became a byword for literary and artistic decadence. His relatively slim production of poetry had a significant impact on later poets. His books, including Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), have been acknowledged as classics of French literature. Baudelaire is one of the major figures in the literary history of the world.
Dear Reader, please note I draw the translated portions of this interview from Flowers of Evil : A Selection, published by New Directions Press. I also make brief reference to Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, New Directions Paperbacks. —Kevin McLaughlin
This was not the first time I’d fallen through a wormhole while kayaking the extreme South Fork of the St. Lucie River; far from it. Six months ago, I’d tumbled backwards in time to live for a while with the indigenous Ho-Be Indians. Two months ago, I’d slipped through the wormhole to spend some pleasant time with poet William Blake.
This time I was initially disoriented. I knew I was in an alley and that two armed thugs had a slender fellow backed against a brick wall. I speak fluent French: I easily located myself in space. I also located myself in time. I recognized the ruffians’ quarry. I’d been re-reading his poetry just the previous day. I took it upon myself to save the life of Charles Baudelaire.
The blackguards were not slow to become aware of my presence. And I was not slow to pull the 6” long serrated dive knife I had strapped to my right leg from its scabbard. The large fellow flashed a knife of his own, moved in and swiped at my midsection. I easily parried his clumsy lunge and hit him with a palm strike to the nose. I followed up with my knife, severing the femoral artery running into his left leg.
While he was bleeding out at my feet, his accomplice took to his heels. I went over to check on Baudelaire. “Monsieur Baudelaire,” I asked, “are you unharmed?” Baudelaire didn’t know who I was or how I knew him. But he did take me by the arm and led me from the alley to a pleasant outdoor Café. Introductions and a few explanations were batted back and forth. He accepted my presence and agreed to permit me an interview for BTS, a literary journal of the future.
Portrait de Charles Baudelaire en 1844 par Émile Deroy (1820-1846)
Publisher’s Choice — Free Verse
When Alexandria Burned
Yes there was a time when I was yours.
I gave myself to you
like the pages of many books
feeding themselves to the fire
over and over again.
How to count the chapters, the volumes
I delivered to your hot and demanding mouth?
There is no counting for they are all,
all the books telling of our time together
ash. They are ashes in the wind now.
The most that you can do,
now that I am free of you,
and consequently have become
is taste the memory of me
on your flickering tongue.
Annette Marie Smith is the creator and curator of the international feminist project, Facing Feminism, for which she received a McKnight Foundation grant. She’s the author of The Real Reason the Queen Hated Snow, Tell the Bees, and She Wanted Storms.
Editor’s Choice — Formal Poetry
BLUE JAYS AND THE DISPERSAL OF TREES
Pillage is a word I heard to describe a neighbor’s
behavior after he cut off all the hemlock from his woodlot.
It also describes the ways blue jays foray, swinging down
to drop onto our feeder like pirates in an onslaught
that clears the deck of other species. Plague on you curs,
and other jeers and smears make a mid-winter din
that stops all birds but crows from challenging possession.
Refer any strange note to him, Thoreau wrote in his journal,
him meaning jay. Brazen, metallic, entirely without sentiment
are some other words he used to report how Blue Jays sound.
He watched their sorties carefully, how they broadcast kernel
by carrying acorns and burying them in stands of white pine.
Later, he dug up this loot, each oak seedling to him a sign
of jays’ role in seeds’ pursuit of habitat suiting recruitment.
Charles Weld’s poems have appeared in many literary magazines. His chapbooks are Country I Would Settle In (Pudding House 2004) and Who Cooks For You? (Kattywompus Press 2012.) He lives in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
Better Than Starbucks is delighted to announce publication of an epic Russian poem, MTSYRI by Mikhail Lermontov, translated into English by Don Mager. Visit our translations page for more information.
Editor’s Choice — Poetry Translations
( After Paul Reboux and Charles Müller’s
Baudelaire parody Ut Eructent Quirites)
original text in Poetry Translations
In your jade palace, where the fancy mulls,
I watch, dear Spleen, as hookah-bubbles fidget,
The curious coupling of a brace of trulls —
Chum-Chum, the giant, and Sélika, the midget.
The tiny partner is a pure jet-black,
Her mate, quince-yellow, like some huge smooth fruit,
Both cruelly linked on Copulation’s rack,
Their disproportion in obscene dispute.
To guarantee a glory less opaque
I shall compare them to those burnt-out dragons
A poet’s love trails in its flaming wake
As fiery engines pull prosaic wagons.
The sick Elvira heads the hideous band;
Her tenderest words were laced with blood and scum;
All bone-stretched skin, taut to her lover’s hand,
Her thorax echoed like a kettle-drum.
Cassandra next, and long lubricious hugs
From ravished Ronsard’s queen of kitchen-wenches,
A garland — lukewarm, limp — of dangling dugs
And rustic armpits’ suffocating stenches.
Then blesséd Laura, on whose modest worth
The bard she spurned wrote lines to cheat the tomb
Though every year increased her body’s girth
With babies bouncing round her bourgeois womb.
Last of these succubi, that Beatrice
Whom Vampires black-balled, Ghouls, the Damned, the Devil,
Flung down in shame, amid a general hiss,
From Hell to poor old God’s insipid level!
Revolting sisters of these sloughs of Art,
Vile sources of a liquid ranked divine,
Surfeit and saturate my hopeless heart
And wipe its memory clean with Vice’s wine!
Fiercely persist in ever fiercer pleasure,
Ply lash and birch to break through your inertia,
Until Lust’s barbs impale beyond all measure
Your writhing forms that twist like gutta-percha.
And in the rank hutch of your marriage-bed
Where all that’s loathsome lies with all that’s lewd
Spawn in my sight, to fill the world with dread,
STERILITY, first of your monstrous brood!
From Herefordshire, Jerome Betts edits Lighten Up Online in Devon. His verse has appeared in Light, The Asses of Parnassus, New Verse News, Parody, Per Contra, Snakeskin, and various anthologies.