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Saturday, May 05, 2018

Rimas Uzgiris and Robert Sheppard: collaborative poem 'Unreadable Expressions': text and video and notes

from the European Poetry Festival Reading in Manchester, April 2018 


Rimas Uzgiris is a poet, translator, editor and critic. His work has appeared in Barrow Street, AGNI, Atlanta Review, Iowa Review, Quiddity, Hudson Review, Vilnius Review and other journals. He is translation editor and primary translator of How the Earth Carries Us: New Lithuanian Poets, and translator of Caravan Lullabies by Ilzė Butkutė, Crystal: Selected Poems by Judita Vaičiūnaitė (forthcoming from Pica Pica Press) and of Then What: Selected Poems by Gintaras Grajauskas (Bloodaxe Books, 2018). He holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University, and teaches translation at Vilnius University. He has received a Fulbright Scholar Grant, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, and the Poetry Spring 2016 Award for his translations of Lithuanian poetry into other languages. Read more here and here. His translation of Gintaras Grajauskas' Then What was published by Bloodaxe Books the day before we read, quite magically. Look here for that book.
Robert Sheppard runs this blog and it features many of his projects, but he also has a website here.

The video of us reading the poem (above) may also be accessed here
as can all the videos of the Manchester evening, including the Twitters for a Lark launch.

Here is the poem:

Unreadable Expressions

1

Amid the hubbub, nothing may be 
Heard, so nothing is said.
The silence is itself an answer. 
Looking down from above, unperturbed,

Giving a caressing smile and 
A thumbs-up, I mimed
A happiness that was not all show,
Swifts weaving patterns in the sky,

Standing by the pond with its rustling
Rushes, moorhens in hiding,
Then ducks land hard like rivets driven
To hold the fragile scenery in place.

For this is life on the hoof, without hooves,
Bolting for the open, but bolted to the floor.
If only I could break the metaphysical bank
But my body lies mortgaged to the bone. 

2

The shock I received switching the radio on
With a sudsy washing up thumb
Made me jump as if good news had come
So I turned to the window to peek at the sun

And the black and white cat was stealthily
Treading along the narrow wall,
Each paw placed precisely
To avoid the chinks, prevent the fall.

You showed me your thermal fingernails:
They go purple when cold, red when hot,
The setting sun if we swiftly set our sails,
An iris in the garden, sticking to the plot.

3

Bored with each other, bored with the game (we are playing with
Household objects, candles, coins, spectacles, snuff-boxes). 
Look at this statuette, something from Greece, Athena, I’m guessing, 
It says on the base, a god of small things indeed. The clouds hiccup in her sky.

Unreadable expressions on their faces, unspeakable words at their lips,
The couple rests, unaware of each other it seems, but we don’t believe that!
There must be something more, murmurs down below. Dig through dust-devils 
Under sofas and chairs: small change, yellow petals, chop sticks, flies.

At last we come to rest, off-loaded into the foyer where foreign dignitaries
Are unaware of disruption to the well-oiled baton-wielding administration.
The foreigners bear us trinkets, adoring our surprise. Batons, battened hatches, batons...
We’d like to say we’re sorry, but our smiles are painted on. 

*

Rimas Uzgiris and Robert Sheppard in their caps and with their real smiles.



Read about the Manchester 2018 Twitters for a Lark launch here, with video.

More on Twitters here and here.