January 2012 Archives

Occupy 2012: The Year the World Doesn't End

When I started this web site a couple of years ago, I imagined myself blithely blogging away every month or two in a kind of on-line newsletter.  In practice, I've fallen far short of that intention, the present moment being a case in point.

Life, as John Lennon told us, is what happens while you're busy making other plans.  My best intentions for adding substantially to this web site (and other plans as well) were pleasurably thwarted on October 6 when the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize for literature.  How, you might ask, does that affect www.thomasrsmithpoet.com?

Well, about ten years ago the Minnesota poet Robert Bly, my mentor and a great friend of Tranströmer, offered me the job of editing an American edition of a volume of his and Tranströmer's letters which had been (I'm not exaggerating) a bestseller in Sweden.  I gladly accepted that commission and produced an expanded version of the letters (titled in English, in the Swedish edition, Air Mail) for the American poetry audience.  Unfortunately, publishers showed a near-complete lack of enthusiasm for the resulting volume, which then lay dormant in my files until Tranströmer's Nobel was announced this fall.

Almost instantly, American interest in both Tranströmer and Bly flared back to life, as well as interest in the book I had edited.  I am now very happy to report that the prestigious small press publisher Graywolf plans to release (perhaps yet this year) the American Air Mail.  This fall and winter my busy-ness in tying up the many loose ends for this project has precluded my added anything of substance to the present blog posts.  

Of course I will use this space to announce developments on Air Mail, and once that book is squared away, get back to serious blog scribbling.

Until then, let me wish you all the best in 2012, which I'm fairly sure is not the year the world will end.  However, if we have anything to say about it in Wisconsin, it will be the year the Scott Walker reign of greed and folly ends in our state and we get back to some form of more balanced government that represents all of the people, not just the 1%.

As you know, throughout our country the 99% are rising up, and, with my friend the marvelous fiction writer Marie Sheppard Williams, I'm glad to be able to say I've "lived to see the revolution."  My motto for the coming year (which I'm sure I'm not the first or only to have conceived) is Occupy 2012.  Let's really make this country our country again, friends, and make it work for all of us instead of only the rich and powerful few.  In Wisconsin, as I write, we're fast approaching the January 17th deadline to turn in petitions to recall Walker, and I'm hopeful there will be many more than enough signatures to set the recall process in motion.  (Wisconsin friends:  If you haven't signed the petition yet, you still have a chance to do so in the coming week!)

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a song for the new year and in fact any time during it.  I've long been fascinated with Robert Burns's "Auld Lang Syne," and wondered what the other verses that we don't sing on New Year's Eve are about.  The original Scots lyrics are opaque to English speakers, and the "standard" translations one finds on-line tend not to scan or rhyme.  So my mission was to re-translate "Auld Lang Syne" (which phrase the Milwaukee poet Susan Firer has nicely rendered as "Old Long Since") in a more sing-able version.  That meant veering from some literal meanings while keeping Burns's intent overall.  I believe the present lyric achieves the goals of being coherent, true to the spirit of the original, and singer-friendly.  

It was a revelation to discover that "Auld Lang Syne" is not really a "New Year" song per se; rather it is a nostalgic drinking song that memorializes "old acquaintance" whatever the time of year, whenever, presumably, two old friends meet to lift a "cup of kindness" (and other liquids) in tribute to the distances they've traveled sometimes together and sometimes apart.  Sing, enjoy, remember and recall!


Adapted from the Robert Burns original by Thomas R. Smith

1.  We two have rambled in the hills

And pulled the daisies fine

But we've wandered many a weary way

Since the days of auld lang syne


For auld lang syne, my dear

For auld lang syne

We'll take a cup of kindness yet

For auld lang syne

2.  We two have paddled in the stream

Till morning sun rose high

But seas between us wild have raged

Since the days of auld lang syne


3.  Give me your hand, my trusty friend

And I will give you mine

And we'll drink a toast to friendship now

And in days of auld lang syne


4.  Should old acquaintance

Be forgot and never brought to mind

Should old acquaintance be forgot

And the days of auld lang syne