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Covid-19 Sonnet


Paul Nelson

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Sonetos De Cascadia 16-March-2020

—no heaven is, no
earth, and the
memory of both extinguished but for the one ashtree-believing-nuthatch—,”

- Paul Celan

Earth Closed. Which was the sky’s wish the birds, trees, unspoken mammal wish as if heterotrophs had a vote (& shd) & then do when they conspire to halt “human progress” for a few weeks, lighten the air, unclog the cities, add a dash of the duende to the stew we call life without sports without eating out within no closer than six feet of the average human germ-spewing capability. Earth closed. As a reset button as in what’s in it besides ratrace for you as in how might you act in prison but still cooking your own meals as in get to enjoy, really enjoy brown rice. Earth first. Finally. We had it coming, we stable geniuses knowing humans have all the answers, all the technology, all the gear except for face masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper & ventilators. Duendification of life resynchronizes us with the nuthatch and redwing, the coot raft and seagulls and there is no panic buying by the lake, there is no hoarding (except for squirrel) there’s nothing but these last three days of winter and a slight sense of the new normal in late capitalism.



Poet/Interviewer Paul E Nelson founded the Seattle Poetics LAB and the Cascadia Poetry Festival. Author of A Time Before Slaughter/Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia and American Sentences, he's written, recently, in Postcards from the Pandemic.

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Theory and Play of the Duende: Excerpt

"All through Andalusia, from the rock of Jaén to the snail’s-shell of Cadiz, people constantly talk about the duende and recognise it wherever it appears with a fine instinct. That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: ‘On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me.’: the old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That has duende!’ but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalifespoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.

"Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’

"So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

"This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.


So, then, I don’t want anyone to confuse the duende with the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes’ Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods.

"No. The duende I mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.

"For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse."

- Federico García Lorca

John Williams ::: El Ultimo Canto

Leonard Cohen ::: The Night of Santiago

Mavis Staples ::: Holy Ghost

Tim Buckley ::: Cafe

Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia ::: Spain

Juana la del Pipa ::: Tientos y Tangos