. . . isn’t hard to master, Elizabeth Bishop might have written were she considering travel in her famous villanelle, “One Art,” instead of love or life, however you might read the poem. When traveling, you master waiting, or it masters you. When all else fails, waiting is the one thing you can depend on.
Still in Porto, we were going to get an early start into the Douro~
~ the terraced wine region running along the banks of the Douro River respected not only for port production but for their red table wines, or vinho tinto. This time it was only Frank and I, our son to remain happily behind with his girlfriend. There would be one less person to have to wait for at any given time(showers, bathroom, meals, sleep, crankiness, photos). This would simplify the trip. However, we’d just discovered that our GPS was no longer charging. We’d have to replace it. Throughout the trip we’ve often had to search for internet connection, and found cell phones troublesome. At last we secured both and found the number for Eurocar in Porto.
Eurocar’s local office said they’d exchange the faulty unit. Just come on down. But how to locate them without a functioning GPS? Traffic moves madly through twisted narrow streets seemingly in every town or city we’ve visited, and roads are frequently unmarked or simply missing from maps. After circling randomly, we tried the GPS again. With the last sputter of charge, the GPS car bitch as I affectionately call her, sent us through a few turns, told us we’d arrived, and promptly died, Eurocar nowhere in sight. So began a series of attempts (harder, faster) to park legally, inquire of shopkeepers, call Eurocar, search on foot for the illusive address, jiggle the GPS one more time . . .
Two plus hours later we were at last on the road, new car bitch calmly suggesting we turn left or turn right, “recalculating” our driving misconduct without complaint until we reached Pinhão at last, our overnight base. (Pinhão can also be reached by riverfront train or boat from Porto. Great idea for next trip).
...The art of losing isn't hard to master.
We’d lost several hours of the day in an already trimmed down itinerary. We were tired. Though the river drive had been lovely, we were disappointed at the time lost. However, we could now check into our hotel and freshen up; our innkeeper was charming, anything possible. Pinhão, situated at the confluence of two river gorges stepped with terraced vineyards straight up to a cloud scattered sky seemed like another time, another world.
We recalculated. We’d trim to three wineries instead of the several more we’d planned. We’d stay within close proximity to Pinhão instead of a further foray up the Douro. We’d eat at the local restaurant the innkeeper recommended. It was like slipping into the slow lane and letting the world speed by. It was like getting into a boat and floating in the Douro’s current instead of struggling upstream.
...though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
We tasted some terrific wines and a few more ports at Quinta Nova da Nossa, visited two other bodegas, and saw a small-town carnival set up for a weekend festa, strolled the few streets of Pinhao and remarked again at the falling stonework, rusted iron grilles, and most of all the use of azulejos(tile) common all over Portugal, Sevilla too for that matter. This way of being wasn’t too hard to master.
One thing I’m learning on this trip: the art of waiting. First know what you want. Then, recalculate.
Some twenty years ago, I was living alone in an East Hollywood apartment (directly across the street from the world headquarters of the Church of Scientology). One night as I tried to sleep, somebody’s dog commenced barking and never stopped. Subsequent nights I lay awake, trembling with anger, as the beast beat its giant wings inside a steel echo chamber. I experimented with earplugs, but they couldn’t shut out the constant, insidious yapping that pierced through the din of sirens and police helicopters and babies crying. Was this annoying debacle the owner’s fault? The Humane Society’s? Was it the smog? I worried that repetitive noise and sleeplessness might drive me crazy. I didn’t want to end up like a half-assed Son of Sam.
For weeks, I canvassed the neighborhood. I scanned backyards and peered under cars, staked out dumpsters and vacant lots. I grabbed people on the street and asked if they had any idea whose dog wouldn’t shut the hell up. “What dog?” was all they said. If I did find the owner, I planned to tell him I’d overheard a Scientologist announce that she wanted to call the police and, though the racket didn’t bother me, I felt obliged to warn him to muzzle the pooch. Brave, I know. But I never located the dog or the owner. Meanwhile, the barking got so loud it seemed to be coming from above.
Exhausted from lack of rest, I slogged through my days. At night I collapsed onto the Murphy bed and willed myself to sleep, but eventually the barking invaded my dreams. Had I kept a dream journal during my early-twenties, the following entry might have appeared: I drive to a sporting goods store and buy a thirty-four-ounce Louisville Slugger—the Pete Rose model. Bring the bat home and take practice swings in the kitchen as I wait for darkness to fall. Put on dark clothes and sneak out the back door of the apartment building. I follow the sound of howling through the neighborhood, struck by how sharp my senses are. I can actually smell fur. I see a house with a fenced-in yard. Approach the front of the house. No lights on. I make my way towards the back yard. Sure the animal is there. Suddenly the dog starts to whine and yelp, and when I turn the corner I am confronted by a man whacking the canine repeatedly with a baseball bat. He’s wearing dark clothes and curses at the dog as he beats it. The dog is defenseless, tied to a post. I know the man will not stop until the animal is dead. There’s a doghouse in the foreground. I lower my bat and walk away.
Months passed. That crazy barking curse contributed to my decision to get out of Los Angeles and move back east. I would love to say that I finally spotted a black and gray German Shepherd poised on the roof of the Church of Scientology, untouchable, clamoring mercilessly from his rampart. But life is rarely so artful, so ludicrous. All I have is this mysterious aural virus in my memory.
"Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY," watercolor by Nari Mistry
I am in receipt of your letter and will say I was pretty tickled when I saw the first mention of Ithaka in Homer's verse because I knew that you were reading it from your own Ithacan abode. I wrote "Stacey!" in the margins beside line 30 and then again alongside line 213:
The program ends. Yesterday, I forgot my notebook and pen for the first time. I teared-up reading a Pessoa poem aloud to the last workshop(see below). The heat and humidity broke into a sweet rain, opening a completely different scent, feel and view of Lisbon. Like cracking an egg, or maybe like throwing wide a window. The sky was lead and the city stood out against it as if seen for the first time. Even the tourists looked like momentary divinity. I try now to think of a way to not write a last Lisbon entry, and in spite of driving to Sevilla this afternoon, I think I have figured out how. . . so no final adeus Lisboa for now.
In the afternoon while it rained, Kim Addonizio brought it home with poetry and the blues harp mourning like a train, followed by a reading by bestselling young novelist and former heavy metal guitar player(he still enjoys the band Moonspell) José Luís Peixoto. José, it turns out, is also a poet, his first love. Here’s one he read.
when it was time to set the table, we were five:
my father, my mother, my sisters
and me. then my older sister
got married. then, my younger sister
got married. then, my father died. today,
when it’s time to set the table, we are five,
except for my older sister who is
in her own home, except for my younger
sister, who is in her own home, except for my
father, except for my widowed mother. each one
of them is an empty space at the table where
I eat alone. but they’ll always be here.
when it’s time to set the table, we’ll always be five.
as long as one of us is alive, we’ll
always be five.
-José Luís Peixoto
Fernando Pessoa is everywhere in Lisbon, his birthplace, and his boyhood home still sits only steps away from where I've been staying. As in the photo above, his presence seems to linger in the cobblestone streets and shade Portugal’s identity and its writers. What can I say here about him that will do justice to this enigmatic poet, creator of the heteronym, master of the mask and alterego? Last night I heard a lecture by our foremost Pessoa scholar and translator, the poet Richard Zenith, who is currently at work on Pessoa’s biography, but instead of a borrowed insight or anecdote I’ll offer a poem of Pessoa's that goes a long way toward creating a sense of this country and my unexpected feeling toward it.
Others are bound to have
What we are bound to lose.
Others are apt to find
What in our discoveries
Was found, or not found,
In accord with Destiny.
But what they cannot have
Is the Magic of the Faraway
Which makes it history.
For this reason their glory
Is tempered brilliance, given
By a borrowed light.
-Fernando Pessoa – Himself
from A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe
Edited and Translated by Richard Zenith
And I am getting ready to Columbus of by car into Spain, then on to some wine adventures with my husband, Frank, that I will continue to post about. I have another fadista here, Vitorino, singling Fado Pessoa. Wishing you the Magic of the Faraway~ sally.
It is impossible to translate; we are always translating:
Alone at a café table set on uneasy cobble under some broad-leaved tree, I wait for my lunch and enjoy a breeze. At last. At last a breeze, at last a moment to consider the past several days, the rush and press of them, memories already shifting into an unsorted memory I will call “Lisbon” before long. 10 days in and I too have shifted, easily navigating tram, metro, train and the often steep, slick cobble underfoot as I follow the Disquiet schedule of lectures, readings, workshops and events around the city, Lisbon built like San Francisco upon hills along a waterfront. What I have learned: to move slow in the afternoon(now), how to count change(or be short-changed), how to say “no Portuguese,” passably.
It’s the time in a trip you begin to think, “I could stay,” your other life for the moment the memory. Traveling, like a translation of experience from one life to another, is itself a “placeless place” you may begin to feel at home in.
Translation, the movement of meaning from one language to another, is the topic of many discussions here where a number Luso(Portuguese)-American writers work alongside the general diversity of north American participants. Each guest writer, scholar, or cultural leader—and the list is formidable—has touched on this paradox that lies at the heart of all human communication. As the world renowned fiction writer António Lobo Antunes said last evening through headphones and the voice of a translator(!), “Translation is the black and white version of a color photo.” Or, as Paula Rejo, a magical realist painter puts it, “You always see the light reflected.” Or in the words of Jacinto Lucas Pires, another fiction writer, “Translation is a shadow language.”
Language itself, our method of connecting thought to thought, can be experienced as a sort of floating space between people, a space that we try and inhabit together.
Dance- Paula Rego
Well, let’s have a poem then, this by Nuno Júdice.
The light crossing the room between
the two windows is always the same, although
on one side it’s west - where the sun is now - and on
the other it’s east - where the sun has already been. In the room
west and east meet, and it is this light
that makes my gaze uncertain for not knowing
which hour held the first light. Then I look at the thread
of light stretched between both windows, as if
it had no beginning and no end; and
I start pulling it inwards into
the room, winding it up, as if I could
use it to tie up both ends
of the day into midday, and let the time be
stopped between two windows, west
and east, until the thread
unwinds, and everything
begins all over again.
from A Matéria do Poema, 2008
Translation by Ana Hudson, 2009
Centro Nacional de Cultura, a historical literary foundation and primary sponsor of Disquiet, has an excellent website to introduce you to more of Nuno’s work as well as that of other Portuguese poets in translation, Poems from the Portuguese.
What? Music too? I have spoiled you. Here, fadista Camané gives an introduction in his native tongue just to give you a sense of that, too.
I wake up to the sound of clattering dishes coming through the open window of the room where I’m staying, the hostel’s kitchen crew getting ready for the morning rush of hungry travelers, some in for a night or two, many, like myself, part of the Disquiet program and staying for 2 weeks. The motors of morning—birds, blowers, a shower running, the air conditioner’s hum, a church bell tracking time—all familiar by now, even the filtered light that manages to slide between buildings to begin the day.
What I’ve had the most difficulty becoming familiar with is the Portuguese language, one by sound frequently compared to Russian. Having studied Spanish many years, I expected to find a familiar latinate I’ve encountered in Italian and French, languages I can roughly navigate via phrasebook, careful listening, and the kindness of native speakers. However, Portugal’s early global dominance allowed the language to develop with exotic influence from Moors, Africa, Brazil, China, Japan. Vowels bend and disappear, r’s hover somewhere between palate and throat, and the unpredictable s slides and unexpectedly shifts to my best-phonetic-attempt-while-sipping-beer-at a street café might be pronounced “zgh.” (maybe “shz?”). But, I’ve managed the basics, ordering coffee and pasteis de nata, Lisbon’s national, irresistible pastry.
But back to sounds. Besides leading a workshop, I’m here to discover as much as I can about one of Portugal’s voices, its literature, especially its poetry. Can you quickly name a famous Portuguese poet besides Fernando Pessoa? I would like to introduce you to another national treasure, the revered poet, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen….simply called Sophia. Yes, Portugal is a country which embraces poetry and poets. Read more about Sophia here, including more poems. Here’s one I’m fond of.
Banished from sin and the sacred
Now they inhabit the humble intimacy
Of daily life. They are
The leaky faucet the late bus
The soup that boils over
The lost pen the vacuum that doesn’t vacuum
The taxi that doesn’t come the mislaid receipt
Shoving pushing waiting
Without shouting or staring
Without bristly serpent hair
With the meticulous hands of the day-to-day
They undo us
They’re the peculiar wonder of the modern world
Faceless and maskless
Nameless and breathless
The thousand-headed hydras of efficiency gone haywire
They no longer pursue desecrators and parricides
They prefer innocent victims
Who did nothing to provoke them
Thanks to them the day loses its smooth expanses
Its juice of ripe fruits
Its fragrance of flowers
Its high-sea passion
And time is transformed
Into toil and the rush
I have been saddened to discover that much of Portuguese literature remains untranslated, and I will continue to introduce you to a few more poets that I discover over the next days.
Okay? A bit more music to go out on. The sounds of fado, another national treasure, the music of Lisbon played in streets and cafés as well as on professional stages. Here is Ana Moura, a popular performer.
Tonight, I’ll attend a tribute another poet who has had exposure in the US, including a recent tribute held in NYC at Poet’s House, Alberto de Lacerda. Wait for it….
So said Michel Foucault in Different Spaces.
I arrived in Lisbon Saturday by airship—the jet—a kind of airborne floating space, “a non-place going places,” a placeless place that is at once threshold and destination, neither “here” nor yet “there,” time traveling between zones, continents, and consciousness, across 5600 miles and hours that expanded, contracted. I flew,
to “—Lisbon, the Tagus, and the rest—
A useless onlooker of you and of myself,
A foreigner here like everywhere else, —”
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Disquieted, I came to Disquiet: Dzanc Books International Literary Program, a brand new, two week literary and cultural conference held in Lisbon, where I will teach and be taught, engage with the heritage of Portuguese literature, contemporary writers, and the rich and vibrant Portuguese culture.
I will bring highlights, hoping to prove a more useful onlooker than the native son Pessoa, above, suggests. It has taken these few days to disembark from traveling’s “non-place,” but I feel on terra firma today and look forward to bringing news of Lisbon to you. But now, “The morning unfurls itself upon the city,” and I’m off to find breakfast before my workshop begins. How about a little music to go out on.
During a conversation with Samantha the other day, it was suggested that my next post simply be about things that make me happy. Below, you will a find a harum-scarum list of some of the things that happen to make this crazy cat smile. This one is for you, Sam.
Samantha Zighelboim holds an MFA from Columbia University. Her poems, translations, and book reviews have appeared in Maggy, Thumbnail, TheThe Poetry Blog BOMB, Rattapallax, and The People’s Poetry Project. Recently, she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize on behalf of Thumbnail. She received an honorable mention for the 2010 Bennett Poetry Prize at Columbia University, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Currently she’s working on her first collection of poems, and lives in New York City with her cat, Buddha.
I want to go to London again
Juiced up, anxious, caffeine-overloaded, spiked,
Jet-lagged, overtired with the sky falling,
A David Cronenburg sky, betwixt and between,
A bit tipsy, moist, walking through the parks;
Waking up to an English breakfast, a Ploughman’s Lunch,
High tea at the Savoy, a weight lifted from my shoulders,
Thinking I’ll reread Michael Lally but I’ll burst through the Turner-Tate
And find Gerard on Queen Anne’s Lane or
Queen Anne’s Walk or Queen Anne’s Mews.
It will not be my first time there; so dark then, where
The B&Bs were reformatory schools, single, solo
Rawer, boatless, thankless (you’re never welcome because you’re not).
I’ll see a play starring Diana Rigg. Do they still have bestiality laws?
I want to go to London, guilt-ridden with bad sex (masturbation),
Hang out at the Dorchester & Lainsborough, drink Pimms cups,
I can bow down to titles; I’ll take the tube, sit for a suit on Jermyn St.,
Caress the curry, pomp the circumstance, silently thank Churchill,
Salute the marching band, look right, walk left,
Hum The Eastenders theme song.
Maybe this time I’ll take in the Jewels, the Tower, the Carvery,
The Portrait Gallery, Russell Square, Brompton Road, Goodge Street.
I want to go to London again, I heard I can drive to Paris from there.
-- Michael Malinowitz
Ed note: Our friend Ming Holden, whom David and I met while visiting Mongolia in 2009 traveled to Istanbul last fall to take part in WALTIC 2010. We asked her to share her thoughts and impressions with us. -- sdh
--Olov Hyllienmark, Keynote Speaker, WALTIC 2010, Istanbul
Sometimes I think of contemporary American poetry as a really great crowded party in a really great bohemian apartment, a party with a bunch of mind-blowingly intelligent artists, and everyone's paired up and in small groups. Each conversation (and participant) is interesting and pertinent, compelling and admirable. Each is also markedly different, and I struggle to locate the unifying thread.
But what, in this metaphor, is the apartment? What defines contemporary American poetics besides a pervasive fragmentation engendered by a plentitude of lively voices? And what does it look like from the outside, this party? I think many Americans are worried about the reputation of our nation as a world leader in recent years; has its literary reputation and leadership, taken a hit as well? What role is American poetry playing now when in many nations the literary party goes underground because the voices that would make up the merry din are silenced?
I got a few answers to these questions when I attended the second-ever convention of the Writers and Literary Translators International Congress (WALTIC). WALTIC began in the Swedish Writers Union, and for an international literary development to have its genesis in a relatively small and quiet nation is exciting in itself.
WALTIC is an exciting international development for other reasons, among them the fact that the only other worldwide convention to discuss freedom of expression, copyright, and other contemporary issues facing writers is the annual PEN congress. Unlike PEN, WALTIC is open to the international literary community at large, and while PEN officials have attended both conventions, WALTIC welcomes freelance translators, journalists, and, say, a random 23-year-old -- that would be me -- tagging along with some Mongolian dudes.
Under the general editorship of the eminent Mongolian poet G. Mend-Oyoo, an important dual-language anthology of American poetry has appeared in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolian Academy of Culture and Poetry). It's called simply American Poetry and it includes selections from Whitman, Dickinson, Poe, Longfellow, Stephen Crane, Frost, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Koch, Joseph Brodsky, Billy Collins, and Sherman Alexie,among others. Brief introductory notes are provided by Mend-Ooyo and by former U. S. Ambassador to Mongolia Mark Minton, an enthusiastic friend of the project and a lifelong champion of Kenneth Koch in particular and the New York School in general. A team of translators worked on the texts. A second volume is in the works.
Congratulations go to Mend-Ooyo also on the appearance of a new selection of his poems in English, A Patch of White Mist, translated by Simon Wickham-Smith, who has cemented his reputation as the leading English-language translator of Mongolian verse. I hope to have more to say about the book in time but for now am simply savoring the characteristic imagery of a sky in tumult ("Snowfall tumbles like white stallions") and a landscape in motion (mountains charging like a phantom herd of cattle).
In Mongolia, Stacey and I spent time with Mend-Ooyo, an accomplished calligrapher as well as the nation's leading man of letters. After a leisurely and literary lunch he celebrated the occasion by giving us Mongolian names -- mine is Tsolmongerelt (meaning "light of the morning star") and Stacey's is Odontuya (meaning "starlight"). Mend-Ooyo's own name tranlates roughly as "Man of the Secret Code," and a woman we met is "Lucky Violet." When I wrote seven haiku for Mend-Ooyo, I incorporated some of these details and other examples of how in the Mongolian imagination images substitute for abstractions. Marriage, for example, means "linked pillows" in Mongolian.
Seven Haiku for Mend-Ooyo
Lunch on the silver
edge of the wide bridal sky
Wife starlight blossom:
honeydew of honeymoon:
two melons ripe, sweet.
Man of the secret
code of the poet: ciphers
Paired pillows, the luck
of sweet violets, horses
on hills with white hats.
seven Buddhas reign at night,
rain all afternoon.
Guest and host embrace
as the dark side of the moon
is loved by the night.
Evening's first star wears
her seven jewels and shines
-- David Lehman
from Garrison Keillor's review of American Vertigo (NYTBR, Jan. 29, 2006)
Any American with a big urge to write a book explaining France to the French should read this book first, to get a sense of the hazards involved. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore; he rambled around this country at the behest of The Atlantic Monthly and now has worked up his notes into a sort of book. It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years, with stops at Las Vegas to visit a lap-dancing club and a brothel; Beverly Hills; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Bourbon Street in New Orleans; Graceland; a gun show in Fort Worth; a "partner-swapping club" in San Francisco with a drag queen with mammoth silicone breasts; the Iowa State Fair ("a festival of American kitsch"); Sun City ("gilded apartheid for the old");a stock car race; the Mall of America; Mount Rushmore; a couple of evangelical megachurches; the Mormons of Salt Lake; some Amish; the 2004 national political conventions; Alcatraz - you get the idea. (For some reason he missed the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the adult video awards, the grave site of Warren G. Harding and the World's Largest Ball of Twine.) You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
And good Lord, the childlike love of paradox - America is magnificent but mad, greedy and modest, drunk with materialism and religiosity, puritan and outrageous, facing toward the future and yet obsessed with its memories. Americans' party loyalty is "very strong and very pliable, extremely tenacious and in the end somewhat empty." Existential and yet devoid of all content and direction. The partner-swapping club is both "libertine" and "conventional," "depraved" and "proper." And so the reader is fascinated and exhausted by Lévy's tedious and original thinking: "A strong bond holds America together, but a minimal one. An attachment of great force, but not fiercely resolute. A place of high - extremely high - symbolic tension, but a neutral one, a nearly empty one." And what's with the flurries of rhetorical questions? Is this how the French talk or is it something they save for books about America? "What is a Republican? What distinguishes a Republican in the America of today from a Democrat?" Lévy writes, like a student padding out a term paper. "What does this experience tell us?" he writes about the Mall of America. "What do we learn about American civilization from this mausoleum of merchandise, this funeral accumulation of false goods and nondesires in this end-of-the-world setting? What is the effect on the Americans of today of this confined space, this aquarium, where only a semblance of life seems to subsist?" And what is one to make of the series of questions - 20 in a row - about Hillary Clinton, in which Lévy implies she is seeking the White House to erase the shame of the Lewinsky affair? Was Lévy aware of the game 20 Questions, commonly played on long car trips in America? Are we to read this passage as a metaphor of American restlessness? Does he understand how irritating this is? Does he? Do you? May I stop now?
For more of Mr. Keillor's review, click here. [Note: The links in the paragraphs above were put in by the blog editor and are not part of the piece as pubkished in the Times or posted on its web site. -- DL]
Today, Hilary Clinton made headlines in Britain, by “expressing concern” about plans to cut spending here on military procurement. I mention this to underline how interconnected the US/UK relationship – “special” or not – still is, not just culturally, but military-industrially. Meanwhile, David Cameron and General Petraeus have been meeting over the botched rescue of a British citizen kidnapped by the Taliban, and maybe killed accidentally by an American rescuer, who may have thrown a hand grenade that killed her as she lay on the ground. Though there is a documented “Atlantic drift” in the poetry community, as much binds as releases the two former great powers, both watching the rise of China.
Poets in the 20th century in the Anglo-Saxon world tended to speak of a mid-Atlantic current, that saw the loan-lease of poetic talents, such as Auden and Eliot. Hugh Kenner, a Canadian, wrote about this, in A Sinking Island, and then there is Fishing By Obstinate Isles, let alone A Shrinking Island, Jed Edy’s title echoing Kenner’s.
I don’t think we can any longer speak of mid-Atlantic poets (Robert Lowell was one, at ease in London as Boston). I was tempted to call them Pan-Poets, or the New Jet Set (a little ungreen). I have therefore decided to call them Atlantic/Pacific poets – poets whose national identities are enwebbed in travel, education, and publication, in several nations at once, and therefore, in their cosmopolitan internationalism creatively scramble the tired old nationalist labels. In the process, they release the English-language poetic tradition since Modernism into its widest swing, the compass arm describing a very wide arc of styles and experiences, indeed. Other poets I have featured so far this week could have been included here, but this list includes a poet born in New Zealand, one born in Australia, one born in America who intelligently and creatively engage with the British and American poetic traditions, as well as ones closer (perhaps) to home – whatever that might mean.
Kathryn Maris, a New Yorker now based in London, was educated at Columbia University (BA) and Boston University (MA, Creative Writing). She is the author of The Book of Jobs (Four Way Books, 2006) and a second collection forthcoming with Seren in the United Kingdom. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, an Academy of American Poets award, and fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center and Yaddo. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, Slate, The Harvard Review, and Poetry Review. She has written essays and book reviews for Time Out, American Poet, Poetry London and New Welsh Review. She teaches creative writing at Morley College and Kingston University. Her poems are anthologised in Oxford Poets 2010.
Call me Infidel, or just call me Tom.
Call me handsome, call me cold, call me bitter, call me cad
call me No-Better-Than-Judas-Iscariot
call me bachelor, call me saint, call me numb.
I was abused, I was married, I took pills, I was left,
I was in love, I was a liar, I was a drunk, I was in debt,
I wrote a book, I had some fame, then I was dead,
'til I was saved, I slept around, I was too young, I was bereft.
You are good, you are beautiful, you are kind, you forgive,
you are loving, you are smart, you're adored and you are brave.
There's no one else. It isn't you. I'm circumspect. I'm full of doubt.
It wouldn't work. We're not alike. I don't know what I want.
Call me weak, call me ingrate, call me 'once bitten, twice shy.'
Call me anything, but please don't say I make you want to die.
There are two ways
of loving on the earth,
eating swan during the May Ball without compunction or shame
and those who would like to avoid even looking at the might
and sometimes irritated god
and what are you? are you one like me
who gave his willow tree to the gardeners
after two years of keeping it in my rooms
and when I returned it the old gone gardener replied:
I've been, we've been awaiting you to bring it to us!
are you for the garden, or are you for the swan?
two ways of punting: falling in or about to fall in
as the old (my age now) porter said of returned grads (for a day)
They never 'ad it so good again, Mr. Shapiro, they
never had it so good again
Oh how I miss the antisemitic bedder who said, like Eliot's mother,
Hitler just didn't finish them off sooner, Mr. Shapiro--
There are two ways of praying in Cambridge at Clare:
not at all or going for coffee and psalms in the morning
and when you go to the old shul they say: We've been waiting for you
there is a Cambridge rebbe and he comes middle-aged to your cell
on Mem court and says: I am finishing a Holocaust anthology
and at the time, it was as shocking even appalling phrase, but isn't it still
and some horrible worker laughed that the American students at Kent State
had gotten themselves shot
I heard a phrase in my brain: Kill me, kill me
as Morgan Forster said of Eliot renouncing Lawrence
There is a time to be a spider and a time to be a fly
I choose to be a fly and not the spider
I see him now slowly circling King's lawn and listening to my idiocies:
They're shooting American students from the sky I said
He looked the cows in the eyes and murmured: These things are so hidden
as if a little bit to say at life's end: Yes and why don't you keep it hidden for me
dedicated to Siegfried Sassoon,
to Forster with two cheers
and to David Lehman who has ears
-- David Shapiro (April 30, 2010)
These poems trip through Afghanistan, Tokyo, and Mozambique. These poems journey with turtledoves, trout, the pages of a book and a soldier on leave. Poems that shop, bush walk, slumber in utero, visit with Jesus, King William, Andrew Jackson, and hawks. These poems ride on the spine of a pit bull, on torpedoes and a black river, on trains and the subway. Here's a sweet bite:
The Girl Fighting Back Tears on The Subway During Morning Rush Hour by Stacey Harwood
In search of Memphis blues, our friend Jamie Katz explores the Mississippi Delta. Read the full story here.
The frontal lobes of my brain had prepared me for China’s modernity, but somewhere in the lower recesses I half-expected to see flickering shadows of a 3,000-year-old agrarian culture with intact village life, rice paddies, and peasants in pajamas toiling in the fields with oxen.
I hoped in China I would get a chance to at least see some countryside and make contact with something that would offer a hint of Pearl Buck’s rural landscape in The Good Earth.
About a week into the trip we went by bus to Hangzhou, a city of seven million south of Shanghai. Hangzhou is the hometown of a young assistant professor of Chinese at our college we call TZ.
It’s TZ’s first year on the faculty, and the trip was quite a perk. He got to visit China and introduce a group of eager new colleagues to his home.
As the first week of the trip unfolded I realized I had a great deal in common with TZ. Though we are of different generations and diverse cultures, TZ is a writer too. He has a PHD from Berkeley, but what he really wants, he told me as we left Fudan University, was to be “the most famous writer from Hangzhou.”
Forty miles out of Shanghai we finally began to see more of what TZ called “the rural side,” the equivalent of the countryside in the US. We passed a large country market set up under a highway overpass. It stretched on for a long distance under the raised highway. I was disappointed. So far the countryside looked more like a light industrial zone. There was nothing quaint or agrarian about a farmer’s market set up in the shadow of an overpass.
TZ sensed my disappointment, said, “No, the rural side drive is not like drive from Spartanburg to Atlanta.”
We rolled on further and finally what we passed became a more diverse agricultural landscape, a vineyard here, a small chicken farm there, four or five shallow ponds to farm fish, a five-acre fallow winter field, another two acres of small hot houses.
The agriculture is dense and public. The farmers’ houses are all packed together, all two or three story moderns. More like mini-apartment complexes and they still didn’t match my Romantic view of the countryside. I tried to articulate my disappointment. TZ explained the old villages like I wanted to see have been gone for 40 years. “This is a very rich area now with all the industry, so even the farmers live in nice houses.”
TZ has great love of his place of birth, particularly in its literary tradition. “Four of six best writers of the 20th Century come from my province,” TZ said with pride as we approached the city. He said that he writes mostly about Hangzhou and has published a few stories in US Chinese language magazines, but that what he really wants is to put together a book of short stories about contemporary Hangzhou “like Joyce, you know, Dubliners.’’ He said his favorite American writer of the 20th Century is Thomas Wolfe. “You can’t go home again,” he said. “This I know, this day.”
This return home was a big moment for TZ, his first visit back as a professional, not a student anymore. I asked him if his parents read what he writes. “Oh no, I would be afraid for my father to read my stories.”
As we approached Hangzhou we crossed a fairly large river. TZ said, “When I was a kid I always swam in that river.” He smiled a little as if to tell me that maybe it’s not the same now. “I was very liberal when I was young. But now I’m pretty conservative. I hate it that so many people come to my hometown. I can’t even speak my own dialect in my own town now.”
TZ stepped off the bus when we approached downtown. He would go see his parents like a good son. He disappeared down a crowded city street.
As we rolled on into Hangzhou I thought about how different two writers can be. I grew up in a Southern American town in the middle of what many called “the American Century.”
Iwas Thomas Wolf’s doppelganger. Go home? I couldn’t even successfully leave. I tried the Pacific Northwest, New England, the coast of Georgia, and I always came home. I’ve now been “home” for 23 years, teaching at a college that’s a stone’s throw away from where my great-grandparents were married at a textile village church almost a century ago.
TZ teaches half-way around the world from Hangzhou, writing stories about his hometown at the beginning of what some are already calling “the Chinese Century.” Maybe he will write about the great "economic take-off" as seen through the eyes of his own Sino version of Stephen Dedalus. Maybe he will capture the epiphany of swimming in that river in the brief moment just before the soul of China collides with the future.
“Oh lost!” Thomas Wolfe said, dreaming of the past, and longing for literary relief from the present and the future.
Photo left: Rose Landowne; Geralding D'Amico, director of Jewish Book Week; David Lehman; Morton Landowne, director of Nextbook; and Naomi Gryn. Photo right: The Guardian's Jason Solomon with David Lehman.
Still floating among the stars from Jewish Book Week, David, along with Mark Ford, Heather Phillipson, Emily Berry, Liz Berry, Kayo Chingonyi, and Luke Kennard, gave a reading at London's Marylebone branch of Oxfam's bookshops. Todd Swift organized and hosted the reading in connection with the recent release of Asking a Shadow to Dance: 35 Young British Poets for Oxfam.
Weather permitting, we're flying to London tomorrow for two events. Join us if you can:
Sunday, February 28, 3:00 - Jewish Book Week : Drawing on his acclaimed A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, David Lehman will delve into the American songbook—the compendium of music written from the 1920s to the 1960s that includes Broadway hits, Hollywood musicals and Tin Pan Alley tunes. He'll be in conversation with writer and filmmaker Naomi Gryn. Highlights of Gryn's wide-ranging career include playing a hairdresser in The Crying Game and winning a gold D&D award shortly before abandoning what might have been a lucrative career as a commercials producer to make documentaries for radio and television. Venue: Royal National Hotel,Bedford Way,London WC10DG. For information and tickets go here.
Monday, March 1, 7:00 PM: David Lehman and Mark Ford will read in support of Oxfam's Young British Poets DVD project. Several leading younger British poets will open the night: Emily Berry, Liz Berry, Kayo Chingonyi, Luke Kennard and Heather Phillipson. The Oxfam shop, 91 Marylebone High Street, London W1. More information here.
9 febrero 2010
When I rise
this morning, there is fresh coffee in my friend's kitchen and cream in the
refrigerator. The house is warm and the bed is comfortable and there are
beautiful quilts to sleep under at night if the house gets chilly. I am remembering, this morning, my first
When we taught together, our offices were next to each other. I could smell the tea steeping in her hot pot each afternoon. She could hear my music through the wall. We worked together, alongside each other, much the way women have since they entered the hallowed halls of academia years ago - though not so terribly long ago that we aren't still a minority here - and have been glad for each other's company in a place almost wholly-run by men.
What can I say about all that that won't sound foolish or get me into trouble? Men, by nature and by nurture, are accustomed to quarreling and arguing, to bellowing and threatening, trying to argue their way – or persuade their way – into the alpha-male position. It's how they've come to understand the world, and the university workplace is a microcosm of that larger world. They have had years to get very good at what they do. It IS their "club" after all. And while I like to think I can "fence" with the best of them, I confess that I often preferred the quietude – and the certitude – of my female colleagues. I enjoyed their laughter and the way they seemed easy with each other. I admired the way they made, of their offices, a comfortable space for themselves and a more inviting space for the students who came to talk with them. The women's offices around me more often were lit by smaller desk-lamps rather than the glaring overhead fluorescent lighting; sometimes there were plants, or wall hangings, or music, softly playing. Their bookshelves were filled with favorite books and those they considered "necessary" to have close-at-hand – as were our male colleagues' – and they were fearless about loaning them out to students if they displayed any interest in one or another.
one of my favorite people in
We've got lots to look forward to this week! First up: to take us through Super Bowl season and beyond is Sports Desk, by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (left). Gabrielle Calvocoressi's second book of poems, Apocalyptic Swing was recently published by Persea books. She lives in Los Angeles. We'll also be posting Anne Caston's diaries from her recent trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she teaches in the English Department MFA program of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Composer and film scholar Lewis Saul has already started posting about the films of Akira Kurasawa, now playing -- all thirty of them! -- at the Film Forum in NYC. After a long hiatus, our financial correspondent stops by with sage advice. Finally, we're thrilled that Joy Katz returns with lively posts about how poems end.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.