Digging Ever Deeper (Into the Pile of Stuff): The Sea, Islands, the Poet

From The New Yorker of 3 February 2014, a review by Adam Kirsch of The Poetry of Derek Walcott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux):

A poet who comes to consciousness on a small island — like Derek Walcott, who was born on St. Lucia in 1930 — is doomed, or privileged, to spend a lifetime writing about the sea.  The subject matter for Walcott is as consistent and inescapable, potentially as monotonous, as the five beats in a pentameter line.  But, like so many great poets before him, he shows that constraints do not have to starve the imagination; they can also nourish it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Late Sunday Night: Cavafy

And don’t be too sure that in your life –
restricted, regulated, prosaic –
spectacular and horrible things like that don’t happen
Maybe this very moment Theodotos –
bodiless, invisible –
enters some neighbor’s tidy house
carrying an equally repulsive head.

– from “Theodotos” by C. P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy, one of the greatest of modern Greek poets, lived in Alexandria for all but a few of his seventy years.  Rarely has a poet been so attached to a city.  Alexandria became for Cavafy a central poetic metaphor and eventually a myth encompassing the entire Greek world.

Poem, You Make Self REFLECT

This one’s from The New Yorker of 3 February 2014. Self only began to truly enjoy poetry when she began reading The New Yorker. She adores narrative poetry now. At the latest AWP conference, in Seattle, she bought at least five poetry collections. She is determined to read them all. (She’s lucky, too: her roommate in Seattle was the poet Luisa A. Igloria)

“Ambush at Five O’Clock” (only the first three verses)

by Stephen Dunn

We were by the hedge that separates our properties
when I asked our neighbors about their souls,
I said it with a smile, the way one asks such a thing.
They were somewhat like us, I thought, more
than middle-aged, less dull than most.
Yet they seemed to have no interest
in disputation, our favorite game,
or any of the great national pastimes
like gossip and stories of misfortunes
about people they disliked.

In spite of these differences, kindred
was a word we often felt and used.
The man was shy, though came to life
when he spotted an uncommon bird,
and the woman lively, sometimes even funny
about barometer readings and sudden dips
in pressure, the general state of things.
We liked their affection for each other
and for dogs. We went to their house;
they came to ours.

After I asked about their souls
they laughed and stumbled towards an answer,
then gave up, turned the question back
to me. And because I felt mine always was
in jeopardy I said it went to the movies
and hasn’t been seen since. I said gobbledy
and I said gook. I found myself needing
to fool around, avoid, stay away from myself.

Isn’t that great? The everyday, and the cadence.

And, just like that, self whips out a poem.  But hers is about a man in a white Stetson and his best friend Boyd.

Stay tuned.

Kyi May Kaung: Berlin, 2005

In October 2005, self and a bunch of other Southeast Asian writers were flown to Berlin to give a reading at the House of World Culture as part of a conference called “Sending Signals.”  Musicians, writers, film-makers, and visual artists from Burma, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines were gathered in a hotel at the edge of the Tiergarten.  That was also where self met the writers Linh Dinh and Rattawut Lapcharoensap, and where she met a poet from Burma, Kyi May Kaung.

All these years later, self still keeps in touch with Kyi.

Self once saw an Escalade in the Costco parking lot with the license plate “Myanmar.”  She couldn’t believe it and rushed home to call Kyi.

Her somewhat acerbic response:  “If the license plate was Myanmar then I am 100% sure the car belonged to a member of the ruling party.  They’re the only ones who refer to Burma as Myanmar.”

That was a moment.

In December last year, self asked Kyi if it would be OK to post some of her poetry in this blog.  Kyi sent over six poems.  Self doesn’t know why it took her three whole months to get one of Kyi’s poems posted but here, at last, is one:

Travel warning for Burma — some places may be closed.  Ethnic cleansing going on — in 1962 they called it “cleaning the Augean stables.”

Actually, that wasn’t poetry.  That came from one of Kyi’s tweets.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Attacking the Pile of Stuff: The New Yorker of Dec. 2, 2013

From the Talk of the Town, p. 24:

In Warsaw, the other week, a Filipino diplomat sobbed while addressing the U.N. climate summit; he had family in the typhoon-ravaged country.  “We may have ratified our own doom,” he said, alluding to the slow pace of negotiations for curbing international emissions.  He announced that he was starting a hunger strike, for the duration of the summit, and was given a standing ovation.

From Ian Johnson’s “In the Air,” an account of “China’s most polluted cities”:

Handan is a city “two hundred and fifty miles southwest of Beijing” with “an urban core of 1.4 million inhabitants . . .  It abuts the Tailing mountains” which, “thanks to rich deposits of coal and iron ore,” have made the region “one of the world’s great centers of steel production . . .  One of the provinces that border the Taihang range . . .  accounts for ten per cent of the world’s output.” The locals grow vegetables under the smoke billowing from factories.  It’s one of the dirtiest environments in the world.

There’s a poem by Mary Jo Bang that self really likes:

All Through the Night

The rotational earth, the resting for seconds:

hemisphere one meets hemisphere two,
thoughts twist apart at the center seam.
Everything inside is,
Cyndi Lauper and I both fall into pure emptiness.
That’s one way to think: I think I am right now.
We have no past we won’t reach back –
The clock ticks like the nails of a foiled dog
chasing a faster rabbit across a glass expanse.

The Annals of Law essay, by Rachel Aviv, concerns the way Social Service agencies have made a deliberate choice “to err on the side of overreaction, because the alternative could be devastating.  Social workers recognize that if they recommend returning a child to a deadly home “it will be a career ender.”  Thus, they “choose a knowable tragedy, the separation of a parent and child, in order to prevent an unknowable one.”

Heartbreak, right there.  The article focuses on a mother, a Kuwaiti immigrant named Niveen, who’s been accused of child neglect.  Her three-year-old son, Adam, who was in Montessori pre-school, fell and “his tooth came loose, making it painful to chew.”  Naveen took several days off from work to feed him herself.  After missing several days, her boss says, “With you it’s always something.”  Here’s the rest of that paragraph:

Then she imagined the way her boss would look at her the next time she came, and felt suddenly ashamed.  She got up, brushed her teeth, put some snacks in a ziploc bag, gave them to Adam, and left the house.  “It was mechanical –  I wasn’t thinking anymore,” she said.  “Things were upside down, but I kept everything to myself.  I was just trying to survive.”

Her son “had been alone for ninety minutes when police officers arrived . . . ” It’s a gripping article (as almost all The New Yorker Annals of Law articles have been), one that really tries to see things from the mother’s point of view.

Stay tuned.

Reading Simeon Dumdum’s “America”

Simeon Dumdum, Jr. has written six books, four of which won the Philippines’ National Book Award given by the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board. He works as a Regional Trial Court judge in Cebu City and lives with his wife Gingging and daughter Yeni in Mohon, Talisay City, Cebu.

America

by Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

I listened to him speak
of West Virginia
(he was born in Leyte
but was living
in West Virginia)
He spoke as they do
in the movies,
and as Ronald Reagan does
on the radio.
Even the way
he said “Virginia”
was better than the way
Hinying, a girl I knew
whose hair fell down a shoulder
like the tail of a bird,
said her name,
which was “Virhinia.”
And on that warm evening
I told myself,
That’s where I want to be,
in West Virginia, or New York,
or San Francisco,
because cousin says
everything there is big
and cheap — big chickens,
big eggs, big buildings,
And big flowers?
Cousin looked at me
and said, Yes, big roses,
tea roses, and he was
about to name other roses
but the moon was rising
and it was bigger than in
America.

A Day For Posting About Spain (2nd Saturday of March 2014)

A Poem by Miguel Hernandez, translated from the Spanish by Don Share and published in the New York Review of Books, April 4, 2013

The poet and playwright Miguel Hernandez (1910 – 1942) was born into a peasant family in the province of Alicante in southeast Spain and died from tuberculosis in a prison hospital there at age thirty-one.  For much of his life he worked, like his father, as a shepherd.  As a soldier and cultural ambassador for the Republican Army during the Spanish civil war, Hernandez read his poems and plays on the radio and on the front lines.  When the war ended in 1939, he was arrested and sentenced to death (commuted to thirty years in prison).

Everything is Filled with You

Everything is filled with you,
and everything is filled with me;
the towns are full,
just as the cemeteries are full
of you, all the houses
are full of me, all the bodies.

I wander down streets losing
things I gather up again:
parts of my life
that have turned up from far away.

I wing myself toward agony,
I see myself dragging
through a doorway,
through a creation’s latent depths.

Everything is filled with me:
with something yours and memory
lost, yet found
again, at some other time.

A time left behind
decidedly black,
indelibly red,
golden on your body.

Pierced by your hair,
everything is filled with you,
with something I haven’t found,
but look for among your bones.

1st Friday of March (2014): Reading Poetry

P. 1 of Mary Ruefle's SELECTED POEMS (Wave Books, 2010)

P. 1 of Mary Ruefle’s SELECTED POEMS (Wave Books, 2010)

One good thing about rooming with poet Luisa Igloria during the recent AWP conference in Seattle (three shouts out for Seattle, what a gorgeous city) is that self got to learn a little more about poets.

The AWP Book Fair (where self spent most of her time hanging out) is like a big block party, only 10x better because everyone’s artistic and eccentric.  At the Wave Books table, self saw a display of books by poet Mary Ruefle. Until last week, self had never heard of her (Aaaargh, because self is stupid, OK? In her defense, she’s a fiction writer and she didn’t even recognize probably half the names of the fiction writers on the AWP panels).

Luisa, can we room again at next year’s AWP?  Self would dearly love to do a Part 2 of this personalized crash course on contemporary poets!

At the Book Fair, self picked up a collection of Mary Ruefle’s, and today was the morning she finally had a chance to start reading (Her car’s at the mechanic’s. It flunked the smog test. Her mechanic said it would be around $800 to get the engine to a point where it could pass the smog test. Understandably, self is in no hurry to pick up her car)

The very first poem in the book self purchased (Mary Ruefle:  Selected Poems) is this one:

Standing Furthest

All day I have done nothing.
To admonish me a few aspen
jostle beneath puny stars.
I suppose in a rainforest
a draft of hands brought in
the tubers for today, women
scratched their breasts in the sunlight
and smiled: someone somewhere
heard the gossip of exotic birds
and passed it on in the night
to another, sleeping curled like an ear:
of all things standing furthest
from what is real, stand these trees
shaking with dispensable joy,
or those in their isolation
shading an extraordinary secret.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

EATING CULTURES Call for Submissions/Bellingham Review’s Annual Contest

The EATING CULTURES submission deadline is coming up very soon (this Sunday, Mar. 9!); self only found out about it today, via an e-mail from Karen Llagas. Thanks much, Karen!

The Asian American Women Writers Association (aawaa.net) is accepting submissions for a multidisciplinary arts exhibition exploring Asian Pacific American (APA) food and foodways (See deadline above)

Artists are invited to submit works that examine the idea, literally and metaphorically, of food and feeding (or the lack thereof) in creating and negotiating personal, gender and cultural representations in both the APA community and U.S. mainstream culture.

Eligibility:  Artists working in literary and visual arts, film & video, sculpture, installation and multimedia arts of Asian Pacific American descent

Venue:  SOMArts Cultural Center, Main Gallery, San Francisco

Juror:  Dr. Margo L. Machida, Professor of Art History and Asian American Studies at University of Connecticut

For more information, e-mail:  exhibitions.aawaa@gmail.com or call:  (212) 433-0229

The deadline for Bellingham Review’s Annual Literary Contest is approaching:  BEFORE Mar. 15, 2014.  Here’s some additional information:

Three $1,000 prizes and publication in Bellingham Review are awarded for works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.  Finalists will be considered for publication.  The 49th Parallel Poetry Award is given for poetry; Kathleen Flenniken will judge.  The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction is given for a short story; Shawn Wong will judge.  The Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction is given for an essay; Joy Castro will judge.  Before Mar. 15, 2014, submit prose up to 6,000 words or up to three poems with a $20 entry fee ($10 for each additional entry); this includes a subscription.  Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Monday Reading: Poetry Chapbook by Karren LaLonde Alenier

Time for self to tackle all those books and journals she ended up lugging home from the AWP conference in Seattle!

Not to mention the two she added on the plane back to San Francisco:  a poetry chapbook by Karen LaLonde Alenier, who sat directly across the aisle from self; and a book called Galerie De Defformité  — should she call it hyper-text?  Or Trans-Genre? — by the woman seated directly behind self, Gretchen E. Henderson.

(Oh, AWP.  You are so wonderful.  Self can’t, she can’t even.  Stop talking now, self.  Just Get On With It)

Self will start with Karren’s book, On a Bed of Gardenias:  Jane & Paul Bowles (which Karren calls a kind of “biography in poems”):

“Chasing the Fox:  Jane Bowles Visits Her Injury”

My mother Claire wore fox
fur and Shalimar for my
Stoneleigh boarding
school interview. She sat up
straight, patted my thigh,
“You see my daughter is
special,” Eyes narrowing
and nostrils glistening,
the headmistress unfurled
her rolled handkerchief
and leaned close
to hear Claire say,
“Jane is a Jewess.”

    The agony

I felt riding the pedestal Claire built
for a princess. When I fell from my mount,
the horse, whiter than a WASP in winter,
looked as surprised as the little girl
dusting off her habit and clutching
her throbbing knee.

    As for the fox,

red as fever, she winked at the dogs
that had lost her scent. Woof! I barked
when I should have howled.

A brief note about Paul and Jane Bowles (from the back of Karren’s chapbook):

Paul Bowles was born December 30, 1910, and died November 18, 1999.  He was a composer, fiction writer, and poet.  He grew up in the Jamaica Queens neighborhood of New York City.  He married fiction writer and playwright Jane Auer in 1938.  She died May 4, 1973 in Malaga, Spain.  Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco in 1947 and made Tangier his home until his death.  In the early 1950s, he wintered in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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