Poetry Wednesday: C. P. Cavafy

An excerpt from Second Odyssey (translated from the Greek by George Economou)

Telemachos’s affection, Penelope’s
fidelity, his father’s longevity,
his band of old friends, his people’s
loyal devotion, the blissful repose of home
poured like rays of joy into the seafarer’s heart.

And just like rays, dissolved.

A thirst
awoke inside him for the sea.

This translation of C. P. Cavafy was published in the Fall 2015 issue of The Iowa Review.

Stay tuned.

Status Report: Books Read (So Far) 2018

By now it should be clear how much self loves constructing lists. And book lists best of all.

Self set herself a goodreads Reading Challenge of 32 books, which is pretty ambitious considering last year she didn’t make her challenge goal of 26 books.

Nevertheless.

Books Read This Year (in the order of their Goodreads Average Rating)

  1. The Odyssey (the translation by Emily Wilson)
  2. La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
  3. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  4. The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
  5. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
  6. The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
  7. Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck
  8. The Romanovs: 1613 – 1918, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
  9. Conclave, by Robert Harris
  10. Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
  11. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
  12. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  13. Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire, by Leslie Peirce
  14. In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien
  15. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  16. Mikhail and Margarita, by Julie Lekstrom Himes
  17. The Mandibles, A Family: 2029 – 2047, by Lionel Shriver
  18. Moshi Moshi, by Banana Yoshimoto
  19. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
  20. As Lie Is to Grin, by Simeon Marsalis

Today, self went poring over her recommended reading list and discarded a list called “Recommended Summer Reading” (downloaded from a literary website). Summer is practically half over and by the time she gets to the books on that list, it will be winter.

On her To-Read list 2018 are a biography of Daphne du Maurier and three du Maurier novels. She hopes she can get to them soon. She wishes Steinbeck weren’t so engaging because he is really slowing down her reading rate. Before she began Travels with Charley she read an average of a book a week.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

Dawdling Over Travels with Charley

Self has been reading blazing fast, ever since she began Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, vol. 1 of The Book of Dust, in late March. The last week of March, and through April and May, she was on such a tear. After La Belle Sauvage, she read all of His Dark Materials, then moved on to childhood classics like Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies, Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, Tove Jansson’s exquisite The Summer Book, two first novels (As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis and Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes, both excellent), and two books by Tim O’Brien (In the Lake of the Woods gutted her. In fact, she can’t stop thinking about it)

Since beginning Travels with Charley, however, she’s been moving at a glacial pace. It took her forever just to get through the Jay Parini introduction, and she’s just on p. 17.

She almost put the book aside last night, because it suddenly struck her that the kind of problems a man might encounter while traveling alone through America are very different from the kind of problems self experiences when she travels alone — self has traveled through not just America, but through Asia and Europe — and she is usually alone. It gets harder with every passing year. Security seems more suspicious (so many stamps on her passport!), people are less kind (or maybe self has just become more paranoid), and she’s definitely become more impatient. For one thing, she hates delays of any sort, and she hates flying because it’s so dehumanizing.

On p. 17, Steinbeck shares one of his underlying reasons for undertaking this trip, and she understands:

  • A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the household becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.

Travel is one way to resist the gravitational pull of age. It’s like being young again because everything is new, and you can still be surprised, on a daily basis.

(Note: Self was taken aback that Steinbeck viewed himself as a kind of Ernest Hemingway manly man. She’s always thought of him as ‘gentle.’ He might even be insulted by that description.)

Onward!

Self can’t believe summer is officially here. Time moves so fast. Soon, she’ll have a harvest of figs and plums from her backyard:

Stay tuned.

Poetry Monday: U Sam Oeur Again

from Exodus

— translated from the Cambodian by Ken McCullough

Once the Blackcrows had usurped the power
they started to evacuate people from Phnom Penh
they threw patients through hospital windows
(women in labor and the lame), drove tanks
over them then bulldozed them under.

The poem Exodus is part of the collection Sacred Vows, a bilingual edition of U Sam Ouer’s poetry, published by Coffee House Press.

This is self’s companion reading to Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s stories about his experiences as a grunt during the Vietnam War.

O’Brien and U Sam Oeur, in Southeast Asia at roughly the same time, each oblivious of the other. But afterward, what great literature they both produced.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Poetry Sunday: U Sam Oeur

from The Fall of Culture

— translated from the Cambodian by Ken McCullough

I hid the precious wealth,
packed the suitcases with milled rice,
packed old clothes, a small scrap-metal oven,
pots, pans, plates, spoons, an ax, a hoe,
some preserved fish in small plastic containers —
loaded it all in a cart and towed it eastward
under the full moon, May ’75.

Born in the Svey Rieng province of Cambodia, U Sam Oeur received his MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1968. Upon returning to Cambodia, he was elected to the National Assembly in 1972 and in 1973 was appointed Secretary General of the Khmer League for Freedom. He remained there after Cambodia was “liberated” by the Vietnamese.

The Fall of Culture is part of a bilingual Khmer and English edition of U Sam Oeur’s poetry, Sacred Vows (Coffee House Press)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Call for Submissions: Michigan Quarterly Review Special Issue on Iran

The issue to be guest-edited by Kathryn Babyan, Associate Professor of Iranian History and Culture at the University of Michigan, “seeks to present a collective of voices and reflections born in the shadow of revolution. We especially encourage translations from Persian, Kurdish, Armenian, and Azeri languages spoken in Iran.”

Here’s the link to the journal’s submissions page. Work will be accepted through 30 June 2018.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Writer’s Kitchen: How To Let Yourself Fall From the Frying Pan Into the Fire, by Rosario Ferré

Translated by Diana L. Velez

Feminist Studies 12, no. 2 (Summer 1986)

Throughout time, women narrators have written for many reasons: Emily Bronte wrote to confirm the revolutionary nature of passion; Virginia Woolf wrote to exorcise her terror of madness and death; Joan Didion writes to discover what and how she thinks; Clarice Lispector discovered in her writing a reason to love and be loved. In my case, writing is simultaneously a constructive and a destructive urge, a possibility for growth  and change. I write to build myself word by word, to banish my terror of silence; I write as a speaking, human mask. With respect to words, I have much for which to be grateful. Words have allowed me to forge for myself a unique identity, one which owes its existence only to my own efforts. For this reason, I place more trust in the words I use than perhaps I ever did in my natural mother. When all else fails, when life becomes an absurd theater, I know the words are there, ready to return my confidence to me.

The Father in THE SUMMER BOOK

Self finds the utter lack of drama in everything the father in The Summer Book does so compelling. He reminds her a little of Will Parry in His Dark Materials: that combination of stoicism and steadfastness.

On p. 144, the little girl, Sophia, prays:

  • Dear God, let something happen. God, if you love me. I’m bored to death. Amen.

In answer to her prayers, a whopper of a storm hits the island.

  • “Wonderful,” the Grandmother said. “But the nets are out.”

Alone, the Father takes out his boat and heads to the point in high wind, to try and salvage their nets.

  • He did it to save his family.

He is literally the only person that his daughter and his mother have to depend on. And never once in this entire book (she’s almost to the end) does he utter a single line of dialogue. It is his stoic immovability, the sense of permanence he radiates, that adds yet another layer to this wonderful book!

This is the storm:

  • The seas breaking against the sheer outer side of the island had grown. One after the other, the waves rose up in their white immensity, to a tremendous height, and foam hissed against the rocks like the blows of a whip. Tall curtains of water flew across the island and sailed on west.

Self remembers how, a few pages ago, a boat came to the island. The father had gone off in a great hurry to meet it and never returned, even though the daughter waited up for him until the wee hours. When he does finally show up, he goes straight to bed. The whole next day, he has a headache and is unable to work. Self finds it so amusing that the girl calms only when her grandmother invents a story about how the father was kidnapped and given a sleeping potion (Does this story ring any bells? It sort of reminds self of Circe in The Odyssey)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Third Character in THE SUMMER BOOK

The third character on the island, who mostly doesn’t make an appearance, not for many pages, is the little girl’s father. He represents a powerful mystery. Why doesn’t he accompany the little girl on her island explorations? Where is his wife?

This mysterious man gradually assumes shape and definition, first from the mention of his worn bathrobe. His relatives try to throw it away but it comes floating back to the island, smelling strongly of seaweed, and then he wears it everyday the rest of that summer.

There’s another section, when he leaves the island to get supplies, and there’s a storm. He is delayed, and the grandmother has to talk the little girl into believing that he’s in no danger, while her eyes constantly scan the horizon. The moment the grandmother catches sight of a rim of white surf on the horizon (which is the father in his boat, powering through the storm, and drenched through), there is such a powerful relief in the grandmother, and in self.

It was blowing hard, and the sun was setting. She was far-sighted and saw the boat half an hour before it reached the island — a moustache of white foam that would appear at irregular intervals and sometimes vanish entirely.

A few sections later, a mysterious boat pulls up and beaches on the island. The father “puts on his pants” and runs to the shore to greet the visitors. He never comes back that night. The girl hears music coming from the boat and wants to go check it out, but her grandmother says they have to wait for the father to come and get them. They wait and wait, but of course he never does come, and the little girl is furious.

Who is this man? This mysterious figure who is always stuck in the house (unless he is putting on his pants to run towards visiting boats) and does not roam the island as his daughter and mother do?

p. 134:

The guest room was cool and quiet, and Papa sat working at his desk on the other side of the wall.

“I like it when he’s working,” Sophia said. “I always know he’s there.”

Self is enjoying this book so much; she regrets that she’s gotten close to the end.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

When Home Is an Island: THE SUMMER BOOK, pp. 104 – 105

Every day, Grandmother would walk around the island in order to keep track of what was coming up. If she found a piece of uprooted moss, she would poke it back where it belonged. Since she had a hard time getting on her feet again whenever she sat down, Grandmother had become very skillful with her stick. She looked like an immense sandpiper as she walked slowly along on her stiff legs, stopping often to turn her head this way and that to have a look at everything before she moved on.

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