Jul 18, 2010

So tonight at the residency we saw a reading of a new play by faculty member Zack Rogow, who is amazing and lovely and brilliant and speaks like 500000 languages and during his own reading a few nights ago read his own poems as well as unbelievably gorgeous poems he'd translated from French and German and Urdu (working with someone else), and then, just to be more annoying, he sang a damn song.


Anyway, his play is called Things I Didn't Know I Loved: The Life and Work of Nazim Hikmet. It was great.

Here is Zack (on the right) sitting with the actors afterward, answering questions:

And I had never heard of Nazim Hikmet before, and his poems were so gorgeous, and after the reading I bought a book of them as well as a novel by Colette that Zack had translated.

Listen to this:

Things I Didn't Know I Loved

it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it
I've never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
and will be said after me

I didn't know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again
I didn't know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
"the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves. . .
they call me The Knife. . .
lover like a young tree. . .
I blow stately mansions sky-high"
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief
to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera's behind the wheel we're driving from Moscow to the Crimea
formerly "Goktepé ili" in Turkish
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn't have anything in the wagon they could take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I've written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I'm going to the shadow play
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather's hand
his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
with a sable collar over his robe
and there's a lantern in the servant's hand
and I can't contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn't know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison

I just remembered the stars
I love them too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side

I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don't
be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract
well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to
say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind
I didn't know I liked snow

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors
but you aren't about to paint it that way
I didn't know I loved the sea
except the Sea of Azov
or how much

I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois
strikes me
I like it

I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
and takes off for uncharted countries I didn't know I loved
rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

19 April 1962

Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)

Jul 16, 2010

Oh! I don't think I have mentioned that I will be crossing the Atlantic on the glamorous old-time ocean liner the QUEEN MARY 2 on August 8, arriving in Southampton England on August 14, with the romantical French scientist (from the French Alps!) with whom I am currently smitten and who shall be returning to LYON, France, indefinitely after a two-year postdoc in the U.S. that ends this month.

Here I am with him at SHANGHAI MERMAID a few weeks ago:

I will then be in England and France and back in Berlin and then in France again and maybe Italy to meet up with my mother and sister who will be there the first week of October and I will probably come back after that but then again maybe I will stay FOREVER.

The end.
So I am writing from my dorm room in Anchorage, tired after days of reading student work and leading workshops (my first! Monday I co-led one with Jo-Ann Mapson, yesterday I led one alone) and giving talks (one so far, a "craft talk" on retelling fairy tales) and, last night, giving a reading to the public--and I will write about that later, about how cool the reading was, how I was paired with another new faculty member Craig Childs, who was AMAZING....--and there are readings every night of this program, every night from 8 to 9:30pm, and I have not been to so many readings in so little time ever... and then the days are filled with talks and workshops and panels and lunches and dinners and I am going to them all--well, almost--and getting to know everyone and I would say more than half of these students are coming from various parts of Alaska and they tell me about mushers and dogsleds and native villages and tundra and abandoned railroads and it is all SUPER COOL and I LOVE EVERYONE or at least LOTS OF THEM and that is a lot of love and it is exhausting.

SO really, before falling into bed right now at 9:30pm when it is still broad daylight and will be for another couple of hours, I just wanted to quickly copy in this little snippet of writing from Anne Dillard that the wondrous Judith Barrington, who is faculty here, read to us in her talk this morning, which was about memoirs and ghosts.

I was blown away.


I was running down the Penn Avenue sidewalk, revving up for an act of faith. I was conscious and self-conscious. I knew well that people could not fly--as well as anyone knows it--but I also knew the kicker: that, as the books put it, with faith all things are possible.

Just once I wanted a task that required all the joy I had. Day after day I had noticed that if I waited long enough, my strong unexpressed joy would dwindle and dissipate inside me, over many hours, like a fire subsiding, and I would at last calm down. Just this once I wanted to let it rip. Flying rather famously required the extra energy of belief, and this, too, I had in superabundance.

There were boxy yellow thirties apartment buildings on those Penn Avenue blocks, and the Evergreen Café, and Miss Frick's house set back behind a wrought-iron fence. There were some side yards of big houses, some side yards of little houses, some streetcar stops, and a drugstore from which I had once tried to heist a five-pound box of chocolates, a Whitman sampler, confusing "sampler" with "free sample." It was past all this that I ran that late fall afternoon, up old Penn Avenue on the cracking cement sidewalks--past the drugstore and bar, past the old and new apartment buildings and the long dry lawn behind Miss Frick's fence.

I ran the sidewalk full tilt. I waved my arms ever higher and faster; blood balled in my fingertips. I knew I was foolish. I knew I was too old really to believe in this as a child would, out of ignorance; instead I was experimenting as a scientist would, testing both the thing itself and the limits of my own courage in trying it miserably self-conscious in full view of the whole world. You can't test courage cautiously, so I ran hard and waved my arms hard, happy.

Up ahead I saw a business-suited pedestrian. He was coming stiffly toward me down the walk. Who could ever forget this first test, this stranger, this thin young man appalled? I banished the temptation to straighten up and walk right. He flattened himself against a brick wall as I passed flailing--although I had left him plenty of room. He had refused to meet my exultant eye. He looked away, evidently embarrassed. How surprisingly easy it was to ignore him! What I was letting rip, in fact, was my willingness to look foolish, in his eyes and in my own. Having chosen this foolishness, I was a free being. How could the world ever stop me, how could I betray myself, if I was not afraid?

I was flying. My shoulders loosened, my stride opened, my heart banged the base of my throat. I crossed Carnegie and ran up the block waving my arms. I crossed Lexington and ran up the block waving my arms.

A linen-suited woman in her fifties did meet my exultant eye. She looked exultant herself, seeing me from far up the block. Her face was thin and tanned. We converged. Her warm, intelligent glance said she knew what I was doing--not because she herself had been a child but because she herself took a few loose aerial turns around her apartment every night for the hell of it, and by day played along with the rest of the world and took the streetcar. So Teresa of Avila checked her unseemly joy and hung on to the altar rail to hold herself down. The woman's smiling, deep glance seemed to read my own awareness from my face, so we passed on the sidewalk--a beautifully upright woman walking in her tan linen suit, a kid running and flapping her arms--we passed on the sidewalk with a look of accomplices who share a humor just beyond irony. What's a heart for?

Jul 12, 2010

So I am now in Alaska, as part of the Low-Residency MFA program at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, as FACULTY no less, in a part of the world where one can get off a plane at 10:30pm on a Thursday and be met by bright, glaring sunlight. It is very odd, very gorgeous, and I am surrounded by Alaskans who mention strange little towns one must get to by plane and use the mysterious, up-to-no-good word "Arctic" with a shocking regularity.

My program didn't start till yesterday--a 12-day intensive residency that kicks off an academic year during which students are mentored over email from anywhere in the world and just to be clear i hope to be doing my mentoring from as many places in the world as possible--but I got here on Thursday night and was picked up by a fabulous lady named MARY who is a Pulpwood Queen extraordinaire and who, on Friday, took me to see the Portage Glacier, drove me through a conservation center at which I saw ELK and GRIZZLY BEARS, took me to meet with ladies from the book club chapter located in the WOMEN's PRISON--wonderful, aching-for-knowledge women who read and discussed Godmother last year and treated me like I'd swooped down straight from heaven, even making me a little welcome sign and signing it one by one and breaking prison rules to give me and Mary hugs--and THEN took me to dinner with a bunch of un-incarcerated book club ladies and THEN to a drag queen show at which I was brought on stage and, amongst other atrocities, examined for a tramp stamp. It was what I like to call A FULL DAY.


Then yesterday I checked into my DORM ROOM where I shall spend the next 12 days participating in and/or leading/giving many many workshops and lectures and readings and generally being up to no good with all kinds of suspicious writer types. I had lunch with Jo-Ann Mapson, who is the fairylike authoress who done plucked me up and brought me here--and the poetess Anne Caston, and then today was chock full of events including a keynote lecture this morning and reading this evening by the poet Kim Addonizio, who was FABULOUS and gorgeous and hysterical and who played harmonica and also surprised me by dedicating the following poem to yours truly, which I just done went and found for your reading pleasure:

Snow White: The Huntsman's Story

* * *

I took out my knife and held her head back. She closed her eyes. A deer crossed the clearing, stopped and turned. I thought it watched me, I think it watches me still ... I swore an oath: to follow orders, without mercy or pleasure. Even the part you think might have been pleasure- She wasn't a creamy girl. She wasn't a girl at all. She was my assignment. When I took the lung and liver they were warm. I brought them bloody in a bag to the queen, who thanked me and mentioned a medal. That night I left my quarters, crouched in the weeds and got sick. Think what you like: that I spared her, that she sang while keeping house for seven little men. Believe in the apple, the glass coffin without its covering flag, where she lay as perfectly preserved as Eva Peron until the prince came to carry her away. Of course he didn't carry her; the servants did. And when they stumbled over a tree stump- if you believe the story-the piece of apple, caught in her throat, popped out, a magical Heimlich. I can see it so clearly now: she sits up, the prince takes her soft little hand, and the evil queen trades her Ferragamos for cast iron sneakers. And I remember my place in the story. I let the girl go into those fabled woods, in winter, while the snow fell around us, white on her black hair, white on her blue Aryan eyes, white on her pretty, open mouth.


I would say more but I am completely jetlagged and will now collapse until the morrow, or possibly next week.

The end.