Category Archives: Issue 2.3 (Poetry)

special poetry issue only guest edited by Lenore Weiss with a section on Turkish translations

Zara Raab, review of Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s My Funeral Gondola

My Funeral GondolaMy Funeral Gondola
By Fiona Sze-Lorrain
Mãnoa Books, El Leon Literary Arts

Honolulu, Berkeley, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-98339198-2
Paper, 57 pages. $18.00

 

 

 A Poet’s Gondola: Review by Zara Raab

For both the contemporary poet and Nobel Laureate Tomas Transtromer and the classical composer Franz Liszt, “Funeral Gondola” is a title alluding to Richard Wagner, whose body was ferried along the Venetian lagoon in 1885. Sze-Lorrain’s “Funeral Gondola,” she assures us, “has nothing to do // with Liszt /with Wagner / with Transtromer”, although the ghosts of these giants are bound to shadow the melodic lamentations of this poet, who is at home in several continents and cultures. Sze-Lorrain’s “Maestro” is not Wagner, but her ancient ancestor and countryman, the Chinese poet Li Po; his gondola takes the shape of a child’s paper boat she has made as a child in remembrance of him, a boat, that floats “away to the night sky where the painful moon hangs.” Sze-Lorrain’s gondola travels seas far from Venice, perhaps the Malacca Strait near the city-state of Singapore at the top of the Malay Peninsula, the country made up of dozens of islands where Sze-Lorrain was born. Her gondola, she tells us, “positions itself”

midway in a strait—so that shadows
in a trance

travel over it

Ghosts are bound to wander in and out of any book about funeral rites and death by a poet of Chinese ancestry. In Chinese culture, ghosts are supposed to take many forms depending on the manner of death; through them, some believe, a person may contact a dead ancestor. For Sze-Lorrain, any funeral ceremony must keep “the ghosts in mind”; they, who “sit like cats through the wake,” must be served cakes. Ghosts are good, too, for chasing away fears and can be invoked in thunderstorms to chase imaginary dogs on the rooftop, as they do in the poem “Lullaby.”

Ghosts are part of a rural folklore quite foreign to modern and post-modern urban consciousness. One interpretation of the poems is as the struggle of an evolved urban consciousness to deal with the superstition and folkloric values of remote agrarian ancestors. Sze-Lorrain certainly views her ghosts as altogether “odd spirits,” the title of the second section, which opens with a lovely evocation of a remote harbor at night under a deep, starry sky, a poem called “Orion” one of the brightest of evening constellations. Stars are connected to astrology and soothsaying, and so, addressing Orion, the poet, who as a small child dreamed of becoming an astronaut, writes,

Before death the seer showed me how
you eluded mystery

Shadows may be ghostly, too, and spiritual. China’s culture of ghosts spread, apparently, far beyond the mainland to the Southeast Asia. In the poem “Javanese Wayang,” puppets tell their story from behind a transparent screen, which casts them as shadows. The poet advises: “Watch the shadows, not/ the puppets.” In “Monuments Against Sundown,” she says, “A man doesn’t walk with his ghosts. He walks with his shadow, the man who says no,” the dark self.  Words, too, are shadowed by their origins and early meanings, the word “shadow,” itself originally meaning a darkness that provided shelter from light and heat.

In “Still in the Night Fields of Hokkaido” the poet goes with her camera at night to a field in the northern-most island of Japan, Hokkaido. Here a dreamy landscape, exquisitely described, becomes “an unwinged sea of lamps”—suggesting fireflies, although there is “inattentive rain,” so perhaps the lamps are the starlight filtering through the droplets of rain. Sze-Lorrain’s sensitivity to the natural, concrete world meets a more ancient, mythic understanding, for suddenly she hears the––crickets, triumphant, playful, and joyous in their song. In this night terrain, she tells us, “Crickets question// twice”––

They register an air
between real and improvised time.

Crickets––I can’t
finish my line. Nature suddenly
feels so foreign

Crickets are not only part of nature, they participate in an ancient symbolism. (Who can forget the role of the cricket in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor?) One studies them as a naturalist, but this is not their whole story. Sze-Lorrain’s empirically minded, Western, questioning and questing self––represented here by her camera––breaks.  She begins another line about the crickets, but she is not able to finish it.

“After the Moon,” a short lyrical meditation on the world’s mirrors of oblivion and guests in their disguises, expresses Sze-Lorrain’s solitude, an unalterable condition of life that she accepts, moving forward without false constraints but with the curiosity of a scientist.

So many shadows,
so few ghosts––I am lonely
but curious
in this imperfect end.

“Sixteen Lines, Autumn 2010,” the prequel to the 35 poems of this book-length meditation on the ambiguities of life and death, present and past, begins simply, “In past autumns, I saw the world differently” and ends:

Look: a long sundown.

No more black and white.

The word “white” itself once referred to fresh snow or salt, anything full of brightness or light, and the Chinese often consider Caucasians (“whites”) as “ghosts.” Ghosts are neither quite dead nor quite alive, shadows, too, are ambiguous, neither white nor black. The past keeps reappearing in and shadowing the present, and the living sometimes seem to live on only in a dead past. In the dense and intriguing “Visitor,” she recounts how her Shanghai grandmother, when asked about her early life in Communist China, answers with a single word: “Hungry.”

Though born in Singapore to Chinese parents, Sze-Lorrain is very much a Parisian, educated and living in Paris and writing in a tradition that goes back to the French surrealists of the 19th century. The poet’s playful gesture of wearing a fake mole is very much in the urbane modernist tradition of the French surrealist Mallarme and Apollinaire. “Notes from My Funeral” is full of gallows humor. The poet, imagining her own death, lies “like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man” in a round coffin, “perfect fengshui”, “the sound of wild gods drumming” in her heart.

Eyes unshut. I wait
for the flowering of my last
wish, The honor of your presence
is requested at your own funeral
reception. RSVP.

Underlying many poems, however, is a sorrow and a preoccupation with the ghosts of the past, the suggestion of the death of a child, perhaps, or other recent losses. But when brought into the light (in “My Melancholy,” for example), the poet’s sorrows disappear, at least for a moment–– or perhaps more accurately, they are filed away in a private domain (as “official secrets”). Sze-Lorrain evokes and names her sorrows without being engulfed by them; instead, she attends, as a scientist or keen observer might, to the layers and perspectives that surround the merely personal. The poem’s windows are thrown open, the poet is porous. “My Nudity,” she writes, echoing T.S. Eliot,

delivers what is important
and unimportant
about my body, between action
and repose, a room
temperature. [9]

“Before this mirror,” she continues, “I am my painter,/ realizing that bareness/ opens/ and never shuts.” By the end of this collection, in “Return to Self,” the poet resumes mundane activities. A friend calls. She has news from her sister.  She is avowedly learning to live with her desires and grief.

Other poems here scramble the normal syntactical sequence of words or disrupt  linear temporality. Raw, spontaneous language, the site of meaning and intentionality, can create its own event, rather than referring to events outside itself. In  “When the Title Took Its Life,” the lines of the poem “wish to know how they left/ this pen// and why I imprison them”. “Erase me” they insist. These effects, forming a deconstructionist puzzle, may derive from Sze-Lorrain’s philosophy of “Linguistic conscience,” which she describes in an interview (in The Bitter Oleander, vol. 17, no. 2):

Words can’t just be concepts if they truly nourish a poetry that comes alive. They practically need to be sensibilities. This is why I try to nurture words whenever they come to me, even if they might seem “raw,” instead of looking for them and crafting them around specific images or contexts.

Elsewhere, though, she mocks lofty intellectual concerns. In “Digesting an Academic Symposium, Some Months Back,” she asks, “Is Foucault in season?” and captures the pretention of academic conferences where “the Nuremberg sausages” are a “cultural must-eat.”

With an eye for the absurd, Sze-Lorrain imagines a diva in the poem of that title pouring “cough syrup into her Chanel handbag,” and eating “her scores when she can’t recall/ her past triumphs […]” “Scarlet” is another nonlinear prose poems resisting coherence, yet breaking out in startling lyricism: “I’m not sure why orchids remind me of her,” the poet writes. “The way she served us tea, thin without sugar.”

“Now, Meditate” illustrates how Sze-Lorrain combines experimental elements with more formal characteristics. I’ll quote the poem in full:

Yes, the nostrils of silence.
A sea of visitors chained together.
More or less tempting
melancholia.
I no longer know my kind.
Light added to light, mountains feel near.
What is darkly denied us?
Let it go,
this chestful of sky.
My stomach turns from stone
to birds.
Pain washes one or two moons down my back.
I listen.
Bones are now moving alike (10)

As “stoma” is a mouth, and the stomach in some cultures is the seat of pride and anger, a place of temper and disposition, for the poet to say her stomach turns from stone to birds suggests rebirth through lyric song. At least this is one interpretation. “Pain,” of course, is related to penalty and punishment, to grief, expiation, and ransom, and in its earliest form was connected to “pining,” calling up for me an image of pine sap dripping down the poet’s back. In an open form, Se-Lorrain juxtaposes unlike items—the “nostrils of silence” and “chestful of sky,” but her narrative voice is stable, the narrative itself, coherent. Experimental as the poems are in this book––especially in contrast to her earlier book Water the Moon––Sze-Lorrain does not eschew closure. Indeed, with one or two exceptions, all the line breaks end with closure––occurring at full stops with a period, comma or question mark.

“Francois Dead” recounts, again in a clear narrative, the emptying of a house or an apartment after the death of a friend or someone close.

Without improvisation, we empty the drawers.
Papers slip. He pulls the shades, lifts
the mattress, dismantles
the Victorian bed. I wash the floor
with a rag on all fours.
After arranging those famous first-
editions, we stop and fold
silence into a cigarette.
He lights the lamp, we return to dust. [23]

Here is precise description of silence folded into a cigarette, a passage alluding to the occasion’s somberness without explicitly naming it. Many poems (“Javanese Wayang,” “Diva,” “Francois Dead”) in My Funeral Gondola, like those of Water the Moon, construct coherent narratives with a stable voice and closure, striving for clarity and precision.

Sze-Lorrain’s cultural references, not surprisingly for a poet of her heritage, are broad and deep, from Li Po to Ravel, Dickinson to Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky, the constellation Orion to the northern most island of Japan to the music of Java. In the long poem, “Not Thinking about the Past” one begins to sense how physical the act of writing is for Sze-Lorrain, who insists on putting the word on paper, however raw the word may be. This is perhaps one link she can find and hold to a Chinese heritage that requires worship of ancestors as a form of rootedness in the world—through the physical body, the material world. Yet as a post-modern urbanite, Sze-Lorrain has evolved a consciousness that leaves behind or at least sets aside—perhaps in the ‘official secrets” file––the ghosts and superstitions of rural folklore. The intermingling of levels of consciousness in her poems makes fascinating reading. During the most powerful of aesthetic experiences––say, for example listening to Tchaikovsky––suddenly, the poet tells us, “rain pours.” However fractured our experiences of past and present, the corporality of the world and her own body sustains her:

[…] my body
where darkness is a long
ebony lash

The body sustains the links among the disparate times and spaces of the individual’s experience, from the nine-year old on the stage at Singapore’s Victoria Concert Hall to the mature musician in Carnegie Hall or the contemplative poet at her writing desk, from the fencing arena in Edmonton, Canada (where the poet once competed) to the halls of Columbia University or the Sorbonne. This fund of experience yields some gorgeous lyrics.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Evoking the rainy darkness of the remote northern California coast, Zara Raab’s poems are collected in The Book of Gretel and Swimming the Eel. In September a third book, Fracas and Asylum continues her journey through inner and outer landscapes of storm, seclusion and reverie. A fourth book, finalist for the Dana Award and based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, will appear in October. Raab’s poems, reviews, and essays appear in Evansville Review, River Styx, Crab Orchard Review, The Dark Horse, and Poet Lore. A contributing editor for Redwood Coast Review and Poetry Flash, she lives near the San Francisco Bay.

Gülten Akin

Gülten Akin was born in 1933. She is Turkey’s most distinguished female poet and stands at the forefront of poets for whom poetry is synonymous with social responsibility. In a wide-ranging survey participated in by Turkish writers and publishers in 2008, she was selected as “the greatest living Turkish poet.” She studied Law at Ankara University and worked as a barrister in various parts of Anatolia. Her poems have been translated into English, German, Flemish, Danish, Italian, Bulgarian, Arabic, Polish, Spanish and Hebrew, and used in academic studies. Her major poetry collections include Rüzgâr Saati / Hour of the Wind, Kestim Kara Saçlarimi / I Cut My Black Black Hair, Sigda / In the Shallows, Kirmizi Karanfil / Red Carnation, Maras ‘in ve Ökkes ’in Destani /Epic of Maras and Ökkes, Agitlar ve Türküler / Elegies and Folk Songs, Ilahiler / Hymns, Sevda Kalicidir / Love Endures, Sonra Iste Yaslandim / It Was Then That I Aged, Sessiz Arka Bahçeler / Silent Back Yards,  and Uzak Bir Kiyida / On a Distant Shore. She won the Turkish Language Association Poetry Award in 1961 and 1971 and the Sedat Simavi Literature Award in 1992.

Saliha Paker (co-translator) is a literary translator and Professor of Translation Studies who retired in 2008 from Bo?aziçi University, but still teaches a course there in the PhD Program. She founded the Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature in 2006 under the sponsorship of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Her translations include three novels by Latife Tekin, Berji Kristin Tales from the Garbage Hills (with Ruth Christie), Dear Shameless Death and Swords of Ice (with Mel Kenne), all published by Marion Boyars (1993, 2001, 2007), London/New York. She edited Ash Divan, Selected Poems of Enis Batur, brought out in 2006 by Talisman House, New Jersey, which will also be publishing What Have You Carried Over? Poems of 42 Days and Other Works of Gülten Akin, co-edited with Mel Kenne, in September 2013. 

Mel Kenne (co-translator) is a poet and translator who has lived in Istanbul since 1993. A founding member of the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, he has translated much Turkish poetry and prose into English. Saliha Paker and he edited What Have You Carried Over: Poems of 42 Days and Other Works by Gülten Akin, and translated many of the poems in the collection, which will be published by Talisman House Publishers in September 2013. He and Paker also co-translated the novels Dear Shameless Death (Sevgili Arsiz Ölüm) and Swords of Ice (Buzdan Kiliçlar), by Turkish author Latife Tekin, which were  published in 2000 and 2007 respectively by Marion Boyers Publishers. Six collections of his poetry have been published, most recently Take (Muse-Pie Press 2011), and a bilingual collection in English and Turkish, Galata’dan / The View from Galata (Yapi Kredi Publishers 2010), translated by Ipek Seyalioglu.

 

Spring

Oh, no one’s got the time
to stop’n give thought to fine things

With broad brush-strokes they move along
Sketching homes kids graves onto the world
Some are obviously lost when a rhyme starts up
With one look they shut it all out
And the rhyme enters the night, as fine things do

Some pus in your breasts, some fish, some tears
Sea sea sea you turn into a giant
Evenings your fog creeps up the river-mouths
Raids our hazel-nuts
What to do with their blackening buds
We beg our children: go hungry for a while
We beg the tycoons
Please, one less “Hotel,” one secret marriage less to sketch
Please one less bank, a plea
From us to you and from you to those abroad

We send our wives out to get a manicure, to say
—sir, if you please—
We send our children out to beg
We’re off on our way, our beds entrusted to God
Motorized gypsies of the summer

Oh, no one’s got the time
to stop’n give thought to fine things
To return to the stream where we first bathed, our fathers’ homes
Passion for the earth, for what it’s being here
We plug our ears: money money money
We pull out the plugs: fight fight squabble
Someone may inquire: quarrel but why
An ever-grinding axe for our neighbor, a fist for our wife
Why the quarrel—we have no idea.

Then in our small town, that prison
We place our eraser before our eyes
With a shove we widen our days
We make room to give thought to our wives
To think about the bloom of the violet passing without us

Even if no one’s got the time
To stop’n give thought to fine things
Even if the little schoolteachers
Multiply their holidays
And in the name of whatever we hold sacred
Weave blindfolds for our eyes
What’s stored up and sketched will in time
Break into blossom as spring flowers

From across the stream over yonder
Some will whistle, we’ll sound it back.

GultenAkinPoem3

Genaro K. Lý Smith

Genaro K. Lý Smith was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam in 1968. He has earned first place in the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Fellowship competition, received both the Louisiana Division of the Arts Artist Fellowship and mini-grant, second place in the Poets & Writers Exchange Program, and second place for his short story “Dailies” in 2008 from the Santa Fe Writers Program. He currently resides in Ruston with his wife Robyn and their two daughters, Layla and Naomi.  He has been teaching literature, composition, and creative writing at Louisiana Tech University since 1999.

 

GenaroSmithPoem1

 

GenaroPoem2

 

Propaganda

         The reeducation of Yên, Lý Loc’s youngest wife

What they say is like a promise
I can hold in my hands,
like the locusts I plucked off lily pads,
cupped them to keep
for my own enjoyment as a little girl.
For days, weeks even, they become comfortable
to the heartbeat in my palms
where they want to stay.

This is how I take their words
as I actually raise my hands before me,
convinced I can see the liberty they speak of
in the soft, smooth whiteness of my palms,
see pride in not being enslaved by foreigners,
but there are only severed barbed wire-patterned lines
that only connect when I cup my hands,
the same lines Mother told me meant I was free.
I stare at the lines, seek the answers
in why our husband was taken from us,
from this house, bruised and bound for resisting
the new government’s practice
to right his mind of all his lustful wrongs.

They speak of the impossible task they accomplished—
defeat the West, have them fly or boat back
to their own continents, emasculated and clothed in guilt,
the new uniform they must have tailored
to fit them as familiarly and naturally as the bones
they have worn since birth; sent them home
to sit with their families at dinner time
to be served shame and embarrassment as their main meal,
the very things they have a hard time
cutting with silverware polished by dutiful wives,
and an even harder time swallowing
only to feel it harden
before settling in their stomachs. 

At night when they sleep, they toss and turn,
not from getting reacquainted with beds they left behind
for the war, reacquainted with their wives’ warm bodies,
the places where they used to fit into each other;
nor from the nightmares of close mortar rounds,
the blasts a constant ringing in their ears

of what hell will forever sound like,
or their limbs lost from sniper fire,
or head traumas that erased all memory of speech and movement,
but from waiting for shame and embarrassment to digest,
break apart,
so they can pass them from their bodies
into toilet bowls or in the woods.
Sometimes they soil their sheets and blankets.
They are apologetic, insisting, It’s the war that made them
this way, that it had never happened before,
that it won’t happen again.

Their wives furl wet sheets and blankets
assuring their husbands—who stand idly by, sometimes
in corners, pajamas soaked, head lowered like children—
that everything will be okay, everything will be normal again
as they hide their husbands’ humiliation
should their children wake in the middle of the night
for a glass of water, or the trip to the bathroom, to ask,
“What’s going on?  Who wet the bed?”

What is hardest is not the passing, the secretion
of shame and embarrassment,
but finding the courage to raise their heads,
address the awaiting eyes at the dinner table:
that even while clenching forks and knives,
their hands are still empty
of the locust they could never keep,
could never hold long enough.

 

GenaroSmithPoem3

Zara Raab, review of Christina Pugh’s Grains of the Voice

Grains of the Voice by Christina PughGrains of the Voice
Poems by Christina Pugh
Triquarterly Books
Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8101-5228, 75 pages, paper, $16.95 

 

 

Musical Harvest: Review by Zara Raab 

Christine Pugh’s poems remind us that, as Roland Barthes writes, “significance in literature is inexhaustible.” For though these “linguist silhouettes,” as Pugh calls them, are slender––rarely over a dozen lines––her meanings proliferate with each reading. Pugh is one of the poets in the present era who, coming of age amid the social protests and revolution of the 1960s, has turned from social and political protest, commentary, and satire––the staple of divisive, hugely entertaining late night comedy––toward interior, embodied discourse, leavened with rich seams of allusion to 60’s and 70’s rock and roll, washed clean of nostalgia, along with linguistic, semiotic, existentialist deposits, as well. Even Corot’s “grave boatmen,” May Ray’s surrealist art and metaphysical art `a la the Italian print maker Giorgio Morandi make an appearance in this book as illuminated with literary and cultural references as a medieval manuscript. Pugh’s lyrics seem to come from tongue or glottis, nose or teeth, not from the whisperings of her brain, breath or lung. (Barthes––whose ghost lives in the seams of this collection––calls the lung “a stupid organ [… that] swells but gets no erection.”)

Roland Barthes also supplies Pugh’s title. In his essay, “The Grain of the Voice,” Barthes asks, “How, then, does language manage when it has to interpret music?” Very badly, he says, at least in music criticism. He goes on to speculate somewhat incomprehensibly as far as I can see that if we “displace the fringe of contact between music and language,” we may find in vocal music a worthwhile encounter between language and music. Barthes calls this encounter—again, with mystery–– ”the grain of the voice when the latter is in a dual posture, a dual production—of language and of music.” For the first section of Pugh’s book, Barthes’ words provide the epigram, and early rock and roll tunes the many reference points.

Pugh’s “Persistent Tune” evokes the life style of generations of youths who, beginning with the Japanese Walk Man in the early 1980s, tuned in to popular music pretty much nonstop. Now it’s the iPod, and in her poem of that title, Pugh sees herself with “wires/ like a wingspan”—the ear buds of the iPod trailing to the hand or pocket with the ubiquitous device.  The poem “Persistent Tune” plays on the old radio hit  “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” It’s a song––as you’ll recall if you rode in automobiles with the radio on in the early 1970s–– about losing one’s way in the heady 1970’s cultural shifts, going back to San Jose “to find some peace of mind.” It is a requiem for all the lost souls who went to LA hoping to become stars: “weeks turn into years; how quick they pass/ and all the stars that never were/ are parking cars and pumping gas,” the pop song goes. “But who could get / a job pumping gas these days?” Pugh’s poem responds: “Nobody, /not least the stars that never were.”

Pugh’s “Water Music” evokes the old strobe lights of disco dancing in “a quilt of refractive light upon many square inches” of the body of the girl who “nearly / danced as a river.”

                    This is why we say Her
          name is Rio, and why I’m learning love requires
          a trawl-net, an act of free will. 

The connection between Rio and the lesson on love is not all that clear to me, but Pugh does manage to capture the way we tend to remember the old songs once heard over and over again on the radio as we circled the freeways in our youth––a snatch here, a title there. She is not above satire of these memories, as when she reminds us (in “Heideggerian”) to “listen carefully/ to all that surrounds us: the ravening glow / of the Elvis lamp, florid at the hairline, / lips and cheek; or James Brown’s miniature / bare chest rippling in the window of the Salvation Army.” (An Elvis lamp is for $150 on eBay.)

However deeply related song is to poem, only one of them is really profitable in the age of record and disc. Survival and economic viability, never explicit, are nonetheless persistent tunes in Grains of the Voice, for as she implies at the outset, in poems like the ones you are about to read, “there / is no real profit to be had; there’s / little use; there is no exchange /value.” (“Profit Margin”) The poet is improvident, to use another of Pugh’s titles, taken from a line in the poem “Women” by Louise Bogan (“They Are Improvident Instead”), and her trade impractical; like the rest of her tribe, she shops at the Salvation Army (“Unsung”).  Music, in contrast,  “enthralls the marketplace” (“Singer”). By interpolating a line from Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Pugh may be raising the question of relative value for poem and song: Shall she compare the poem to the popular song (that may rake in thousands of dollars)? When the poem—her poem–-is auctioned in the literary marketplace, she seems to ask, what price will the auctioneer offer?

 Whatever its purely economic value, song and poem are both linked to aliveness:  “[I]f you live in my ear / so I too might live again—“. In “Poem,” the poet loves the acoustic guitar, however “extinct” it may be in the popular culture; she chooses the “archaic percussion” of clapping, and “always I’ll choose this over all the ones and zeroes”—over money. She chooses making music, clapping (with her own body), or the simple body of the maple wood guitar—over “storyboard” (movie), and over “vocoder” (speech-analyzing synthesizer). In the past, body and its song, weren’t simply economic units; they had spiritual value. At the farthest reaches of American commerce and the speech it entails are the Latin chants of the nuns turning wheels of cheese in the caves of Auvergne in the poem “Inflection.” Language, like the tiniest of organisms, can be endangered; it can become “dead letters,” a Latin no longer spoken.

                   How can we call those words
                   human, when they’ve flown so far
                   from our commerce, our market place?                  

Yet cheese making is a business, and the white-haired girl at the bluegrass festival (in “I and Thou”) who “told us singing was like praying” may be “sublime sublime,” but she will afterward doubtless count the ticket receipts and pocket her share of the proceeds. No accident that the song Pugh chooses to recall from this festival is Metal Gear Solid’s “Heaven Divide”. In any contest between the ethereal and the physical, Pugh sides with the latter:

                    Fill your black hull with white
          moonlight, Stevens said; but Appleseed had fertilized
          the land with something more than light: with scattershot
          blossom and a fruit whose hardness ever will resist
          the tongue and teeth. (“John from Cincinnati”) 

Songs are layered in Pugh’s texts like traces of lemon in a cake or herbs in a dressing, subtle but palpable, as in the lines from “Poem”, referring to the Beatles (“Let It Be”) and (with “Trill it, then, and bury me”) to the heavy metal band Black Tide (“Bury Me”) or to Goldfinger (“Kill Me: Bury Me”). Earth, Wind & Fire makes its way into a poem (“Heideggerian”) on the essential nature of being. Poetic song, too, is here, from the layered voices of John Donne and Wallace Stevens to echoes of Yeats in “how could the voice come silent in such groomed/ space, plash and reverberant?” (“The Voice, Midsummer”). Linguistic jokes and conundrums also abide in poems like “I Am Are You” where the poet “would like to visit Iamareyou.org that haven / for the shut down of the shifter, that tenement / of pronouns in remission.” If John Ashbery mimics better than any living poet the way we tend as humans to remember and forget, Pugh mimes the verbal ways of that subset of humans whose talk is ruled by the frontal cortex—philosophers and linguists.

In the title poem, “The Grain in the Voice,” the narrator is asked why there were no protest songs for Iraq, and whether the poet remembers Ohio (perhaps a reference to the Ohio River Music Festival of 1975 where there would have been plenty of protest music).  The poet demurs. She doesn’t remember the specific political events evoking outrage or mourning, but she does recognize in the song and in the grain of the singer’s voice, the diction of outrage or sorrow. And she seems to be saying, “these are eloquent enough.”

Pugh’s poems manifest a synesthesia of sounds, colors, and emotions––the ways stimulation of one cognitive pathway in the brain leads involuntarily to stimulation of secondary sensory pathways, so (“Ut Pictura Poesis”) the visual sight of elephant seals on the sand is slicked away by distance until “you’ll see them / only in the sirens of their cries”, and in the title poem

                    My ear scribbles sorrow
          every time the stylus writes: a knife
          sheets sparks like a rash of birds
          ascending. Can you hear the
          singer murmur, what is the color? 

Not only does Pugh see color in the sound, see visions in the sparks or feel sorrow in the pen, she s also adept at “hearing voices with the voice”, another Roland Barthes concept the epigram for which precedes Pugh’s Section 2: “Interlude: Recto and Verso.” In loss and bereavement, Pugh hears the voices of the popular singers, the tunes her generation took in like the lullabies of a nursing child. Each poem in this section is followed by a short “Verso” poem of 3 or 5 or 10 lines. The first one, “Verso (Homunculus),” ends:

          Memo
          Harrow
         Valentine 

The preceding poem (the Recto) is called “Harrow” (torment, or heavy machinery with prongs dragged over plowed land), a description of a relationship, possibly, with the lover who writes his poems in sky-blue ink. If, as “Memo/ Harrow /Valentine” suggests, it IS a poem of troubled love, it is a muted expression, one where the loss of the beloved is met and experienced privately through dreams, not in society. The Verso member of another pair seems, in one reading, an acknowledgement of just how deeply matters of love (and art) can be traced back to one’s origins:

          let me gather it as mine
          let me take it in as mine
         the sequin shape of the Man Ray river [32]

Sequins appeared in the art of the modernist artist Man Ray; much as he wished to distance himself from his immigrant origins as the son of a tailor and a seamstress, sequins and other sewing objects found their way into his works, the “sequin shape” of his “river” perhaps inevitable. (The “Man Ray river also has echoes of Ray Charles’ song “Ol’ Man River”.) Nowhere is the interiority more evident than in “How My light Is Spent,” a title taken from Milton’s sonnet with the line “They also serve who only stand and wait,” quoted by Pugh. Grief is as perpetual and impossible to break as a diamond. Her griefs “burnish [her] with elegy.”  Life and death are entwined, just as the bodies of the dead in Guyana after the mass suicide of the People’s Temple members are entwined about each other, as the grape vines were entwined in their first home in Ukiah, California.

Pugh’s inward turning lyrics articulate a metaphor for fear or at least intimidation in the iron lung with its power to dampen human motility. In one interpretation, an iron lung represents a way of coping, of “mask[ing] a melancholy,” as her verso tells us, and of hiding, or finding self-protection. How do people manage to love each other, and how much of it is pure drama as “the mind […] holds the open/ shape of the proscenium”? (“Lilac Garden”)

One of the few poems to step out of its rich, multilayered, and elegant interiority––and speak more directly and movingly to readers––concerns America’s wars. “Ornature,” featured on Poetry Daily, is one. It reads in part:

          The beautiful girl says
          she’ll always be a soldier.
          She’d had a two percent chance
          of waking from the coma.
          Someone has to be that
          two percent, she says
          with a smile. Why not me?
          —And, sackcloth or silk,
          the husk did open. We decorate
          her friends at the end of May.

Another, “Civics II,” memorializes the human rights activist who set himself on fire in Chicago in 2006 to protest the Iraq war.  At the end of this poem, Pugh quotes from Malachi Pitscher’s biblical namesake (Malachi 1:9): “who is there among you that would shut the doors for naught?” The verse continues, although Pugh does not quote it, with: “Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.” Without engaging in act of direct protest, Christine Pugh manages with her ferocity to take a stance for the vitality pulsing from the guitars, drums, vocal chords and typewriters of musicians, singers and poets. In one sense, Pugh’s poems echo and evoke the classic songs of rock and roll, songs like the Styx’s “Come Sail Away with Me,” Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My,” or the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By.” In another sense, the poems in Grains of the Voice have their own music, their rhythm tight, dense, multilayered. Not the lyrics of rock and roll, but the mesmerizing beat beneath it. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Evoking the rainy darkness of the remote northern California coast, Zara Raab’s poems are collected in The Book of Gretel and Swimming the Eel, and soon in a third book, Fracas and Asylum, which continues her journey through inner and outer landscapes of storm, seclusion and reverie. A fourth book, finalist for the Dana Award and based on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, will appear later this year.

Melinda Palacio

Melinda Palacio is a poet, author, and speaker. She lives in Santa Barbara and New Orleans. Her poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won Kulupi Press’ Sense of Place 2009 award. She is the author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams (ASU Bilingual Press 2011), for which she received the Mariposa Award for Best First Book at the 2012 ILBA and a 2012 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. Her first full-length poetry collection, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, (Tia Chucha Press 2012) was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Award, the Patterson Prize, and received First Prize in Poetry at the 2013 ILBA. Read more of Melinda’s work at www.melindapalacio.com.

  

When She Calls 

Death bright as lemon meringue pie quickly gone
into a happy belly is what I wish for you.
 
When 300 cherub angels come down with trumpets,
I say, bring it on. Let’s all march to that number,

hose down our bare feet and dance, no – dash towards the music.
Death holds its own special rhythm.  

Everyone will eventually take the plunge.
Leaves on a tree simply fall.  

They say this earth is wicked.
Death wants to know if you’ve had enough.  

Close the book, rise from your stinky arm chair.
You know how the story ends.  

Death is where the book continues, conjures
a new ending, a beginning where the words  

sound so pretty, you sigh just to hear yourself, again.
You might be tempted to rewrite your beginning and middle.
 
Learn how to use your nimble legs and new fertile body,
morph, migrate, and die.

 

When they first came

No poetry to preach at this sacred rock,
a pulpit to voice what frogs dare say.

Pay attention to this January day. White moon rises from Painted Cave.
Is moonlight always Easter rebirth?  

Past the line of mailboxes, dirt road straddles a stream,
curve right to the platform of Chumash land.  

When they first came, they landed on Santa Rosa Island.
All forgot about the cave drawings, until the people,  

call them Katey and Larry, moved off the grid,
built a houseboat from a van on a pond in Painted Cave.  

Katey sees a bunny holding an Easter egg on the mottled moon
against a burning background. No fires to deepen the pink, only sunset.  

Where is the door to this sweat lodge called paradise
and who will remember this land?
 

 

Wet Mask

A lake disguises itself as an ocean.

He wants to see loneliness in its far away horizon.
She wants to see through him, search her fortune
on the other side, Chicago. The lake is not an ocean.

But nature shifts and changes color everyday.
A body of water, a twig that moves, a chameleon.

We are all shape shifters, she whispers and
stares over the vastness of the false sea.

The most beautiful blue is where the water is warmest,
sunken treasure and the sea monster Nessie live there.

He betrays one more secret, until, like another lost
Christian out on his luck, he forces her to believe he
is the first man to own bottomless blue eyes. Yes,

she reminds him, the earth is round.

Jim Davis

Jim Davis is a graduate of Knox College and an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. Jim lives, writes, and paints in Chicago, where he reads for TriQuarterly and edits the North Chicago Review. His work has appeared in Seneca Review, Blue Mesa Review, Adroit Journal, Whitefish Review, The Café Review, and Contemporary American Voices, in addition to winning the Line Zero Poetry Contest, Eye on Life Poetry Prize, multiple Editor’s Choice awards, and a recent nomination for the Best of the Net Anthology. www.jimdavispoetry.com

 

Fair Season, 1993 

A feather and the smell of a baseball glove after my father pounded it with oil. 

An owl and the smell of funnel cake at the churchyard fair, canto carnascialesco
twisting through speakers as we passed. 

Thunderclap, the sour smell of dandelion stalks, how it differed from petals, which smelled like butter by association. 

Two freighters and the imprint of a fist, mine, after I pressed it in the dirt near second base. 

Steady traffic, smell of sand, sting of sand, and a slide that wiped away sand drawings in violent planes.
I remember my father in a suit and tie, and the smell of a salesman. 

Feral cat, the soft thud of a ball struck lamely from a tee, how the long rubber stalk warbled like a loose hose. 

City lights, center stage. 

City lamppost, hot silence, awful shining. 

I remember frenzied yelling. This is a good thing. 

They said not to ever mention sales. The industry is blinding, they’d say. 

They said wash sand and sour smells from your fingertips as white rice boiled on the stove. 

Someone outside themselves fumbled over rolling opportunity. 

I tagged the runner with an empty glove, ball clutched tight in the hand without, and he, quickly rounding third, waved home. 

Go home, they waved, with terrifying excitement – and, as outcomes tend to go, on the other end, a gut full of funnel cake and shame.

Lyle Daggett

Lyle Daggett is the author of seven books of poems, most recently All Through the Night: New and Selected Poems (Red Dragonfly Press, 2013). His poems, translations, essays and book reviews have appeared in Pemmican, Main Street Rag, Blue Collar Review, the anthology Eating the Pure Light: Homage to Thomas McGrath (The Backwaters Press), and other publications. He is also the author of the weblog A Burning Patience. Lyle has worked for a living mostly talking on the phone and typing on computers, and is a member of the Communications Workers of America labor union. He lives in Minneapolis. 

 

DaggetPoem1

 

 

DaggetPoem2

Hasan Ali Toptas

Hasan Ali Toptas, a truck driver’s son, was born in Baklan, southwest Anatolia, in 1958. He received higher vocational training in the district town of Çal, and after completing his military service survived by doing odd jobs until he found a position at the Office of Inland Revenue. He worked in various small towns as a bailiff and treasurer, and finally as a tax officer in Sincan near Ankara. Despite his inability to in get published, Toptas managed to continue writing. Following the publication of a few short stories in journals and anthologies, he paid for the printing of his first volume of stories, Bir Gülüsün Kimligi (Identity of a smile) in 1987. He submitted his second novel, Gölgesizler (1995) to the Yunus Nadi Prize jury and won. After the book won the Orhan Kemal Prize, the most coveted literary prize in Turkey, it appeared in German. Toptas is frequently named as an equal to Orhan Pamuk. Among other works, he published a children’s book, Ben Bir Gürgen Daliyi (I am a hornbeam branch), in 1997, and his fifth novel Uykularin Dogusu (East of Dreams) was published in 2005. In 2006 his Yalnizliklar (Solitudes), poetic texts he constructed as a series of encyclopedia entries in 1990, was translated into Flemish and adapted for the stage. In 2005 Toptas, took early retirement and since then has dedicated himself full time to his writing. 

Mel Kenne (co-translator) is a poet and translator who has lived in Istanbul since 1993. A founding member of the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, he has translated much Turkish poetry and prose into English. Saliha Paker and he edited What Have You Carried Over: Poems of 42 Days and Other Works by Gülten Akin, and translated many of the poems in the collection, which will be published by Talisman House Publishers in September 2013. He and Paker also co-translated the novels Dear Shameless Death (Sevgili Arsiz Ölüm) and Swords of Ice (Buzdan Kiliçlar), by Turkish author Latife Tekin, which were  published in 2000 and 2007 respectively by Marion Boyers Publishers. Six collections of his poetry have been published, most recently Take (Muse-Pie Press 2011), and a bilingual collection in English and Turkish, Galata’dan / The View from Galata (Yapi Kredi Publishers 2010), translated by Ipek Seyalioglu.

Sehnaz Tahir-Gürçaglar (co-translator), the Coordinator the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, studied Translation Studies at Bogaziçi University in Istanbul and Media Studies at Oslo University in Norway. She holds a PhD in Translation Studies and teaches literary translation, translation theory, history, and criticism and interpreting at Bogaziçi University. She is the author of Kapilar (2005), a book exploring different approaches to translation history, The Politics and Poetics of Translation in Turkey, 1923-1960 (Rodopi, 2008) and Çevirinin ABC’si (Sel Yayincilik, 2011), an introduction to translation and translation studies in Turkish. She has been involved in the organization of CWTTL since its launch in 2006, and while the Workshop she translated works by Nurdan Gürbilek, Hasan Ali Toptas, Murat Gülsoy and Hatice Meryem. She has also published translations of works by Haydar Ergülen, Melih Cevdet Anday, Dervis Zaim and Hür Yumer.

 

from “Lonelinesses, #5”

I once thought of loneliness as my granma.
Legends, during those years, would begin as bandit songs.
No thyme-perfumed forests pealing out partridge melodies
resounded in my granma’s voice;
rather, if anything,
mountains;
smoky,
blood-soaked mountains
sentenced to be so by official decree.
Then, rising out of a dry cough
that crumbled like lor cheese
bandits would suddenly attack the village;
or from granma’s eyes,
that looked like a pair of olives,
would leap army deserters;
they’d vault over my head
and charge up the mountains,
pulling along their shadows like a great, bloody coat.
Next, the echoing of gunshots…
With a shift of her eyelids like two dusty bugs
crushed under the yoke of centuries,
my granma would say,
your mamma’s popping corn
but I never believed her,
for I could still see those gangs everywhere; I would witness them
and I was a child
who understood
that this seeing opened belief’s widest gate.
Even when my granma stopped storytelling and dozed off
the gangs didn’t pipe down;
the bullet-whine from mausers at Besparmak
never let up day or night,
smacking cradles with their evil-eye beads
that ricocheted off the blinders of oxen.
The villagers set aside their shovels, pickaxes
and sieves,
set aside tarhana soup and cayenne pepper
set aside the odor of ginger, their voices, their dreams,
set their courage aside and gazed up at the mountains
interminably.
The chimneys watched the mountains,
the doors, the tiny windows, the sheep
watched the purple mountains,
the goats watched the sky-blue mountains,
in other words nature felt curious about itself,
quite curious
and during those years
my eyes were composed of what they looked upon
my hands of whatever they touched.
Don’t ask me about my tongue,
it was made out of what I failed to say
and it lay in my mouth like a bloody book.
During those years
I didn’t even have my forests inside me
to hide my track,
I wasn’t yet even an island
in the sky
I wasn’t even a sky.
I had nothing but my grandma
(my dad would stay faithful to her in himself when he went away)
and it was as an island
that I knew my grandma,
then as a father;
as the windows heaved back my likeness,
as my looks, faced by those images
that thrived on my reflection, grew wrinkled,
and as I became short even as I grew tall,
I clung to her.
In the craggy lines of her face
I edged toward myself.
At times I was swept up in the brine of a flood,
other times I scaled sheer heights
in the belief that the nail scratch of a year (who knows which one?)
was the bed of riverand those slopes full of me.
And then, much later, the gory bodies of bandits
were hauled down the slopes
to land right in the midst of my dreams.
When I saw them I trembled (which is how I learned to tremble
even today when I shudder
a bandit drops in me).
Yes, I trembled
and wanted to grab the tired mauser on the floor
and take to the mountains.
But the guards twitched their great moustaches
(each one its own state, founded by the face)
and drove me off;
I began to flee, garbed in my fears, with no mauser,
I would dash off through the birds,
the scent of manure rushing through me,
I would cut under the wings of a chicken
scurry through the bottom of a sack of bulgur
or
slip through the way a sifter hangs from a nail
but
I’d not stop even once to look to turn and look back.
From the way I ran you could see the guards were hot on my trail;
I had to run and so I ran and ran,
until after a while all the running
made running feel like stopping.
At that point the only way I could find to run was to stop;
I stopped and a cliff got tangled up in my ankles.
To be got up in a cliff somehow is what loneliness means.

Zeynep Uzunbay

Zeynep Uzunbay was born in the Karaözü district of Kayseri in 1961. After primary and middle school, she graduated from the Vocational High School for Health and served as a nurse in Turhal and Tokat. In 1985, she graduated from the Faculty of Literature in Gazi University. Since 1995, she has published four collections of poetry: Sabahçi Su Kiyilari (Morning Water Shores) in 1999; Yasamask (Lifelove) in 1998; Kim’e (Who For) in 2003; and Yara Fali (Telling Wounds) in 2006. In 1998 and 2004, she received awards for her poetry, some of which has been translated into Italian and English. After teaching in several schools, she retired in 2006. Uzunbay presently lives in Izmir, where she continues to write her own poetry and articles on the poetry of others.

Arzu Eker Roditakis (co-translator) has a BA in Communication Studies from Istanbul University and an MA degree in Translation from Bo?aziçi University Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies, where she also began her doctoral studies and gave courses on translation theory, practice and criticism. Her MA thesis, Publishing Translations in the Social Sciences since the 1980s: An Alternative View of Culture Planning in Turkey was published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2010. She currently resides in Greece, where she is working at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on her doctoral dissertation on the English translations of Orhan Pamuk’s fiction. Since 2006, she has been participating in the CWTTL, where she has collaborated in the translation of fiction and poetry into Greek and English. In collaboration with Saliha Paker, she produced a first-time English translation of a chapter from Cemil Meriç’s Bu Ülke, which was published in the Journal of Levantine Studies in 2011.

Elizabeth Pallitto (co-translator) has lived in New York, Boston, and Istanbul, where she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kadir Has University. She received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of City University of New York and a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University. Dr. Pallitto teaches creative writing, rhetoric, and literature at CUNY. She has published translations from the Italian of poetry by Campanella, Velardinello, Fioravanti, and the Iraqi exile Thea Laitef. In 2007, she published Sweet Fire: Tullia d’Aragona’s Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose, the first English version of d’Aragona’s 1547 Rime. Her articles appear in Hybrido: Arte y Literatura, Comitatus, and Renaissance Quarterly; translations in Philosophical Forum and Forum Italicum; and original poetry in Litspeak, Fox Chase Review, and The North American Review. Her poetry collection “That Other Garden” was awarded First Place in the Academy of American Poets’ CWP competition. In 2004, she moved to Istanbul and began the journey that led to Cunda.

 

ZeynepUzunbay_poem

Güven Turan

Güven Turan was born in Gerze, Sinop, in 1943. He studied English and American Literature at Ankara University and holds an MA degree in American Literature. He worked as an instructor at the same university, wrote programs for the “Voice of Turkey,” which broadcasts for Turkish nationals living abroad, edited literary reviews, and, from 1976 to 1995, worked in advertising. His first poem was published in 1963, and since then he has published many poems, short stories, novels, art and literary critiques, and translations of English and American poets. To date he has produced nine books of poetry, three novels, three books of essays and criticism, and a book of short stories. A number of his poems and short stories have been translated into English and French. He has participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa; in the Cambridge seminars; and in the Voix de la Mediterranée, in Lodéve, France. He is now a consultant editor for Yapi Kredi Publications. 

Ruth Christie (translator) was born and educated in Scotland, taking a degree in English Language and Literature at the University of St Andrews. She taught English for two years in Turkey and later studied Turkish language and literature at London University. For many years she taught English literature to American undergraduates resident in London. With Saliha Paker she translated the Turkish novel Berji Kristin, Tales from the Garbage Hills, by Latife Tekin (Marion Boyars 1993) and in collaboration with Richard McKane a selection of the poems of Oktay Rifat (Rockingham Press 1993) and a major collection of Nâzim Hikmet’s poetry (Anvil Press 2002). In 2004 her translations from the Turkish of Bejan Matur’s In the Temple of a Patient God, was published by Arc Visible Poets. Recent translations, with Richard McKane, include Poems of Oktay Rifat (Anvil Press 2007) and The Shelter Stories, by Feyyaz Kayacan Fergar (Rockingham Press 2007). Her translation of Bejan Matur’s How Abraham Betrayed Me (Arc Visible Poets) was awarded the Poetry Book Society’s Recommendation for 2012. 

GüvenTuran_Poem

Haydar Ergülen

Haydar Ergülen was born in Eskisehir in 1956. He graduated from the Middle East Technical University (METU) Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Social Sciences. He has lectured on Publications, Advertisement and Turkish Poetry at Anadolu University and worked as a copy-writer and written columns for Radikal and Birgün newspapers. He currently writes a column for Varlik, the most renowned Turkish literary periodical. He was in the group that produced the literary magazines Üç Çiçek (1983) and Siir Ati (1986) in Istanbul. From 1979 onwards his works have been published in many literary periodicals such as Somut, Felsefe Dergisi, Türk Dili, Yusufçuk, Yarin, Gösteri, Yasakmeyve and Varlik. His first book of poems Karsiisini Bulamamis Sorular (Questions without Answers) was published in 1981. His other works include Sokak Prensesi (Princess of the Streets), published in 1990), Surat Siirleri (Poems on the Bridge to Heaven) in 1991, Eskiden Terzi (Former Tailor) in1995, Kabareden Emekli Bir Kizkardes (A Sister Retired from the Cabaret) in 1996, Kirk Siir ve Bir (Forty Poems and One) in 1997, Karton Valiz (Cardboard Suitcase) in 1999, Hafiz, in 1999, Ölüm Bir Skandal (Death is a Scandal) in 2000, Toplu Siirleri: Nar (Collected Poems, Vol. 1) in 2000, Toplu Siirleri: Hafiz ve Semender (Collected Poems Vol. 2) in 2002, Keder Gibi Ödünç (Borrowed Like Grief) in 2005, Yagmur Cemi (Rain Djem) in 2006, and Üzgün Kediler Gazeli (Ghazal of Sad Cats) in 2007), and Zarf (Envelope) in 2010. 

Arzu Eker Roditakis (co-translator) has a BA in Communication Studies from Istanbul University and an MA degree in Translation from Bogaziçi University Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies, where she also began her doctoral studies and gave courses on translation theory, practice and criticism. Her MA thesis, Publishing Translations in the Social Sciences since the 1980s: An Alternative View of Culture Planning in Turkey was published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2010. She currently resides in Greece, where she is working at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki on her doctoral dissertation on the English translations of Orhan Pamuk’s fiction. Since 2006, she has been participating in the CWTTL, where she has collaborated in the translation of fiction and poetry into Greek and English. In collaboration with Saliha Paker, she produced a first-time English translation of a chapter from Cemil Meriç’s Bu Ülke, which was published in the Journal of Levantine Studies in 2011. 

Elizabeth Pallitto (co-translator) has lived in New York, Boston, and Istanbul, where she was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kadir Has University. She received a PhD in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center of City University of New York and a Master’s in Creative Writing from New York University. Dr. Pallitto teaches creative writing, rhetoric, and literature at CUNY. She has published translations from the Italian of poetry by Campanella, Velardinello, Fioravanti, and the Iraqi exile Thea Laitef. In 2007, she published Sweet Fire: Tullia d’Aragona’s Poetry of Dialogue and Selected Prose, the first English version of d’Aragona’s 1547 Rime. Her articles appear in Hybrido: Arte y Literatura, Comitatus, and Renaissance Quarterly; translations in Philosophical Forum and Forum Italicum; and original poetry in Litspeak, Fox Chase Review, and The North American Review. Her poetry collection “That Other Garden” was awarded First Place in the Academy of American Poets’ CWP competition. In 2004, she moved to Istanbul and began the journey that led to Cunda.

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Fiona Sze-Lorrain Interview by Zara Raab

Fiona Sze-Lorrain Interview
by Zara Raab  

Fiona Sze-Lorrain made her debut at nine as a zheng harpist in Singapore’s Victoria Concert Hall. She has since become an interdisciplinary artist working in poetry, music and theater, as well as a publisher, critic and curator of the avant-garde. My Funeral Gondola (Manoa Books/El Leon Literary Arts, 2013) is Sze-Lorrain’s second book of poetry. Presque invisible — the French translation of Mark Strand’s Almost Invisible — appeared in France last year. Her translations of contemporary Chinese poets —Bai Hua, Yu Xiang, Lan Lan and Zhang Zao — are or will be published by Zephyr Press. She lives in Paris, France.

 

Zara Raab: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your artistic life and the publication of your new book, My Funeral Gondola.  You were born in Singapore, you’ve lived in New York, and now France.  Our readers would be interested to know how you came to settle in France, and also why chose to write your poems in English.

 

Fiona Sze-Lorrain: I was born in Singapore and grew up in a hybrid of cultures.  I spent most of my young adulthood in Europe and the States.  For a brief stint, I stayed in Edmonton, Canada before moving to New York to pursue my studies at Columbia University and NYU.  I stayed on in Manhattan and worked for a while, mostly as a dramaturge in theaters.  I also gave harp concerts.  I am a Francophone, and my husband is French.  So I live in Paris. 

I didn’t choose to write poems in English — it wasn’t something I deliberated before committing.  I don’t know how else I can best express myself in terms of verses.  Truth is, neither English nor any other language is a comfort zone in its entirety for me.

 

Z Raab: You are a musician as well as poet, critic, essayist, and translator.  My Funeral Gondola is full of musical references, including a poem with a title from the French composer Ravel that recalls your learning to play an instrument as a young child.  How does your music nurture your writing?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: This is a tough question.  I struggle with it.  I’m sure there must be some informative overlap between music and writing when one practices either or both on a daily basis.  They claim my attention in different ways, and I like to keep them that way.  Sometimes, music does not necessarily have its “contents” when you work on it in relation to the moment — onstage, for example — for the experience needs to be honored first.  It also depends on the material.  I don’t mean to suggest that writing isn’t an experience; there’s something naked about yourself that you can hide more easily ­— if you want to — when it comes to writing.  Or so it seems to me. 

 

Z Raab: Do you mean the writer can hide behind his words more easily than he can disguise himself in a new wardrobe? Or more easily than a musician might mask herself with her music?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Yes… with Internet, it’s even trickier: the image — or the “illusion” — seems to have precedence over the real.  But it’s hard to generalize . . . . it depends.    

 

Z Raab: Are some of the poems as much musical compositions as they are verse constructs in language?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Hope so — though I understand that poems and musical compositions aren’t always lending authority to each other in ways we can control or define.  They are more organic than we imagine.  Mushrooms in omelets or omelets with mushrooms?

 

Z Raab: Some of your poems strike me as more invented than others — these poems use absurd and disparate imagery, rather surrealist — like the lines, “thoughts on the horizon that imitate / rainy sentences” (from “Sonata Amoroso”).  There’s a persona there, but — forgive the allusion — it’s shadowy, dispelled.  Other poems in this book—and many of the poems in your earlier book Water the Moon–– seem very close to the speaking poet in a more embodied way; poems like “Now, Meditate,” “Come Back,” or “Francois Dead” seem to have you more physically present at their center.  Is this your experience?  Can you avoid moving into the center of your own poems, or do you seek to remove yourself from them, or enter them only from a distance?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: I find distance refreshing, and do strive for distance as an older but more resistant way of seeing.  They regenerate lyric energy and re-enact conversations that speak to, instead of for, persona(e) and what was gone.  I don’t know if one can avoid moving into the center of the poems.  Neither do I know if one can remove oneself from them.  It seems to empower the poet more than the poems, doesn’t it?  My own experience has more to do with me feeling diminished while poems gradually come into their existence on a page.  At the beginning it felt foreign — like a hole, an emptiness inside, pregnant with a breath — but time helps: it relieves me of the anxiety, and re-arranges sensorial experience such as this.   

 

Z Raab: The process of writing the poem relieves the anxiety? Is the poem at times inspired by a peering into an abyss or by sensations of emptiness or the grief and mourning that follow loss?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: To some extent, writing the poem does relieve the anxiety of trying to get it “right” in the head.  Still, once the poem exists in a rough form on paper, other anxieties or concerns call for vigilance.  Sometimes it is just a ghost poem.

 

Z Raab:  You’re a polyglot, speaking, what, several languages or dialects?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: I am fluent in a few languages — largely for reasons of survival and the contexts of my upbringing — though I don’t feel comfortable “qualifying” myself as “polyglot.”  I don’t enjoy sharing the company of those who take pride in presenting themselves with an identity of being bilingual, trilingual, and so forth.  A wise friend warned me that those who think they know several languages could possibly end up having several egos.  The implicit point has something to do with language as an accomplice allowing us to perform a role, a self — or even a mask — instead of opening up possibilities that better our sense of being.  At the risk of simplifying, perhaps it’s the voice that counts more than the language.

 

Z Raab:  Do you write primarily in English or do you also publish in French and Chinese? How much translating to you do, and from what language to what language?  Do you dream in French, Chinese, English?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Yes, English.  I’ve published some critical prose and translations in French.  I translate from French to English (and vice versa), or from Chinese to English (but not vice versa). 

My dreams — or the ones I remember — seem silent.  They move in a rich palette of colors.  Probably more visual than oral.

 

Z Raab:  Acknowledging that in grieving, one mourns, as Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us, for oneself, the funeral gondola of your book is your own hearse — an idea you express with wonderful wit reminiscent of the gravediggers in Hamlet.  Would you say, though, that throughout the poems, the past keeps reappearing and inhabiting the present — that this is a central theme of the book?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Is it “past” or “memories”? 

While working on My Funeral Gondola, I recalled having realized how much more restorative the process could be when narrative challenges focused on details of memory rather than the categorical variable we’d label as the “past.”  Ultimately, there must be some sort of a continuity or outward momentum.  Guess this is where humor could come in.

 

Z Raab: In an earlier interview, you say that you don’t like to let words move around in your head, you prefer to put them down on paper.  Does this mean that you do not revise your writing?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: No.  I revise obsessively — not in my mind, on paper.  From time to time I wish I could exercise magic.  Poems come slow to me; I’ve to work and fail and fail and work in order to arrive at linguistic alertness.  This is why I want to put words down on paper instead of letting them float around as thoughts.  I relish Sir Francis Bacon’s idea that wonder is the seed of knowledge, but tend to stick to the physical act of writing.  The latter helps me to listen better.   

 

Z Raab: This sounds more like a mental health prescription than an ethical or aesthetic choice — the desire to avoid being obsessive in your thinking.  Can you elaborate a little on this idea?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: Perhaps it’s more practical.  Or convenient.  All in all, it’s spontaneous.  I travel often for concerts.  I don’t typewrite straightaway on a computer, hence the need to record thoughts down.

 

Z Raab: As a final question: can you say something about what are you working on now?

 

F SZE-LORRAIN: I’m growing orchids.  Lots of them.  I’m also reading Proust.

 

Z Raab: It’s such a pleasure for me to be able to speak with you even if it is electronically, Fiona Sze-Lorrain.  Many thanks! 

 

F SZE-LORRAIN:  Thank you, too.

Yiskah Rosenfeld

Yiskah Rosenfeld received an MFA in poetry from Mills College and an MA in jurisprudence and social policy from UC Berkeley. Poetry awards include the Reuben Rose Memorial Prize and the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize for poems on the Jewish experience; her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry appear in publications such as Lilith Magazine, The Bitter Oleander, The Seattle Review, Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism, Bridges, Kerem, and Maggid. Yiskah taught Jewish literature and writing at Temple University, and served as poet-in-residence at the Brandeis Collegiate Institute in Los Angeles and on the Arad Arts Project in Israel. Yiskah serves on the faculty at the Tauber Center for Jewish Studies in San Francisco and teaches workshops combining Jewish text, mysticism, and creative writing around the Bay Area and beyond.

 

Four Klippot

The way a snap and two chewed pistachios gave us these.
The way they resemble teeth, but husked and unmouthed.

The way I need five to make a flower but they come in pairs.
The way my son looks to me for instruction, to know why.

The way we hold them to our heads and call them ears.
The way we hold them over our eyes and call them eyes.

The random urge to paint pupils on them.
The soft fingertip rub of their backs.

The way they stay on the table for weeks, reconfiguring,
now in a row, now scattered, now stacked.

The way we are told to cast them off, our klippot,
but they are rain coats, they are wings,

they tell the story of the nut that was, they cradle
emptiness in their baskets as well as any mother.

Cinderella’s shoe, a cap for a mouse, castanets,
my son and I quiet in their presence; we know holiness.

The way I say shell as if it were fact.
The way he says it, like a ship at sea. 

*Klippot is the Hebrew word for shells or husks. It is also a Kabbalist term, denoting the places that block us from Divine light.

 

Naamah

Two by two the words step out
of your mouth’s arc
testing the dry invitation of air.
Your tongue sets out in search of peace
licks the tender under-salt of olives
returns a messenger, a god, a bird.

When home is a boat
to settle is to set sail
what feels like gentle rocking is a slow lilt
in some tidal direction
no matter how hard your palms press
no matter how still you become.

When home is a red cabin on a hill
its windows bowing in three directions
and the river stretched on her back below
like a lazy cat, you will unanchor
the glass sheeted with autumn rains
all your languages wiped clean.

One morning you will awaken,
alive, alive, go down to the river
rest your fertile body against
the one made of light—
male and female, sky and sea
Yahweh and Elohim, raven and dove—

two into one into two into one,
embraced, all, in the water’s soft lullabies
feathered into one heartbeat by your hands’
joyful swift-slapping on the drum
steady and quick like the old women fashioning bread
on the side of the road to Beersheba.

Did you think you would end where you started?
Did you think it was that kind of door?
Come through, come close, come home,
kiss that complexity back to its rooted whole.
O Righteous One,
then you, too, will walk with G-d.

 *Naamah, in Jewish lore, was the name of the wife of Noah.

 

How the Sun Makes Love to the Moon

Your fingers trail sleepy and long like saxophone notes.
Songs slip under my skin.

Nerves on the soft insides of my arms
wake up slow and innocent like children.

I dream in your bones, hear my body the way you do:
a rounded, silken hum in the dark.

Everything in the suitcase of your skin belongs to me.
The rest of you goes on traveling, missing us.

In your country, the moon called to you like a lover.
Here you sleep even when the moon is full.

That radiant fullness, that pale beauty—
you think you see it in me.

Gary Turchin

Gary Turchin is the author/illustrator of the wondrous, If I Were You (Simon DeWitt 2011, and the award-winning Ditty-Ditty Doggerel; A life From Bad to Verse (Simon DeWitt, 2012). His newest collection of poems, Falling Home, is just out from Sugartown Publications. Gary is also performance artist, poet, and illustrator. His children’s poetry show, Gary T. & his PoetTree, has been performed in more than 300 schools and libraries throughout California. See the documentary film about his life’s journey, The Healthiest Man On Earth. See www.garyturchin.net for more.

 

The Poet Laureate’s Bald Spot

The poet laureate’s bald spot glowed like magma
in the hollow gray auditorium
where he held court to a clucking flock of poets.
No,
they weren’t actually clucking,
more: held in quiet reverence,
but this isn’t a reverent poem
so let’s go back to a clucking flock of poets
at two-fucking o’clock
in the afternoon—
and why weren’t they working? Deadbeats!—
And I took my cluck and rode his volcano of words
out the door
and into the most perfect day ever created—
I know this
I keep records
since the beginning
(yeah, that beginning)—
And the sun beamed like a proud lion of fire
through a cloudless blue sky
that the laureate
would have used the perfect descriptor for,
one that would have separated it from all the other blue skies
you ever saw,
trust me,
he’s that good,
without being dense, or obscure,
but not so simple as to not cast a spell of poetry,
and the air was now warm enough to kiss
and cool enough to blush in
depending upon whether you wandered through the shade of the sycamore trees,
that the laureate would have known the genus-species name of,
say: sycamorous pity-poor-us,
or walked in the bright light of the sun.
And everything seemed alive again
back from the dead lands
which have been too long a homeland
even the stoplights
flickered like green and red stars
and the cars streaming by
weren’t metal robots
but herds of antelope
and buffalo—
genus/species names go here—
roaming the wild turf
of life
that the laureate
could induce in his sleep.

 

GaryTurchin_Poem

 

Garrett Murphy

Garrett Murphy lives in Oakland, CA, and has written several chapbooks of poetry and prose, among them None Dare Call it Making Sense in An American Lesson, Call 9-1-1 (and Mister Punch), Up in the Attic As Of Many Years Later, 8 Book, You Can’t Be a Hero in Your Dreams, and I, Eye!. He has recently published his first novella, Yang But Yin: The Legend of Miss Dragonheel.

 

Check, Please Don’t

Okay, your state ID.
(Check.)
Your driver’s license.
(Check.)
Photo ID.
(Check.)
Vehicle registration.
(Check.)
Birth certificate.
(Check.)
Passport.
(Check.)
Marriage certificate.
(Check.)
Doctor’s verification.
(Check.)
Power of Attorney.
(Check.)
High School Diploma.
(Check.)
Middle School Diploma.
(Check.)
Elementary School Diploma.
(Check.)
Proof of residential living for the last 20 years.
(Check.)
Military honorable discharge.
(Check.)
Proof of mental competency.
(Check.)

“All this stuff just to obtain a gun?”
“Gun? What gun?
This is the Voter Registration line!
The gun owner’s registration’s
the fast express lane!
The one with fast tracking processing.
No waiting there! Not ever!”

 

The Adventure of Blackhoodlum, Chapter Umpteen or Whatever… 

Faster than a sideshow speedster!
Mightier than the gorillas of ten zoos!
More fearsome than Jason or Leatherface!
It can only be—
BLACKHOODLUM!
Yes, Blackhoodlum,
Strange intruder from a jungle land
Who lurked into our great land
With intentions to menace all good people
And loaf around to take their hard-earned comforts.
BLACKHOODLUM!
Who can alter the population of your exclusive lands,
Wreck lives, the peace and nerves in one fell swoop,
And even disguised as Trayvon Martin,
Born juvenile delinquent supposedly “going home,”
Is still an invincible, overpowering deadly menace
Deserving to be removed from existence like all the rest,
that is,
according to the Neanderthal “mind” of the rabid George Zimmernan,
would-be duper of any metro or rural newspaper and legal “authority,”
whose delusional storytelling talents
are clearly not fit for the pulpest of fiction
by any great or even marginally good publisher of such fairy tales
in the American or any other way.

Ana Minga

Ana Minga is a journalist. She was born in 1983 in Loja, southern Ecuador. She won first prize from the Central University of Ecuador for her early collection Pandemonium. Her two books since then are Behind God’s Back and Orphaned Birds. Ana Minga’s poetry has appeared in Asheville Poetry Review, Bitter Oleander, Boulevard, Confrontation, Hampden-Sydney Poetry ReviewLake Effect, Per Contra and RosebudTobacco Dogs will come out in October from Bitter Oleander Press.

Alexis Levitin (translator) has thirty-two books in translation include Clarice Lispector’s Soulstorm and Eugenio de Andrade’s Forbidden Words (both from New Directions). His most recent book is Salgado Maranhão’s Blood of the Sun (Milkweed Editions, 2012). He has just finished work on Ana Minga’s Tobacco Dogs due to appear in the fall from Bitter Oleander Press and the bilingual publication of Eugenio de Andrade’s The Art of Patience (Red Dragonfly Press, 2013).

 

I have sought the dead among the living

while my heart beat on without reply.
If only I could know what hovers round them
when they gaze at flowers
when they turn to fire
when silence scratches out their words.

I have sought the dead
while wine soaked my face
while night
fell to the blade of battle…

defeat
defeat

but not one of my dead has been defeated
that’s why I seek them
for their valor
since somewhere they must be reproducing
turning to truth
turning to fruit
but where
where else can I go…

If my dead are not with the other dead
if my dead are not with the living either
if my dead have not yet gone
if my dead are children…

Where are they?
could solitude have devoured them?
could the fat one have taken their picture?
could they be caught in those prints?

where
where…

Could it be a living person can never reach the ears of the dead
could it be one has to know the map of the cemetery
in order to come upon one’s perfect resignation…

I seek and do not find
and should I enter the uncertain
if worms will eat me free of doubt…?

 

HE BUSCADO A LOS MUERTOS ENTRE LOS VIVOS

y el corazón me ha latido sin respuestas
si pudiera saber qué les ronda
cuándo miran las flores
cuándo se hacen fuego
cuándo el silencio raspa sus palabras.

He buscado a los muertos
mientras el vino me ha empapado la cara
mientras la noche
se ha caído al filo de la batalla…

derrota
derrota

pero ningún muerto mío se ha ido derrotado
por eso los busco
por valientes

pues en algún lugar deben estar multiplicándose
haciéndose verdad
haciéndose fruto
pero dónde
a dónde más ir…

Si mis muertos no están con los otros muertos
si mis muertos tampoco están con los vivos
si mis muertos aún no se han ido
si mis muertos son niños…

¿Dónde están?
¿la soledad se los tragaría?
¿la muy obesa les habrá tomado fotos?
¿será que allí están estampados?

dónde
dónde…

Será que un vivo nunca puede llegar a los oídos de un muerto
será que hay que conocer el mapa del cementerio
para dar con la resignación exacta…

Busco sin encontrar
¿y cruzar lo incierto?
¿si los gusanos me comen sin dudar…?

Florence Miller

Florence Miller arrived in Berkeley, California from Newark, New Jersey just in time for the Sixties. She taught creative writing at McClymonds High School in Oakland. Can You Hear Me, the Emmy award-winning documentary by Allen Willis, was based on her students’ poems. She is the author of Upriver: New and Selected Poems, and co-author of My Dreaming Waking Life, and the renga trilogy, Eleven Renga, Yes, and A String of Monarchs. She also co-edited the peace anthologies, Dreaming of Wings, and State of Peace: The Women Speak. Miller is a Pushcart nominee and a founding member of the collective, Shakespeare’s Sisters.

 

Forebears

“How she hollers, “Grandpa said, his hideaway the cellar with its brass bed.  The cellar smelling of wine, barrels of pickles and sour tomatoes, angled shelves filled with jams and jellies, and those asbestos pipes that moved in my dreams slow as drops of oil. “Grandpa looks like a senator.” Aunt Florence said.  “How she hollers,” he said. his pleasure his garden-snowballs, phlox, arched trail of roses making a bower for the swing. Four poles with pineapple tops for clotheslines, hedges through which we could see the neighbor kids.  Well behaved, I got to stay overnight, to sleep on the chaise lounge in Aunt Ruth’s room ,wetting it half the time, walking down to breakfast early where Grandma sat reading the paper. “First on her block to have a bathtub, first to know about vitamins, first to wear  bloomers,” according to my mother. “Don’t make no blots on my name,”Grandpa said on his deathbed in the twin bedded room on 15th Street, a two family house now smelling of sweat and decay. He’d been at our house two weeks before.  My father said it wouldn’t be right for him to die at his daughter’s with Grandma at the shore. She was a bridge player. “Fourflushers,” Grandpa called her friends, with nail polish and cigarettes, bragging of  doctor sons.  First to come to America, knowing the rules, she was a queen.  The house was female, yolky with matriarchy. You could smell it.   

Adrian C. Louis

A half-breed Indian, Adrian C. Louis was born and raised in northern Nevada and is an enrolled member of the Lovelock Paiute Tribe. From 1984-97, Louis taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota. Currently, Louis is Professor of English at Minnesota State University in Marshall. His most recent collection of poems is Savage Sunsets (West End Press, 2012).

 

Xmas at Wakpamni

In the shiver & shadow
of arid Yuletide, the aching
scrawl of my K-Mart sneakers
circles the cracked parchment
of your earthen home.

A five hundred mile drive
into the sixth full year
since your burial. It’s Xmas
& I am old & half-drunk.
A weak December sun or maybe
the whiskey bends the shadows
away from your grave mound.
I wish it were the godlight
of acceptance, but it’s not.
I wish I could shudder one
more sliver of futile sadness
& the pain would disintegrate.
I wish I knew why I was so
disconcertingly content with
my peculiar brand of bullshit,
but I don’t, so I lay a full pack
of Marlboros upon your headstone,
climb into our clunker & clatter away.

 

Shadows

To survive our redbrick
prison of the mind, you
gave the dilettantes sharing
our hallways secret names
like “Doktor Hollowman,”
the “Composition Cows”
& “Sister Mary Sestina.”
You were imperious
in your dotage & kicked
at the shadows that groveled
at your feet, shadows waiting
for the most inopportune moment
to grab you madly by the short hairs
& drag you to that lair of liars.

We stood under the pallid sun
for years, a salon of two, smoking
& scorning careerist colleagues,
cursing our amnesiac nation & mocking
the encroaching dance of the shadows
until the day came that I stood alone.

In this unavoidable twilight, I cringe
& nod at the shadows which are
flirting with me, those same swirling
whores of indignity that took you, will
take us all into meaningless nothing
for a moment & then unto blazing stars.

 

Gaudeamus Igitur 2.0

I.

Hi ho, off to work I go,
to the little burblers &
their bubbly bipolarities.
I drive into the morning
moon, a macadamia moon,
an academic moon smirking
inside a festering herd of clouds.

A quick coffee & I’m on
the clock, thus upon the stage.

Act 1Super-Sneeze.
Great & green is the glob
that hurtles from my beak
& someone snickers as I reach
into my jacket for a Kleenex &
knock my pack of Marlboro
Ultralights onto the floor.

Act 2Big Bang Theory.
Upon bending down
to grab my sacred smokes,
I cannot control the prison
break of deathly methane &
my loud & lordly eruption is
followed by chaotic giggling
& the poetry of the poetry
workshop begins.

 

II.

The student who wants
to be a poet is so fat that
her ankles hang over her
cheap shoes & this is no
poetic bullshit–I fear she
will fall down with some
impossibly arcane cardiac
fallibility & I will rhyme her
line with mine trying to lift
her massive ass off the floor. 

I shouldn’t be saying this.
It was a dark & windy day
& I was in my office-cell with
Jerry Jeff Walker on my Ipod
when a commotion intruded.
There she was, on the tile floor.
I tried to help her up—No, she said.
I left her alone & just stood there.
People walked by & tried to help.
She refused all help.  A crowd was
gathering & I demanded she let
me help her huge body to its feet.
She said no again & so I went into
my cell, shut the door & turned up
Jerry Jeff full blast.  Opened the door
ten minutes later & she was gone,
risen like the zombie Jesus.

 

III.

All the real writer folk
in the English Department
have been put out to pasture
or have wisely run, sometimes
screaming syllables of madness.
An unwritten memo says no
more steaks in passageways.
Behold the sad canned soup
stench wafting from a hotplate
in the janitors’ break room &
how it glazes the dead eyes
of the cadre of meeting-goers
& small town Machiavellis
I march with for money.

 

IV.

The student yakking
after class is saying
nothing about everything.
Her dad is a boozehound
& she works at McDonald’s.
She says she loves sonnets,
but does not say what I see:
she is homely, lonely & lost
at nineteen, young enough
to be my grand daughter, a
third of my acreage of years.
This terrifies me. Soon I’ll be
dead & she’ll still be babbling.

One of us is insane: her with
a blouse above her belly button
or me with my shivering eyes.

Fuck yes, I’ve finally reached
that mossy age where youth
confounds me, but I would
slobber upon her tummy if
not for the hideous & garish
Gila monster tattoo that
curls up from her waist.
Gilas are the pit bulls
of the desert & once
they grab your pecker
they never let go.

 

V.

And so it comes to pass,
the anti-Christ, the conniver
who used an insanity plea
to alter his work schedule
barges into my dream while I
am swimming in the dark, doe
eyes of a nubile Nepali student
& invites me (me!) to a potluck
for a lucky fool who’s retiring.
“A meatless potluck,” he says
& in that instant I am meatless.
The Nepali exits & my colleague
simmers in profound witchery,
his bleached blue hair electric,
his bony butt protruding from
black, assless chaps which he
wears over Levis though he’s
never sat astride a Harley
in his life & the sun in my brain
beckons, blazes as I thunder
into it, escaping this black hole,
these cornfields, this zombie world.

Elaine Starkman

After returning with her young family from Israel in 1969, where she and her husband had worked, Elaine Starkman’s family settled in northern California.  She completed an M.A. in writing at San Francisco State, and taught English at Diablo Valley College.  In 1999, she and Marsha Lee Berkman won a PEN West Award for co-editing Here I Am: Contemporary Jewish Stories from Around the World.  Her most recent work, Hearing Beyond Sound, is available on Amazon.

 

At a Russian Circus,
Sochi, on the Black Sea, 1990

I want to be an aerialist, not a ballerina with the Bolshoi
or the Kirov or a small two-bit troupe dancing for
tourists, she thought, as she sat in the Russian Circus
in a small town on the Black Sea;

I’ll hang by my teeth from a rope, wear a gaudy costume,
every muscle of my body, taut, every nerve controlled.
I’ll twirl and spring into the handsome hairy arms of Mitya—
half Georgian, half Jew, each half still hating the other—

I’ll escape to the West—now that it’s made easy—
Paris, New York!  I want to feel air rush under
my armpits and between my legs as I listen to our
pretty children below,

girls with chiffon bows, boys with short tight pants,
dripping maroshenoye in their fleshy hands.
I’ll fly higher than Chagall rooftops, pinwheel above
holes of toilets where a woman can’t pee—she can’t

wear slacks, she must bring her own napkins—
twirl above birch and chestnut of every rotten palace
and museum, above all war monuments,
above embalmed czars, black catacombs, white nights

that never end.  I’ll know the name of Peter the Wise,
it’s second nature for me to know Peter the Great, Ivan
the Terrible, and the mass murderers of the Ukraine.
I’ll know every river, metro stop, every block of concrete

twist of history in our vast miserable Motherland.
I’ll know Gorbachev and the rest of our phony leaders,
may they be blotted from memory!
I want decent meals without waiting hours to buy

food. I want comfort clothes, like that English
teacher with her thin-framed glasses sitting down
there in safety, looking at me up here.
I’ll run around with a fast Russian crowd, drink

kvass and vodka, eat kasha and caviar, know how to say
more than up/down, in/out, close/open in other tongues.
I’ll feed tigers from my purse full of meat and
wrap the baby around my shoulders like a coat.

I’ll wear two-colored hair, a hard face of rouge
and live in a room so small that it makes me swing,
swing high as the sky and dangle
my ankles in air.  I’ll tickle new millionaires

under their fat chins, know where this country’s going,
where I’m going, forget history,  I live it;  let it be
known in the west; that’s where I’m headed—
the West, the West! That’s what keeps my act alive.

At three in the morning, I’ll fall into bed with Mitya.
ignoring his snoring   My dreams sound like
Babushka’s sweet songs until Mitya sneaks out
to black market—better than ever….  When

I wake he’s gone.  I’ll put on thin-framed glasses,
dress myself in a dress of good western cut and file
out the front door of this ransacked hotel where
the English teacher from America thinks

it’s art that makes me dive and leap.

 

For Sarah Simmons, 1921-2013

This morning at nine we heard you were killed
when a truck crashed into your car.  I ask over and over again
if your body is gone, is your soul  with us, gentle
long-lived friend, teacher/student
                               with a young mind.

You handled life’s pain but couldn’t overcome its reckless
modes of driving when you were killed two day ago.
The local papers call you “an elderly woman.”
They don’t know who you are and who you were,
only an anonymous “elderly woman.”

You left your home years ago and slowly made your way here.
Nasser had given your family five days to leave Egypt
with all its Middle-East mania, hints of Nazism,
its wars, hatred of Jews and the west.
Yes, your memory is alive inside of us.

You never spoke about what happened during
those terrible years; you never questioned, you knew
why you had to flee to a new life in France
with its pleasures of its language and culture,
and your teaching on the continent. Yet even France

grew too uncertain of its own politics.  At last
you came to America where the rest of your family lived.
You survived, always grateful, never talking
about your past. Although you already knew
English, had many degrees and spoke three tongues,
your favorite, French.

It took time for you to create in our tongue, but slowly
it happened: poems and stories slowly came, never on the trauma
you faced; but tales of childhood, of making dresses
from bed sheets with your sister so you both might
attend a school dance. Later, you wrote on nature,

finally poems of love for your late husband and
stories of your grown children when they were young.

          Dear Sarah, there is a particle of you that lives in us.

 

Day of Atonement, for Leon

  “On this day it is written
who shall live and who shall die…”

You stand in the doorway
dogged, tired from fasting,

tired from prayer.
I’ve been home alone

for hours, thinking
of what I’d say

at your eulogy—if you
should go first, but

if I go before you,
I won’t have to worry

about details, won’t
be the unruly one

who stayed home today,
the one who I tame to tunes

of your goodness.
Yes, my love, I still struggle

with your virtues
as I did when we were young,

and after all these years
I’m still struggling

at the Closing of the Gates.

Evelyn Posamentier

Evelyn Posamentier’s recent books are Poland At The Door, brainiography, and Royal Blue Car. Her poems have appeared in such journals as the Yale Journal of Humanities in Medicine, the New York Quarterly, Drunken Boat, 3 a.m. Magazine, the Mississippi Review, Parthenon West Review, Free Verse, The Quarterly Journal of Ideology, and the American Poetry Review, among others.

 

I Am Ferminita

i will pray for you.
you always see me wearing
anything gold, lamé or otherwise
salvation or other giveaways
i wear gold, god’s color
i am a minister, i listen
to the holy one, we talk.
i will pray for you
give me your hand
i am ferminita.
one day
i returned to puerto rico
said good-bye to those i needed
to.  now i’m inside. can’t really
walk, the landlord always
at the door.  want to get out
but my feet can’t fit in my shoes
the swelling, more swelling
but i won’t bore you
with this business
this is why you haven’t
seen me at the church.
i have connections.
the other day
i was telling god
to watch over you.

 

I Am NIkki, Don’t Tell

i think i’m alive.
i either do not speak
or i speak in circles
so fucked up on meth
so chilled without my baby
my baby, my baby, oh yes, my baby
my baby’s with my mother
& with my sister out of juvi
& my younger sister
in south city. it’s not hard to get
back to the civic center, hooking
or whatever,
my mother, my baby my baby
my mother, my sisters.
we all know that someone we call uncle
came for each of us children on mornings
& said swear to not tell anyone when he
brought us home. my baby.

Issue 2.3 August 2013 (Poetry)

Poetry Only & Turkish Poets Issue 

Guest Edited by Lenore Weiss

 

Click on the author’s name to read their work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read.

“Yeonkkoch series II” Art by Myong Stebbins.

 

Poetry:

Karen Craigo | Neither Created Nor Destroyed | Naming What Is
Lyle Daggett | The Greig Concerto | Apparition
Jim Davis | Fair Season, 1993
Grace Marie Grafton | Manifest | Sequestor | Entice
Julie Kane | Something Like A Telephone | Runner
Adrian C. Louis | Xmas At Wakpamni | Shadows | Gaudeamus Igitur 2.0
Florence Miller | Forebears
Garrett Murphy | Check, Please Don’t | The Adventure of Blackhoodlum, Chapter Umpteen or Whatever | 
Melinda Palacio | When She Calls | When They First Come | Wet Mask
Evelyn Posamentier | I Am Ferminita | I Am Nikki Don’t Tell
Yiskah Rosenfeld | Four Klippot | Naamah | How The Sun Makes Love To The Moon
Nina Serrano | The Angel Of Death | 56th Birthday Insomnia
Genaro Smith | View From The Veranda Grasping | Grasping | Propaganda | A Museum Of Trees
Elaine Starkman | At A Russian Circus, Sochi, On The Black Sea, 1990 | For Sarah Simmons 1921-2013 | Day Of Atonement for Leon
Gary Turchin | The Poet’s Laureate’s Bald Spot | The Thicket

"Making of Brothers (2010)" Art by Dmitry Borshch.
“Making of Brothers (2010)” Art by Dmitry Borshch. 

 

Translations:

Gülten Akin | Spring
**Saliha Paker
Haydar Ergülen | Lost Brother
**Arzu Eker Roditakis and Elizabeth Pallitto
Ana Minga | I Have Sought The Dead Among The Living
**Alexis Levitin
Murathan Mungan | In A Way
**Gökçenur C. and Mel Kenne
Hasan Ali Toptas | from Loneliness #5
**Mel Kenne and Sehnaz Tahir Gürcaglar
Guven Turan | San Gimignano
**Ruth Christie
Zeynep Uzunbay | Wet
**Arzu Eker Roditakis and Elizabeth Pallitto

Book Reviews:

Christina Pugh’s Grains of the Voice {Review by Zara Raab}
Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s My Funeral Gondola {Review by Zara Raab}
Fiona Sze-Lorrain Interview by Zara Raab

"Blue Window" Art by Ira Joel Haber.
“Blue Window” Art by Ira Joel Haber.

**Indicates translators

 

 

 

 

"Blue Fence" Art by Ira Joel Haber.
“Blue Fence” Art by Ira Joel Haber.