Three Poems by Matthew Nickel

the_route_to_cachare_cover

A Good Clean Village—War Monument

Gorge du Tarn, France

To have gone off and left the gorge
Deeply cut with river flowing,
To have gone off and watched them die
One by one, into the trenches

Friends, cousins, the man who gave you
A wooden cross for Noël, the cousin
Who taught you to swim, Uncle Jacques
Who held stained hands around yours,

Holding the taut line jerked by trout
Fighting in the green swollen river
Icy around shivering thighs,
Satisfactory holding in the current,

To have gone off to watch your brother
Bleed to death in the mud beside you
Your father caught by Germans, witness to
His execution, one pistol to the head

One shot you did not hear for the screaming
Breath dry in your mouth as you ran
Toward them caught by your mother’s brother
Thrown down to save you from yourself,

To have gone off and to walk back, alone
To the gorge wind and moving stream, to the
High pass and cliff clutch, to the nothing
That crumbles from the limestone edges

To have gone off and to come back
Arched shoulders burdened
All for a German tourist loud with camera
Taking your picture unaware

As you wash your lettuce in the branch
That cuts the village, where you used to
Wash your feet before dinner so that
Mother would be happy,

Mother, now dead who had gray tears
When you came home alone, lines
Around the mouth darkened when she knew
No one else was coming back.

But you let him take your picture
Because your lettuce is clean now
It has come from a good walled garden
On the edge of the cliff in a good clean village

You shake your lettuce cage dry in the sun
Wave to the men playing boules by the stream
And you think of leeks fat for dinner, potatoes
Dirt groveled chthonic and waiting,

And trout caught in early dawn,
All for your family coming soon, where
Laughter loud from grandchildren will
Surround your table, satisfy a deep longing

In the day’s last light, while the sun drops
Behind the wall of gorge, where you can hear
The stream from the village
Fall down into the river endlessly flowing.

***

Coda—Le Pèlerinage: Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

I hold her hand as waves wash over our feet
singing loud Salut, salut, O Saintes Maries
her eyes sing aloud the depths of the sea

dark gypsy hands reach up the boat is high
gray eyes chant—Vive Les Saintes Maries
Vive La Sainte Sara—waves lift us to sky

she dances in water weaving light
we reach for the boat and touch fingers
her voice edges the sky around the saints

we look at each other say nothing waves
lap our bodies and sand is in our hair away
bishop robes over dunes gardians trot out the day

procession vanishes into carnival a man ratchets
a hurdy gurdy you picked a fine time to leave me
suddenly we are not alone we see familiar faces

though we do not name them gliding beside
compound of sea and sand eyes like a friend
or some long lost mother for whom we cried

we step infinite and slow until a fish leaps
into the chaos of sun windless over a wide sea;
we sing harmony on forgotten beaches

with voices out of the irredeemable past present
only in hymns over water and the steady vibration
of hearts together mounting wind over sand.

***

Not Just La Patria—For RPW

For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. –Robert Penn Warren

Walking out of Notre Dame there beyond
The pigeons Charlemagne, Roland, and Olivier
Face the west lingering like ghosts brackened
Green on the edge above that aged bronzed river:
This will be my final night in Paris alone
Before I move south for the winter.

I look across to the Left Bank, Shakespeare & Co.
Remembering the nights reading Warren’s
A Place to Come To upstairs on a sagging bed
Dusty beside a window facing Notre Dame;
Warren brought the earth, la terra, into focus
Made the past edge fiercely over tomorrow;

I had fled to France, to escape the maelstrom
The vision-curse of American western solitude
“Go west, my son,” and lose yourself into sublime
Emptiness, a delight in mere survival, selfhood,
Thinking this, I was startled when overhead
I heard cathedral bells rolling time into clouds;

Charlemagne, that legend of the Western World,
Hovered with staff ready to strike down
The enemies of the West: where was Roland’s
Horn, where were the pine trees and the breath
That long blew our past into forgetfulness
Ah que ce cor, he said long ago, but the battle

Is never won and the soul contends for amnesty
In the epic of our ancestry: do we return to
Roncevaux and find, as if for the first time,
The immutability of stone rising from earth
Do we sing lost songs in crowded brasseries
Over a mug of Mutzig and cassoulet because

We are unable to resign ourselves to the end
Of what we love, because we, like the stone,
Will not fall down to the terror of the times—
We inherit from the dead more than a history:
The direction of a hand gesture dripping water,
The discovery of self in the gloom of landscape

In the doom of a strange land; we inherit voices
The dead speak if we listen, but how do we hear
Them in the cackling of the modern world—
At dawn, the train departs Paris, land unfolds southward
The sea shimmers soon beyond Avignon, ruins
Thinking, nothing is lost, nothing is ever lost.

***

A Mid-Hudson Valley native, Matthew Nickel is the author of the poetry collections The Route to Cacharel (Five Oaks Press, 2016) and The Leek Soup Songbook (Des Hymnagistes Press, 2015), and he is the editor of numerous anthologies of poetry, including Kentucky Writers: The Deus Loci and the Lyrical Landscape, Des Hymnagistes: An Anthology, and many others. He has written critical essays on American and British writers such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Robert Penn Warren, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Aldington, and his book, Hemingway’s Dark Night: Catholic Influences and Intertextualities in the Work of Ernest Hemingway, was published by New Street Communications in 2013. He is currently an assistant professor at Misericordia University in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Posted in Uncategorized

Marc Vincenz: Three Translations & an Interview

fig-2-secret-letter-cover

Thousandfurs

for R. and C.

Unstitching, tacking, fastening,
losing the needle, the red thread;
snapped the blue long ago.

I find oddments of old clothes,
memory carriers,
witnesses of suffering, happiness too—
cut to size, measure up, adjust to fit,
consider the patchwork in daylight.
Mending is a metaphor.
Has one lived too long?

Once I wove wreaths of wildflowers
for children
and studded plastic crowns
with glass jewels.
There was a boy, and I, his girlfriend;
children accumulate time
not out of years—
children played mostly until 6
up in the old country, where no timepieces
chop life up
into you-have-to, you-are-permitted-to, and being.
I gave them the names
of mountains, birds and flowers,
signposts to the Creation Lab,
where a thousand years are an instant.

I must, having gotten older and old,
adjust, attempt to cope with Thousandfur-stuff,
search within sleep
for hiding places and nooks—freeze—
burn one day with hair and skin
while herein the mythical hope,
the invisible one is collected
from the cryptic, smiling messenger,
God with the winged shoes.

***

Aftershine

I’m standing here alone
in the early autumnal sun,
frilled dahlia petals and rotten wood
hole-punched by rays of sunlight.

Over fading hazelnut leaves,
cloud-towers deconstruct,
and a yellow and distant light
swarms upward behind the mountain, as if
a new earth were sending
golden birds ahead.
It’s only a deceptive luminance,
a glittering afterglow,
like lost joy she paints,
paints over,
in a picture
never to be completed.

***

The Word

for Corinna Jäger

The word is sealed shut,
you must dig for the word;
the word cuts through
so it may carry on.

The word
comes to pass;
catch it in flight,
don’t tie it down,
just hold it as you would a bird: free,
because the word wants to fly,
wants to be grounded and rooted, to seed and to
bud,
who knows where, when—
no one knows the legend of the word,
and one who might know it,
would be one
who spoke with God.
Both poets and children
seek the right word,
but the right word
mostly arrives too late.

***

Thomas Bradly: Congratulations, Marc, on your new translation of the great Erika Burkart’s Secret Letter (Cervena Barva). To what extent can your cosmopolitanness be attributed to your “peripatetically linguistic renderings of foreign verse?

Marc Vincenz: When you live as I have done, through extremely diverse cultural landscapes—say for example, from the gagging metropolis of Shanghai one day to the expansive volcanic plains of Iceland the next—you develop a broad view of the world, of language. You become an observer, an accumulator of culture; ideally, absorbing the most illuminating sounds and visions from each of the places you set your bag down. There is a moment, after all this wandering, when something coalesces in that vast array of voices and images. They come together in your mind as one, and somehow the world becomes easier to listen to, to silently observe. Language itself becomes easier to absorb. At least, that is my experience of it.

Does my international upbringing have something to do with my affinity of/for other languages and cultures? Most certainly—it’s a passion, Tom. Do I feel comfortable in a wide array of places and sounds? Yes, absolutely. It was entirely the way I grew up—slipping in and out peripatetically from place to place, from tongue to tongue.

TB: And what of your own poetry? How has your international exposure influenced your work?

MV: Naturally each locale has its own fragrances, its own cultural quirks, mythology, architecture, landscape, customs, politics—and yet, all of these are mirrors of another culture: different ways of expressing (symbolizing) the same things. Humanity, after all, is human—desires and needs are much the same the world over. Imagination and innovation is a constant. It is my firm belief that inference and foresight are at the heart of human language. Likely this is the reason why poetry has such an important role in my life.

Something from everywhere I have laid down tracks has wormed its way into my writing. And, in that sense, I suppose you might say that much of my writing is about place—or to put it more succinctly, about defining space. Becoming the Sound of Bees and my newer work are set in mythical lands—or lands of the wandering mind, if you will. These mythical lands are assemblages of many cultures. Spaces that appear to be specific are not obviously contextualized; allusions to figures out of history or entirely out of the realm of the subconscious (forests, mountains and oceans) materialize from out of the possible past or potential future. These are reflections of many eyes and tongues, many senses—real or imagined. They are attempts at the discovery of a common thread or vibration that carries through most known and imagined worlds. It seems to me that by stepping outside the every day or very familiar and placing it somewhere new—an assemblage or clustering (as if around a cell or an atom)—that the most captivating thoughts become less obscured.

TB: So how does this continual up-rooting, this constant changing of locale, effect your own work?

MV:  Traces of diverse mythologies or cultural symbols creep into your every day, into your sense-field; smatterings of music and snatches of landscapes too. A poem may arise with a visualization or it may make itself known sonically through an opening line, a mental image or a melody that leads the rest of the poem musically or imagistically. So, sound, cadence and tone (the singsong resonance of a particular tongue) finds its way through the tiniest of crevices. And the most vibrant visuals too: from the street stalls of Asia to the jungles of South America to the mountain landscapes of the Alps.

Quite often, while working on a poem, I’ll find myself transported to one of these distant locales. When there in your mind’s eye, you can’t help by become enchanted with the feast of senses. More often than not, I allow these senses to come through and reflect themselves in the poem. Occasionally they lead down dead end roads, but mostly they are loyal companions on my literary journey. Over time, I find it easier to tap into these other worlds—even sitting in a café in the middle of New York City. And strangely, at least for me, it is probably the most effective to dream up a world at the polar-end of the place you find yourself in that particular moment.

As you know, I was brought up a wanderer. It is in my blood, no matter where I find myself, and so, in the course of my writings, I drift and delve—from the embalmed history to the embedded memory to the unleashed imagination, which is, of course, a reflection of memory too.

You seem, lately, to be bringing these hugely far-flung worlds, traditions and idioms together into a composite poesy and mythos, planetary rather than regional. Is this a conscious project? I would think, if you set explicitly out to do such a Herculean labor, it might be daunting, to say the least. But, reading your books in succession, it feels more like a—to use the devalued term—organic process.

The actual outpouring comes organically, as you say, however it can and may be induced by train journeys, earthquakes, mountain paths and or encounters of a circumspect kind. No, seriously, I would say it is a natural other-dimensional state of awareness, no more than slipping into or shedding of a second skin. It hovers there all the time: a parallel state of reality—a would-be-could-be-probably-will-be. There’s that foresight in the firelight again, that sense of reaching into the primordial fire: the realms of mythology and magick, the realm of “sacred” symbolism.

From time to time, there are themes or images that arise in those semi-conscious moments that drive the narrative along its axis mundi (or axiom). These may arise in the moment or come much later. It doesn’t really strike me as a Herculean labor, rather more of a natural wandering, almost as if I were walking though a familiar landscape: a forest, a cove, a plain, a valley (there you see that sense of filling in space along a stream of words). Ernst Halter rather aptly explained his own process as one of traversing a great body of water and somehow having a second sense as to where he might encounter the next atoll or islet. The journey itself then becomes the network or web that links these islets into a Oneness. It is a kind of working in reverse: knowing the goals, but not quite knowing their precise location. Only after the journey can the map be drawn and charted. (Interesting to note that my mother’s father was a surveyor and cartographer. I still have his fifty-year-old brass theodolite in the bottom of a trunk somewhere.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jon Chopan and Thomas Cotsonas: A Conversation

pjimage

Jon Chopan: The first thing I am thinking to ask is about essays. What I mean is, you said this was a collection of short stories and I see that, but I read some of these pieces as essays. Do you see yourself at all as an essayist?

Thomas Cotsonas: I don’t see myself as an essayist.  I’m not sure why, exactly.  I think maybe it has something to do with the word itself.  “Essayist” makes me think of someone like Emerson or Montaigne.  I think of Susan Sontag or the Joan Didion of “The White Album.”  I love all those writers, but I think the pieces in the book that are essayish or that have essayish moments are up to something else.  I guess I’m talking about personas here.  It doesn’t occur to me to wonder whether the “I” on the page in “The White Album” is any different from the real life Joan Didion, you know?  But I hope it does occur to readers to wonder whether the “I” in things like “René Renée,” “Quartet (4),” and “Zeno’s Parachute” is different from me, the author.  Something happens when you’re reading something you think is fiction and you come across a passage that makes you question that label.  There’s a dissonance there, like the wrong chord has been struck.  I’ve always liked that dissonance as a reader, and I guess I like that dissonance as a writer too.  Maybe it boils down to this: “essayist” feels too restrictive.  If I think of myself as a writer of fiction—and I do—pretty much anything goes.

Speaking of labels: Pulled from the River has a few.  The blurb on the cover calls it a “memoir,” but the other blurbs call it “fiction” or “a novel.”  Black Lawrence’s website files it under “fiction,” but if I’m looking for the book on Amazon it’s “literary nonfiction.”  What do you think of the book as?

JC: I mean, it’s fiction if only because it breaks the one rule that would otherwise make it nonfiction, which is to say that I play fast and loose with the facts, at times. Otherwise, I think it is a collection of things, stories, essays, fragments, that add up to a book length kind of lyric essay that reflects on and distills and wrestles with a specific moment in my life, with a specific set of mostly real people and mostly real events. I think it is very much a persona of me, but I think even Didion, for instance, is creating a persona. The Joan Didion in “The White Album” isn’t Joan Didion the writer at the desk, right? I mean, it is a version of her. I think the beauty of fiction is that you can steal any form you want, an essay, an index, a contributors note and use that form as you see fit, so long as you understand the conventions of the form. I don’t think, by dictionary definition, that the essay belongs to nonfiction. It might by convention, but that is exactly why fiction writers should be writing essays. Conventions, to my mind, are made to be broken, upset as it were.

To that end, a lot of the work in Nominal Cases uses a kind of frame around its stories. You mentioned “René Renée.” To my mind this story uses the essay as a frame around the story. So, we get the “I” who is weighing something (the essay), the story of “René Renée,” and then the “I” again, who sort of weds the two, the story and the essay together. When you’re working on a piece like this, do you think on that essay part (the part we might call meta) or the story part first? How does your process unravel in regards to where an idea like this comes from?

TC: Absolutely Didion’s creating a persona or a version, I agree.  I didn’t mean to suggest that someone writing an essay is not engaging in some kind of persona-creating, but rather that someone reading “The White Album” (or something like it)—the average reader, let’s say—probably doesn’t ever pause and go, “I wonder to what extent the Didion”—or whomever—“on the page is different from the Didion in real life?”  I think it’s fair to say that most writing involves some element of persona-creating, whether it’s “The White Album,” “Borges and I,” something by Maggie Nelson, or John D’Agata’s About a Mountain—or either of our books, for that matter.  I just think it’s a different experience for readers to encounter explicitly autobiographical elements in something that’s called fiction than it is in something that’s called nonfiction.  Generally speaking, I’d say the autobiographical is more or less assumed in nonfiction that uses an “I,” but somewhat unexpected in fiction.  So: I agree with you overall, but I prefer the fiction label because I don’t want the kind of reader expectations that come with the label of nonfiction or essay.  I mean, in a perfect world maybe we wouldn’t need genre labels.  Bookstores and websites could just file everything alphabetically according to author or something.

As for the process in “René Renée,” I think the story part came first, and that what happened was I didn’t really like where it was going but liked it enough to try to give it something else, to make it turn in on itself in a way that felt engaging and true—not just like “Let’s be meta for meta’s sake, you know?”  In a lot of these stories in the book, the characters are confused or stuck in some way—they’re paralyzed by something.  They hedge.  So it occurred to me at some point to try to make some of the stories themselves confused/stuck/paralyzed.  That part wasn’t too difficult: I have way more false starts and unfinished things laying around than I do finished things, and I’ve always been fascinated by fragments of stories and unfinished projects in any medium.  What was difficult was trying to get a story’s paralysis to feel necessary, to get the reader to go along with stories that hedge or deliberately ask the reader to remember that they’re reading a story, which a lot of readers probably don’t want to do and for which I don’t blame them.  Texts that make use of metafictional devices can be a real slog to get through, especially if you’ve come to that text for escape.  I hope the stories that use metafictional devices aren’t a slog.  I hope they feel rooted in something that’s true.  I hope that’s something like an answer.  That was a tough question, but a good one.

I’d like to shift gears a little bit now, if that’s all right.  As you’ve just said, you think of Pulled from the River as a collection of things that add up to a kind of book-length lyric essay—I like that description of it.  One of the things I really enjoy about the book is the variety of forms on display.  You give us fairly straightforward, traditional short stories, letters, flash fictiony things, and a kind of coroner’s report, to name just a few.  How did you go about putting the book together?  I mean, what was your process for arranging the stories in the order they ended up in?

JC: That’s a tough question. I like it. I guess that, looking at the opening few pieces, the strategy was to get all the balls in the air right away. The title story goes a long way toward doing that, but then I think I needed to get individual pieces focused on those parts right away so that the reader would see early what was going on, which pieces of the mosaic to really focus on. After that, I think the goal was to return to those major story lines, the narrative chunks, before the ball had been in the air too long, before the reader could forget about it. In that way, I think I was trying to juggle everything so that the reader would have an easier go at juggling.

I think, even though this strikes me as a bit lazy on my part, I am really interested in bouncing that question back at you. One could read this as a “traditional” collection, where everything is meant to stand alone, but I really started to see overlap and a kind of dialogue across pieces, across the space of the book. Were you focused on that when you put Nominal Cases together? Were you very consciously thinking about the order?

TC: I know what you mean about the juggling.  Narratively speaking, we have several storylines to hold in our head, several characters to keep straight across an ambiguous timeline and through a variety of styles and forms.  But you definitely pull it off, and you’re right: the title story—for me at least—really helps out with that.  I actually went back to it a couple times as I read.

I wasn’t focused on order at all when I was writing the stories that ended up in the book.  Five of the stories—four and one-third, actually—the ones that deal with Walter Eccles and the Eccles family—were part of a novel I was writing that didn’t really work out.  (Note: I’m not done writing about them.)  All the other stories were written as standalones during a period when I wrote an incredible number of stories—most of which will probably never see the light of day.  At some point, I gathered everything together to see how much I had.  It was only then that I started to see the overlap or dialogue that you’re talking about in your question.  I was completely unaware of it when I was writing.  After I was aware of it though, the process was similar to what you said about your book.  I organized the stories into units: there were the Eccles stories; the first-person monologues; the four “Quartets”; the all-questions story; the baseball things; and the city stories.  I knew I wanted the Robert Moses story to be at the book’s center, and I knew I wanted “The City’s Father” to come right before it.  Everything after that was like a balancing act, you know?  Making sure I rotated between the units in a way that felt coherent if someone was reading the book front-to-back.  I have to give some credit here to Michael Martone: it was his idea to break up the four “Quartets.”  It was one story when I first put the book together, and it wasn’t working like that at all.  We met one day to talk about how things were going, and I think I said that something didn’t feel right about it.  That was when he mentioned breaking up that story.  I went home, gave it a shot, and really liked what it did for the collection.  Everything fell into place after that.

Here’s something a little bit more general: I’m fascinated by what I guess I’ll call underappreciated books or authors.  I’m thinking of things that have meant a lot to me as a reader or a writer, but that for some reason or other haven’t gotten a whole lot of attention.  I’m always interested to hear what other people—other writers, especially—say in response.  Are there any books or authors you’re really into that you think are underappreciated?

JC: I think, maybe, John Haskell’s I am not Jackson Pollock is one of those books. I really love what Haskell is doing there. It reads like an essay collection but it is fiction, the cover says stories. I also really love Bernard Cooper’s Maps to Anywhere. I think something similar is going on. The work lives in that space between fiction and nonfiction, between essay and story. I like that. I enjoy that experience. As narrative goes, I really love Richard Brautigan’s last novella So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away. I read it once a year. There is something really wonderful happening there. It is not, if I am remembering right, one of those works people talk about when they talk about Brautigan, but I think it is one of his best.  What about you?

TC: The first thing that comes to mind for me is Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs.  It came out in 1896 and is an absolutely killer short story cycle set on the coast of Maine.  It’s short, but the prose is gorgeous.  I’m not sure why no one reads her anymore.  I love Bohumil Hrbal’s Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age too.  People talk about his later novel, I Served the King of England, I think, but not Dancing Lessons for some reason.  NYRB put out an edition a few years ago.  It’s a hilarious, wise, beautiful drunken rant written as one continuous sentence for 117 pages.  Also: J. Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Left Hand.  It’s a book of 100 little anecdotes that’ll take the wind out of you.  Oh, and thanks for the Brautigan tip: I love In Watermelon Sugar but haven’t read So the Wind.  I’ll have to check it out.

JC: What are you working on now?

TC: A couple things.  A novel that takes place over the course of one winter day in Rochester, New York.  The book’s protagonist is a man who works at a packaging company.  On this particular day he decides he’s not going to go into work, and the book’s about what happens that day.  I’m also kind of always writing these very, very short stories that I call “contortions.”  I’ll write them on the train or during office hours or if I’m stuck with the novel.  Someday I’ll probably have enough good ones to put them together for a book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“World History” by Erika Burkart

fig-2-secret-letter-cover

World History

by Erika Burkart

In time, history crumbles
into stories,
each ending so tragically that the reader,
though he be
no statistician,
turns the page,
pausing at length,
before he closes the book
on secular misunderstandings.
Elbows propped upon the cover,
he stares into the future,
a sphinx on the graves
over the hollow groves
of a past—
dark as always,
infiltrating into the present.

(translated from the German by Marc Vincenz)

***

[The above translation appears in Secret Letter (Cervena Barva Press, 2015) and is reprinted here with permission from the translator.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: THE NEEDS OF THE MANY BY BRENDAN CONSTANTINE

Photo Credit: Michelle Felix

Photo Credit: Michelle Felix



THE NEEDS OF THE MANY
by Brendan Constantine

On the days when we wept—
and they were many—we did it
over the sound of a television
or radio, or the many engines
of the sky. It was rarely so quiet
we could hear just our sadness,
the smallness of it
that is merely the sound of wind
and water between the many pages
of the lungs. Many afternoons
we left the house still crying
and drove to a café or the movies,
or back to the hospital where we sat
dumb under the many eyes
of Paul Klee. There were many
umbrellas, days when it refused
to rain, cups of tea ignored. We
washed them all in the sink,
dry eyed. It’s been a while,
we’re cried out. We collect pauses
and have taken to reading actual
books again. We go through them
like yellow lights, like tunnels
or reunions, we forget which;
the older you are the more similes,
the more pangs per hour. Indeed,
this is how we break one hour into
many, how healing wounds time
in return. And though we know
there will always be crying to do,
just as there’s always that song,
always a leaf somewhere in the car,
this may be the only sweetness left,
to have a few griefs we cherish
against the others, which are many.



Today’s poem first appeared via The Academy of American Poets’ ‘Poem A Day’ series, was then published in the collection Dementia, My Darling (2016 Red Hen Press), and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Brendan Constantine‘s work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly, and Hotel Amerika, among other journals. His most recent collection is Dementia, My Darling (2016 Red Hen Press). He has received grants and commissions from the Getty Museum, James Irvine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently teaches poetry at the Windward School and regularly offers classes to hospitals, foster homes, veterans, and the elderly.

Editor’s Note: I’m just going to come out and say it: You need this poem. Right now. At this moment. In the wake of tragedies too hard to hold and too heavy to bear. You have watched the sky fall. You have been broken by the debris of what you thought to be true, of what has and has not been shattered. All that you know in your heart about what is right and what is wrong, about human kindness and decency, about the kind of country you want to live and raise your children and grow old in, the kind of world you want this to be. It’s all fallen apart. And that sadness you feel? That resistance to getting out of bed in the morning? Those spontaneous tears you find yourself bursting into? You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.

But this poem. This poem! This poem knows our suffering. This poem knows our shared grief. This poem knows that “On the days when we wept— / and they were many—we did it / over the sound of a television.” This poem knows that “Many afternoons / we left the house still crying.” And this poem knows, too, that there is a time beyond this time — for better or worse — that the day will come when we are cried out, when we will read books again and reach milestones, and yet. And yet this poem knows that some griefs we will carry with us. Held fast by markers like where you were when Kennedy was shot or when 9/11 happened. This poem knows that there are “a few griefs we cherish / against the others, which are many.” And we know that this moment in American history is one of those griefs we will cherish against the others, which will be many.

Want to see more from Brendan Constantine?
The LA Review of Books on Dementia, My Darling
Muzzle Magazine
The BlueShift Journal
Betty Sargent for Publisher’s Weekly
Video by Sarah Jensen, winner of Write Bloody’s Best Poetry Video award, 2013

Posted in Brendan Constantine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Keep Loving. Keep Fighting.

brett1

Keep Loving. Keep Fighting.

Meditations on what has been happening on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus after the Trump election win was declared

by

Brett Ashley Kaplan

I’d wager that for all of you November 9, 2016 was a day of shock, revulsion, horror, disbelief, tears, confusion and a huge amount of fury. Like most of you, I had a very hard time focusing on anything but the terrifying prospect of TRUMP. I don’t think it is possible to say that this isn’t a racist choice. Even if individual Trump voters may not claim the word “racist” to describe themselves…this is “white nostalgia” (thank you Naomi Taub—Van Jones calls it “white lash”) to hark back to an imagined, fantastical, never happened Eden of whiteness before there was a smart articulate black president who threatened the ascendancy of whiteness. Before all these meddling professors with their diversity muddied the pure white American idyll. This is a return of White Supremacy. It doesn’t matter that the bald fact is that this country, after the genocide or displacement of its original inhabitants, was founded on and built by voluntary and involuntary immigrants and is now enriched by Latino/a/x, black, brown, Muslim, European, Chinese, Korean, Indian, multiracial, white, biracial, Jewish,  and many other immigrants. Facts, in fact, no longer matter because Trump unleashes the masculinist id and allows for trespasses of power and abuses against women’s right to decide when, where, and by whom we get groped and kissed. As Chris Benson rightly pointed out in conversation with Masha Gessen, Trump’s self-proclaimed abuses of power over women augur his abusive of power writ large. It has been part an amazing joy and also profoundly frightening to be part of what’s happening on this campus as we move from shock to action.

On Wednesday, two men, one with a large American flag and the other with a bible, were spewing supposedly Christian but actually anti-immigrant, pro-Trump, racist rhetoric. A large group of us formed around them—some students were arguing with them and some brett1were just watching the spectacle. I was trying to take the floor away from these two hate-mongers and focus energy in a positive way—finally a brave student took the floor and reminded them that their version of “Christian” actually has nothing to do with what Christ would have espoused.

Right next to all this screaming there were students writing love-filled messages in chalk on the quad: “Spread love, the world needs it;” “Your skin your sex your gender your beliefs ARE VALID;” “Love is the answer.” Unfortunately, another chalking, that I did not brett5see but a student sent me an image of proclaimed: “White Privilege, I (heart) Trump”

Later in the day I saw students forming a chain in front of Lincoln Hall and chanting, “keep loving, keep fighting.” These students were contributing a wonderful energy to the quad, they were joining together to do it. The next day, I saw a student sitting alone, and completely silent in front of the Alma Mater with a sign that read:  “Vow of silence. No voice. No comment. No hate. No tyrant. #Not My President.” I gestured to him (I didn’t want to use words and disrupt his peaceful protest) to ask if I could photograph him, and he nodded yes. Then I wrote him a note: Thank you for your protest. It is very beautiful. Andbrett8 very needed.

Writing on a huge “What are you Thankful For” sign I encountered a Latina student who was chalking that she was thankful for all the solidarity and coalition building opportunities on campus. I asked specifically which resources she was grateful for and she described both La Casa and to the Gender and Women’s Studies center as offering spaces for dialogue and unloading after the election. I was relieved that far from feeling isolated she felt held by these communities.

Then I talked with the Muslim Student’s association, out on the quad for a bake sale. They were so happy to have someone approach them and offer solidarity that I wondered if this was rare. The group of students I spoke to had different feelings about the election: one woman said that she did feel safe on this campus but then her friends started chiming in about Islamophobic acts that had happened here since November 8: a Muslim woman had a knife wielded at her on a bus, another woman’s hijab was pulled off, and another student suffered a man shouting brett10“go back to your country” as he walked by. When I asked them how they were feeling about Trump and about all of these revolting acts they said they were shocked but they were ready for action and to fight for what they believe in.

Another solitary protester sat alone in a chair on the quad holding up the sign “Love trumps hate.” I asked him if he knew of other protests happening and how he felt protesting alone and he said yes, there would be soon mass protests and it was just fine for him to protest alone. Yet another lone protester had affixed a sign on her dog that offered him as something like “post-election therapy.” I have to own up to the fact that the solitary protesters made be feel melancholic and protective. But they were all mourning andbrett12 fighting in ways that had an impact, even though they chose to do it alone.

In my graduate seminar I opened class by asking if anyone had anything that he/she/they would like to share about the election. One white student said that she had been crying about it (I’ve seen many, many people crying) and was talking with a black student who “asked if [she] needed a hug and then told her, ‘it’ll be ok, we’ll get through this!’ This sweet gesture brought [her] to tears and made [her] think maybe this terrible outcome will unite us in some important ways.”

Among the incredibly moving and thoughtful and insightful and informative things people have posted on Facebook, I found these words from one of the many Comparative Literature graduate students who make our department so stellar, particularly moving: “I have seen instructors break into tears because they suddenly feel inadequate to protect their most vulnerable students, even in their own classrooms. I have seen new communities forming around the desire to extend compassion, protection and comfort to people who feel threatened and devalued…” (Meagan Smith).

This morning, Friday 11 November, I went to the 31st annual Diversity Breakfast. Chancellor Jones offered there an impassioned, clear rebuke against the disgusting rise in racism we are experiencing now. It was a strong, unequivocal statement and it earned him a standing ovation. After all the awards were given and the speeches made I bee-lined over to the new Chancellor, congratulated him on his moving and wonderful speech, and asked him to send such a strong statement to all the students—several of whom had already told me they needed that from him.

From the diversity breakfast my daughter and I picked up my father from the airport and went straight to a protest at the Alma Mater. Three generations of Kaplans were chanting “hey hey, ho ho Donald Trump has got to go!” “We welcome immigrants!” “Tell us what power looks like! This is what POWER looks like!” My Jewish-American father was part of the Civil Rights movement and always fought for racial justice; my younger daughter is finding her way in the world but already knows that racism is painful and wrong and that Trump and his supporters are spreading racism!

The protest moved from the Alma Mater all the way around the quad and then down Green Street. We stopped traffic and took over the road—there were probably 300 or so peoplebrett13—black, brown, white, gay, straight, trans, young, old—an actually diverse group of people yelling at the top our lungs “THIS IS NOT MY PRESIDENT!”

As I write, the KKK has endorsed Trump and plans an enthusiastic welcome rally; a Saudi man has been murdered in Wisconsin; swastikas and other hate symbols proliferate around the nation. My partner, a black physicist from Tobago on his way home from a conference has just texted me the cover of USA Today bearing the headline: “Rise in racist acts follows election.” I cannot predict what sort of fissures the racism Trump and his followers propagate will forge into our family and through our love.

If the see-saw between love and hate as represented in this small sampling from this small college town in the Midwest were to be weighed, love would definitely, certainly, trump hate. But I am not sure I could possibly hazard which one will ascend in the long run.

It is time now for all of us to write to the electoral college delegates and ask them not to vote for hate on December 19. This may be our only chance for peace.

***

Brett Ashley Kaplan is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also the author of  Unwanted Beauty, Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory, and Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Review Round-Up for Marc Vincenz’s Becoming the Sound of Bees

Poet’s Quarterly: http://www.poetsquarterly.com/2015/11/review-becoming-sound-of-bees-by-marc.html

***

Marc Vincenz is British-Swiss and the author of nine poetry books. Vincenz is also the translator of many poets, including Herman Hesse Prize winner Klaus Merz, Werner Lutz, Erika Burkart, Alexander Xaver Gwerder, Robert Walser and Ion Monoran. His translation of Swiss poet, Klaus Merz’s collection Unexpected Development, was a finalist for the 2015 Cliff Becker Book Translation Prize and is forthcoming from White Pine Press. He has received grants and fellowships from the Swiss Arts Council and the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. His own work has been translated into eight languages. Most recently a book was released by Tractus Arte Press in Romania. Although he has lived and traveled all over the word, Marc Vincenz now resides, writes, translates and edits in western Massachusetts.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment