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Poet-slash-evil genius Jonah Winter and your guest blogger [Dan Nester] spent an afternoon in Pittsburgh not too long ago, talking of our lack of faith in Jesus Christ as our personal savior as well as making fun of poetry book titles. They all seemed so aggressively portentous, imbued with such fawning obsequiousness. To exorcise ourselves of the real-life titles we were mentioning, titles that shall not be mentioned here, we played a word association game wherein either Jonah or myself would think of the second word of a two-word poetry book title, which would after after whatever the other participant named as the first. So, for example, Jonah would say “Imprimateured,” while I kept in mind the second word for the title, “Meanderings,” thus giving us a title ready for someone’s poetry manuscript, Imprimateured Meanderings. (That's Jonah in full evil genius mode pictured up on your left, reading at UMaine's reading series awhile back; do check out his books, the very un-portentously, unobsequiously named Maine and Amnesia.) Sometimes we would even think of the press one of our proposed books titles might be associated. TransDarkness would fit right beside those titles published at the experimental Ahsahta Press, for example, while Tremulous Beaver might be more feasible for, say, Knopf. Without further ado, here’s our list. Got any others? Add them to the Comments box. The Orchid Sac Lunar Guest Concrete Pedigree Beviled Desires Standard Flow Leftward Thwartings Modified Rapture Tremulous Beaver Uninformed Highwayman TransDarkness Uninformed Tomorrowings Imprimateured Meanderings Sluiced Regret The Sentinel Awakes In situ, Storms Alarm Morningwood Darling; Wandering Streaked Pugnaciousness Variegated Cock Woman House Descartes’ Pancakes Fugitive Contraband Entering Beaver Airport Beaver Damage Thruway Matchstick Haven Unsublettable You Earning, Toward The Felt Apogee Technical Vulva Tree Entrance Veinous Miriam Unvisited Stickerbush Polished Lendings Stiff Flowering Penelope’s Nubbin from the archive; first posted May 30, 2008. Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
The praise poem was all the rage in certain circles in 1993. Kathy from Pussy Poets started it; she wrote a praise poem for Bobby Miller, and one for me, called “Mary Jane Girl.” “Mary Jane Girl” was all about how I would get her high and listen to her relationship problems with DC, and how awesome of me that was. I loved Kathy, too, but I never wrote a praise poem for her. I never wrote a praise poem for anyone. The closest I came was a poem I wrote for Eliza, which wasn’t written so much for her as it was written to impress her. The poem was named for my old friend Melissa, and it implied that Melissa and I had slept together; in fact, we had not. But I wanted Eliza to think I had some credibility as a lesbian so that she would like me, and isn’t wanting someone to like you one of the highest forms of praise? Eliza didn’t have any praise poems, though she had a response poem, which was kind of the same thing; just another way of flirting. Maggie Estep had a poem called “Fuck Me,” so Eliza wrote a response poem called “No, Fuck Me,” and of course Maggie heard about it and was flattered, but she didn’t swing that way, so Eliza read it to me, dancing ahead of me on the sidewalk on Allen Street, really performing the hell out of it. I was dying to swing Eliza’s way, and I almost did, for a few weeks there, after which she dumped me in the middle of Tompkins Square Park. Then I wrote a poem with Eliza’s name in it, but it wasn’t a praise poem. I started dating Paul, who put me in just about every single one of his poems, which was his way of paying me back for letting him live with me and supporting him while he smoked all of my weed. He read one on stage at the Nuyorican one night – “And Janice will fill you up! And Janice will set you free!” – and I cringed, ashamed. Everyone knew how cheap I was, that I could be bought for the price of a few lines of not very good poetry. In the meantime, DC wrote a praise poem for me. It was called “For J.E.,” and the word “genius” was used. This caused me to think about dumping Paul for DC, who had his own apartment, and a job, and was also a much better poet than Paul was. So I wrote a poem dedicated to DC. This caused Kathy to retire her praise poem for me, and to change one of the characters in the screenplay she was writing from a wonderful best friend type to an inane slut. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that no poem will get you laid faster than a praise poem, but if you use one to sleep with another... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
Strand in L'Aquila (wonderful, hospitable place; tragically affected by the earthquake), upon his having won the Laudomia Bonanni Prize in poetry, 2008. "Solemn truths! Lucid inescapable foolishness! None of that for me! To be the salt of Walt, oceanic in osteality! Secure in cenotaph! The hysterical herald of hypogea! The fruit of the tomb! The flute of the tomb! The loot of gloom! The lute of loot! The work of soon, of never and ever! Saver of naught. Naughtiness of severance. Hoot of hiddenness. I give you my graven grave, my wordy ossuary, tell-tale trinket of transcendence, bauble of babble, tower of tripe, trap of tribute, thought-taxi from one day to the next, nougat of nothing, germ of gemini, humble hypogeum!" -- from The Monument, Ecco Press, 1978. If you don't know this one, get ye to the bookstore. Harold Bloom tells us that it "teaches us to bear the truths of Unamuno, Nietzsche, Whitman and the other seers of poetic narcissism." Also, it's hilarious, brilliant, and, in its own sardonic way, very touching. Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Yes. How the decades pass. Thanks for this, David.
Thanks for this comment, Leslie. Yes, yours was the first I saw, and then many others. Though I'm very sad she's gone, I hope people will come to her work again. She was a fine and fierce poet, and a generous soul.
Cynthia Macdonald died last month at the age of 87. Typical for our Social Media Age, I found out about her death on Facebook. This sad news was often relayed with a comment along the lines of "I hadn't known her work, and it's blowing me away." Cynthia had published half a dozen searing and beautiful books and won many of the major prizes for poets; she wrote libretti, was an opera singer, and a psychoanalyst. Cynthia was one of the most formative and helpful people in my life, as I made my slow and complicated way back into being a poet. Cynthia was my professor for two summers at Columbia University. I had to take the summer courses because I was working full-time at the Law School to get the tuition exemption so that I could pay for this extremely expensive degree. I couldn't skip out from work more than twice a week to take the requisite classes, almost all of which were held during the 9-5 work day. What was born of necessity soon became one of the most meaningful and useful experiences of my time in the MFA program. In those days, Cynthia was co-teaching the summer class with Richard Howard. With Richard's lexicographical, polyglot genius and Cynthia's wicked wit and brilliant way with metaphor, they were an utterly formidable team. Things I remember from the class: poems by Thomas James, in those now-famous, "samizdat" xeroxed copies; they came to mean a great deal to many of us. Words like susurrus, palp, and estrenar, which, though I rarely see or use them, take me back every time to those summers of intelligent immersion in the beauty of words. Cynthia's pronouncement that "writers who are subject to writer's block are usually adults who didn't play as children." That hit home. Another time, I don't remember why this happened, but I certainly remember that it happened: Cynthia, imitating the improbability of operatic deaths, let out a classically trained, high-something note that went on for what seemed like hours, and that shook the windows of our dingy little classroom in Dodge Hall. Someone had graffitied "DUCK DON'T" just above the "DODGE" that was emblazoned on the pillar of the old brick building that housed the School of the Arts. This was Dodge Hall before the coffee bar in the lobby, the Dodge hall whose wooden railings up the stairs had been known to inflict serious splinters in the hands of those foolhardy enough to grasp onto them during the ascent to the 4th floor Writing Division. That second summer was the real font of memories. My father had died in February of that year. When Cynthia showed up again, so happy to be back in her natural habitat of New York City, she asked me how my previous school year had gone. "Well, my father died," I answered, first thing. She truly understood what a blow it had been, on so many levels. We talked about his life as a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Dear John, I am very happy to know this. It did indeed do the job. Well, in fact, it's perfect. Thanks for writing ---
I don’t know how many times the word “dark” appears in Mark Strand’s Collected Poems, which recently appeared at our doorway with a glorious thump. I guess someone at Knopf can tell us. But I can tell you that the word “dark” appears 126 times in L’uomo che cammina un passo avanti al buio, a bi-lingual selection of his poems from 1964-2006, which was published here in Italy in 2011. And yet, when, early on, his poems were criticized as being too dark, he famously replied, “I find them evenly lit.” Mark and Dark. There have been some dark hours over here, as the phone calls and sympathy messages keep pouring in, from poets, editors, critics, publishers, and admirers of his work. We're functioning as the Italian center for condolences, and it's so sad, yet it's also a great honor. Mark himself referred to Damiano as his “voice in Italian,” even inscribing one book to Damiano “from his American brother, or twin. Or author of twin texts. Or necessary precursor of Damiano’s poems.” In another book (which one it is will become immediately obvious), he has written: “The man cannot thank you enough—and the camel thanks you too. Seriously, thank you for this second life.” Much has been (and will continue to be) written about Mark’s place in American letters. But this “second life” as a major force in Italian poetry has grown exponentially since 1999, with the publication of L’inizio di una sedia, the first bi-lingual edition of his work here. Here I sit, surrounded by upwards of a dozen of Mark’s books in translation, “a cura di Damiano Abeni,” and, more latterly, with my name on the cover, too. They were published by various houses, ranging from the small, beautiful, and arty to, well, about as big as they get—and in the series that’s considered by many to be the most prestigious for contemporary poetry in Italy. In Italy, too, Mark won just about every prize that can be awarded to a foreign poet. There’s even a DVD, “Ehi, Mark! Scusa il ritardo, scusa il ritardo...” which features Mark and Damiano reading poems in various locations around Rome, playing, too, on that idea of the “necessary belatedness of the translator.” But it’s not just the influence of Mark’s own work, nor that “second life” that his poems took on in their beautiful and fated-seeming Italian versions. In 2003, Mark and Damiano co-edited West of your cities: nuova antologia della poesia americana. It was the first time in large circulation that the Italian reading public came to know work by the contemporary American poets, born in the 1930s up through the 50s, whose names are so familiar to us: Bidart, Gluck, Graham, Hass, Koethe, McHugh, Pinsky, Simic, James Tate, C.K. Williams, Charles Wright, and yes, Mark Strand. In his introduction, Strand explains (and I’m back-translating from the Italian here): “for a large number of foreign readers, American poetry seems to have stopped with the Beats, the Black Mountain poets,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
(Seamus Heaney & Damiano Abeni, Casa delle Letterature, May, 2013) Blackberry-Picking for Philip Hobsbaum Late August, given heavy rain and sun For a full week, the blackberries would ripen. At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Among others, red, green, hard as a knot. You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots. Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full, Until the tinkling bottom had been covered With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's. We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre. But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not. (from Death of a Naturalist) This year, my intention for teaching is to get the students to think about physical details from all five senses. This is the poem I'm taking in for the first day. Thank you, Seamus. Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Though I worry that it sometimes veers into corniness, gratitude practice can be a lovely and helpful thing. I know that when my mood has swung very low, no sweet chariots in sight, I start to think about the things for which I am grateful. Though I live in a city that often drives me crazy, I am grateful that it's a beautiful city (and that you can't beat the food and the wine here). I am grateful that it seems that the Italian Parliament has finally voted to kick Berlusconi out. (Long time coming, but still.) I am grateful that my husband loves me despite the aforementioned mood swings, low and high, sweet chariot. And I am extremely grateful for the surprise of a 2013 book of poems that, well, if it doesn't exactly celebrate the mood swings, it certainly talks about 'em: thank you, Passager Books, for the really beautiful objet that you made out of my Hot Flash Sonnets. I am grateful for the extraordinary friendship that Damiano and I have struck up with the guys of Osteria di Monteverde -- the restaurant that always tops our list of answers to the oft-asked question "where should we go to eat in Rome?" And I am grateful that we got to start our Thanksgiving week by cooking dinner for them. (Scary to cook for such accomplished restaurateurs? Hell Yeah!) I am so grateful that I found the little plastic hoojie that allows our ancient food processor to work, so that I was able to make the tricolore hummus specialty of the house, I mean, this house. It's plain old, cuminy hummus, cilantro hummus, and chipotle hummus. I am grateful that I have discovered where I can find cilantro and chipotle in this town. Yes, I'm grateful for our nearby "exotic food store," where I can find cranberry sauce and maple syrup for times such as these. They're there alongside the other exotic things: coconut milk, tahini, ginger pickle, oatmeal. When that cranberry sauce starts to move off the shelves in mid-November, the shopkeepers begin to get a sense that that American holiday is coming up soon. "Ah, si', il vostro giorno del ringraziamento. Auguri!" they say, and I say, "Grazie." But still, it's a weird feeling to be celebrating this day when no one around you even knows it's a holiday. If you managed to forget something for the evening's meal, well, all the shops are open: that's an advantage. But it feels as if you're walking around in a holiday nostalgia bubble, quite alone, as the normal Thursday people and the loud traffic whirl by, all unawares. Italians often ask me: But don't you miss your family? Of course I miss them, and on days like today, walking around in my holiday nostalgia bubble, I feel it very keenly. And though I'm grateful for my friends here, I very much miss the folks I left behind (you know who you are). Finally, I am extremely grateful that... Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
[Paolo Febbraro, Seamus Heaney, and Damiano Abeni at the Casa delle Letterature, Rome, May 2013] [According to the Poetry Foundation's website, "Paolo Febbraro is a poet and critic. His collections of verse include Il bene materiale (Libro Scheiwiller, 2008) and Deposizione (LietoColle, 2010)." He is also one of our dear friends. This piece was first published in Il Sole 24 Ore, 1 September, 2013.] It’s very much worthwhile to learn English to read a poet. To learn a language in its chromatics, in its folds, in its rhythmic inclinations. And certainly, in literature, that language is always the language of someone in particular. Take Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and essayist who died on August 30. To read his work means that you will have seeds sown in you by a different gaze, that you will resonate with a clarity that the reading is extracting from within you. Poetry: that was his secret. For Heaney, it was a lasting miracle: never an art simply granted, to be polished or updated, but an unforeseeable gift, an abundant grace. He had a distracted and good-natured way of reading his poems in public, briefly explaining the occasion of the composition of each: he generously made use of the time granted to him by his audience, but at the same time, he seemed to be surprised by the attention. Born in 1939 to Catholic farmers in Ulster, where there was a Protestant majority, he spent his early years on a farm, tramping through the fields of peat, scouring the natural wells and cavities of trees. Later, a brilliant student at St Columb's College in Derry and at Queen's University in Belfast, he met other young authors such as Michael Longley and Derek Mahon, and he began to suspect that he, too, could be a poet. He published his first attempts at poetry under the pseudonym "Incertus." The decisive moment of his life was the discovery that he was able to "dig” with “the squat pen" into the land that his forefathers had worked, with agility and expertise, with the assuredness that comes through work, the work to which their arms had been trained by the traditional tools. Every true poet asks himself: why was this given to me? Seamus Heaney understood – in the early years of the 1960s – that he had to weave his own roots into his reading of other poets. That he had to weave the language of his own oppressed homeland -- the Gaelic singing and gutturals -- into the splendor of the language of Shakespeare, learned from the English conquerors. He absorbed the violent energy of the absolute line from the great Gerard Manley Hopkins; he traversed the already visionary topography of Ireland with Patrick Kavanagh; he found a brother in Englishman Ted Hughes and in the incisive concreteness of his words. His poetic debut, Death of a Naturalist (1966) seemed to birth another world entirely in the minds of his readers, along with the irreplaceable terms that... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I first “met” Rosie Schaap, author of Drinking with Men, in a most unusual and literary way. Damiano and I had just finished up our “Poetry & Translation Song & Dance Routine,” as we call it, for this past spring’s group of University of Washington Rome Center students. One of them came up to me and said, “I really liked your poem that was on that podcast.” “What podcast?!?” I hadn’t known. So when I got home, the first thing I did was google it, and this is what I found. Have a listen if you want to hear a smart and interesting discussion of poems more or less related to drinking and bars. I was delighted to be in such august company (Shakespeare, Gary Snyder, Heather McHugh) and to hear Curtis Fox's very interesting take on Mr. Shakes’s “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” I was also delighted to hear how deeply and completely Ms. Schaap “got” my poem. I then did what any grateful poet in the 21st century would do: I found her email address and wrote her a thank-you message. And I told her I was going to be giving a reading in Brooklyn in June. And, on the appointed Sunday, there she was, in the audience at the Lunar Walk Reading at the Two Moon Café. In the meantime, I’d gotten hold of a copy of her terrific memoir, Drinking with Men, which I began to devour. How could anyone not love a book that mentions, in the very Introduction, one of the great classics of urban single life: Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis. This is a book that I own and tongue-in-cheekily cherish, a manual for the single career gal living the 1930s city life, which instructs on such useful topics as Necessary Kitchen Equipment. You might think she’s going to tout that then-newish invention, the electric toaster, but no, she’s more concerned that every single woman have a proper set of martini-mixing equipment for entertaining purposes. Gal after my own heart. And Rosie’s is a book after my own heart. There are so many, many memoirs out there, as you know, and some of them make me want to cry – with boredom. I have discovered, in my recent years of memoir reading, that the ones I really like use as their foundation something like an objective correlative (yes, I’m a poet). They focus on a very specific theme or image, and present the life viewed through that particular lens. Peter Trachtenberg’s Seven Tattoos was maybe the first one that I read of this sub-genre: a lyrical yet fiercely intelligent meditation with each chapter focused, quite like a poem, on one of the author’s (then) seven tattoos. Drinking with Men is a smart and beautifully written memoir organized around the search for the perfect bar. Journeying from the bar car on Metro North, where our protagonist whips out her tarot cards to do readings in exchange for beers,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
I’m certainly not going to complain about where I spend my Augusts these days. But I must confess to a little pang of nostalgia when one dear poet girlfriend who lives in New York wrote to tell me about hanging out in the East Village with another dear poet girlfriend who will be staying in New York for the next few months. How I loved New York in August, especially my old, East Village stomping grounds. You know the story: the city empties out. It’s hot as hell, but the streets are relatively quiet, and you can walk in the shade. You can get a table without waiting 45 minutes. [I’ll never forget: one time my mother came to visit, and our first-choice place for dinner had a 45-minute wait. One of the group went to a nearby restaurant to check out that situation: there, it was an hour and a quarter wait. We stayed put. Mom said, “Now I really understand why you’re so tired when you come home. The hunting-and-gathering here is completely exhausting!”] But in August, much less so. Or so it was when I lived there. Which (gulp!) I just realized, was fifteen years ago. How did that happen? And in other news, which I’m sure you’ve heard by now, poetry has died again. Many wise, eloquent, and even snarky protestations have been made. I’m going to add my voice to the crowd averring that poetry is most emphatically still among the living. And I’m going to do it in good Creative Writing Workshop fashion: by showing, not telling. So if you’re in (or near) New York this August, and especially if you haven’t been yet, hie thee immediately to Poets House for this year’s Poets House Showcase. By popular demand (so there must be a few more people out there who don’t believe that poetry is dead), the Showcase has been extended until August 17. If you can’t find something to your liking among the nearly 2900 books of poetry on display, well, what can I say? I had the pleasure of seeing the Showcase, right before it opened, when I was in New York in June. I was leaving the next day to get back to Italy, so it was a rushed visit, but Executive Director Lee Briccetti graciously took me through the exhibition space – and of course, I wanted to stay all day. All week, for that matter. And yes, I admit, it’s a particular thrill when you have a book in that year’s Showcase. (Or two, if translations count!) Here is a listing of the books that are included this year. Just for fun, I scrolled through this list the other day and saw that Damiano and I have managed to get hold of just about two dozen of these titles. (That’s not too bad, considering that we have to add to the carbon footprint, in one way or another, any time we need to get a book!) I haven’t read... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
It's been an Andrea-infused whirlwind at the West Chester Poetry Conference this week, and it's also, I will formally state, been a lot of fun. And I don't mean this post to seem a cheat, but I'm going to share with you some excellent ideas for summer poetry reading. Mezzo Cammin, an online journal of formal poetry by women, has just published its 15th issue; to celebrate, they have published 15 reviews of poetry books by 15 contemporary poets. I'm going to re-recommend the wonderful Babette Deutsch, as I have done in my review. I knew her name mostly from books that I inherited from my father, but her Collected Poems blew me away. She is a poet whose voice should not be forgotten. Give her work a try -- not to mention the other 14. Thanks to David and Stacey for having asked me to blog this week -- and if you're around, I'd love to see you at my reading in Brooklyn on Sunday. Over and out, Moira All best tropical storm wishes! Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Oh forgive my early-morning typo! FORMALLY, of course!
Last night we had the great pleasure of listening to Julia Alvarez read -- her poems! She said herself that it's been a while since she thought of herself as a poet rather than a novelist. At our sonnet panel earlier in the day, we had talked about the value of bringing simple diction and earthy detail into contemporary poetry in form, and it was wonderful to hear her talk about her own early loves: many dead white guys. But how to insert a female, as she said, immigrant voice into that tradition? Well, she said, go into the poems -- go into the sonnets, and start to housekeep them. She read a couple from the sonnet cycle 33, and some other wonderful pieces: "Naming the Fabrics," "El Fotografo," "Recitation," and gave the lovely image of wishing to be the bead in a necklace of a generation. If you haven't read her poems in a while, please go and find some; you won't be sorry. While I was sitting there, I suddenly remembered a very funny incident from long ago that involved Julia Alvarez -- or at least a recipe by her. Back in the happy days of being able to get the New York Times -- on paper! all those sections! O Sunday Joy! (kind of hard to do this in Rome!) -- I came across a wonderful-sounding recipe for bread pudding. The hilarity comes in with the guava paste. This must have been around 1994/5, I don't remember exactly. I was living in Baltimore at the time, and it wasn't an era of great availability of "international" foods. We were having a dinner party and I HAD to make this wonderful-sounding bread pudding! But the guava paste! My mother and spent about 3 days driving from store to store, causing quizzical looks with our requests for -- guava paste. Finally, after a city-wide quest, we did find some in a tiny grocery store in a burgeoning Latino neighborhood in East Baltimore. Bread pudding joy at last. This really is one of the best desserts I've ever made. It's rich and sweet but has that guava tang, that contrast. And last night, I was reminded by this poet of the homey nature of housekeeping, of taking care, room by room, and also of stanzas, of simple but earthy joys. This recipe embodies all of that. When it's cool enough to bake again, give it a try. And if you can't find the guava paste, let me know: there's an international grocery store in Rome that carries it. I'll send you some! Julia Alvarez's Pudin de Pan (Bread Pudding) (from the New York Times) INGREDIENTS 1 loaf high-quality sliced bread, crusts removed and cut into 1-inch squares 6 cups whole milk 1 3/4 cups sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 stick sweet butter, plus more for greasing the pan 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup dark rum Grated peel of 1 lemon 4 eggs, well beaten 3/4 cup dried... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Overheard at dinner: "When reading Merrill, you just have to suspend your heterotextuality." "You are right there in the liminal zone." * * * Tomorrow: sonnets on parade. A wee sampling: From the inimitable Kathrine Varnes: The Fleshpot Sonnets (a crown) 1. This moment's peach -- sometimes it's just enough sweetness, despite the stone and bitter skin or because of both, because. Because the thin juices won't behave: soaking the white cuff edges, filling, spilling from the palm's trough, flesh of water, sugar gracing the chin, tracing the neck like a contemplation of sin we can wash away. We don't even have to bluff. So what will I steal tonight as the toddler sleeps? A husband lingers in the hallway's dark and glances, settles his eye where he'd recruit, I with the monitor's glow upon my cheeks two hours a day. Leave now? I can't debark while writing towards this bivalved, cleft-fleshed fruit. * * * 7. I gave up padded bras, certain offense. I shunned the curve of underwire glam. Let me be the woman that I am, I said. Let infants find their milk, the tense cry of hunger loosen. Impotence inspired by well-fed babies? Sham. Shame. Before the press of the mammogram, let breasts be breasts, whatever audience. Let breasts be breasts. Our season's brief as is. It's hard enough to find a bra that fits. (And those who asked the schoolyard, Does she stuff? now look askance--filled with J. Alfred's fear a thousand times repeating: Do I dare?) Declare this moment and this peace enough. (With the permission of Kathrine Varnes. From Hot Sonnets, Entasis Press, 2011) Pretty yummy, isn't it? Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Jet lag is not fun but it can be funny. Imagine sitting across the table from your sister, having a perfectly normal conversation, when suddenly, although you seem to be awake, you are not, and you start talking in your sleep. You say completely irrelevant and inexplicable things, like "Not everyone can be a chef." Maybe the Delphic Oracle had jet lag. Though I have always suspected that Tori Amos was the Delphic Oracle for our age. No, I never was a Corn Flake girl, either. This week, after the jet lag: sonnets, sestinas, and live reporting from the West Chester Poetry Conference. For now, sogni d'oro. Continue reading
Posted Jun 3, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
One of the great things about being an American poet who happens to live in Rome is the proximity to the American Academy in Rome. In recent years, things have become even better for us poetry-loving Romans, thanks to AAR trustee William B. Hart, who endowed an eponymous Residency for a senior poet to join the community at the Academy. Karl Kirchwey, poet, professor, and, for these past three years, Heiskell Arts Director at the AAR, has provided some wonderful programming in conjunction with the poets' visits (a remembrance of Brodsky, readings and seminars on and in translation [Italian/English and Polish/English], and the fascinating facets and various reworkings of the Ovidian oeuvre, for example). Poets who have been lured to Rome by this fellowship include Jorie Graham, Derek Walcott, Robert Hass, and, most recently, Seamus Heaney. And you can well imagine the thrill that passed through the DNA of this Irish lass when it was announced that Mr. Heaney would be the Hart Poet in Residence for 2013! I was able to attend two of Heaney's readings, one down at the Casa delle Letturature in the centro, and one up at the Academy. I still get a wee thrill hearing poems I love and have taught when they are read in the poet's own voice, in person. (And yes, I'm thinking here in an Irish accent.) "Digging" was particularly lovely to hear, because it reminds me of the epiphanic gleam that occurs in some students' eyes when they first "get" the idea of metaphor through this poem. Other Greatest Heaney Hits included "Oysters," "The Haw Lantern," and his own take on Dante's Ugolino. To the delight of quite a few audience members, he read "The Skunk," billed on the interwebs as "a very sexy poem." He also read his sestina, "Two Lorries," which, not surprisingly, got my translating husband to thinking about translating it. So we did. (Mostly he did, this time; I was still grading.) Think about this when you think about translating a sestina. We are so spoiled by the flexibility that we have in English. One aspect of this is how many words remain the same, even when they're being used as different parts of speech: play, work, love. In Italian (and other languages too, of course) a noun is a noun and a verb is a verb -- which must also be conjugated. Yikes. Here you can listen to "Two Lorries" in English, read by Seamus Heaney. And here it is in Italian, version by Damiano Abeni. You will notice an interesting sestina cheat, which I think works well. Enjoy! Seamus Heaney DUE CAMION Piove sul carbone nero e sulla calda, umida cenere. Nel cortile tracce di gomme: il vecchio camion ha le sponde abbassate e Agnew il carbonaio col suo accento di Belfast fa la corte a mia madre. Le andrebbe di vedere un film a Magherafelt? Ma piove e lui ha ancora metà del carbone da consegnare. Stavolta era nero-seta il filone da cui... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Don't you love it when the New York Times imitates life? When I saw today's article about sipping on a sunset and thinking about Italy, I couldn't decide if I should laugh or cry. I came back from Sardegna to Rome just in time for the latest heat wave. They've begun naming heat waves here the same way hurricanes are named in the States. Well, sort of the same way: it's not alphabetical and they are named after classical characters, both mythological and historical. The first one I heard about was Charon, then there were Minos, Ulysses, Scipio. Now it seems to be Nero. Insert Rome Burning Joke here. Except there really are fires in Rome, which isn't funny. But here you see a lovely couple enjoying the sunset over Santa Teresa di Gallura in Sardegna. And here I will confess that I prefer Campari over Aperol, hands down. No, wait, hand holding cold glass beading with condensation-- I wonder if my fondness for Campari is an adverse reaction to this ad: I'm pretty sure a tourist could get killed for using that hand gesture in some countries. Is it a sign of my impending old-age grumpiness that I hate this ad so much, by the way? One thing I have noticed with the impending old-age grumpiness, though, is that I much prefer bitter things to sweet. Thus, I'm going to take issue with this article's take on Cynar. Yum, I love the artichoke stuff. In fact, I love artichokes so much I wrote a poem about one. [And if you don't yet have a copy of Cavalieri's & Pascarelli's The Poet's Cookbook, hie thee thither and think about holiday gifts.] But seriously. Cynar is a great digestivo, bitter and crisp and if you haven't tried it, you should. In fact, I'd better scoot -- we're going out for dinner tonight and I'm going to see if the restaurant has some Cynar. Tanti carciofi a voi! Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Happy New Year! I'm just sorry that I couldn't find the scratch-n-sniff version of this image that is intentionally out-of-season for many of us who read this blog. Time passes, seasons change: yep, that's what they do. Hope you're dug out from under that snow! Just thought I'd pass along the time-altering, season-shifting resolution that I'm really going to try to keep this year. This one is not about going to the gym or eating fewer carbs or being nicer to your neighbors (though those things might just alter time, or create that feeling anyway!) Here it is: Take ten minutes out of your day, put everything else aside, and read a poem. Just sit with it, see where it takes you, feel what it makes you feel. Read it again, and see what else you see, hear what else you hear in it. Then (maybe this sounds like poetry as yoga, but that's ok!) just sit for a minute and breathe in the air that the poem has made around you, that little poem bubble of altered thoughts and/or feelings. And then go off--or back--to work, or school, or the gym, to the rest of your regular day. I'm going to be teaching a lot of poetry this semester, and I'm very happy about that. And yes, in those classes, we will do a certain amount of tying the poem to a chair and poking around to figure out which of those rhetorical techniques with strange names in Greek might be at work to create the effect of the poem. But the more important thing I want impart to my students is that the poem is there for the reader to sit with, to enjoy, to learn from, to laugh or cry along with. The poem as a little blip of time out of time. And to start the New Year off right, how about this little time-stopper of a piece by Miss Emily Dickinson. Essential Oils -- are wrung -- The Attar from the Rose Be not expressed by Suns -- alone -- It is the gift of Screws -- The General Rose -- decay -- But this -- in Lady's Drawer Make Summer -- When the Lady lie In Ceaseless Rosemary -- Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there! Like many wandering Americans, I've spent much of my adult life living in places that happen to be far away from my mother, from New York to Dublin, from Thessaloniki to Rome. This, I should say at the outset, has been driven by my desire to wander rather than a desire to be away from my mother, who is a very cool mother and, by the way, also a dear friend. So this last move, which brought me here to Rome, also began to pose interesting possibilities for spending good mother-daughter time together. A couple of years ago, Mom came up with the good idea of making pilgrimages to see the works by Michelangelo that she hadn't yet seen, and guess who was going to be her daughterly tour guide. So last year we went to Paris, where Mom got to see the Dying Slaves for the first time. Not to mention to wander the streets of Paris, sit in cafes, and gross out watching me eat steak tartare at a brasserie over near the Sorbonne. It was delicious, though she is still not convinced. This year's trip took us to Siena, Bologna, Milano, and Bruges, which scans rather like "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My," doesn't it? (Well, almost.) Nor had I ever visited these cities, so it was a lot of fun to explore new places together. We loved Siena, sitting there in the square where they run the Palio and imagining the horses rounding the corners, all the bright flags a-flying. Bologna was also lovely, and yes Sally Ashton, we did enjoy the mortadella. For that matter, the all-around, stomach- and brain-satisfying experience was found in a bookstore, the Librerie.Coop, which has a huge selection of books (including a good English-language section) and an amazing slow-food restaurant upstairs, and where you can also buy pasta and sauces and such. Also a great cafe downstairs. We went to the Basilica of San Domenico to see the comparatively wee sculptures by Michelangelo on the Arca di San Domenico. The very charming church caretaker got down from his ladder (he was polishing the spikes) and gave us a tour, explaining the humanistic virtues of Michelangelo's angel. Yes, he looks like a small kneeling David with wings (and clothes), and I was close enough to touch him (angel, not caretaker) but you will be glad to know that I did not. Mom apologized profusely when her flash accidentally went off, but at that moment the caretaker was busy scolding an Italian woman whose cell phone blared out while she was in the chapel. That she proceeded to take the call and talk loudly in the chapel mystified us all. The Madonna col Bambino in Bruges, whose somber yet beautiful profile (above) is echoed in that of her son was the last visitation that we made this time. I know this has been said, but the casual intimacy of their hands... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
We can't be there, but we hope you can. Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
That floating, tooth-shaped thing and the wiggle beneath it are murmurations of starlings. Yes, that really is the collective noun for starlings: nice, isn't it? There was a beautiful photo essay about Rome's starlings in the NYT a couple of years ago that's well worth checking out: go here. Of course, we don't have "Black Friday" in Rome, since we don't have Thanksgiving, but I thought I'd post some pictures that feature black in honor of the day. I'm not going shopping, no. Are you? But we did have Thanksgiving dinner. Did you see that New Yorker essay about expat Thanksgivings? (Very funny, all too true, but I think I want to introduce Jane Kramer to our butchers.) One serious advantage to living abroad, though, is that you can decide on Wednesday to have Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday (we just sorta forgot it was coming up, being really busy lately, and not being bombarded by images of turkeys and pilgrims, etc.) but we said, Hey, yeah, let's do it. [Vegetarians might want to skip the first paragraph after the jump.] [staircase at the new MAXXI museum] Luckily, our butcher Raffaele's birthday happened to be on Wednesday, and we were invited to the degustazione in celebration of this. So while we were there in the shop, we peered into the poultry case and saw a nice "faraona" (a Guinea hen), just waiting to become some eccentric Romans' next-day Thanksgiving feast. We asked them to hold it for us. When I went to pick it up, Sandro asked me how I wanted it, since a lot of Italians prefer their birds opened up, "diavolo" style, or in pieces. "Intero," I said, but then I thought, Uh oh, I hope "intero" means without head. And without feet. Luckily it did. (Vegetarians, you can come back now.) It was a strange day, though. I knew it was Thanksgiving, but it almost seemed that Rome was aware of it too. It was a grayish, coolish, perfectly autumnal day, and there were very few people out on the streets. And, for an American, it's a funny feeling to go to the post office on Thanksgiving. (It's an even funnier feeling when you're waited on right away, and the guy is super-polite and remembers that you send your things prioritaria. You bet I was thankful!) And then I wandered to the grocery store to buy a bunch of vegetables in a leisurely fashion, something I surely wouldn't be doing on Thanksgiving Day in the USA. I gave the really nice homeless man who sits outside the grocery store an extra Euro, and I wanted to explain what day it was, but I didn't. And, since this is a poetry blog, I must not neglect to mention the wines that we had with dinner (from Raffaele's shop!): a sparkling white from Sicily called CHARME (you remember, "from Old French charme (noun), charmer (verb), from Latin carmen 'song, verse, incantation'" [from my little Mac lexicon]) and a wickedly complex... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
[Vesuvius looming over Naples] Things I remember from the first time I visited Naples: it was mercilessly hot. Our hotel room was tiny, brown, and stifling, and the toilet paper was, well, awful. I couldn't sleep because, out on the streets, they were playing music very loudly, especially, over and over, "Delilah" by Tom Jones: it was the summer when that was a huge and ubiquitous hit, even in Italy. More recent impressions of Naples have concerned the Camorra, described by Roberto Saviano in his best-selling, terrifying book, Gomorra. The garbage strike, millions of Euros spent putting that trash on trains and chuffing it up to Hamburg, where they could actually dispose of it. The overarching corruption. Etc. I had the opportunity to update my impressions of this old harbor city when Damiano and I went down there for the Premio Napoli, an annual literary prize that celebrates Italian and foreign writers, and that is doing a great job of causing people to reevaluate what they think about Naples. The Italian winners this year were Alessandro Leogrande, Luigi Trucillo, and Franco Arminio, while the foreign winners were Avraham Burg, Robert Harrison, and Charles Simic. [Capri as huge alligator head] It was a very festive several days, with readings and panels held in various locations in the Pizzofalcone area of the city (each year they choose a different quartiere to celebrate). I haven't spent this much time sitting in churches since, well, I don't know when. One night the event was held in the school of fine arts, where they had several castings of statues from, I'm sure, back in the day when artists could actually make plaster casts of works by Michelangelo, et al. Neapolitan food still lives up to its reputation, no doubt there. Two nights in a row, the group had dinner at the amazing Ristorante S. Ferdinando Di Aldo Bruno--if you're in Naples, don't miss it, really. Everything was just fantastic, from the elaborate antipasti (potato croquettes with melty smoky cheese inside, grilled vegetables, grilled octopus, etc etc) that were so substantial the next course was almost an afterthought, but we had to sacrifice and be kind and order a pasta, right? By the way they have delicious (and strong!) nocino there (Stacey, it was amazing: how is yours coming along?!) And speaking of creations, it wouldn't be right to end without a poem. How about this one, for reasons obvious and not-so (and not least, because I like it!) By Charles Simic: MOTHER TONGUE That’s the one the butcher Wraps in a newspaper And throws on the rusty scale Before you take it home Where a black cat will leap Off the cold stove Licking its whiskers At the sound of her name. (from Jackstraws, 1999) * * * MADRE LINGUA E' quella che il macellaio avvolge nel giornale e getta sulla pesa arrugginita prima che te la porti a casa dove un gatto nero salterà dai fornelli freddi leccandosi i baffi solo a sentirne il... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2009 at The Best American Poetry