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Mihaela Moscaliuc
Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
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What other poet is on his knees in the frozen clay with a spade and a silver fork, fighting the old maples, scattering handfuls of gypsum and moss, still worshipping? Gerald Stern --“Making the Light Come” Listen to Stern read “Torn Coat,” form his new collections: Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New Poems, 2000-2018 (W.W. Norton, 2020): We continue the celebration of Gerald Stern’s 95th birthday (February 22), with a few poems inspired by—and dedicated to — him. Toi Derricotte Thoughts on Jerry Stern’s 95th birthday I’m reading the poem by Jerry in the new New Yorker & right as I read the last lines about the dead warbler singing— “and he sang from time to time, dead or not, a ‘rising trill,’ as the book says, in the upper levels where the worms are.” the noon bells of the cathedral bong out in agreement! As if they want it banged into my head: The poems are always with you. Lines like that visit every day—comforting— your wise, funny, loving truths. But when they put on their coats to leave, I hold tight & weep. Jeff Friedman The Long Heat Wave for Gerald Stern Give me back the long heat wave, the sweat dripping from eyelashes, the stained blouses, the black windows, the spiders dangling from their silver bridges, the wasps lighting on the branches of the cedar bushes as they waited for me to make a dash for the screen door. Give me back Herman Meltzer, our upstairs neighbor, who forged his last check with a flourish before the police took him away in his checked pajamas, handcuffed. Give me back Hanna Gorelick in her red satin robe, her hair in rollers; and Cathy Cowser naked in front of the window; and “A Day in the Life” with its scratches and pops, John Lennon singing “I read the news today, oh boy…”; and my thick brown hair—every morning I brushed it down so hard my scalp stung, but the curls sprung up before I left the bathroom mirror; and my father warning the butcher at Sherman’s Deli not to trim off too much fat from the corned beef. And give me back Barbie Silverman’s long smooth legs in her black short shorts, the Santa Maria rising from the bottom of the river, the goddess undressing in the eye of the Arch as the rabbis chanted to the brown muddy water. Give me back the blue butterflies streaming through the emptiness above the tall white sycamores, the speckled blackbirds shitting on the Handshears’ new Oldsmobile, no matter where they parked. Give me back my mother balancing her checkbook at the kitchen table— “Everyone in Israel is beautiful,” she says; and my father in his shorts, thumbing through a thumb-size version of The New Testament and marking in red the passages he would use to make his sales pitch to the goyim, raising his fist to the TV tube every time he hears another special report—“But is it... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Kent, I am so glad to know about A Nation of Poets. I look forward to reading it. Thank you!
“….but show me two hands concealing love and you have the whole history of the human race there” -Gerald Stern, “Love,” In Beauty Bright Jerry, I open my eyes under the mosquito net and one mother is so close I can see my blood pulsing in her engorged abdomen. She can’t fly yet because she’s too heavy and still working on pumping out the unnecessary water; that’s how fresh our encounter is. I know my blood provides the protein she needs to nourish her eggs. I took what didn’t belong to me to nou... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Poetry in Times of Oppression/Virtual Poetry fest in honor of Ernesto Cardenal As I mentioned in yesterday’s posting, for the second year in a row, the International Poetry Festival of Granada, Nicaragua, now in its 16th edition, will take place only in virtual format. As they announced the cancellation of the ‘physical’ event, the organizers explained that the current political situation in Nicaragua creates “no favorable environment for any festive activity.” According to the Human Rights Watch 2018 World Report, “Ortega’s government has aggressively dismantled all institutional checks on presidential power,” which has allowed his government “to commit egregious abuses against critics and opponents with complete impunity.” ( The same document reports that “a crackdown by national police and armed pro-government groups in 2018 left 300 dead, over 2,000 injured, and hundreds arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted.” The numbers quoted by other sources are even higher. In the January 22/24 issue of Confidencial, writer and Festival board member Gioconda Belli declared that at this time the people of Nicaragua are in mourning for the deaths, dissapearances, and imprisonment of those voicing dissent. In this “jailhouse atmosphere” of repression and harassment, “the only poetry that fits,” Belli wrote, “is that of protest.” ( She also suggested that a celebration like that of previous years would be an affront to Nicaraguan people’s suffering. In past festivals, poetry events were interspersed with local music and dance, and integrated also into a day-long, spectacular carnival/traditional masquerade that celebrated life and death, and which always included a ritualized “burying” of a particular evil such “intolerance,” “hatred,” or “violence.” (Photos from the 9th edition of festival & carnival: This year’s virtual festival will be honoring Ernesto Cardenal, one of Latin America’s most revered literary and revolutionary figures. Poets from around the world will be read a poem in his honor and the event will be streamed through Facebook from Feb 20-Feb 25. You may watch it at Cardenal was born in Granada in 1925. On January 20, he turned 95. Active in the Sandinista revolution that ousted Anastasio Somoza in July 1979, Cardenal served afterwards as the Minister of Culture, but gradually broke away from the Sandinista government, becoming an increasingly outspoken critic of the current Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his authoritarian rule. A prolific writer who has authored over forty poetry collections and whose work has been translated into dozens of languages, Cardenal has occupied, over the years, ideological positions that have at times stirred controversy. He has been hailed or criticized for being an iconoclast, a visionary, a mystic, a Marxist, and a leader of the liberation theology movement. In his writings, whether addressing injustice, corruption, greed, the world’s transient beauty, or love, he documents and witnesses with eloquence and urgency, often by bringing religion, politics, and science in conversation with one another. Priest, writer, translator, sculptor, diplomat/politician, social activist, Cardenal founded both a spiritual/religious commune (Solintiname, on Lake Nicaragua) and a cultural foundation (Casa de los Tres Mundos, in Granada, where... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Poetry and oppression Image: In 2017, I was invited to participate in the thirteenth annual International Poetry Festival in Granada, Nicaragua. The festival, among the most well-known in the Americas, brought together over 160 poets from more than 60 countries who for five days recited poetry in plazas, cathedrals, schools, and from a platform along the route of the “Death and Poetry” carnival parade. Hundreds of people came out each night to absorb whatever poetry could offer—hope, refuge, pleasure, perhaps just a sweet distraction, most probably a sense of solidarity. They sat for hours on plastic chairs, listening to poetry (much of it in unfamiliar languages). Among them were families spanning three or four generations sharing paper cones of cut fresh fruit, vigoron (boiled yuca, pork rinds, coleslaw and pickled onions), fritos (fried plantains on a banana leaf, topped with grilled pork, beef or chicken), bunuelos (a version of doughnuts), or other local dishes purchased from vendors flanking the gathering. They too were listening. People did not shift attention to their cell phones if bored or disinterested. One day during the festival a few of us hired a driver to take us to a butterfly preserve. On the way, the driver quoted lines from Rubén Darío, watching us in the review mirror, hoping, perhaps, that we would join him. I was ashamed I couldn’t. I remembered how in Izmir the Turkish hotel employee recited Hikmet at the first mention of poetry and how in Athens, as soon as he heard my husband and I were poets, the jewlery-maker broke into Cavafy and embraced us and then recited some more. This is the kind of work poetry can do. In Romania too, though perhaps decreasingly so, people of my parents’ generation will casually declaim entire poems by Eminescu. On the bus trip in Nicaragua, the fellow poet sitting next to me, the Honduran Rolando Kattan, recited “Autoportret” by the Romanian poet and philosopher Lucian Blaga (1895-1961): “Lucian Blaga e mut ca o lebada./ In patria sa/ zapada fapturii tine loc de cuvint…” I had not expected anyone beyond our national borders to know Blaga’s work, and definitely not by heart. I do not mean to romanticize this, so forgive me if that’s how it comes through. Poetry is not food, no matter how fetching the metaphor is, and it’s not a substitute for opportunity, freedom, or other rights that help sustain one’s life, livelihood, or dignity. Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo are both poets, and a host of the world’s most beloved poets were/are deplorable as fellow humans. None of this escapes me. And there’s not a drop of nostalgia in my blood for the deprivations we, Romanians, experienced for a quarter century under Ceausescu’s despotic regime. (Well, I’m lying. I often find myself longing for the tyranny of no-single use, of having to return the empty glass jar or bottle in order to be able to purchase a full one.) As a guest of the Granada festival... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
“The New Colossus” Translation Project (spearheaded by Alicia Ostriker, Mihaela Moscaliuc, and Tess O’Dwyer and to be hosted by AJHS) This past summer, faculty and students in the M.F.A Program at Drew University honored the formidable Alicia Ostriker for her work as poet, mentor, scholar, feminist, activist, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and New York State Poet Laureate. As part of the celebration, we had translated and read some of her poems in our native, heritage, or acquired tongues. Something magical happened within the walls of the room as it gradually filled with Spanish, Arabic, Yiddish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Sicilian, French, German, Russian, Romanian. Afterwards, Alicia and I decided that we needed to replicate and extend that experience. It didn’t take much to realize how that polyphony was about more than sound and multilingualism. As we left the celebration, we stepped back into a world steeped in inflammatory nationalist rhetoric, a world that had incorporated monolingualism into its mechanisms of oppression. I proposed we choose a poem and reach out to poets willing to give it life in other languages. Brilliantly, Alicia suggested “The New Colossus,” which had been resonating, for more than a century, with millions of people. Written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, as part of an effort to raise funds for the Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, it was etched on a plaque and attached to the pedestal in 1903, seven years after the statue was erected. Alicia’s personal involvement with "The New Colossus" was lifelong. She knew the poem as a child, because her mother would quote it to her, along with poems by Tennyson and Browning. Like so many immigrants, her mother believed in America as "the melting pot," and the Statue of Liberty poem and its symbolism fit into that understanding. Alicia’s mother, and in fact all her grandparents, arrived in the New World at the turn of the 20th century. I arrived from Romania in 1996, just a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and although my point of entry was not Ellis Island, but the Newark International Airport (NJ), I thought I had caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty before landing. I wanted to believe so anyway, as I had spent the last leg of the trip peering out of the small window, searching. A month after Alicia and I first spoke of the “The New Colossus,” in an interview with NPR, Principal Deputy Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli argued that the Lazarus poem should be amended to convey that immigrants are welcomed only if “they can stand on their own two feet, be self-sufficient, [and] pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” This, he argued, was in line with the “American tradition.” Such rhetoric rendered our project particularly timely. “The New Colossus” was written in a time of acute nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment. We are reliving that time. The targeted immigrant groups differ, but the fervor of the rhetoric is... Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Feb 15, 2020