belleville park pages
November 26, 2013

Is everyone excited for Thanksgiving? Have you bought all your groceries? Are you starting to thaw out all the frozen pie crust you’ll need in the next 48 hours? In my house, there is going to be pie for days, and my body is ready. I’m also making a stuffed seitan roast for the first time (I’m one of those vegan weirdos), which should be exciting/disastrous. We’ll see. Even if all else fails, there will be mashed potatoes and wine.

But all that is beside the topic at hand, which is that I have some poetry in the current issue of Belleville Park Pages. It is a small literary journal published out of Paris every two weeks, and if you’re lucky enough to live in Paris, London, Boston, or Brooklyn (in addition to a few other cities listed on their website), you can get a copy for just £2 at a bookshop near you. So go do that!

In the meantime, here’s a poem in honor of the first snow of the season.

Traceful

A creature of nostalgia and carbon, I was
perfectly singed toast, candles cinnamon-scented,
and wooden picture frames.
Everything crisp-edged, smoking.

For now I am all whorls:
the spin of laundry in the machine,
your cow lick, water draining from the sink,
the sweep of blue dye into white paint,
the tail of a comet.

In the end,
thinking myself almost nothing,
I’ll imagine my breath to be
the impression left by sunlight
between the hours of 6 and 7am
after a snowfall in the night.

 

 

homecoming
June 30, 2013

Amazing how many different places a person can sleep in two months. I went from a small city in northern France to the banlieue of Paris to the wonderfully familiar bookshelves of Shakespeare & Co to the seemingly never-ending sprawl of LA to Autostraddle camp in the mountains of California to Minneapolis to Carleton College…it was only two weeks ago that I finally made it to Albany, where I will be spending the next year.

As you might expect, being a tumbleweed for a month at Shakespeare & Co was the highlight of my time in France (drinking champagne in front of the Paris city hall when gay marriage passed was a close second). My fellow tumbleweeds were a delight, as they always are. Nathan, last I heard, was headed to India, where I can only imagine he is eating like a king and writing the next great American novel. He and I first met three years ago during the shop’s literary festival, and through the strange machinations of the universe, we both ended up returning to the shop this spring. Tom – Scotsman, musician, and whiskey expert extraordinaire – is still at the shop and blogging up a storm. And Holly, the driving force behind the shop’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, continues to blissfully avoid returning to the US.

If I had not already paid for a transatlantic flight and a spot at Autostraddle camp, I would probably still be at the bookshop. It would seem that the only thing tempting enough to convince me to leave Paris is a campground full of queers (the fact that my French visa was about to expire mattered very little in this course of events, interestingly enough). Rather than try to recount all of camp for you – this would simply be me saying “everyone was so smart and attractive!” in as many ways as possible – I’ll just link you to the Autostraddle staff’s recaps.

After southern California, I flew to Minnesota, where I crashed on a variety of couches in the apartments of very welcoming friends. I discovered that Minneapolis is a wonderful city when it’s not buried under two feet of snow, that small Midwestern towns feel even smaller after living in Paris, and that after a year away, your alma mater will never feel like the home you remember it to be. Despite the onslaught of feelings that hit me upon seeing so many familiar haunts and faces, I made it out of Minneapolis without completely succumbing to nostalgia.

And so I’m back in Albany, my to-do list dominated by grad school applications and my ever-expanding reading list. The bane of my existence while traveling was my clashing inabilities to 1) avoid acquiring books and 2) fit more books in my luggage. Thankfully, media mailing rates exist and so all was resolved in the end.

Things I’ve read:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald — I somehow got through high school without being forced to read it.
1Q84, Haruki Murakami — very long, very bizarre, very memorable
Antigonick, Anne Carson — a poetic and feminist translation/interpretation of Antigone. Wow, you need to read this.
Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare — best if read with wine and friends
This Jealous Earth, Scott Carpenter — my critical theory professor’s latest collection of short stories
various poetry collections by Stephen Dunn — I will never not be obsessed with “Loves

Things I’m reading:

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami — runaways and talking cats. just go with it.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville — surprisingly hilarious and beautifully written
Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Judith Butler — Problematize all the norms!

Last but not least, I’m still writing down my feelings, adding creative enjambment and punctuation, and calling it poetry. Post to follow.

april poems
April 3, 2013

So. It’s  been a while, to say the least. I’ll blame it on being in France, training for a marathon (which is in 4 days, and yes, I’m terrified), and beginning to keep a personal journal that I’d rather not share with the internet. But excuses aside, it is National Poetry Month and I need to write more, so I’m determined to do this one-poem-a-day thing. I’m already behind, which I suppose is characteristic of my way of working on projects, but I’m posting two poems today, so I hope the poetry deities can forgive me. Here goes nothing.

(P.S. I hope the poetry deities can also turn a blind eye to this shameless plug. I’m running the Paris Marathon to support the Human Rights Campaign; check out my fundraising page if you’d like to donate. Thanks!)

Commuters

I am just trying to eradicate
your troubling quietness.
Here’s the thing: I’m deaf
and great at keeping secrets
that want to be told.
Come with me to see
how, in the heat of
a crowded train car,
you can lose your way
on the straight, iron track
(but really, you should memorize
the name of your long-off stop).
Also: try not to close your eyes.

Waking is the hardest part

Sunrise – I apologize
to the soles of my feet, my limbs,
spine, ribs, and all.

My veins seem bluer every day,
the color of cold
marrow and bone.

Tongue and lips and
other loose implements
once spoke, but

now, my body
curls around its heat,
wizened, tough and humming.

losing
December 11, 2012

I am homesick for many things. As a wandering vagrant with no stable purpose in life (i.e. a recent college graduate), this cannot be avoided. I am homesick for the 64 acres of fallow fields where I grew up, for the childhood bedroom that no longer exists, for my parents’ new house and its kitchen pantry, for college and the feelings of stress and purpose and friendship, for America, for the body of another person, for all the places I have lived. This poem began as a sort of farewell to Paris, a city which I find myself constantly having to leave, but really, it is for the innumerable places I have let go.

Of course, as is to be expected, another poet has already written a better version of this poem, the version that I wish I had written. Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is a flawless villanelle, a poem that always makes me wish I could write formal poetry without it sounding forced. If only the art of poetry were as easily mastered as the art of losing…

 

The day you leave,
you retreat to the heart
to whisper farewells
and promises to write.

The final night,
the lights were warmer
than you will ever remember,
while in this winter,
you are away and colder
than all the city streets put together,
your heart beating
to the rhythm of some old home.

Feel the tingling in your hands
and in your heels to walk and work
in gardens of your own planting,
whose roots you’ve known,
seeded and grown to blooming
in the summer of your long living on the land,
the dirt on your hands the same as the day
you arrived and stayed awhile
and fell in love
with this lasting thing.

All the windows have been boarded up;
dust on the shelves, cobwebs in the corner,
the impression of your head on the pillow, still.

You do not know when you will be back again,
but you imagine that all the flower boxes
are desolate without you.

where all the ladders start
November 28, 2012

“Now that my ladder’s gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” – from “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W. B. Yeats

For the 2 weeks of vacation that French schools have for All Saint’s Day, I took the train an hour south to Paris and spent time living and working at Shakespeare and Company, a little literary, anglophone bubble just across the river from Notre Dame. It is impossible to spend any amount of time in this shop without meeting extremely talented people who are passionate about reading and writing, and so living there is essentially a constant motivation to write (or to at least appear to do so). One of my fellow Tumbleweeds was Pat Cash, spoken word artist, journalist, and all-around lovely person. I also had the extreme pleasure of attending a reading by Aja Monet, another spoken word artist. She read from her first collection of poems, The Black Unicorn Sings, as well as Chorus, a recently released collection of spoken word poems that she and Saul Williams edited together. I still regret not getting a copy of Chorus when I was at the shop. Continuing on the spoken word theme, I would highly suggest attending and participating in the spoken word nights at Le Chat Noir, a weekly event organized by Spoken Word Paris. The group, though mostly anglophone expats, welcomes any and all readers, regardless of language or renown.

While in Paris, I also trekked out past my usual stomping grounds in the Latin Quarter and the Marais to visit a small lesbian-owned bookshop in the 11th arrondissement called Violette and Co. One of the shop workers was more than happy to help me fish through the poetry section, for despite the fact that I speak French, I have little to no knowledge of francophone queer poetry, and so after many suggestions, I ended up choosing a collection by Nicole Brossard called Langues obscures. Brossard’s collection is an interesting mix of prose, poetry, and philosophy of self, making it the perfect thing for me to read, or rather, attempt to read; I cannot boast that poetry in French is particularly accessible to me, even after ten years of learning the language. Nonetheless, it can be stunning, even for the non-fluent:

“Plus tard, à mille lieux de l’éternité, quand nous pensons mouvement des paupières ou nuit pharaonne ou parce que c’est beau, je m’intéresse aux nuits les plus simples, sans nuage, les nuits de bonne odeur où la culture accepte de se taire. Nuits sans légende au bas de l’image pendant qui nous regardons les étoiles et laissons le chien de l’âme en profiter démesurément.”

Later, miles away from eternity, when we think of the eyelids’ movement or pharaonic night or because it is beautiful, I am interested in the simplest nights, without clouds, the sweet smelling nights when culture lets itself be silenced. Nights without a caption below the image when we look at the stars and let the dog of the soul thrive immeasurably.

Two Poems by Edward Field
December 30, 2011

Gather ‘round, kids!  It’s obscure poet time!

Maybe you’ve heard of Edward Field, maybe you haven’t.  He wrote the narration for an Academy Award winning documentary, which seems to be his greatest claim to fame.  His existence and work as a poet, though, seems to have gone largely unnoticed, despite the fact that he has published many books and won numerous awards.  (I have come to the conclusion that he is obscure because the Poetry Foundation, my favorite site when I feel like browsing for poems, does not have a single poem of his in their vast online collection.)

Field (with whom I immediately identified simply due to the fact that we both have last names that are nature nouns) was born on June 7th, 1924 in Brooklyn.  His family is Jewish, and much of his poetry grapples with his relationship with his father, the difficulties he encountered as growing up Jewish in New York City, and the city itself.  He left New York when he joined the Air Force during World War II, flying 25 missions as a navigator.  He began writing during the war, and returned to New York briefly to study at NYU before returning to Europe to begin a serious career as a writer.  His poems appeared in magazines such as Botteghe Obscure, Evergreen Review, The New York Review of Books, Wormwood Review, Exquisite Corpse, and American Poetry Review, before his first book, Stand Up, Friend, With Me, won the Lamont Award in 1962 and later won a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Prix de Rome, and the Shelley Memorial Award.  The film, To Be Alive, for which he wrote the narration, won an Academy Award for best documentary short subject in 1966, and his collection of poetry, Counting Myself Lucky (which my awesome girlfriend found in a used bookstore and gave to me), was honored with a Lambada Award in 1992.  He has also edited numerous poetry anthologies and written several novels in collaboration with his partner and fellow writer, Neil Derrick.  According to the obviously infallible expertise of the internet, he and Derrick live in New York, the city that, despite his professed need to travel to foreign places, Field finds impossible to ever leave completely.

A previous owner of my copy of Counting Myself Lucky went to the trouble of listing the things he/she likes about Edward Field:
What I Love About Edward Field
-his ability to show his vulnerability + insecurity in an honest and playful way
-his idiosyncratic imagination
-his lack of fear about using humor, subtle humor at that
-he needs to write in order to survive
-his honesty
-his embracing of his neuroses and how that makes him quirky and gives him character
-he confronts real + difficult life experiences, and also details about life
-he is humble

Of all the qualities that my anonymous predecessor listed next to the table of contents, the one that struck me in all of Field’s work was his simple honesty.  There is never a question that when Field writes, he is writing about himself.  I knew that I was not reading a fabricated tale, but being given the opportunity to spy, in a way, on another person’s life.   And the life to which I was made privy was strikingly like my own – his constant reflection on how he is like and unlike his parents, his need for poetry coupled with his questioning of that very pursuit, his preoccupation with foreign places, his understated yet clear homosexuality.  His style of writing is very different from mine, but there is no denying our similarities.  And though I have labeled him as obscure, I dream of reaching his level of poetic accomplishment.

Though I cannot share with you the entire collection (and truly, the poems should be read as a collection, for when they are, they are a window into Field’s struggles, joys, and life as a whole – they are a biography, and indeed, one of the poems is titled “Bio”), but I will share two poems that particularly struck me and that, I think, go well together:

Song: Trop Tard pour Paris

Returning to France after years
I can only feel regret
for a life I never lived.
Too late now, I say,
trop tard pour Paris.

But maybe a part of me didn’t leave
in the long ago of my youth
when, broke, I signed on the freighter home,
but stayed behind as a kind of ghost
to live a parallel life to mine.

Here, in the so-familiar Parisian air
is still the suspicion of a ghostly me,
skinny as ever, unchangeably stubborn and young,
who never got on that boat, and unlike me,
didn’t need any money or a job to stay.

And while I lived out my New York life
analysts, transient loves, the years –
my Other went on floating through the chill mists
of the city he could never bear to leave,
the only place he could ever feel at home.

And yet, by giving up Paris, I gained
the rest of the world, it’s true, though I know
it’s here I should have lived my life.
Now it’s too late, too late for me,
trop tard pour Paris.

New York

I live in a beautiful place, a city
people claim to be astonished
when you say you live there.
They talk of junkies, muggings, dirt, and noise,
missing the point completely.

I tell them where they live it is hell,
a land of frozen people.
They never think of people.

Home, I am astonished by this environment
that is also a form of nature
like those paradises of trees and grass

but this is a people paradise
where we are the creatures mostly,
though thank God for dogs, cats, sparrows, and roaches.

This vertical place is no more an accident
than the HImalayas are.
The city needs all those tall buildings
to contain the tremendous energy here.
The landscape is in a state of balance.
We do God’s will whether we know it or not:
where I live the streets end in a river of sunlight.

Nowhere else in the country do people
show just what they feel –
we don’t put on any act.
Look at the way New Yorkers
walk down the street.  It says,
I don’t care.  What nerve,
to dare to live their dreams, or nightmares,
and no one bothers to look.

True, you have to be an expert to live here.
Part of the trick is not to go anywhere, lounge about,
go slowly in the midst of the rush for novelty.
Anyway, besides the eats the big event here
is the streets, which are full of love –
we jug and kiss a lot.  You can’t say that
for anywhere else around.  For some
it’s a carnival of sex –
there’s all the opportunity in the world.
For me it is no different:
out walking, my soul seeks its food.
It knows what it wants.
Instantly it recognizes its mate, our eyes meet,
and our beings exchange a vital energy,
the universe goes on Charge
and we pass by without holding.

References:

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/696

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Field_%28poet%29

Biography of Edward Field in Counting Myself Lucky, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 1992.

lost in translation
October 21, 2011

Here’s something I’ve never tried before: translation.  This is a new and exciting poetic frontier for me.  I recently came across the work of Renée Vivien, a lesbian poet writing in Paris at the turn of the century.  I wasn’t able to find many translations of her work, and obviously Google translate doesn’t really do a good job of translating “normal” prose, let alone poetry.  So here is one of her poems, in the original French and followed by my (admittedly amateur) translation.  In the French, there is an abab rhyme scheme, which I did not even remotely try to conserve in the translation.  There is also a hendecasyllabic meter (meaning that there are 11 syllables per line) in the original, which I also did not make an attempt at in English.  And lastly, the line that gave me the most trouble just in terms of preserving the meaning and the sense of it was “Toi qui ressembles aux royales amoureuses.”  If anyone with a greater fluency in French has a better translation than what I have rendered, please feel free to correct me!

Où donc irai-je ?…

Nul flot ne bouge, nul rameau ne se balance…
Le gris se fait plus gris, le noir se fait plus noir,
Et le chant des oiseaux ne vaut pas le silence…
Où donc irai-je, avec mon cœur, par ce beau soir ?

Dans le ciel du couchant triomphal, les nuages
Roulent, lourds et dorés comme des chariots…
Je suis lasse des jours, des voix et des visages
Et des pleurs refoulés et des muets sanglots…

Toi qui ressembles aux royales amoureuses,
Revis auprès de moi les bonheurs effacés…
A l’avenir chargé de ses roses fiévreuses
Je préfère la pourpre et l’or des temps passés…

Soyons lentes, parmi les choses trop hâtives…
Il ne faut rien chercher… Il ne faut rien vouloir…
Allons en pleine mer, sans aborder aux rives…
Me suivras-tu, vers l’infini, par ce beau soir ?…

So where will I go?…

No stream flows, no branch falls…
The grays become grayer, the blacks become blacker,
And the song of birds does not break the silence…
Where, then, will I go with my heart in this beautiful night?

Above the triumphant setting sun, the clouds
Roll, heavy and golden like chariots…
I am tired of the days, the voices and the faces
And the stifled tears and the silent cries…

Seeming to be royal love itself,
You, next to me, saw all happiness snuffed out…
I prefer the crimson and gold of times passed
To the future heavy with its feverish pink hues…

Let’s be slow amidst too-hurried things…
We need not search…we need not want…
Let’s sail the high seas, never reaching the shore…
Will you follow me to the infinite in this beautiful night?

prose poem
March 13, 2011

Je croyais

Hemingway told me “there is never any end to Paris” and I believed him, and I believed in Paris and in its boulevards and winding narrow streets with flower boxes silhouetted against blue and clouds, I believed in all its museums and graffiti and tableaus smeared with paint and truth and life because Renoir saw the people dancing in Montmartre under trees and in the dappled midday light and I knew that he knew Paris and its people in morning light and rainy fog and twilight when the city comes alive and all the young ones walk the Seine and smoke and whisper to each other as footsteps echo on the cobblestones, and I believed in musicians in the metro stations who played with open cases at their feet and let their voices bounce around off all the white tiled tunnels, and I believed in the cello player who wore his hair long playing concertos while I rushed to catch my train, I believed in the man outside my apartment every morning fixing bicycles and radios he carried in his shopping cart, I believed in one euro baguettes and croissants warm in the morning and espressos in cold cafes before dawn when all the workers were eating breakfast, I believed in grass in jardins where no signs told me to stay off and puddles in the gravel walks winding through the flowers from spring rains coming in the night and sprinklers in the afternoon, I believed in the carousel twirling in the Marais surrounded by chocolate shops and stores with dresses I tried on but never bought and the square where sitting on stone steps I ate my lunch of bread and cheese and wondered where all the city had gone and why losing my way was easy in this part that was filled with oaken doors and the Place des Vosges that I never found on purpose and the galleries whose owners eyed my with disdain and knew before I spoke I was not French and the little shop called Thanksgiving that sold boxed cake mix and Philadelphia cream cheese and peanut butter for the expats, but Paris was my thanks giving every day when I crossed the bridge of the Promenade Plantée and looked out on the vast expanse of greenest grass below my feet and the toddlers rolling on the lawn and parents blowing bubbles in bare feet and lovers’ whispered nothings laying on blankets from their parents’ homes and I never needed the Arc de Triomphe when all of Paris was beneath me on a little bridge in the 12th and then, I didn’t have to wait in line, and I believed all of it!  But I left Paris and its neverendingness and I believe in something else now because Paris is a feast but the lingering taste is all I have left.