2 poems by Sevda Akyuz

SevdaAkyuz

notes towards an operation                                                             
             
                  
                       let my solitude see me off
 a woman’s voice in the next room
 hard as it may seem
                       I celebrate life in a blue room
 awaiting laparatomy
                      ‘cos there is a big lump in my belly
 like a watermelon 
                  said an orderly
 elated and 
 mildly sedated
  
              
                  all is well
 like camus said
                 at dawn before the firing squad
  
  
 readiness is all
                the whole world and one’s own 
                 past and future 
 balled into one moment’s intensity
 of perception
                 when I cease to care
 what either might hold in store





  
  
 allegory of the cave

  
 midwife of ideas 
                    snug in dark moist cavernous womb 
 suckled by the acheron 
 a tiny cell with a flea-infested mattress
 veritable prisoner in mind 
                   stillborn into allegory of a shady reality
 many lifetimes ago
 flickering from shackles onto the wall
 bulbous shapes hard to make out
  
 come out come out wherever you are
 o sole mio
                    into the bright sun
 under which nothing is new
 yet strangely seen for the first time
                  a recurrent dream
 running freely through tall yellow grass 
 barefoot
 with solar bliss warm on skin
                 interrupted by distant intermittent scream
 cover her face, mine eyes dazzle 
 if only she had died young and beautiful
            under torture 
 blindfolded into shame and surrender
  
 not be subjected to her image now 
 reflected on a store window
 taken aback with the sudden confrontation
                        who is that fat old lady staring at me
 a walking shadow
 shell of a bygone era of Ideas 
  
 tea leaves dry up 
                    in the cup
 why does every potted plant 
                   have to die on me

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Sevda Akyuz studied English Literature at Bogazici University. She has taught English
and Academic Writing at the university level for 32 years. 
She edits and translates books, articles, theses, stories, plays, and poems. She also dabbles in poetry. 
Some of her poems have been published in The Blue Nib, Statorec, and Live Mag!

2 poems by Holly Mason

Holly Mason Headshot 2019

A Wolf Howls: Or when the poet reads in Kurdish and I cry
  
 The sounds are at once
 both warmth and displacement.
  
 A childhood memory in every line.
  
 She asks me why I cried?
  
 I miss my mother. 
 Her name: Full Moon. 
  
 I miss her light.   
  
 *
  
 In the memory, our faces mirror—
 quivering chin and wet eyes. 
  
 The gap between us 
 born out of her vision for me.
  
 “You can have these pearls
 when you get married.” As in
 marry a man. 
  
 *
  
 I make feta and date eggs 
 and then weep over the plate. 
  
 Every time I see a mother and teenage daughter
 my throat closes. 
  
 *
  
 She was a child toggling between two languages.  
 Only Arabic in public; Only Kurdish at home. 
  
 What happens when your language is a crime?
  
 *
  
 My beloved’s last name translates 
 to Light of the Full Moon. 
 Early on, I thought this was fate.
  
 Even six years later, we say goodnight with the lights on.
 Her love is tangible.  
  
 *
  
 I cried because I’m torn in half—
 A wolf howl stuck in my throat. 
 A date pit lodged. 
  
 A friend tells me about our family name—
 Khoshnaw—a tribe known for both courage and
 stubbornness.  
  
 The myth goes:
 A man tries to hammer a nail
 into the wall, but it won’t go through.
 A Khoshnaw on the other side. 
  
 *
  
 So, what happens then
  
 when each person is praying 
  
 for the other’s heart 
  
 to change?
  
  
  
  
  
 Parable 
  
 A feast is set.
 A cup of wine.
  
 Blessed is she who comes back
 For she will inherit her parent’s favor. 
  
 The wine tastes of turpentine. 
 The feast turns intervention.
  
 Fear begins in the mind,
 But consumes the body. 
  
 Fear is the wafer on your tongue.
 Fear is the tongue in your mouth. 

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Holly Mason received her MFA in Poetry from George Mason University in 2017. Her poetry, interviews, and reviews have been published in The Adroit Journal, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, The Northern Virginia Review, Foothill Poetry Journal, University of Arizona Poetry Center Blog, Entropy, CALYX, and elsewhere. She received a Bethesda Urban Partnership Poetry prize, selected by E. Ethelbert Miller. She has been a reader and panelist for OutWrite in DC (a Celebration of Queer Literature) and participated in DC’s Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here events as a Kurdish-American poet. Holly is currently on the staff of Poetry Daily and lives in Northern Virginia.

3 poems by Corina Oproae

Corina Oproae

Anastasis
  
 She died at night
 I mourned her three days,
 then I lay beside her patiently 
 waiting for her to resurrect.
  
 I was told 
 that someone among us,
 who was a saint,
 rose from the dead
 on the third day 
 and then ascended into heaven.
  
 She was a saint too, I thought,
 and while I was waiting, 
 I had a heavy heart 
 and I feared that instead of staying 
 she too would ascend 
 into heaven.
  
  
  
 
   
 Blue Monday
  
  
 There is a life 
 in which you take me by the hand 
 up to the front door  
 and you wait for me to come out  
 to go and live 
 hastily, 
 intensely,
 as if we knew that destiny 
 will rip off the roots
 of the flowers that grow entwined   
 inside our souls 
 (what are the souls?)
 to weave wreaths  
 and lay them   
 on tombs.
  
 There is a life,
 the same life, 
 in which you write for me   
 all the words that I miss,
 in which you compose   
 all the songs that contain me,
 in which you paint all the paintings that shelter me,
 hastily, 
 intensely,
 as if you knew that destiny   
 collects words, sounds, colours,  
 and then it scatters them   
 on tombs.
  
 A life in which you are rain  
 that compacts the grey until it makes sense, 
 in which I walk next to you  
 while I’m digging my tomb, 
 in a ubiquitous, 
 in a permanent act,
 which repeats itself with the certainty 
 that there is another life 
 which only lasts one day. 
 We live it, those of us who were born   
 ready to bear the pain,
 alone,
 dragging it behind us until the end of the day, 
 where it ceases.
  
 It wouldn’t make any sense to say  
 that it is a very sad life,   
 not because it wouldn’t be poetic,
 but because it wouldn’t say anything at all  
 about the way we’re set on fire,  
 about the way we burn quietly  
 to turn into ash at the end of the day.
 And there wouldn’t be any witnesses either,  
 except at dawn, the sun on our restless feet, 
 on the hands with their incandescent wholes, 
 and the shy, crepuscular blink of our eyelids,  
 (at the end of the day) when death lurks 
 and asks if poems really make sense. 

 

 Because it is not yours                     
  
 You don’t know how to end this poem 
 because it is not yours. 
  
 It came to you one day 
 full of silent, weary, absent poppies.
 It perched on your eyes 
 - absent minded butterfly -
 and it dazzled you,
 but you felt its wings
 quivering, bewildered, far away.
  
 Today its fluttering wings light up your blindness.
 It speaks to you in a strange language  
 made of infinite silence  
 like a green wheat field  
 fast asleep in the sun.
  
 It confesses there are young dead 
 who can still smell the humid earth,
 dead who feel the touch of an embrace in the grass, 
 bitter-sweet happiness that throbs 
 beneath the skin of oblivion,
 the last and sacred desires of innocents  
 lost in one of many wars, 
 or an atavistic hunger that seeps down into roots  
 together with the smell of freshly-made bread. 
  
 It also confesses there are old dead 
 who cannot smell or remember the scents, 
 dead who have turned into matter  
 descending towards the center of the earth 
 where the life we have been  
 reduces itself to a tiny dot 
 that contains everything.
  
 You don’t know how to end this poem
 because it is not yours. 
  
 It is the poem of all those who lived  
 life and death voluptuously,
 of those who know that the tomb 
 is the only mirror that always 
  
 gives back the same face.
 A poem that climbs up from the bowels of the earth,
 retraces its steps and its time,
 perches on your eyes  
 —ephemeral, dazzling butterfly,
 and desperately asks you to continue it.
  
  
  
 (The poems belong to the book The thousand and one deaths, translated into English by Bruce Weigl and Corina Oproae
  
 The book was originally written in Spanish and published in 2016 at La Garúa Publishing House, Barcelona, Spain)

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CORINA OPROAE (Făgăraş, Romania, 1973) From 1998 she has been living in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. She writes in Spanish and Catalan, translates from Romanian and English into Catalan and Spanish. She has translated many Romanian writers such as Marin Sorescu, Ana Blandiana, Lucian Blaga, Pic Adrian, Norman Manea, Gellu Naum, Dinu Flamand, Ioan Es. Pop. From English, she has translated the book Red Bird, by American poet Mary Oliver. Her first poetry book is Mil y una muertes [A thousand and one death] (2016), which was translated by the poet herself into Romanian in 2018. Her second poetry book is Intermitencias [Intermittencies] (2018). Temprana eternidad [Early eternity] (2019) is a personal anthology published in Colombia. An anthology with the same title, Tidig evighet (Simon Editor, 2020) has been recently published in Swedish. Her third poetry book, Desde dónde amar [Where to love from] is currently under print. In Catalan she has written La mà que tremola [The hand that trembles] (2020).

3 poems by Andreea Iulia Scridon

Tristiana
  
 June today, and June’s days blossom one by one, 
 as does the rose’s miraculous swirl, and its shame, 
 and so do cruel amoebas and enchanted beetles,
 and thoughts of every crazy kind, it seems
 we model summer’s days from wet clay.
  
 It seems that my mother, Cristiana, my mother, Tristia,
 is already that legendary tuberose of ancient photographs, 
 but long a pillar of salt. The spirits that walk our house
  
 make the oven twitch, and it seems I am afraid
 to leave this prison, afraid of someone so free, 
 someone like me. It seems I am closer in June
 than any other to our neighbors in the solar system.
  
 Yes, in June, I’m closer to the whole solar system
 than any other, following the paper airplane in the sky, 
 that bird with the iron beak, accumulating those distant
  lands in greed and hurry, the machine made to save me 
 against my uphill movement against the downhill spin 
 of the earth, under the moon’s rheumy eyeball...


 
 The Citadel
  
 In love I’m flayed
 and uncocooned - 
  
 those loons of eyes, 
 with lash and gloop,
 ball and chain 
 to the peaked and ferrous brain 
 coo mournful ballads
 under the influence of elderflower ale,
 they flutter and fly, 
 bring the stars down in the tips of their beaks
 they swallow the east and the west whole
 wolfish like the wife of Bath.
  
 So why does that particular look,
 so homogenous and wrong, 
 of the pieces that make me up
 disgust me?
  
 Why do I feel disdain for those who lack them?
 Why can’t I untangle the shower cord?
  
 Why is not men, but women
 who penetrate the antediluvian worlds of sorrow?
  
 And why, 
 if my cat wears a cone and if you’re here,
 does it rain with dirt instead of milk?


 
  
 A Cosmonaut
  
 Grazing the blades of your stratosphere
 with the tips of my fingers, 
 brushing my soles
 against the planet you live so firmly anchored on 
 in light and boundless cartwheels, 
 I elongate the distance between us
 like sticky pink sherbet, 
 like a cosmonaut…
  
  
 (Previously published in ASH Literary Journal, Oxford)

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Andreea Iulia Scridon is a poet and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at King’s College London and Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. In 2020, she was awarded the University of Oxford’s STAAR Editorial Prize. She has a poetry chapbook forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books and a poetry book forthcoming with MadHat Press in 2022. These three poems are from her collection, A Romanian Poem.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aiscridon/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/aiscridon

Literary Spotlight and Writing Advice: Sue Burge with Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese_credits_Peter Leese

Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese. Photo by Peter Leese

Translanguaging: A conversation with Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese   

 

This month I’m really excited to have the opportunity to talk to Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, who is a multilingual poet, literary translator, editor, cognitive linguist, scholar, artist, and so much more! Elżbieta combines her experience of living and working with/in languages with a multitude of advice to writers, which will help us all to explore our one and only tool – language.

 

Elżbieta, how did you get into translating? Did you train as a translator or did it happen by default?

I’m 11, in Poland; my mum buys me Anne of Green Gables and I fall in love with the book. I know I’m reading a Polish translation; that’s why I decide to translate the book back into English, so that one day, when I can buy the original, I will be able to compare the two English versions. In case you wondered: I translated only a couple of pages, defeated by the plant names my dictionary didn’t list, but I did buy the original, many years later, in Prince Edward Island.

I’d say that my passion for reading (which I hope the opening anecdote illustrates) and my literature studies have prepared me for being a translator, though I didn’t attend a Translation Studies programme. There wasn’t such an option at the time when I went to the university in Kraków, Poland, but I chose to read English. I lived in the UK and USA; I taught literary translation at the Jagiellonian University; I cooperated with the British Council, Literature Across Frontiers, Scottish Poetry Library, European Literature Network, Modern Poetry in Translation and Poetry Wales; I organized poetry-in-translation readings and seminars, commissioned translations and reviewed translated poetry books. All these activities have supported me as a poetry translator – they’ve allowed me to engage with writers and readers to whom translation is equally important.

I often think that I had to become a translator in order to make sense of my own multiliterate biography. I was growing up in Poland, but English is my home language. In 2009 I moved to Denmark, which is practically bilingual. Here I can contemplate the global reach of not only English, but also Danish, the ‘dominant’ language of Scandinavia. Speaking of the presence of literary translation in my life: as a newcomer, I was learning Danish via English translations of, for instance, the poet Inger Christensen, to counteract the boredom of my Danish language classes that relied heavily on so-called grammar translation. Since I had four years of Latin in my secondary school, which I truly enjoyed, I could – rationally – appreciate the method, but I wasn’t persuaded by the grammar drills as the main form of engaging with the language I hoped to inhabit.

EWLeese_blue hours not nights_Aug2020

I love the fact that one of my favourite childhood books kickstarted you on this rich trajectory! What do you enjoy about the process of translation?

I could spend hours enumerating the joys, and frustrations, of translation. But let me limit my answer to three aspects that matter now: co-existence, in-between-ness and freedom to trespass. Translation allows cognitive simultaneity, a very comfortable mental positioning for a person like me who finds decision-making difficult. It’s so much more attractive to contemplate multiple options and to learn being comfortable with uncertainty.

This process can be compared to drafting, of course: entertaining alternatives, before we commit ourselves to one version. In translation, though, multiple versions of one original can co-exist in publication – I’m interested in such variants, published records of particular readings, which reveal the interpretative richness of the original text.

This wealth is amplified by the in-between-ness of the text and its translator: the privileged positioning between cultures, traditions, languages, registers, which sometimes may seem too unsettling, but this hybridity often proves tantalisingly fertile. It encourages us to cross borders: linguistic, cognitive, emotional, physical. As a translator, I hope that I myself contribute to this richness, which accrues not through fidelity, but through experimentation and trespassing.

I’ve always wondered how you choose texts to translate? Are you approached by publishers or poets themselves?

I choose to translate living poets, since I enjoy conversations about writing. To name a few of my interlocutors: Krystyna Miłobędzka, Wojciech Bonowicz, Małgorzata Lebda, Julia Szychowiak, Bronka Nowicka, Marcin Świetlicki. Usually it’s me approaching a poet whose work seems intriguing, moving, linguistically captivating. Importantly, such work must be not available in English widely.

I need to explain: I don’t earn my living as a translator and I’m not keen on breaking publication records. That’s why I can be choosey and spend as much time with a poet as I fancy. But I also get commissions: I’m asked to translate for festivals, websites, institutions that promote contemporary poetry. I’ve also been approached by poets – sometimes I say ‘no’, as I don’t feel I can do justice to the poetry or I’m simply not interested.

When I ‘find’ the poets I’m compelled to translate, I try first to understand how and why they use language in their particular manner. I read and re-read their poems; I read interviews with them. Then I experiment with ‘my’ English, hoping that it can learn from Polish as well. I believe that the Polish of the original and my own Polish ghost the new English text – they ghost-write it.

A fascinating answer: I love the idea of ghost-writing in this context! Your translation of Night truck driver by Marcin Świetlicki (Zephyr Press) has been longlisted for the 2021 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, which is really exciting. Do you think the poetry world is becoming more interested in translated works?

Thank you for mentioning the longlist – I’m thrilled that this book has been noticed. I guess your question reflects how we as readers perceive publishing, reviewing and awarding ‘industries’. I’d say the visibility of translated poetry is much greater now than when I started publishing in the late 1990s (e.g. Night truck driver spans two decades of my translations), but I wish there were even more opportunities to share poetry translated into English. However, we shouldn’t forget that poets have always been interested in poetry written in other languages; they have always been translating, adapting, versioning the poems they admire. It’s enough to think of Roman poets learning from Greek poets, Renaissance poets borrowing from Roman, Greek or French traditions, and so on up to the present times. I’m using only European examples, but of course there’re so many more, across continents and languages! Another invigorating aspect of writing poetry is translanguaging – so many multiliterate poets, who shuttle between languages and registers, are publishing and reaching their readers.

Swietlicki_cover2

You write poetry in English. Has this always been your poetic choice or have you written in other languages?

As I’ve mentioned, English is my home language, though I was born into Polish. I’ve written a few poems in Polish, but I haven’t submitted them for publication. (I think I’ve published only a couple as part of a multilingual poetry project, ‘Metropoetica: Women Writing Cities’, which presented 7 languages.) When I moved into Danish, I started playing verbal games: looking for homonyms across my three languages, searching for false friends – and writing poems that explored such a linguistic unhinging as a means of settling into a new language and self-translation. That’s when I started to investigate translanguaging as a cognitive process typical of multiliterate writers.

I know you are a very probing and curious linguist, weighing each word. This is so evident in your precise and polished poetry. Do you think that elements of the translator’s work inform your poetic processes?

In addition to my comments about the role of translation in my life as a multilingual person and poet, I would say that translation teaches us a very disciplined, acute reading – and of course good reading makes us better writers, also because of our closeness to others who write. We never write in isolation: we write in exchanges with authors whom we admire, who encourage us to demand more from our own texts. In translation, I may try on other voices, I may try out other formal solutions, and see whether my own texts could experiment with similar strategies.

For example, I was writing a lineated poem that didn’t seem to work. I decided to check if a prose poem would work better, but this block of text was also not convincing. At the time I was translating Małgorzata Lebda’s prose poems, which finished with sentence fragments separated from the rest of the text. This visual layout conveyed my own thought much more adequately.

I have read collections where the translator is not a poet, but an academic or linguist. I have also read collections where the translation is mediated by an English-speaking poet who works with the non-native speaker poet and the translator to create a new vision of the work. How do you see these different pathways to poetry in translation?

 

The more pathways taken, the wider territory traversed. I’m all for flexibility, experimentation, variety of approaches. I remember how, at the beginning of my career, I was being told that translation should be done only into one’s native tongue. Except, I kept asking, which tongue would it be for multilingual speakers? What counts is the poem composed: is it good? to whom does it seem good and why? What matters is the joy of ‘co-writing’ with the original author, alive or dead.

 

You are a poetry tutor and co-curator of the very popular Transreading courses at the Poetry School in the UK. Could you tell us how the idea of Transreading came about and how it has evolved?

When I moved to Denmark, I had to re-invent the ways to engage in poetry conversations. I took the only Poetry School online course that had no live chat, as I was in a different time zone. However, I was keen not only to exchange poems for feedback, but also to swap ideas and readings. I asked the Poetry School if they might be interested in a course on translated poetry, run with no live chats, addressed to international participants like me.

I borrowed the term ‘transreading’ from William H. Gass’s discussion of his own translations of Rilke and designed ‘Transreading Central Europe’. The concept proved so successful that the Poetry School asked me to co-curate the whole strand devoted to transreading, that is, responding in writing to our readings of ‘poems brought to English by translation, English-language poems inhabiting other cultures and multilingual poems whose English hosts other tongues’ (I quote from the early description).

Since then we have run courses that transread regions (e.g. the Baltics or Scandinavia), countries (e.g. China, Russia, France, Italy, Spain), epochs (antiquity), literary works (The Odyssey, Divine Comedy), authors (John Berger, Rebecca Solnit, Nan Shepherd, Shakespeare), anthologies (non-British poets in the UK, migrant women, queer writing, endangered languages) and genres (nonfiction, cinema, visual arts, archives). It’s a joy to see how the original idea of transreading has been transforming, versioning itself, creating generic, linguistic and cultural hybrids, which insist on multiliteracies, so essential to our being in the world.

 

You are an artist as well as a poet and your artwork seems to have the same deep interest in process that your poetry and translation involve. What are you working on at the moment (poetically/artistically)?

 

As a multilingual craftsperson, I’m interested in words as signs and objects, the semantic and typographic meaning/image making, hence my forays into book art and expressive calligraphy as practised, for example, by Monica Dengo or Denise Lach. In my writing, which is often research-based, I’ve been exploring coastlines of Denmark and Greenland for quite some time now. Last year, inspired by Meghann Rippenhoff and Susan Derges, I started experimenting with cyanotypes to document the liminal work of (sea) water and (sun)light in the North I inhabit. I overexpose the prints and don’t rinse them to fix their colour, so the elements that have brought them to life keep transforming such pieces of paper or fabric. This cameraless photographic process assists my investigations of the Neolithic stone structures on Møn, a small island in southern Denmark. I’ve been writing texts I hope to combine with the art pieces in a conceptual project which could converse with such artists I admire as Susan Hiller, Tacita Dean and Sophie Callé.

EWLeese_Moen cyanotype_Sept2020

This has been a wonderful conversation, Elżbieta, and very thought-provoking. Speaking from this experience, what would be your three main writing tips for poets?

First, perhaps not surprisingly, I would invite us to read more poetry in translation to contemplate ways of text-making that can be radically different from the type of writing that comes to us (perhaps too comfortably at times?). Even if we don’t know the language of the original poet, let’s find bilingual editions and see what happens on the corresponding pages. I’m sure that, sooner or later, we’ll think that we can read some of the foreign signs. It doesn’t really matter if we get their meaning right – what matters is that we are in the company of words that can also seed our own writing.

And here comes my second invitation: let’s work with dictionaries more frequently than we think we need to. I remember one letter I read in the Elizabeth Bishop archives: she exclaimed at the joy of finally having all the volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary on her shelf. I share this elation every time I open my digital version of the OED (or any other voluminous dictionary) to look up the etymology or the quotes illustrating some word use. Invariably, these searches find their way into my texts. The important qualification, which I’ve learnt as a translator: we tend to check words we don’t know that well, but we should be also looking up words we think we know well enough. The surprises that wait for us!

Finally, let’s collect multiple variants of the poems we enjoy: say, two or three translations of the same original; a published poem and its drafts, which are sometimes reproduced in scholarly editions or Norton anthologies; variants of a poem in its re-editions. Such texts can teach us a lot about writing as re-writing – we all accept this understanding of writing, but often it’s hidden from us in the publication that features only the ‘final’, ‘polished’, variant. It’s instructive and reassuring, especially when we’re struggling towards greater clarity in our own drafts, to see the re-writing recorded in someone else’s texts.

To end our conversation: I think you have news of a forthcoming publication! Could you tell us more?

I’m happy to say that Alec Newman at The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, the UK independent publisher of experimental writing, has accepted my collection provisionally entitled Thirst in Three Directions. My book consists of three sequences, a coda and notes. Part 1, ‘thirst in three directions’, examines cultural transreadings and (self-)translation as vital to our migrations and home-making. Here the poems play with linguistic false friends, etymologies, multilingualism. Part 2, ‘distorted projections’, engages in factual and fictive cartographing, which resorts not only to marine charts or lighthouse blueprints but also to scientific research on, for example, Greenland’s river deltas or ice sheet. Part 3, ‘triple exposure’, investigates belonging and our relationship to the land we choose to inhabit as settlers, colonizers, migrants or researchers. Importantly, it also evokes Scoresbysund (Ittoqqortoormiit in East Greenlandic), the Danish colonial settlement in Northeast Greenland, as it’s recorded by Pia Arke, the Greenlandic-Danish visual artist, who built a camera obscura the size of her body to become one with the places she chose to photograph. The book is scheduled for 2022 and I look forward to working on it so that my poems can reach interested readers.

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Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese writes with/in English, Polish and Danish. Thirst in Three Directions is forthcoming from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2022. Her multilingual texts have appeared in Wretched Strangers: Borders, Movement, Homes (2018), Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History (2014), Metropoetica. Poetry and Urban Space: Women Writing Cities (2013) and such journals as Cordite Poetry Review, Long Poem Magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Salzburg Review, Shearsman and Tears in the Fence. Nothing More (Arc, 2013), which samples Krystyna Miłobędzka, was shortlisted for the 2015 Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize. Night Truck Driver (Zephyr Press, 2020), her selection from Marcin Świetlicki, was longlisted for the 2021 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Cognitive Poetic Readings in Elizabeth Bishop: Portrait of a Mind Thinking (2010) is based on her research as a Fulbright scholar at the Elizabeth Bishop archives. She co-curates ‘Transreading’ courses on transnational and hybrid poetries for the Poetry School in London. She lives in Copenhagen.

Stephen’s Landing. A review by Andreea Iulia Scridon

Stephen’s Landing by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, Adelaide Books, November 2020

Stephen’s Landing is a postmodern Bildungsroman, a complex fresco of cinematic positives and negatives, of multiple planes and universes, as the title itself suggests, for a neoromantic cosmic trope, characterized by a mix of enigma and possibility, weaves its way in and out of the book and protagonist Stephen’s thoughts. The connection between the name Stephen and the concept of the Bildungsroman is no coincidence: like St. Thomasino’s earlier “novel in parts”, Stephen’s Lake (xPress, 2004), this work of prose seems to be obviously inspired by James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (whose own protagonist is named Stephen), using the same techniques of stream-of-consciousness, self-portraiture, and idiolect to create an ode to childhood and youth, though St. Thomasino is less picaresque and more ethereal than Joyce, and more of an impressionist than a radical experimentalist, in the sense that the narrative is fragmented in the way that an art exhibition is, in which the individual pieces come together to suavely and intuitively present a concept: “I can observe her dressing from my pillow. I am susceptible only to her hair. Wheat blond”, he writes (p. 5). Overall, it isn’t difficult to discern the tradition within St. Thomasino’s writing, but his chosen structure seems more akin to Théophile Gautier or Gérard de Nerval: “Susanna was sincerity. And now that I’ve remembered her for you, I miss her” (p. 51).

Stephen's Landing: A novel by [Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino]

Bringing to mind at the same time Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in BrooklynStephen’s Landing is somewhat metaphysical, as intimacy, magic, and mystery collide on the urbane and colloquial plane of New York City. Here, Stephen evolves from boy to young man, completing both his literal and sentimental education with the women fate puts in his way. St. Thomasino writes the atmosphere of youth especially well: Stephen’s philosophical yet humorous conversations with his friends and lovers, the awkward and hilarious moments of Stephen feeling cuckolded by a charismatic older man, all deliciously candid:

“In the war between man and woman sincerity is not always a virtue. And it reminded me of something Professor Torrez’s wife once said. To be one- hundred percent honest in love is infantile” (p.163)

Stephen’s narrative is also a lucid account of the social aspects characterizing modern and contemporary America. A mock-prophetic undertone rears its head here and there:

“With increasing certainty, and with ever increasing disillusionment, it was becoming clear to me how in college you must learn for yourself, how in college you must in effect teach yourself. Professors are a necessary matter-of-course which one must do his very best to oblige, that is pretend a disposition of conviviality towards, or else risk unpopularity. For professors talk to one another about their students, and word’ll circulate that you’re on to them, and they’ll make of you an object of contempt. You see, professors think they’re at the center of it all, that they are the heart and the students are the blood that flows. Well they’re dead wrong. At the center of it all is the curriculum, and the curriculum has progressive heart disease.” (p. 132)

Without being overtly reactionary, however, the narrative tone is decidedly philosophical and inherently nostalgic: “I think nineteenth-century America, or maybe, the turn-of-the-century, was a lyrical period. Because of the hopefulness, as hope is a sort of spontaneous feeling, a lyrical feeling” (p. 39). But in a game of light and shadow, the profane follows the ethereal often immediately – it is a deliberate technique that characterizes St. Thomasino’s voice, for this is not a romance novel, but a Romance of petty heroism: Stephen is a modern-day troubadour, humorous and quixotic: “I had accustomed myself to seeing her behind in every melon on the street” (p. 51). The dreamy aspects (“Even in the dark, I could see the color of her eyes. That kinesthetic Matisse blue, that would not be humbled by the dark.” [p. 219]) are often countered by the verve of a dark, eccentric humor:

“And I was thinking of Lydia’s mother, she once struck her husband in the ankle with a driver, seems they were arguing over the wood grain in the dining table, she was insisting it looked like a salmon steak.” (p. 253)

“I seem to have this habit, maybe it’s a disposition, but rather like some karma magnet, of gravitating toward these real hard-edged people. Real psychological hard-liners. Afflicted sorts. Sometimes they all merge together into one horrific personage, or purgatory.” (p. 129).

Yet as he witnesses the victimization of the women who are close to him, Stephen realizes that he lacks the fortitude of character and even mental health to do anything to either prevent their abuse or make amends: “This was not my episode, I told myself. Why did I have to bear witness to this?”, he asks himself. In fact, St. Thomasino does not shy away from revealing Stephen’s weakness, his giving in to an archetypal “flawed man” instinct as he gradually loses the illusions and ideals of the “boy-king” he once was. This fall from grace, however, leaves the door for redemption open, fulfilling the wisdom of the coming-of-age novel. A bold, erratic, wise, truthful and elusive story, Stephen’s Landing departs from the trend – in the best possible sense.

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Andreea Iulia Scridon is a poet and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at King’s College London and Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. In 2020, she was awarded the University of Oxford’s STAAR Editorial Prize. She has a poetry chapbook forthcoming with Broken Sleep Books and a poetry book forthcoming with MadHat Press in 2022. These three poems are from her collection, A Romanian Poem.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aiscridon/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/aiscridon

An Interview with Marc di Saverio. By Olga Stein

MarkdiSaverio

OStein: Marc, I’ve been attempting to do an interview with you for several months now. At first I thought we’d publish the interview in our November issue, which was themed around disability. Then I hoped to run an interview in the December issue, which highlighted religious holidays; I thought to myself—how appropriate, given the eponymous protagonist’s, Crito di Volta’s, profoundly religious sensibility, and what I think of as a messianic vision. Of course, a discussion of this epic poem would have worked well in both of those issues (or in any issue, for that matter), but then you hurt your hand badly, and we had to postpone the interview again. You posted on FB that you were distressed, and predicted that you’d be in a dark place for some time. Soon afterwards, however, we started seeing all kinds of work from you—love poems in particular. And again, I thought to myself, here is Marc, like Crito, pushing forward against all odds, or rather handicaps, and honing in on love. It reminded of the opening passages of the poem, where Crito messages Flavia that he’s out of the sanatorium on a weekend pass, and is rushing over—practically falling over—to see her.

From “I. A Letter to Flavia Vamorri”

Teetering on the street like a bull full of swords, the sunbeams

stabbed me while wishes to see you staggered me across

to the Diplomatico, where, calvaried in the laughter

of the patio, hunchbacked in misfitness, I saw your

sword-splitting eye-light boil my wounds into a

moment of balm….

Flavia, the amphetamine’s working!

… After the T.M.S and the E.C.T, after the Clozapine and

the exorcizing, after years of pitch darkness with an

autumn wasp, after the Sanatoriums and the psych

ward queens who snuffed themselves despite having

sworn on my soul they would never, and who did not

leave a note behind—I feel like a Romantic, again …(di Saverio 12)

There is so much pain in these passages, but also so much love and enthusiasm for life, as well as tremendous wit and humour. It’s pretty well typical of the work as a whole. What I want to know is how much of Marc Di Saverio is there in Crito Di Volta, a protagonist who struggles with a really serious handicap, and yet remains unstoppable, with a will to change the world?

MdS: Let me first express how tremendously honoured I am to be interviewed by you, Olga; I am truly blessed and grateful to have been invited to converse, here. I am sorry that my hand injury has prevented us from doing this sooner. Unfortunately, I can only type with my left hand and the index finger of my right hand. Luckily, my father met, by chance, the son of one of his ex-students (my father is a high school teacher of Languages), a young Bowen Therapist, named Justin D’Amico, whose Holistic Bowen and Fitness has not only changed my chances of restoring my hand, but even sectors my mind and soul. Justin has already restored about 75 percent of my hand, when other doctors wondered if true improvement was even possible. Justin D’Amico has been a godsend, and he believes my hand will be fully restored.

I think it is important to note that although manic-depression can be a disability, it can also be a super-ability, since medical researchers have concluded that there is a link between manic-depression and genius, when they discovered Neuregulin 1. At the same time, I cannot deny that my disability/super-ability, has been incapacitating. By the way, Not ALL people who are manic-depressives are geniuses. Still, manic-depressives, it has been proven, are more likely to possess a great creative gift—or genius—than people without manic-depression.

And thank you, Olga, for complimenting the wit and humour of my book. It’s important to know I can handle humour, since I struggled with writing humorously for a time. I am SO pleased you enjoyed that particular side of the book. Regarding your question: there is A LOT of yours truly in the protagonist, Crito di Volta. I modelled his character and much—but not all—of his experiences on my own, and I feel I have lived, and will continue to live this book in myriad ways.

OStein: We also get the following stanza in that same letter, with the formal wizardry of the whole wonderfully showcased in a truly updated, uptempo-ed version of a classic form.

From “I. A Letter to Flavia Vamorri”
Before our Santa Clara or Coup D’Amore,
before Overpoetry or Götterdämmerung,
before we become comrades and write
manifestoes and propaganda of light,
before the Kingdom is sparked by the swords’ clash
or bullet ricochet, before we have been sung,
before we smash and re-map and dash
and shoot out in the star white snow on the More-
shore of the bull’s-eye of peace, hit with a bullet …
let’s become lovers; let’s drive through Rome
then take a scenic road through my father’s home-
town in Abruzzo; let’s get
mangoes, Prosecco, Muratti’s, and speed;
let’s write love sonnets first, then the new age’s creed! (di Saverio, p. 13)

There is poetic mastery here, humour, but it also presages the main events—the violence to come. This light-headedness and unswerving determination at once—is it poetry, or a bit of madness, or poetry due to madness? I know this is a loaded question to some extent, but the question of sanity—what is sanity, and who is sane—is a large part of what drives this epic. The relationship between madness and art is addressed here, and I’m assuming this is something you’ve grappled with personally.

By the way, I read the insightful piece about you and Crito that The Hamilton Spectator published last November. The title is great: “Hamilton poet’s ‘genius’ masterpiece inspired by time spent at West 5th hospital.” The writer, Jeff Mahoney, did a superlative job, and I want to reproduce a few of his statements here. He says this: “Which parts are the products of madness and which the fruit of true epiphany or genius?…Di Saverio’s portraits of patients in the institution are drawn with vivid powers of observation and compassion….The author knows this world intimately. Di Saverio, a brilliant mind (he’s written translations, with his father, of such writers as the French Symbolist Rimbaud), has been institutionalized more than once.”

MdS: I am very grateful for what you say about my sonnet—especially the “truly updated” part. Phew! It was a great struggle, at times, to truly update the epic and lyric forms, which appear in the book. Your question is loaded indeed, but I am happy to answer it, Olga. Firstly, yes, you assume correctly, in that, yes, I have personally grappled with the relationship between madness and art, all my life; however, fortunately, during the writing of Crito, I believe a higher power—that is, what I call, The Living God, The Creator, or the Almighty—was directing me, sometimes covertly and sometimes overtly. I wrote the entire epic between 2013 and 2019, and this Force, in my opinion, enabled me to FINALLY balance, ever so carefully, the madness and the art of this book.

Before I wrote this book, I could not have told you what parts of the work were products of madness, and which of epiphany, or both synthesized. Yet now, I can tell you, even much of Crito that was partially written during my two-month stay in a Sanatorium for manic-psychosis, during the fall of 2015, was, I believe, somehow miraculously guided by the Almighty’s light. So I was able to continue this aforementioned balance. I truly felt guided while writing this book. I had never felt that way before, but I have felt so since. Realizing this gave me a degree of security and confidence in my writing—particularly of Crito—I had never experienced.

I agree that Jeff Mahoney did a superlative job; in fact, his article works just as well as a true blue literary review, in my eyes. In answer to his and your question, even if parts of the book were written in states of so called madness, I truly believe my hand was still guided by the hand of God, and so I consider it all epiphany. I know that must sound strange, perhaps even repulsive to some readers—we live in a godless time—but I have to express this, since I believe it to be fully true, that the Most High helped and directed me.

OStein: Marc, your answer brings to mind the Beatles’ song, “The Fool on the Hill”—for a number of reasons, really. First, because the song is about the great divide between most people and those who may, in fact, be visionaries. We have a hard time parsing truths when they don’t come in a quantifiable form. Crito di Volta is a visionary, as already mentioned. His “Mortaristas” are a kind of manifesto. They may be forged out of profound anger and frustration, but they are well intended. They are an attempt to yank all of humanity out of its current perilous condition. They are meant to assist everyone, and not just those who are institutionalized—the people whose rights are violated because they see and experience the world differently, or those who suffer without getting the empathy they deserve. Crito di Volta is definitely on the side of humanity, no matter how misdirected we understand his plan of action to be. Of course, this is where we can also see Crito’s initial hubris: in his plan of action. If I’m not mistaken, this is also where you, Marc, show readers that you and your protagonist are not meant to be confused. Am I right?

MdS: I am listening to the “Fool on the Hill” right now, and I agree with what you say. You have really nailed it, here; I am being enlightened by your questions, for which I am very grateful! Indeed, Crito is a lot like me, or like me at particular times in my past and future lives. Besides some of the events portrayed in the book, which actually happened in my life—Canto 7, for instance, reflects what really happened on April 6, 2006, at McMaster University—the book also includes lines that flowed from my guided hand, or lines that are still mysterious to me. I think of them as prophecy, or as loose, creative—poetically-licensed—adaptations of true events.

I cannot stress how mysterious this book is to me STILL, and will continue to be.  In short, I can not give you a perfectly straight answer about the extent to which Crito is actually yours truly, especially since so much of the book is, I feel, a prophecy of my own life to come. Crito the character is, in a way, a time traveller who has come back to tell me what is ahead of me, since he has already—in ways I do not understand—lived it. There is no way to completely answer your question, unfortunately, dear Olga. I wish I could. Maybe one day I will know more, and, if so, I will share my new light with you at that time.

OStein: Marc, I’m completely open to the idea that the inspiration for great art is, in part, truly mysterious. You know, the second reason the Beatles’ song springs to mind is the line that describes the fool on the hill as “the man of a thousand voices.” On my desk I have Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. Jamison’s doctorate was in psychiatry, and her book is fascinating for its study of hypomania. But more interesting still are its descriptions of poets and other artists we venerate, and who we now recognize as having been touched with this kind of “fire.” For example, Jamison writes of Coleridge that “[His] wide-ranging, not to say cosmic, interests, tied together by seemingly infinite associative strands, formed the essence of his imaginative style.” Jamison follows this up with the following: “[G]randiosity and a related cosmic sense often combine with acute observational powers to make otherwise unimaginable emotional and intellectual leaps. The effects of such visionary and expansive states can be discerned not only in the work of Coleridge, but in the writings of Poe, Smart, Blake, Melville, Ruskin, and many others as well” (p. 110).

Of course I’m not asking you to diagnose your own writing or methods (there’s clearly method to the madness). I’d just like to point out that the book is brimming with “associative strands”—the kind that are a product of inspiration, however you wish to account for it Marc, and also wide-ranging knowledge and skill. There are allusions to other great works—of literature, music, film. There are allusions inside allusions, or very subtle or compounded intertextualities in the narrative, and in the forms and the language itself. I can’t resist quoting Josie Sciascio-Andrews, who captured the poetic dexterity of Crito in her review: “Crito di Volta defies tradition, all the while encompassing it….The language ricochets from the time of Socrates to the present, to Dante then back again to conversations and email correspondences with friends and fellow patients in the psych ward, on the street or in the gymnasium with Jesus and Leonard Cohen….Whether Crito of Alopece dialoguing with Socrates or Marc Di Saverio reasoning with Crito di Volta, the outcome is the same….This is a poem which artfully resonates with the betrayal of Jesus by Judas; of the illusory reality of Plato’s cave; of Tarantino’s movie Reservoir Dogs; of Socrates’ execution; of William Butler Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming.’”

Sciascio-Andrews does a wonderful job of conveying the depth and breadth of the references. In general, she tells us that Crito is truly an accomplished work. I certainly agree. It is a serious work that delves into serious, painful and tragic matters, and quite deliberately draws on a multiplicity of sources. This is the craftsman side of you. Can you say something about this? When did you start thinking of yourself as a serious poet, and do you stay true to your vision given everything you see wrong with today’s poets?

MdS: I am SO happy to see you including Kay Jamison and her book Touched With Fire, which I read when I was 19. How serendipitous it is that you have brought up the very force which transformed me into a “serious poet”, as you say! Touched With Fire humanized me at a time when I felt subhuman due to the throes and stigmas of madness. Touched With Fire made me feel like a person worthy of life at a time when I was considering ending my life. Jamison’s indisputable data regarding the connection between creative genius and “the fire”/the madness, helped me accept my manic-depression, and as a result of this book, I began to take writing seriously, and became a serious poet, with a serious sense of responsibility toward the world. She made me realize that living a “mad poet’s life” was integral to fostering and directing the very humankind I love so much.

Touched With Fire made me realize my own psycho-spiritual arsenal, and how to accept that although I’m disabled much of the time, much of the time I’m also super-abled, and the super-abilities that come with my condition have made it so much easier to accept the dis-abilities that come with my condition. Jamison’s Touched With Fire, along with the Bible, and The Divine Comedy, is one of the most essential and important books to my life—when I was 19 and to this day.

Besides the revelations I credit to Jamison’s great book, it was the realization that I would never live the “normal” life I had always wanted. I wanted a family. The void of the realization that I would never have a family was filled with poetry and my wish to employ poetry as a means of positive transformation for my readers. With Crito, I seem to have done that, since many readers tell me they feel positively transformed and enlightened after reading the book. I have reached my peak, and I feel relieved and at peace about that. I used to fear that after hitting my peak as a writer, I would be unhappy. I was wrong.

OStein: Marc, you were wrong, clearly, since you have continued to write, and in fact, you are busy at work on your next project. Maybe you can tell us a bit about it. But first, what I want to do is include other bits from the book, just to give readers a sense of your versatility with form. This is Crito himself considering the path to mankind’s salvation:

From III. “Il Mortarista: Orphomusocracy”

There is no better way to quiet the voice of God and his

          true prophets than to create an apartheid between the society of

            the “sane,” and the society of the “insane.”…

 

                        There was a time when poets lazily reflected society,

            like a relaxing pond reflecting the sky. But now that humanity

            and Nature are on the brink of extinction, and in need of

            evolutionary redirection, and spiritual resurrection, the poet can

            no longer stiffly reflect; but must rather boldly direct, the

            world—with wisdom, with spirit, with mercy….

                        Now mockingbirds sing strongly on the fig-bough

                        and O their tweets do burrow through my mind

                        like autumn wasps might burrow through a fruit

                        whose quaver in the wind might rouse them all

                        to sting the flesh, and core; and more than once….(pp. 60-62)

 

OStein: There is knowledge and skill in such passages. In a sense you the writer/poet are being the “Overpoet” with Crito. And you’re doing it by showing where poetry can go. You also can’t seem to resist taking digs at MFA writing programs. How very Nietzsch-ean of you. Were you totally serious about this? I ask because you yourself are mentoring now.

MdS: I do mean most of what Crito says about MFA programming, but I am always open to new truths that may contradict me. I am not against mentoring or even schooling, but I am against the forces that have created a system wherein, too often, I have seen young people entering MFA programs as poets, and graduating as anti-poets. Regarding new projects, I am relieved to share that I have completed my fourth book, The Songs of My Surrenders, which I submitted to McGill Queen’s University Press. They take interest in my work. This is a book that will allow the reader to see JUST how much I resemble Crito Di Volta.  Here is the tentative cover of the book, which I designed:

 

Do you like the cover idea, Olga? I hope so! Anyways, the book is 90 pages long and consists of short lyric poems, with the exception of a few longer poems. Here is an example of a sonnet from the Songs of my Surrenders:

A Sonnet for My Father

(for Carlo Di Saverio)

It is raining birds in Italy!
Stiff starlings bestrew the streets like black
roses on those graves of her cities! A funereal
waltz wails through the Colosseo. Crack-
smoke wafts through ancient olive groves. Verily,
the Roman Forum is now bric-a-brac
standing ’round like extras on a film-set,
considering The End, my father; and, yet,
pentameters re-pace my heart, which beats –
adrenalised by memories – for your home,
where once the Beast-barons had no drums nor fleets –
(our days turned to weeks like water to foam) –
where once we dreamed, back-to-back, in the bed where you
were born – where once each sight was one’s best view.

 

 

OStein: First of all, since you asked whether I like the cover—yes, I very much do. It has something of impressionism and symbolism in it. But I realize that it’s also very much your own style. As for the poem, I consider it superb on a number of levels. But let’s allow readers to explore the merits of the new book on their own. I’d like to get back to the subject of mentoring. I know full well that you’re not against it. And in fact, the work of a poet you’re mentoring appears in this issue. Maybe you can say something about your relationship with Christopher Galano, and the kind of guidance you’ve provided.

 

MdS: Christopher Galano is from Hamilton. He studied psychology, neuroscience, and behaviour at McMaster University before completing a Masters in Global Health, also at McMaster. He currently works as a software developer in Toronto. He has been studying poetry for the past two years under your truly. The Word is his debut poetry collection. His poem of the same name, some of which appears thankfully in this very issue, is, in my estimation, the greatest lyric poem in English since Eliot’s Wasteland, and I state that without bias. In 2015 or so, Canadian Notes and Queries called my debut, Sanatorium Songs, “the greatest poetry debut from the past 25 years.” I’d say this is no longer true because Galano’s book, which he has submitted to Guernica Editions, is the best debut in the last 50 years. His debut is crushing mine.

            We stand at a critical junction in history when governments and corporations insist on technologies that invade our very bodies, ostensibly for the sake of safety and connection. The Word proposes a richer connection: a divine marriage between individuals reflecting the marriage of the heavens and the earth. “We wreathe the world with golden-glimmering ribbons, ribbons endless as our wedding rings” (The Word, p. 12). We prepare for the new days, when we’ll practice a new way of living in the world.

Now, let me backtrack to your question about the mentor-mentee relationship Galano and I share (since, now, he is mentoring me!). I’ve known Christopher since he was an infant because of the close family ties between the Di Saverios and the Galanos. In 2018, Christopher decided to take up the pen and become a poet, something he was meant to be, as you will see when you read his work in this issue. I was approached about working with the young man, and we began a teacher-student relationship. To make this story short, he went from being an amateur poet in late 2018, to being, in my estimation, the best living lyric poet in English in 2021. In the process, we have also developed a wonderful friendship, and now it is Christopher who’s teaching me!

OStein: What a story, Marc. As a teacher, I happen to take nurturing—whatever form it may take—very seriously. So I totally grasp how proud you must be of what Christopher has accomplished. I’m also fascinated by mentor-mentee relationships in general, since the person being mentored is always striving to outdo the mentor. Your attitude is wonderful, of course, but it’s not always the case that such relationships are healthy in the end. I wrote a piece of fiction that touches on this subject. Perhaps this is also why I’m curious about the function of Ezra Pound in Crito. Can you tell us something about your/Crito’s relationship with Pound

MdS: In the 20th Century, literary critic, Harold Bloom, coined the term “the anxiety of influence.” I suffered from this until I began writing Crito. Ezra Pound was the “influence” that I was anxious to eclipse with my own originality, which I feel I managed to do with Crito di Volta. Ezra Pound’s presence in my book is meant to express my/Crito’s conquering of the problem identified by Bloom—“the anxiety of influence.” You’ll notice that Pound first appears in CANTO III, and then again later, when he is repudiated. Toward the end of the book, and despite Crito’s betraying him, Pound helps Crito by guiding him to Dante. Crito meets Dante in a forest, and subsequently discovers salvation.

So Pound is at first championed by Crito, and then rebuked and rejected. This actually happened in my own life. As a youth, I had a vague understanding of his life compared to the clear understanding of his great oeuvre. I exalted my master Ezra for a period in my youth—NOT his actions, but his best verses. Yet after reading in-depth biographies of Pound, I came to realize that he was a great mentor, but also that I had to both eclipse him, and come to terms with his true character, which was nothing like the one I had imagined. So after realizing the extent of his flaws, I wrote this, which is also attributed to Crito, who plays off Ezra Pound’s famous poem “A Pact”. For me the connection to Pound was obvious. Here is his poem.

A Pact

            by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root—
Let there be commerce between us.

And here is my rebuke of Pound after the fashion of his own “Pact” poem above:

CANTO XV:

I break a pact with you, Ezra Pound—
I have protected you long enough.
It’s time for me to make new friends.
Like lightning from a snow-cloud
you shocked the Lost then lit their way,
and struck all sorts of mortmain;
sublimely impossible, you realized
everyone’s dream, yet, were your errors all
extensions of magnanimity?
I break a pact with you, Ezra Pound.
You know I never cared for the occult;
you know I never cared for your hate.
We share some blood but not one soul—
let there be difference between us.

OStein: Very interesting variation on the master-student relationship, and how apt your break from Pound is in the light of the convictions he expressed. Thank you for including the original above. Marc, thank you for doing this interview! I have just one more question to ask you, and this concerns your commitment to music as an essential source of man’s salvation, which we glimpse in the lines below:

… And what if we created a Musocracy, a society ruled

            by Muses/Inspiration (I have already invented an Inspiration

            Generator!); or an Orphocracy, a society ruled by Music. Or how

             about a synthesis of the two: an Orphomuscocracy, a society ruled

            by Inspiration and Music, which would transition humanity

            toward its possible—if not spiritual—physical salvation! (p. 71)

Given the themes of salvation, the role of music in that, and the references to the kinds of relationships—mentor-mentee, but also father-son—referred to above, and the book’s orientation toward Messianism, I keep remembering another very moving song. This one is Joan Osborne’s “What if God Was One of Us.” I’m wondering whether you’ve given this song any thought yourself. I mean, if Jesus really was one of us, would he be angry with mankind or would he be doing a lot of singing himself? I’m smiling here a little.

 

MdS: You know, Olga, this is turning out to be the best interview I’ve been a part of. Thank you for your supremely thoughtful questions! Truly, I have not heard that song you mention by Osborne since high school, but as I listen to it now—and as I consider your question—I must respond with all irony, love, and wonder: no comment.

The End

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Marc di Saverio hails from Hamilton, Canada. His poems and translations have appeared internationally. In Issue 92 of Canadian Notes and Queries Magazine, di Saverio’s Sanatorium Songs (2013) was hailed as “the greatest poetry debut from the past 25 years.” In 2016 he received the City of Hamilton Arts Award for Best Emerging Writer. In 2017, his work was broadcasted on BBC Radio 3. His debut became a bestseller in both Canada and the United States, and he published his first book of translations, Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Emile Nelligan (Vehicule Press). On May 1, 2020, Guernica Editions published Crito Di Volta to great critical acclaim. Di Saverio studied English and History at McMaster University, but never took a degree, due to illness. He is the son of Carlo Di Saverio, the scholar and teacher who studied Linguistics and Languages at University of Toronto (MA, 1981). Di Saverio’s Weekend was adapted into the movie Candy, directed by Cassandra Cronenberg, and starring the author himself, which was selected to the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013.

Wreck Beach. A memoir and poem by Patricia Paterson

PatriciaPaterson.com.

‘Kitsilano Beach’ by Ralph Temple, 11 1/2 X 19″

Wreck Beach Vibe

 “The real threat here is not nudity. It’s people.”

Vancouver

Rudy’s Instagram photo of the weathered driftwood poles on the sand got 12 ‘Likes’. It was a pinkish-grey sunset shot of Wreck Beach, in Vancouver—the kind of photo that makes you want to be there.

RT and I were yearning for the Pacific and a seagull or two after an icy winter storm hit Alberta in April. Of course, most Canadians crave a beach all winter long!

My three cousins were born in Alberta and then moved to Vancouver. In our landlocked province, we spent many holidays together as children. My family would visit Rimbey, Alberta at Xmas, Easter, and summer holidays. Small-town childhood memories were all there.

Long tables of turkey dinners, the playhouse outside, horses to ride, and trips to our grandparents’ farm in Grandpa’s big-finned car or trucks. The farm in the spring guaranteed muddy views of colts, appaloosas, palominos, pinto ponies, wild and unbroken. Horsemanship was not my habit, but my cousins and grandparents lived in that world.

They wore gumboots most of the year. My city shoes failed me in Rimbey. The foals and barn kittens, pussy willows, and Gramma’s spirit  linger in my dreams.

          Our ambitious grandparents operated the local theatre in the town. The Empress Theatre stood with an art deco façade on Main Street, next door to the Chinaman’s Café. They worked their farm by day and the theatre by night. Townspeople lined up outside for the nightly movie every day except Sunday.

          Lillian, our Gram, controlled the white house lights, sold theatre tickets, and ran the concession, selling popcorn, candy and soft drinks. Grandpa Albert sat at his desk in his theatre office studying bills and receipts. He was ‘back of  house’ and Lil was ‘front’. Above the office door was his name and a sign with ‘Proprietor’ on it. The red velvet ropes kept the other kids away from his office. Grandkids got in free.

          In the foyer, the  antlers of a towering moose-head looked down on  patrons. Like the big movie posters out front, with life-size celebrity photos, it was bigger than life to us. Grandpa hunted in the fall, shooting pheasants, duck. This trophy was his. They both told a story. This week’s Hollywood films, “Old Yeller” and “Badlands of Montana”, starring Rex Reason, pulled people in. 

On show nights, Grandpa climbed the balcony stairs carrying large round aluminum movie reel cases, heading for the tiny projection booth. He threaded celluloid, turned on the projector. The audience sat in velvet seats and the magic began. 

          We chomped popcorn in the dark, watching movies with my cousins. The ‘crying room’ downstairs was a glass sound-room for noisy babies and nursing mothers, not for us.

Decades later, my husband, RT, and I caught the flight from Calgary to Vancouver for a spring visit. Rudy, my cousin, kindly picked us up at the airport. He spends most of his summer at the beach.

          “So, Wreck Beach must be open now, Rudy?” I asked.

          “Between acting gigs, I’m there all the time, still playing in two bands—in ‘Ocean Haze’, and leading the ‘Riptides’ now.

          “Any good acting gigs?” I asked him.

          “A few this year in the Langley studio. A new series started. I might get a part,” he added.

          “I’ve never known of a nude beach in Canada except on Hornby Island,” I commented.

“It’s clothing optional,” he corrected me.

Being in ‘show business’ like Grandpa, Rudy had plenty of free time to create a music haven. Their band, The Riptides, gets together almost every summer day. 

           “Yesterday, I found my purple shawl and music stuff when I was spring cleaning. It’s beach time again,” he grins. “I’ll take you down there.”

Driving us in his 20-year-old Volvo called Trusty, Rudy headed towards UBC and found a parking spot along Pacific Park Road, stopping under a cedar tree. From the trunk, he lifted his guitar box and amp, shawls, towels, hat, and tarps for shade. A beverage cooler and snacks are essential.

We walked to the top of a stairway surrounded by greenery. I looked down, seeing a crooked staircase of worn wooden steps—over 300 of them, mostly covered with sand.

          “That’s a long way down,” remarked RT. 

          “The stairs work for us,” Rudy answered. “They protect us from non-believers.” 

          “That’s privacy,” I added.

          “The real effort is getting back up,” he says.

          “Climbing up is sort of a re-entry into the gravity of another world.”

          “The Beach changes you. Wreck Beach isn’t for the faint of heart,” he said.

          “I can see that,” said RT.

We descended past ancient Douglas Fir. The West Coast is always an adventure. At the bottom of the stairs, a sign stated the ground rules for ‘The Bare Buns Run’ in July: “Take your clothes off, be natural, respect others. No photos without permission.”

RT,  a water color artist,  is accustomed to ‘life models’ as part of his art practise. He knows of the parallel universe of naturists who bare all for art’s sake.

A list of rules is posted at the bottom of the steps:

Clothing optional beach—

Keep the bathroom clean for the next person.

No staring or geeking at others

No overt sexual activity.

Psychedelic tarps pulsed in the wind—blues, reds, greens, yellows.  There were purple T-shirts and yellow towels for sale.

We chose a spot in the sand near a large piece of driftwood for our day of sun-worship. Many regulars there ahead of us had a mellow look. This is a place to get high, I thought. Sun-kissed and self-satisfied, that’s it. A little recreational M.J. in the air. I caught a whiff.

          “Let’s set up here.” Rudy pointed out a mound of sand by the driftwood.

          He put down his guitar, amp, and tarp. A girl offered us a soft drink. I was overdressed with a t-shirt and shorts, but half the people there wore clothing, including Rudy. Today, only a few brave souls were naked; ‘commando’ they called it. It was spring, and only 15 degrees. Some were topless. I took off my sandals and RT unbuttoned his shirt.

Rudy and the Riptides—the band’s name sounded like poetry.

          Paddy Irish, an older Beach regular, wandered up to Rudy. “Do you folks need a pop or Jamaican punch? Or a cigarette?”

          “No, we’re good Paddy,” Rudy told him. “Heard you were in Florida.”

          “Yah, I had to come back. Harsh politics there. Nothing like this Beach.”

          Rudy nodded, strumming his guitar, gazing at the horizon, putting us at ease. RT and I relaxed, lulled by the freedom vibe of so many people hanging loose.

          “I’m a Wrecker for sure. You can scatter my ashes here when I go,” Rudy sang.

          “Divina made empanadas today at the small tent. Good Peruvian style,” Paddy told us.

          “Thanks Paddy. Smells good,” Rudy added.

          “The ‘clean up’ by the police last summer was news here,” he told us. “Police were checking the area around Wreck Beach every day, generally throwing their weight around.”

          “What was the big deal?” RT asked.

          “They arrested some people over nothing really—Divina’s alcohol popsicles. It made the papers. The Georgia Strait interviewed a few regulars,” he said.

          “Shutting the beach down in the 60s failed, so why change things now?” Rudy added.

          “I remember,” I said. It made the national news.”

          “The real threat here is not nudity. It’s people. Where there are people, there’s garbage and a few weirdos. More people are coming up on jet skis, shouting at regulars, trying to pick up girls. We call them ‘textiles’ because they wear clothing.”

          “Regulars formed the Wreck Beach Preservation Society, a non-profit association with town halls, a constitution. We hold meetings at Airport Square,” Rudy told us. “We really care about this place. We get together at Annual Meetings, Xmas Parties.”

 It’s weird that people bully people who are different. The Wreck Beach regulars just want to be left alone. I leaned against the driftwood log, closing my eyes, letting the sun kick up the freckles on my face. RT took in the rocks and light. On the horizon, I saw only water and trees.

It’s easy to be a free spirit here.

Rudy strummed his guitar, singing, Purple haze, all in my brain…Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

            “It is pretty laid back here. No one is bothered about much,” RT said.

          “I suppose we’re geeky for wearing clothes.” 

          “It’s still a good vibe,” He answered.

          “Nature-bathing. No news. No politics,” I said. I exhaled a long breath.

          The sea air permeated our senses. There was weathered bark and gentle grit of sand. The air filled with soft conversations. Seagulls squawked. Clouds raced over the water. Our lips tasted of salt. RT kissed me.

My thoughts drifted….What if we stayed here forever? I remembered my trip to Vancouver when I was 19 with my friend, Jeanette. We were underage and bored with university. I had hauled my guitar onto the plane in a black cardboard case, intent on never returning home. I knew the chords to “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Norwegian Wood” along with a few folk songs.

One evening, we dropped by Pharaoh’s Retreat, a basement nightclub on Hastings. Back then no one checked ID. Guys asked us to dance, offering to take us to an after-hours club. We told them we were going to Daisy’s Club and crawled up the stairs, crashing at her aunt’s apartment for a few days.

A week later, I saw a Job Offer in the Vancouver Sun. “Go-Go Dancer Wanted at Oil Can Harry’s.” I walked downtown to the popular dance bar in the afternoon.

          “You’re underage,” the Manager said, then asked, “Can you dance?”

          “Of course,” I replied.

          “Show me your moves.”

          “There’s something else,” he shouted above the music. “It’s topless.”

          “What kind of job is that?” I said. 

          “I’m serious if you’re serious,” he said, scanning my t-shirt. 

          “Give it a try?” 

          “No way,” I said, recalling my father’s advice.

          “If you change your mind, come back anytime.” He leered at me.

I had to choose. I could dance topless in white go-go boots in Vancouver, or go back to university in Calgary. There didn’t seem to be much in-between.

 Vancouver was perfect after we gave up on jobs. Jeanette and I rented a suite on Haro Street, the top floor of an old stone building. The creaky, metal cage elevator took us up to our leaky apartment. Rain dripped through the ceiling, landing in old pots we had placed on the floor.

          Soon our money ran out. The city by night was bigger, denser, and fierce—more unforgiving than our daytime walks to the beaches at Stanley Park.

It was the summer of ’70. We sipped pop, and wrote poems on the Sea Wall. Teen years were left behind on a ferry back to Vancouver. Our hippie days were over, left on the steps of the Old Courthouse near the concrete lion. 

In Vancouver, Rudy had found his niche—acting, music, friends, and the Beach. I saved my salt-water memories and an old guitar and returned to Calgary. RT became a watercolor artist in the Rockies.

Today, years later at Wreck Beach, a bald eagle passed overhead, circling towards Musqueam Reserve. Long ago, a ship had been wrecked in this place. Before that, First Nations lived and fished here.

Rudy had his band. RT was planning a new watercolor project. That won’t change, I thought. I was grateful for this place. I took out my notebook to write a story for Rudy, called “Musqueam Beach.”

We wandered past old growth forests, soaked in ocean views, saw the occasional Great Blue Heron along the breakwater. In a week we’d be back in Alberta, far from Wreck Beach.

We floated up 300 steps to re-enter the world of gravity. Our visit changed us, opening spaces in time and mind.

The Beach is always open before sunset. And it’s free.

Wreck Beach
Vancouver, near Musqueam 

 

West Spanish Banks shipwreck,
	near Captain Vancouver’s discovery.

Once an ill-fated ship came to die in this golden place.
	Under an eagle’s wing, a heron’s plume
	
Music floats on purple sunset, driftwood finds a home, 
       sheds feathers with the Great Blue. 

Hull upturned, disappears into oblivion. 
	Beachcombers gawk at relentless salt and rust.

At Wreck Beach, urban shipmates drift down,
	embrace warm wood, each other.

Pacific spirits ghost the sunset shore.
	Clothing optional, go naked or half-clothed.
  
Stardust sailors! Forget the gold. 
	Now you’re someone else, nowhere else.

Pure, pristine, perfect. Reclaim 
	the natural, child.

Keep the Beach! Sister/brother captains of earth,
	Hang together!

Don’t sleep in the forested gully when the tide comes in.
	Use the porta-potty

Keep it clean for everyone,
	Take your garbage home .

No staring, no judging, just mellow down. 
	Don’t crowd us with your threads, man!  

 ‘Bare Buns Run’…. walk… crawl…fly! Or just sit…
	Chant your practice

Clothing or none, hang loose or lose it,
	rainbow people of air.

Laughing spirits climb the long sky-stairs 
	just born and screaming the Great Yawp.

In the Great Blue Heron’s nest
beach time resurrects us


*Author’s Note: I acknowledge that Wreck Beach land is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations.

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Patricia Paterson is a poet, fiction writer and history writer. She has published short stories ‘Day of the Doppelganger’, War Memorial Project AWCS,(2019)  ‘Calgary Skyline’, Loft on Eighth ‘Inner City’ (2021) ‘Things We Can’t Afford’, WORDSPIN chapbook, ‘Handfasting Mary’, Scottish Borders Society (2018), ‘Sunlight and Shadow in Tomkins Park’,  ‘Calgary’s Crush on 17th Avenue’ and ‘Jimmy Condon, Philanthropist’ for Calgary Heritage Initiative (2018, 2019) “Just Call me a Person” YYC Poetic Portraits of People, (2020)  https://sheridwilson.com/yyc-pop/patricia-paterson/

Educator and former editor/publisher of 17th Avenue Newspaper and Calgary Avenues, Patricia published a U. of C. arts magazine, Gaillardia. Seeking Scottish editor for ‘William’s War’, Novel Manuscript and Canadian WW2 immigration novel. Member of AWCS, Alberta Writers Guild and Calgary Heritage Initiative.

 

We didn’t read the news. A prose poem by Neil McCarthy

We didn’t read the news

I was at my usual booth, half a cold cappuccino 
in front of me, my daughter crawling over my lap
in an attempt to crayon the paper I was reading.
The man at the table across the floor looked like the 
prison warden from The Shawshank Redemption.
Whatshisface. I'd seen him in a few things recently.
He smiled. Stared just long enough for it not to be
awkward. Probably had a flashback of his little one
doing the same some forty years or so before. 
His wife lowered her newspaper too and looked over 
at my daughter, watery-eyed, as if picturing herself
at the same age; not a care in the world and more 
concerned with colouring things in than reading 
those little black shapes that make everyone angry.
Bob Gunton. That was him. The true miscreant of
the tale. That character you sit and watch and pray 
that they get their comeuppance. I looked down at
my table and hoped I hadn't stared back long enough
for it to have been awkward. I took my daughter's 
tiny hand and guided her crayon straight across the 
front page of my newspaper, carved a waxy orange
lined through the column about war; added green 
to the political article, purple to the images of 
Wall Street men transfixed by their sanctity of screens.
We took turns shading a bit here, another bit there,
exchanging crayons until the prismatic pages began
to glow like a city at night — a metropolis viewed from
a distant hill where the engorgement of colours is just 
enough to help us briefly forget about the smaller,
anger-inducing shapes within.

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Neil says: I’m an Irish poet dividing my time between Vienna and Los Angeles. I love writing, reading, football (the real stuff) and have recently fallen in love with good whiskies. In that respect, put a good game of football on the box in a bar, give me a whiskey and let’s talk poems – is that close enough to Heaven?

I have published 3 chapbooks of poems and released one CD of spoken word entitled ‘Live in the Laden’ recorded in Vienna and released under Preiser/Label 08. My poems have been widely published and also translated and published in Romanian, Hungarian and Serbian. 

Debut Collection “Stopgap Grace” published by www.salmonpoetry.com 2018

The Lido. Fiction by Alex Keegan

AlexKeegan

The Lido

My father, and my mother took us to the Lido: a yellow bus to Caerleon, then a walk, down a dirty, too-tight lane. Keep in, Ronnie!

I don’t remember my sisters, perhaps they were paddling, but I, I was a boy and dad insisted. The other pool!

The other pool, huge and deep, insistent, murderous, and my father said hold on to my back you bugger as he went deeper, with his crude ignorant breast-stroke disdainful of his son.

I cried, and cried, if I fall off! He was so fucking angry: I’ll drown you, you bloody baby! And my mother had to intervene. They left me clinging to the side, a coward, my father sloughing away from me, disgusted.

Later, he dived over me, knees out like a frog. Because of shrapnel, my mother said.

I was so scared of my father, but years later it would be my mother, by leaving us, who would hurt me.

***

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Novelist, short-story writer and poet, Welsh-Irish Alex Keegan recently started submitting again after a three-year hiatus.

He lives near Reading, England and looks after two asylum-seeking refugees. A tough, warts-and-all critic, he teaches creative-writing at Alex Keegan’s Boot Camp on line and F2F.