“Sophomores” by Meghan O’Rourke
W.W. Norton & Company, 2007
It’s America, 1993, and the malls
are cool and clean. Don’t you know,
like me, no one gets out alive.
For my last “Poetry at the Post” this cycle, I decided—after 18 worldwide poets— to return home with a writer who has ties to this part of Texas.
I read O’Rourke’s Halftime several years ago and several of the poems touched me deeply. Yesterday afternoon, while dusting (so much endless dusting in the desert…) and rearranging books, I rediscovered Halflife. I flipped through it at random and settled on “Sophomores.”
As we know, a poet’s poem becomes something else in the hands of each reader. Shaped by personal experiences, we see things in them that perhaps were never meant to be.
Last fall, I spent a few months living in Medellin,Colombia in a high rise apartment within walking distance of an upscale mall. It was super: swank pool, tropical landscape and two large patios with views of the Andes and the city below. However, if I just wanted to step out for a walk and grab a bite to eat, pick up some milk, etc. I had to go to the mall.
The little I knew before hand about Medellin did not prepare me for the locals’ love of Malls. Everything is in the malls, including the supermarkets.
“Weren’t you scared in Colombia?” I’m often asked. Not necessarily but I was careful. However, I did have a fear that I would never “get out of the malls.”
Of course, O’Rourke’s poetry is so much more than malls and my musings on my past.
My favorite line from “Sophomores” is “I’m the princess with a hole in my heart.” I’ve felt like that before. Perhaps not a princess, but a woman with a “hole in her heart.”
I look forward to reading O’Rourke’s newest book The Long Goodbye, A Memoir.
“Five Matryoskas”by Gennady Aygi, as translated by Sarah Valentine
3 with an idea
You surround us
as with silk
When I was a child I had a set of Russian Matryoshka Dolls. I’m not sure who gave them to me, or whatever happened to them but I used to love playing with these wooden dolls, nesting and un-nesting them. Who knows? Perhaps these little dolls were the spark that guided me to major in Russian.
“Gennady Aygi (1934-2006) is widely considered to be one of the great avant-garde poets from the former Soviet Union.” The starkness of his poetry attracts me. In “Five Matryoshkas, a poem inspired by the birth of Aygi’s son, we begin in the center of the nest and move outward—in a series of five fragmentary moments. Each section is like each doll in itself—complete.
Here’s a video of Sarah Valentine reading a selection of Aygi’s poems:
Into The Snow, Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi, Translated by Sarah Valentine, Wave Books, 2011
“Thus Bare Shoulder’d” by Gülseli İnal, as translated by Sebnem Susam
Pale and forgetful I was
returning from the lands of rain on my wings raindrops… which had fought with Zephyr
Yes, I am dreaming about rain in the hot desert and in this poem I found myself in the middle of a myth, a dream, the fairies. I could sense the wind—from the west, the raindrops. I felt the magic, the story.
…be it yours
these crystal fingers thus bare shoulder’d be it yours this this rose-
“On weakened legs I walked around the town the whole day. I took photographs” by Katerina Iliopoulou, as translated by John O’Kane
The Hungarian photographer André Kertész with his walking (during thirty years) wore out the network of streets of at least three cities. Eighty-five now, confined (by grief) to his apartment…
Katerina Iliopoulou is a poet, artist and translator, who lives and works in Athens.
What I like this poem is the convergence of so many places that have personal meaning. The stream of images leading to an unexpected ending is quite wonderful too.
In Paris he photographed himself double closing his eyes and a crumpled half-opened white door reflecting in the mirror.
Poetry at the Post, Day 14: Bulgaria Anyone? да, Bulgaria!
“Noah, The Carrier” by Kristin Dimitrova, as translated by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
To Gilgamesh*, however, he’d spoken like this:
I freed a pigeon, but it returned.
I freed a swallow—same thing.
I was going to head next to Greece at The Post but decided to stop in Bulgaria along the way. Today’s poem is by Kristin Dimitrova, a Bulgarian poet whose work appears in the 2014 Anthology of ContemporaryBulgarian Poetry The Season of Delicate Hunger, edited by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer .
Lake Pancharevo in southern Sofia
I like this poem because thematically it explores myth & legend and truth. We all have those friends who only tell you what you want to hear and then again, many times folks only hear what they want to hear. How much of religion or history is truth? As, we know, history is always written from the viewpoint of the victor, or dominant culture.
There is no way
Truth does not make a good legend
Yet legend is truth’s only carrier.
In an interview Dimitrova says, “I’d like American readers to know that Bulgarian poetry exists.” I must admit I know little about Bulgaria, well, okay, almost nothing.
You can read more about Dimitrova as well as the entire poem “Noah, the Carrier” here. There’s a fun twist at the end.
Ingeborg Bachmann stirbt in Rom/Ingeborg Bachmann Dies in Rome BY BARBARA KÖHLER, as TRANSLATED BY ANDREW SHIELDS
And the borders of the German language
are mined with murderous accidents.
I began reading Barbara Köhler yesterday and I was completely taken in by her work. A contemporary poet born in the former East Germany, she creates new ways of exploring cultural cues in language. She’s precise but also ambiguous. Anyone who has studied a foreign language and lived an expat life understands this ambiguity.. you think you know but do you really?
Ingeborg Bachmann was an Austrian poet and writer who also explored the potential of language. A member of the post-WW II literary group, Group 47, Bachmann moved to Rome in 1953. She died in 1973 at the age of 47 following a fire in her apartment in Rome. According to the police, the fire was due to a burning cigarette.
But back to Barbara Kohler. While Kohler was an artist-in-residence”with Cornell’s Institute for German Cultural Studies, she presented the IGCS Cornell Lecture on Contemporary Aesthetics April 16, 2013. “Some Possibilities For Sailing In A Friendship: Und Weitere Weitere MöglichkeitenBarbara” is a multi media presentation that is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. “The performance pivots on what this prize-winning author cultivates poetically as ‘precision in ambiguity.'”
Now if I could just get a copy of her book of poetry Niemands Frau Gesange , or Nobody’s Wife Cantos, a retelling of The Odyssey. This is a must-read for any epic junkie like me—or at least so I’ve heard.
“Yes, I live inside the piano” by Katerina Rudcenkova, as translated by Alexandra Büchler
Continuing my travels to the Czech Republic, I found the young Czech poet, playwright and photographer, Katerina Rudcenkova. What I’ve read of her work so far, I really like. It is fresh, yet powerful.
“Yes, I live inside the piano” is a short—3-line poem. For a quick poetry fix, you can read it here. It is fun with a twist at the end.
“Contempt” by Elfriede Jelinek, as translated by Michael Hoffman
my puppet-strings are the
sweet decaying lamps I flutter around.
Two of my besties from Spalding University will meet me in Budapest later this month. We’ll be traveling on to Vienna for a mini trip before we meet up with the rest of our program in Prague. In celebration of our upcoming trip—and out MFA graduation in Berlin, I decided to read an Austrian poet this morning. #lateantiquitystudiesbudapest2014 #threemfagradsonthetraintowien
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004, Jelinek is a controversial writer, mainly due to her political activism, strong feminist stance, & affiliation with the Communist Party—all of which are important to her work. As Jelinek suffers from agoraphobia, she did not attend the Nobel Prize award ceremony but instead sent this video.
I’m not sure yet what I think about this poem. My take away from this morning’s reading is this:
your stupid silence I will just
toss up in the air.
For me, these words are powerful. I think they suggest that we should have contempt for those who refuse to speak out against injustice and oppression. Im reminded of the importance of “voice” and standing up when the situation demands it. Not always easy.
I do wonder if I would be able to do so in a situation where my speaking out could lead to imprisonment,torture, or worse. I’m afraid I would not. Instead, I will try harder to chip away at any infractions of intolerance and discrimination that I encounter.
I never understood age discrimination until I got older—and, believe me, it is rampant. I refuse to allow age to define me and I speak up whenever I can.
“Contempt,”however, does make me curious to read more of Jelinek’s work. Here’s the full poem.