Wednesday, February 28, 2018

World Literature Today

The new issue of World Literature Today launched this week featuring some of my work on Faroese poet Jóanes Nielsen. It was exciting to appear alongside my first Bennington teacher Major Jackson and a litany of other great poets and translators. You can check read my translation of "I Brushed the Dust off an Intoxicated Poet" here and my translator's note here

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Thread

What is the story of your life? What's a story of your life? What are the small moments, the accidents, and momentary casualness that redirected life and made it something new?

SD was asking me about Faroe once and I thought back to 2005. I was at Miller Library at Cornerstone and stumbled across poetry by the Shetlandic writer Christine De Luca in the online magazine Words Without Borders. I was probably looking for something romantic to round out a letter to my then-girlfriend who was studying in Spain at the time. It was only fifteen minutes out of life but something in the poetry kept me thinking and the next week I ordered her books from Shetland. They arrived a few weeks after that and probably sat around for a few more waiting to be read.

De Luca mentioned Faroe in the preface to her work. I didn't know what it was and googled it and saw how beautiful it was. Further googling turned up a link to the Faroese Summer Institute. I kept it in the back of my head for another six years before I finally stepped off a plane into the rainy, sheep-strewn mountains of Vágar and boarded a bus for the capital.

Life changed that trip. Life changed after because of it.

I hadn't realized until SD's question -- which was not meant to spur existential reflection -- how everything could so easily have been different. A friend could have started a conversation. I could have found another of a thousand literary journals or read work on the site by a different author. Our lives are not fated. But reader, I read that day, and a slow tension began on a thread that would snap itself taut one day and life turned on a stitch.

I think of Great Expectations and Pip's reflection on meeting Estella one day.
“Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
We have stories to live yet, sneaking up on us -- chains forming from briars and roses, threads twining themselves, while we go about our everyday lives unawares, into the fabric of our being.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Silly as Praxilla

We've lost everything Greek poet Praxilla wrote expect a brief fragment mentioned by Zenobius to explain the phrase "silly as Praxilla." The line is Adonis' answer when asked in the underworld what the most beautiful thing he left on earth was. 

Finest of all the things I have left is the light of the sun, / Next to that the brilliant stars and the face of the moon, / Cucumbers in their season, too, and apples and pears.

Apparently placing cucumbers and pears next to the light of the sun is what made made Praxilla silly In this depth of winter, missing the sun and the season of cucumbers, I don't find her the least bit silly.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Blanket Me

I've been writing about sculptor Leah Waldo's work for a reading next week at The Scarab Club. Her recent work deals with ideas of guardianship -- totem, amulet, dovecote, obelisk. The idea has split in a dozen ways for me, giving rise to drafts for more poems than I could ever have hoped to finish in the two months we've been collaborating. This week, it's struck me in the Hundred Waters song Blanket Me. "A dense phrase," Leah says about the refrain. And a complicated wish too. But it's a beautiful one too and a lovely song.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dog Days

It's hard to see home clearly. I travel during the summer most years and it gives me perspective and fresh vision that I can carry home. Traveling through Greek literature gave me a window into my own backyard in this after Alcaeus poem about my old cottage in Whitmore Lake. The Michigan Poet published it as a poster. Reading it now makes me miss my cottage and long for summer and finishing every evening with a swim in Horseshoe. 

On Being -- Christian Wiman