Monday, June 18, 2018

Notes for a failed novel


Tórshavn, Faroe Islands

Start with the location, basaltic hills, green against the grey sweep of the North Atlantic. Its stark majesty will seem like a literary device but sometimes the reality of a place happens to lends itself to meaning. Still, despite the realtors’ adage, there are more important things.

Describe sheep.

There’s a ruined cathedral in Kirkjubøur, massy medieval stonework standing unroofed beside grass-roofed houses and a smaller wooden church with a whalebone gate. In the 1800s, researchers found a reliquary with a metatarsal of St. Magnus and a fragment of the true cross which they sealed up again. When opened a century later, there was only dust. This must be a metaphor for something.

I lived in a tar and timber house…

A possible beginning: a German, a Canadian, and two Americans walk into the bar at Hotel Hafnia.

Another: The Faroe Islands rose out of the icy sea in a tumult of volcanism fifty-five million years ago. It’s been downhill since. On second thought, avoid erosion jokes.

Warren says the last eruptions covered swamps with molten lava. The contact layer of metamorphic rock can be seen clearly in the cliffside at Gàsadalur harbor. Another metaphor? For what?

Graffiti truths in the bathroom at Sirkus Føroyar: “once bread becomes toast, it can never be bread again.”

In Old Irish: Argir means “the summer pasture.”

The puffin is sometimes called “sildberi,” “the herring-bearer.” Kennings are alive and well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day

Happy May Day, dear reader. It's beautiful here and spring is stirring dormant creativity and slowness. I feel my shoulders relaxing and my gaze widening to take in a beautiful world. Herrick's poem below celebrates rural customs of celebrating May in the form of an escalatory argument of a suitor to get his sweetheart to come into the woods and celebrate the fertility of spring with him. He ends with a momento mori, that spring implies winter, that fertility implies death, that we must live while we can and pick the flowers in season.

Corinna's going a Maying

Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow'd toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: 'tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.

Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm'd with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see't?
                     Come, we'll abroad; and let's obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

There's not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w'are not a Maying.

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do's the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne'r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown'd with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

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.

Notes for a failed novel

NOTES FOR A FAILED NOVEL Tórshavn, Faroe Islands Start with the location, basaltic hills, green against the grey sweep of the North At...