Friday, September 28, 2012

Literary Santa Fe

When I was in graduate school at the University of Montana, I wrote a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts to bring in three visiting writers for readings and class visits. Other than those three, we'd rarely see a real living writer on campus--except for our distinguished professors. Luckily the town was crawling with writers, so we'd see them elsewhere--at the East Gate or the grocery store or Freddy's Feed & Read, the local book store.
Natalie Diaz

What a difference at the Institute of American Arts where I have taught for 22 years. Thanks to the Lannan Foundation (I'll have more to say about the Lannan folks here soon), to our location, to the web of connections that Arthur Sze bequeathed us, to the developing network of indigenous writers who recognize IAIA as an important locus of activity, to our own brilliant and dedicated alums, we've been blessed with a diverse array of writers year after year. In the last 24 hours, we had dinner and a reading with novelist Jayne Anne Phillips, lunch and a reading with Mojave/Pima poet Natalie Diaz, and a book launch and reading with IAIA alum dg nanouk okpik (Inupiat-Inuit).
dg nanouk okpik

On October 9, Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun will visit. On October 12 & 13, we have alums Elizabeth Woody, Sherwin Bitsui, dg nanouk okpik, James Thomas Stevens, and Joy Harjo on campus to help us celebrate our 50th Anniversary. We also have Natanya Ann Pulley and Layli Long Soldier coming up later in the fall. In the spring poets Jenny Boully and Lisa Jarnot, and fiction writer Junot Diaz are scheduled to visit.

Even our dean and our faculty secretary are poets. In fact, Dean Ann Filemyr will be reading in our library at 4 pm on October 23. The library will feature readings by our creative writing faculty, Evelina Zuni Lucero and James Thomas Stevens, in the spring.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Poem by Naseer Hassan

This is the first poem we worked on together. The punctuation is deliberately strange, though we are revisiting that issue to be sure the "strangeness" here in English is congruent to the strangeness in the Arabic. But meanwhile, a peek into a poem-in-progress:

The story of (that) time

The story of that time; … like tyrants “gargling” in the depths; in the forest’s quiet we were. Night was inside us; maybe we were stars, maybe we carried our clothes to where the river enters.
Dante says: the centaurs throw the tyrants in the river of blood[i]; I say: the forest is in the heart, and we inhabit al Midan[ii] square in the homeless rooms; judgment days pass colorless through us, and we are naked on the square of the universe.

[i] Inferno: XII.
[ii] An old central square in Baghdad.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Drama on Barcelona: Group Reading on November 18

 Photographs courtesy of Alex Traube.

I will be reading, together with some of my students from the Institute of American Indian Arts and the self-proclaimed Santa Fe Poète Maudit Chuck Calabreze (above, right), at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe on November 18, 2012, at 3 p.m. The reading will be part of their "Drama on Barcelona" series.  

The plan is to have each of the students read a poem or two. Then I'll read for twenty minutes and Chuck will stalk and growl for ten to wrap things up. 

So far, the luminous Paige Buffington, Sasha LaPointe, Monty Little, Anna Nelson, and Byron Aspaas have all agreed to participate. Two or three more students may join us.

The public is invited and admission is free.

WHEN:        Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 3 p.m.
WHERE:      The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe, 107 West Barcelona, Santa Fe

The Morning Ritual: Editing Naseer Hassan's Dayplaces

I wake at five every morning. And every morning for the last 18 days I have begun my day by reading one of Iraqi poet Naseer Hassan's translated poems from his extraordinary book Dayplaces. My job in our collaborative translation process is to question every English word--"putting pressure" on the choices, I call it with my students--to make sure the sound, the tone, the overall arc of the poem is as close as possible to the original Arabic. Naseer's English is very good; I speak no Arabic. So he brings the poem across into English, and I interrogate him about the original, about the intentions of the work, about the sound of the poem in English. Every choice is carefully tended. We've completed a first round of questions and responses on half of the 84 tiny poems and have accumulated over 200 pages of e-mails.  We have at least ten pages of correspondence just on the cultural meanings of the various punctuation marks we're using. It's a wonderful process, truly a joy to be engaged at this level. And the book itself is extraordinary--difficult, mysterious, tragic and joyful. I'm grateful to be attending its (re)birth into English.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

dg nanouk okpik's Corpse Whale

Okpik Street in Barrow, Alaska

Corpse Whale by dg nanouk okpik has just been published by the University of Arizona Press. Dg is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian arts, where I have taught--and been taught in turn--for 22 years. She is Inupiaq Inuit originally from Alaska's Arctic Slope. Her family resides in Barrow, Alaska. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast College.

Her work is imagistic, but also linguistically and sonically rich. I was asked by the press to write a blurb, but the request came at a time when I just couldn’t get it done. Blurbs are difficult. One doesn’t want to make extraordinary claims, but one also doesn’t want to understate a poet's or a book’s promise. So I failed to come up with a usable blurb in time. However, near the deadline I dreamed a blurb that turned out to be too odd to use in marketing a book. I awoke one morning with the line “If the ears could speak, this is the language they would use” in my head.  Although those words might not help sell copies, I stand by my dreamwords. Corpse Whale bridges the intuitive and the scientific, the traditional and contemporary, through a language that derives both from dg's traditional culture and language and the sonic legacy of poets like T. S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. 

(By the way, a corpse whale is a narwhal, whose name is derived from the Old Norse word nár, meaning "corpse," which refers to the animal's greyish, mottled pigmentation, like that of a drowned sailor.)

My former colleague, Arthur Sze, wrote a beautiful essay introducing dg’s work here:

One of dg’s poems can be found here:

Here is dg’s website: 

Buy the book from one of our local independent bookstores (Collected Works, as everyone knows, is my favorite). Support face-to-face contact before it disappears altogether:

The Palace Print Shop & Bindery

Today I visited with Tom Leech and his assistant James Bourland at the Palace Press, also known as The Palace Print Shop & Bindery, located in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors. I’d been there years ago, but everything has changed. The reconfigured print shop now houses, among several recreated print shops, a recreation of Gustave Baumann’s studio, including his original press and inks. This was especially interesting to me because among the projects I’m planning as Poet Laureate is an exhibit, talk, and reading at the New Mexico History Museum on the history of poetry in Santa Fe. Baumann, of course, was one of a group of artists, writers, and poets who became central to Santa Fe’s cultural life.

One of the pleasures, I’m discovering, of being Santa Fe’s Poet Laureate, is that I’m being dragged into a more public life, into the communal life of the city. And I’m enjoying it. Twenty years ago, I moved here in large part to have access to the arts, to music, to art films, and to readings. But the workaday world (especially when one loves their work—just a little too much, as I do) and the inertia of that have caused me to miss much of the cultural life I came here to find. So walking through the print shop with Tom was a revelation; he’s produced absolutely gorgeous work that I totally missed—broadsides, posters, chapbooks, folios . . .  All beautifully printed, letter pressed, often on handmade papers.  If you have not visited his shop at the Palace of the Governors, do so. Right now.  Before the inertia takes over.

Here’s the web site for the Palace Print Shop & Bindery:

And here’s an interview with Thomas Leech:

Rotary Club del Sur

On September 5, I spoke at the Rotary Club del Sur. Before I went I took some time to find out what a Rotary Club is and what they do. Good work, it turns out. Good, charitable work. And it was a pleasant meeting. At least until I called on my imaginary friend Chuck Calabreze to speak briefly. Briefly, that is, in Chuck time.

Chuck defined poetry for the Rotarians (“a narrowing of the prose for which there is no known cure”), then, after explaining that he was “half feminist . . . on [his] mother’s side,” he delivered a feminist response to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” Here is the poem, which Chuck delivered in his trademark arm-wagging and growling style:


My dear Mr. Poe, you silly twit, to sleep so by the sea!
I’m dead, you’re not, and that is why it’s over between you and me.
Get a house in town, get a job, clear your head;
Get dressed, comb your hair, find a girl who’s not dead
Like your beautiful Annabel Lee.

We loved, it is true, and we walked by the sea.
We walked and we walked and we walked, didn’t we?
Angels didn’t much envy our romance, my twitness,
They envied the cardiovascular fitness
Of your beautiful Annabel Lee.

Ed, I hated that beach, the sand and the sun
(the moon by the time you and I were quite done
Walking that beach in the rain in the wind).
Bedraggled, I’d wallow; you’d breathe deep and grin,
“You’re beautiful, Annabel Lee.”

Oh, it’s true we were children; we walked by the sea.
It’s true, I loved you and I guess you loved me.
True, you pointed to stars, to the moon, to the tides.
Still, I wish you’d had something to tell me besides
“You’re beautiful, Annabel Lee.”

But now that I’m dead, you’re walking no more.
You’re balding, you’re fat, and you’ve started to snore.
I look down from this heaven, and I must confide
I’m glad I have left what you’re sleeping beside--
The body of Annabel Lee.

Are you happier now that I’ve not much to say?
I’m consistently pretty--don’t have a bad day.
It’s your favorite dress and my hair is arranged--
Come to think of it, Eddie, not too much has changed
For beautiful Annabel Lee.

And I’m so glad to know our souls won’t be “dissevered,”
(While you sleep with my body) --you’re ever so clever.
Poor Annabel Lee, you’ve bedazzled, bedeviled her.
But I guess I was always a roll in the sepulcher.
Signed, beautiful Annabel Lee.