Monday, December 29, 2008

Guest Post: Poet Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

It will be hard to let go of an incredible 2008! One of the most significant aspects has been my involvement with the Public Republic Multimedia Journal. It has been published in Bulgarian for two years, becoming one of the most-read Bulgarian online magazines. Since January, it has been published in German, as well.

On September 14, we opened our virtual doors in English and added - the English language edition.

Being part of a startup international project brings a lot of work, but also a lot of excitement and personal satisfaction. The magazine is like a living being that needs care and attention, kind words, time to grow. And it has been growing constantly in terms of authors, readers and the editorial team. For just over three months, we have published close to seventy authors from nine countries. We publish work every day in the areas of literature, art, music or lifestyle, featuring well-established authors, along with previously unpublished authors. We just started a new initiative, “Artist of the Week,” in which we introduce a new visual or musical artist every Monday. Another innovative aspect of the magazine is that Public Republic allows readers to participate interactively with comments.

Being involved with an international online magazine has completely transformed my life and my schedule, having to communicate daily with our editors in the USA, Bulgaria, Sweden, Germany and Brazil. Also, experiencing everyone’s love and generosity towards the project of Public Republic has been most inspiring.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer was born and raised in Bulgaria, but since 1995, she has lived in the USA. She writes poetry and prose in both Bulgarian and English and enjoys translating between the two languages.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dark Transit

Dear Readers,

I had planned on continuing my discussion of Anne Finch this week, but decided to put her on hold when I stumbled across an astonishing poem at VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW: "Dark Transit" by Jared Carter.

Dark Transit

Always the passing of trains in the night,
The sound becoming a part of sleep, unnoticed,
Until one night you hear the call, and know
That a certain train had come for you at last.

The cars illumined with strange empty light,
The dining room with its starched tablecloths,
Its gleaming chairs, the lanterns swinging
In time with the headlong surge of the wheels.

Diesel engine, steam engine, wood-burner,
It does not matter, it is slowing down now,
And it has come for you, already you can see
How it glides to a stop in the empty station.

The stationmaster waves his yellow lantern
And confers with the conductor. It is time.
The train has arrived. You must go forward.
Passengers peer from the clouded windows.

The conductor folds down the steps, he beckons,
It is time, it is time, the whistle calls, the engine
Lets off steam, steam roiling and billowing
Far down the edge of the long dark platform.

I've been reading this over and over this past week, trying to figure out what it is that draws me into the world of this poem so forcefully, so completely. I think it's two things actually. First, trains. I grew up in Maysville, KY, a small town in the Ohio River Valley. I lived about two blocks from a fairly busy line used mostly for shipping coal (Although Amtrak goes through as well) to the power plants up and down the river. Because my house was so close to the tracks, I could hear the engines, of course; but I remember being able to feel them as well, a deep tremble that would shake the house late into the night. I remember walking the tracks home from school, trying to balance on one rail. My brother and I would put coins or rocks on the rails to be flattened or smashed into powder by lines of cars.

It's hard to imagine ever feeling so comfortable and welcome in such a barren, indifferent environment. We knew it was dangerous but still felt completely confident and fearless. Part of this same feeling is in "Dark Transit" as well. The poem welcomes the reader with the use of the second tense (which is not easy to pull off) and also with these very invitational, "You Come Too" lines: "it has come for you" / "it is time" / "you must go forward."

Ultimately, it is these invitational lines which make the poem so powerful; they provide opportunities not only for transit, but for transcendence. "Dark Transit" is meant to wake us from our everyday sleepwalking lives, shake things up a little, and set us down a new and different track.

Enjoy the poem,


Monday, December 15, 2008

Preview: Dance Dance Revolution

This week I picked up Dance Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong from my local public library. The title attracted me initially; I expected some wry commentary on pop culture, some autobiographical poems. The usual. And, if you already know anything about the book, you'll know I was quite surprised when I opened it and started reading.

Rather than the realistic mode of poetry I've been surrounded by recently, this collection is a work of imagination and fancy. There are two main speakers in the book: the Desert Guide and the Historian. The Desert Guide speaks in an amalgam of pidgin languages, and the Historian transcribes this speech, and every so often, interjects with some interpretation in standard English. The result is fascinating and quite different from anything I've read recently. The closest comparison I could make would be to Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which would be classified as fiction, of course, but both books have the same fanciful play of language working to drive the story. Since I am still in the middle of reading both books, I can't make any firm conclusions. But I plan to report back next time with a review.

In the meantime, here is a sample from the beginning of Dance Dance Revolution:

3. The Fountain Outside the Arboretum

Ahoy! Whitening wadder fountain. Drink. Afta cuppa-ful
o aqua vitae, yo pissin fang transfomate to puh'ly whites
like Bollywood actress swole en saffron,
flashim her tarta molar to she coquetry man.

So musical! So suggestive. I am entranced. More soon.

-- Jill

Monday, December 8, 2008

Anne Finch

Dear Readers,

This week I’m doing some research on the English poet Anne Finch (1661-1720). Here is one of my favorites by her, “Glass.”


O Man! what Inspiration was thy Guide,
Who taught thee Light and Air thus to divide;
To let in all the useful Beams of Day,
Yet force, as subtil Winds, without thy Shash to stay;
T'extract from Embers by a strange Device,
Then polish fair these Flakes of solid Ice;
Which, silver'd o'er, redouble all in place,
And give thee back thy well or ill-complexion'd Face.
To Vessels blown exceed the gloomy Bowl,
Which did the Wine's full excellence controul,
These shew the Body, whilst you taste the Soul.
Its colour sparkles Motion, lets thee see,
Tho' yet th' Excess the Preacher warns to flee,
Lest Men at length as clearly spy through Thee.

“Glass” is an intense observation and meditation on the invention and numerous forms of glass. It is written in heroic couplets, but is also sonnet-length, having 14 lines. The speaker considers the window, the mirror, and the wine-bowl in laudatory terms. But what begins as praise and admiration, becomes a warning in the final two lines, “Tho’ yet th’ Excess the Preacher warns to flee, / Lest Men at length as clearly spy through Thee.” (l. 13-14)

To speak in less than formal terms, I was really blown away by this poem. I think it has something to do with the element of surprise at work in the final two lines, a late volta, or turn. It seems very, very contemporary. There’s a slight ambiguity at work here, as well. A reader familiar with even a small portion of Finch’s work (as I am) would expect commentary on gender issues, and the poem accomplishes that. The sonnet length, the function of glass as a mirror, and the general admonition in the final two lines are representative of the speaker’s warning to women’s excesses of vanity. However, the same admonition can also be indicative of the excess of wine, something somewhat more particular to men. The poem functions on multiple levels and achieves a multiple levels of success. But what is particularly fascinating to me, is that it achieves all this without a single allusion, the trope du jour employed so heavily by the male poets in this time period. Enjoy!


Monday, December 1, 2008

What is the poet trying to say?

Yesterday, I stumbled upon "Effort" by Billy Collins in his new collection Ballistics. My uncle, Tom, had left the book lying on a table at my grandfather's house, so I picked it up and the pages fell open to "Effort." Collins's style always makes me feel as though the poet has sidled up to me at a family gathering to tell me an important (and well-composed) secret, and this time was no different.

(Disclaimer: I'm working from memory here, so please forgive me if I resort to paraphrase) The poem opens with a gentle rant against those teachers who always asked the question mentioned in the title. The speaker then gives us the comical image of Emily Dickinson chewing her pen, looking out the window, trying to figure out what to say. The rant resonates with me now especially because, as I am teaching a mixed-genre workshop here in my community, I often find myself in the position of having to either field this exact question, or listen to the not-so-gentle rants against my students' past teachers who pestered to death any potential love they may have had for poetry with said question.

Collins whispers slyly to the reader: It's okay not to know. And besides, you can relieve yourself of the responsibility of being the authority. The poem then turns cleverly to the speaker's own poetic subject. In letting his readers off the hook, Collins also excuses himself from having to make something with "absolute" meaning. He talks of absence, describes the night. And leaves it to future generations and future ruler-tapping high school teachers to figure out what it is he's been trying to say.

I appreciate the humor and candor in this poem, as well as the characteristic Collins humility that so incredibly accompanies such lovely language and elegant lines. I look forward to reading the rest of his new collection.

News of the submission slog: I am receiving rejections weekly, if not daily, these days. This at least proves I am doing the work of getting my poems out there. And most of my recent ones have been more than the one word, "No" that I once received by email. Can't say that I'd be unhappy to have an acceptance or two thrown into the mix. But I'll continue to slog on. Next targets: Beloit Poetry Journal and Minnetonka Review.

Happy December!

-- Jill