ČERVENÁ BARVA PRESS NEWSLETTER
Gloria Mindock, Editor Issue No. 50 December, 2009
Welcome to the December, 2009 Červená Barva Press Newsletter
The end of the year is here. Wow! Where did 2009 go?
With the holiday season upon us, I hope you will visit
The Lost Bookshelf, www.thelostbookshelf.com, and order a chapbook or book
published by Cervena Barva Press. We depend on sales and donations to keep publishing books and for survival. You can tell by our press releases and website, that Bill and I work very hard to get
so many books and chapbooks published. While you are at it, check out the books we have on consignment.
As mentioned in our last newsletter, Cervena Barva Press will review books for writers.
We have 2 reviews this month written by Jim Anton and Daniel Y. Harris.
I would like to thank them both for writing reviews for the press for this month. Reviews published by Cervena Barva Press
will not appear every month in this newsletter. Not all books received by the press will be reviewed.
Have a wonderful Holiday Season!
Gloria and Bill
Interviewed in this newsletter are Fred Marchant and Vasyl Makhno.
Book reviews in this newsletter are written by Jim Anton and Daniel Y. Harris
Thank you Alexander J. Motyl, Fred Marchant, Vasyl Makhno, Daniel Y. Harris, Jim Anton, Donald Wellman, and John Amen.
Last month, Cervena Barva Press had a booktable at the Somerville News Writers Festival Bookfair.
I met some new people and saw some writers and presses that I knew. It was fun.
One thing that made the bookfair and evening at the festival so special was meeting Tara L. Masih who I published 22
years ago in the Boston Literary Review/BLuR. Her work is amazing so it was so nice to finally meet her. She is such a nice person.
The festival was great. My hat goes off to Doug Holder and Timother Gager for doing a wonderful job organizing it.
The Armory is a gorgeous place to hold this event or any event. Congratulations to two of my friends who read in the festival,
Susan Tepper and Tam Lin Neville. The whole night was just great and all the readers were really amazing.
Cervena Barva Press Book News
Pentakomo Cyprus by Irene Koronas had 2 reviews come out in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene by Lo Galluccio and Michael Steffen.
Anthem by CL Bledsoe has a review in The Pedestal # 54.
Lucille Lang Day has been nominated for the Northern California Book Reviewers Award
for her book The Culvature of Blue.
Celebrity Slumbers by Judson Hamilton had a review written by Hugh Fox.
New Children's Chapbook Series
Cervena Barva Press starts a children's poetry chapbook series.
This is by solicitation only. Any manuscript received will be returned unread.
Cervena Barva Press is proud to publish our first in this series by
Alexander G. Dryer. He is an excellent writer way beyond his age.
We are very proud to publish this chapbook but will not publish where
Alexander lives or any personal information about him since he is a child.
Alexander Gregory Dryer composed the poems in this book during the eighth, ninth, and tenth years of his life.
He loves writing poems, but does not force the ideas onto paper or give himself deadlines. He really loves when the ideas
just flow. Alexander says that his Auntie Woo-Woo is a source of inspiration for his poems. When asked to describe the room
he writes in, he said, "It is a quiet room with lots of books, organized writing supplies, and my Lego creations."
Alexander lives with his mom, dad, two cats, and dog. He enjoys school, reading, learning to play the violin
and piano, and building with Legos. When he grows up, he wants to be a paleontologist and a professional violinist.
Three Desert Haiku
I. Prickly cactus grows
Very high above the ground
And resists the wind.
II. Lake in the desert
Glistens brightly in the sun
Only a mirage.
III. Snake slithers quickly
To catch a spotted lizard
That darts in the sand.
International Writers' and Artists' Residency -- Val David, Quebec, Canada
Jean Taranu* biannual bursaries (one month stay)
October-November and April-May each year
1045 Rue du Renard et du Corbeau
Val, David, Quebec
Info: Flavia Cosma
We are pleased to provide this opportunity for writers, artists and Literary and Art scholars to develop their work in our
facilities, and we hope that they will find their time here productive and rewarding.
The village of Val David is an enchanting place; well known for its artistic atmosphere - it is an ideal place for creative
Our residency program is a dynamic and exciting opportunity. The IWAR-VD offers residencies that support each resident's
creative process. The residency allows unstructured time, away from the demands of daily life, with no expectations on output.
Here writers and artists can meet, live and work in a unique, multicultural community.
This house comprises a total of five bedrooms and a separate small apartment.
There are large communal areas, living and sitting rooms, a terrace with a panoramic view, an extra large communal kitchen,
free laundry facilities, lots of balconies and a large garden. Shopping and other attractions are at a short distance.
There is a ski resort within ten minutes' walking distance from the residence. Mount Tremblant can be reached by car or bus
in 20 minutes. Val David is situated 75 km North of Montreal
Admission for the Jean Taranu Bursary is competitive and selective, based on a review of applicant's work by panels of
professional artists. The basis for admission is professional achievement or promise of achievement. There is no discrimination
due to race, creed, sex, age or physical condition.
The Jean Taranu Bursary at the International Writers' and Artists' Residency-Val David, Quebec, Canada is meant to be a
join venture between the Centre and the Universities and Cultural Institutions willing to participate in this project. The
monthly rate for the successful applicants will be $ 400.00 Can. dollars instead of the regular rate of $ 800.00.
The writers/translators staying at the Centre are kindly asked to mention in their publication that their particular writing-or
part of it-has been elaborated during their stay at the International Writers' and Artists' Residency - Val David, Quebec, Canada.
A copy of this publication should be sent to the Centre as soon as it is released.
Furthermore, the Centre is going to publish in the future a selection of works written by its guests. Therefore, you are
kindly asked to provide a poem or a piece of your work which has been completed during your stay at the Centre. The Editorial
Board of the Centre will decide whether it will be included in the publication.
We would like to remind our guests that the accommodation here at the Centre is not free of charge as for now
(please consult the tariffs), and that the guests pay their own travel and food expenses (a light breakfast is included in
the price). The Centre provides bed-linen and towels and there is a communal kitchen and dining room for those guests who wish
to prepare their own meals. There is also a laundry room for common use. Free parking spaces are available on the premises.
Furthermore the Centre is not able to host families and pets. There are many hotels in Val David where visitors can stay.
As well, our guests will be required to have their own medical and hospital insurance during their residency time.
More practical information:
Guests are expected to behave in a responsible manner and to treat this house as they would treat their own. For the good
reputation of the Centre please don't allow visitors in your rooms
after 10.00 pm.
Please contact us ahead of time in order to give us the exact arrival details (date and time). Should you require any further
information concerning your stay, please don't hesitate to contact us.
Flavia Cosma-International Affairs Chair-The League of Canadian Poets
Director-The International Writers' and Artists' Residency, Val David, Quebec, Canada
* Jean Taranu, MD, writer and promoter of Romanian Culture and Heritage throughout the world, founding member of
The Romanian Association of Canada. (1921-2009) Val David, Quebec, Canada
Judy Jones photographs of the homeless are being exhibited in The Benefit Art Show which features a Collection of Artists
who wish to contribute to society thought the beauty of their artwork and through the donation of their proceeds to a non-profit
whom they see as benefiting the community.
December 1st - 30th, 2009
Barefoot Coffee Roasters
5237 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA
Judy does so much to help the homeless in the San Francisco area.
Thanks Judy for all the work and benefits you do to help those in need.
You are so giving all the time. If any of you are in the area, stop by this benefit art show and check it out!
Talking Diamonds by Linda Nemec Foster
New Issues Press, 2009
''A humanist at heart, Linda Nemec Foster has demanded from her poetry an artfulness that engages ordinary life.
With each new book her work has continued to mature, deepen, console, surprise, and Talking Diamonds is as wise
as it is lovely.''
- Stuart Dybek
To order on Amazon:
Linda's book has been nominated for a Michigan Notable Book Award.
Zarma Folktales of Niger, translated from the French by Amanda Cushman
Quale Press, 2009
"Zarma Folktales of Niger presents for the first time in English the folklore of the Zarma, a lesser-known tribe of
West Africa. These tales run the gamut from teaching ethical and moral lessons to portraying tricksters to naming animals
to having fun to farting contests. Humor and an emphasis on living justly bind the stories together. So far there have been
few mentions of the Zarma people in Western texts, and no sign of their folklore, until now.."
To order: http://www.quale.com/
Distribution:Available directly from Small Press Distribution, 1341 Seventh St.,
Berkeley, CA 94710, 800-869-7553, www.spdbooks.org.
Review of Gravestones by Antonio Gamoneda,
Translated by Donald Wellman
UnoPress, University of New Orleans Press.
What is Gamoneda trying to convey? That's the question I kept asking myself as I read poems that contained lines like:
Oh the spoons; that is what you hear when the sugar boils
oh the spoons in the heart seduced by the larks of
I read Gravestones straight through in a couple of sittings, then reread them. I read some in the original Spanish - the left page
contains the poem in its original Spanish, the right page contains Donald Wellman's excellent translation. I found that the translation
is very straightforward. Gamoneda uses common words. Very powerful common words. Here's another example, perhaps more telling:
Talk to me so I may know the purity of
Useless words. As I continued reading and not understanding, I realized that the understanding called for is not what I traditionally
think of as understanding. He uses words but not to talk. Then there are the prose poems; at least the ones that appear to be prose:
Today is the day of steel; its brightness gleams in the eyes
of the dead. Invisible mother, deliver me from one who hides among doves, cover my face, save me from Friday.
Once again they seem like prose. But they are not. No one talks like this. There is no "sense" here unless …
I took a sculpting course in Arizona and the instructor at the end of each week would ask us to talk about our work to our classmates.
There was a Native American in the class. When it was his turn to talk about his work, he wouldn't do so. He, like many other Native
Americans, thought that talking about his art would kill it.
Matisse said that what made a painting great was the part that could not be put in words. Gamoneda takes us to a universe where words
are important, independent, living objects. What the words mean cannot be put into words.
I read and reread the poems and do not tire of them. I enjoy the ride without traditional meaning. I think I know what he means, but
I cannot put the meaning into words; his is a world in which logic, good and bad, rules and dimensions don't exist. Gamoneda uses words
to take the reader to that part of the universe that must be experienced but cannot be described.
Foundational Tropes of the New Poetry:
A Review of John Amen's
At the Threshold of Alchemy
by Daniel Y. Harris
Brain of man, hemorrhaging, bereft
of divinity, cries out, groping for its raft
of reason: then fuzz, descent, oblivion.
At the Threshold of Alchemy
Excerpt from "Rampage"
John Amen is our Jakob Böhme sporting a Hermes Trismegistus phrenology replete with mosaic crown and gold shroud.
The base metal of the quotidian is transmuted into the gold of ecstatic and troubled occasions in At the Threshold of Alchemy.
As with any fetal emergence, the labor is rigorous. A reader will not find an expedient route to closure nor to the desiccated
entrails of confession, so all-pervasive in this sad age where poetry is extolled for its redundant proximity to banality. With
John Amen, we watch a literary pyre carry its corpses to the fire. A crowd dressed in black laments the passing of the Beats, the
Neobeats, the tired Language Poets, the elite literary press conspirators, the Master of Fine Arts covens, the mavens of poetry
workshops enroute to Monaco with their wealthy and aspiring acolytes and the Professors of English, maintaining their tenure-track
with monosyllables and first-person narratives. The mortician reads the latest poem from the current issue of The New Yorker and
lights himself on fire.
Of note and singular achievement in this exquisite collection are "gnostic" with its gnosis of detail, the extended anti-love poem
"Portraits of Mary," the Charles Baudelaire-inspired poem "Salient Matters," and the mise-en-scène "All Night (or Kyros:
The Eternal Moment)." It is with the brilliant "Rampage" that our faithful modern Böhme crosses the threshold of alchemical
resolve. Once in, once crossed and receding in a distance of lit semaphores, the reader immediately encounters a "Mind" that
"fortifies what it wishes to dismantle," or a trope roughing the Freudian periphery of negation. Transcendence fined down becomes
what it seeks to transcend as its augmented opposite, the base matter, the quotidian forcing us down to what John Amen calls a
fortifies what it wishes to dismantle,
bogs itself in what it strives to transcend.
Its petals are pinned against yellow pages.
is scaling a graphic loop of rungs,
treading a bottomless conspiracy.
The normative portals of transcendence determined by a canonic conduit are no longer accessible. The "bottomless conspiracy" is
replete with clichés uttered by the vacuous who fear instant apocalypse and prepare survivalist retreats in remote regions. They/we
(the reader) have to travel through "manic bougainvillea" and a "plastic surgeon" who "invested in Halliburton" to end up, albeit
temporarily, in a suburb whose "vinyl jaw is unhinged." Where are we or where have we been thrown asked the 2nd century gnostic
theologian Valentinus? John Amen's third eye, the pineal, savage intelligence of the omniscient I, sees it all too clearly with
vinyl tears. We are in the under/overworld of the "Mutant fungi."
Icecaps thaw, glaciers melt, polar bears drown
in the shelfless waters. Dumpsters in the Antarctic.
The maestros of petrol wave their batons,
sodomizing the great mother, siphoning her milk.
Mutant fungi in the crawlspace, stealth of bacteria.
The canyons weep, inauguration of murder.
True, poor Edomite, man is born unto trouble, 1
but must we really give shelter to our betrayers? 2
1 Job 5:7
2 Greek Myths (Graves), section on "The Epigoni"
The "new poetry" will be peopled by the post-Edomite's unleashing their "mutant fungi" on the consensual experience of platitudes.
Thousands of books of contemporary poetry will find entire sections simply missing from their pages. The books, themselves, will remain
intact, although in numerous cases, absent a title. This viral pandemic will effect every language and every form of poetry. In fact,
it is the entropic prognostication of this reviewer that even the verbal platitude will be erased from the larynx. Thousands of people
will simply find themselves entirely healthy but mute, or producing silence in place of a word in mid-sentence and grimacing. As
John Amen tells us, it is not merely the genius of "mutant fungi" but also the "stealth of bacteria" that will obliterate vapid
nuance and the cultural terrorism of empty trope.
The plebeians take umbrage. Afterall, an entire industry is at risk of producing tens of thousands of books with empty pages.
Amen bestows upon us peripatetic images ranging from the "dismissive" to the grotesque to illustrate this umbrage.
suspicious eyes, the clammy handshake.
lipstick smiles carved into styrofoam faces.
Children in camouflage. The gloved hand
always scrawling in the black pad.
From the "black pad," the void, or the alchemically charred hand of the new magician, comes a far more dangerous dark, the
"sulphurous breeze" linked to "greed and illusion." John Amen is subtle and dangerous. Our "greed" for more "illusion" is our
greed for the panegyric, destined to purify our blocking agents who will "vanish in the zyklon night." In an imaginary set of
holy appendices, we honor our debt to Paracelsus who was reincarnated as an I.G. Farbenindustrie AG chemist. The alchemy of
poison gas-the stench of cliché-our coeval fate exhumed by a future coroner with a penchant for biotechnology and prosody.
A respite comes for somnambulists who sabotage the manufacture of narration by leaping to their miserable deaths from grand
So many sleepwalkers leaping
into the mist of Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate,
so many limbs flailing in the waves.
They are spared by their deaths. Canonic history can boast no exoneration: not Orpheus,
Socrates, Michael or Gabriel. Great cities such as "Jerusalem" will be turned into
"phalluses of trade" with "fumes wafting from manholes."
Jerusalem. Gaza. Tibet. Sudan. Burma. Phalluses
of trade blazing beneath a satellite sky. Fumes
wafting from manholes. Tiananmen. Chernobyl.
On the brick of rapture, the author's mercury as quicksilver in the lungs, John Amen asks
us to "forgive" him "for this insular life."
Forgive me for eating this bountiful meal.
Forgive me for sleeping beneath this roof.
Forgive me for making love to my wife.
Forgive me for everything I fail to see and do
and avenge. Forgive me for this insular life.
We forgive your "insular," hermetic life in the mysterium-you grand excavator of meteoric innards. Your tria prima of human
identity is worth the salvage, burning the dross of our vapid lives hung between cursory allegiance to routine and the insufferable
calendar. Contrary to rote assumption, neither the light nor the dark supplant each other. They coexist as co-authors of our
idiosyncratic lives. Ours, that is the practitioners of the "new poetry," is a type of post-Proustian radical privacy and tropistic
ingenuity expanding complexity with fissures, solvents and digital aqua vitae. We are neither reclusive nor apocalyptic, rather
seeking to make, as you stunningly say, "protean atomic strands shifting/a priori a posteriori fracturing & centripetal," the agon
between the word and the idea.
When the limits of metalepsis have been reached and broken, why not invoke a Pythagorean hagiography with a smattering of
The hypotenuse is a broken arm.
The compass is a roulette wheel.
incarnation absolute chromosomal & karmic
f(x) amidst entropy must in turn beget
The shortest distance
between two points is numbness.
"Numbness," or for the manic aspirants among us who kneel before the new canon, that distance is called Monas Hieroglyphica-the
glyph as pure transumption casting a viral hue on mundanity. Reaching the boiling, sulphuric glow of alchemical malaise, we emerge
upon Amen's eighth (viii.) most compelling and titular section-the "Brain of Man."
Brain of man, hemorrhaging, bereft
of divinity, cries out, groping for its raft
of reason: then fuzz, descent, oblivion.
Heart of nature, trapped in a ruptured hull,
forsaken angel flagging in a sea of indifference,
foundered in the barbarian darkness.
Macro to micro, frantic clusters, molecules
huddling like shivering prisoners: ultimate
nucleation, chemistry reduced to a mob hug,
a final flood of stone: ubiquitous sepulchrum.
The alchemical panacea, elixir, the philosopher's stone-all hedged in the "brain of man," which is "hemorrhaging" from its
lexicon of clichés, finds divinity bereft: absent, in bereavement over the death-of-god. Unsaved, even by the savage genius
of the "mutant fungi," this wilting cerebral muscle becomes fuzz (fuzzy logic), descends back into base matter, to eventually
disperse into "oblivion." The virus attacks the viral-disease is increased. It's a "rampage." In the "heart of nature," as Amen
avers, lies the "barbarian darkness," decoded from "macro to micro," to "frantic clusters," all "like shivering prisoners." In
this "ubiquitous sepulchrum," we find alchemy in reverse from the rubedo (the reddening) back to nigredo (the blackening) as
described in the medieval Magnus Opus, or from unification to dissolution.
The alchemist furthers his deliverance with an exegetical wax on an anti-origin: "In an un-beginning, void:/ Then something from
un-something/emerges," and we are lured further into the rebus of antitheticals where we are, in spite of ourselves, at our most
natural. As Adam "stretches in the protean dawn," "Eve waits in the wings." The enfolding dramaturgy is liberated of its diachronic
chains, as we, half synthetic now and half some organic solvent, mixed yellowish-white, resolve to be alchemically fractured in the
pure irony of Amen at his best, "Indeed, all is one-divine, absurd, conflicted."
The reviewer has taken numerous liberties with what may be dubbed interpretative misprision, or creative misreading in analyzing
John Amen's great poem "Rampage" within the context of his magnificent third book, At the Threshold of Alchemy. Yet, it is just
this misprision, maneuvering between Amen's tropes which inspire this reviewer to recommend this book so highly. Great poetry doesn't
rot on the dusty shelf of a gold-plated decrescendo. It demands agonic play. It agitates and provokes in order to stir play and
invention. At the Threshold of Alchemy is our spur. We read, play and write.
May 11, 2009
Vasyl Makhno is a Ukrainian poet, essayist, translator and playwright. He is the author of seven collections of poetry:
Skhyma, Caesar's Solitude, The Book of Hills and Hours, The Flipper of the Fish, 38 Poems about New York and Some Other Things,
Cornelia Street Café; a book of essays, The Gertrude Stein Memorial Cultural and Recreation Park; and two plays,
Coney Island and Bitch/Beach Generation. His work has been translated into Polish, English, German, Serbian, Romanian,
Slovene, Russian, Lithuanian, Malayalam, Czech, and Belarusian. He has been living in New York since 2000. Makhno was
interviewed by Alexander J. Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University and the author of several novels.
You began your poetic career in Ukraine. How has separation from your native language affected your poetry?
I exchanged my native country for America eight years ago. The contrast between the two cultures and languages gave me a taste of
something I hadn't experienced before. It made my poetry more expansive. The city provided me with new themes and gave my poetry a
new aesthetic impulse. In 38 Poems about New York and Some Other Things, I focus on New York's streets and sounds, and the poets
who've lived here. Something similar happened to me when I lived in Krakow, but it was nothing compared to the American experience,
which has been unique and absolutely remarkable.
What's so unique and remarkable about that experience?
Krakow is Europe, after all, but America, and especially New York, is a madness that never leaves you. In contrast to Europe,
America doesn't insist that you be American. No one cares if you reject its collective psyche or way of life; no one reminds you
of your otherness or foreignness. New York doesn't comprehend your loneliness; the city just makes a joke of it, leading you by
the hand through its fantastic labyrinths, exposing you to countless distractions, showing you various ethnic groups, cultures,
and national cuisines. The city offers you an alternative-and it's always open to dialogue. Of course, you may not be ready for
such a dialogue and you may not want to accept its invitation to wander its labyrinths.
How did your fascination with New York's Beat poets come about?
In Ukraine, I wasn't very aware of the Beat generation. After all, during my youth our knowledge of American literature ended with
Hemingway. When I arrived in New York, I absorbed this exotic poetry. It was incredible to walk the same streets and sit in the same
cafes as the Beats and the poets of the New York School. I began to read their writings and eventually I even met John Ashbery.
This meeting was probably of no significance to him, but to me it was earth-shattering.
Has American poetry influenced you?
Yes and no. That ambiguity is reflective of my East European approach to poets as discoverers of the strange. I've always been
fascinated by those things in American poetry that are absent, or almost absent, in Ukrainian or Slavic poetry-such as continually
changing poetic strategies, rationalism, openness to and creation of everyday language, less abstract images and symbols, and
attempts to expand the possibilities of language and poetry. But American poetry is also experiencing a crisis. The entire world
has adopted the New York School's strategy of banality and considers that everything can be poetry, from New York garbage to Fifth
Avenue ads. Every step forward entails some debasement, which is fine, since realizing this enables you to seek out new forms and
Which American poets have influenced you the most?
Any Slavic poet can name a few English-language poets such as Eliot, Ashbery, Pound, or Platt and thereby stake a claim in this
tradition, but truly engaging them can only be done in English and not in translation. One Russian critic claims to see Anglo-American
influences in my poetry, but I'm not so sure. And besides, while it's true that Ashbery has influenced me, what does that really
mean in light of the fact that many critics consider him to be the best exemplar of European traditions in American poetry? That
said, I especially like Allen Ginsburg and the Beats, the New York School, Derek Wolcott, and Charles Simic.
Do you still consider yourself a Ukrainian poet?
Of course. My roots go back to Ukraine and I am and always will be a Ukrainian at heart. But I also consider myself European and a
New Yorker. It's funny, but I'm already considered an American writer in Ukraine. I agree with Salman Rushdie that a global society of
displaced writers currently create literature out of wedlock. Regardless of where they're from, these writers share a new literary
language, are marked by conflicts between their countries of origin and their countries of settlement, and are shaped by borderland
cultures and psyches.
But yours was a very specific generation. Surely that makes you different.
My generation, like so many others, experienced cataclysms and disappointments and was not, in that sense, unique. On the other hand,
I belong to a generation that, at the age of 15, pined for American jeans, which cost both your parents' monthly wage on the
black market. We listened clandestinely to foreign radio stations, went crazy over Western music, and read Solzhenitsyn's One Day
in the Life of Ivan Denisovich under the covers. Then we experienced the war in Afghanistan and the Soviet collapse. We were a
transitional generation at a transitional time. We produced criminals, Mafiosi, nationalists, communists, gays, feminists, writers,
and emigrants-heroes and antiheroes of various kinds.
Who belongs to and creates Ukrainian culture?
Obviously, Ukrainian culture is created in Ukraine. But Ukrainian culture also exists wherever Ukrainian artists have found refuge-as
in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s or in America after World War II. Consider Samuel Beckett-an Irishman who wrote in French and
English. Does he belong to Irish, English, or French culture-or to all three? I do think that someone living in Ukraine and writing
in Russian may contribute to Ukrainian culture. Can a writer living outside Ukraine be Ukrainian while writing in English, Russian,
or Chinese? I'm not sure that even an excellent writer like Askold Melnyczuk is contributing to Ukrainian culture while writing in
So English-language translations of your poetry don't belong to Ukrainian culture?
Not quite. My poems were originally written in Ukrainian; translations can't change my specifically Ukrainian mentality.
How did the New York Group of Ukrainian writers contribute to Ukrainian culture?
People may not appreciate it here or in Ukraine, but Ukrainian literature would be much poorer without them. Yuriy Tarnawsky's
"poetry of anti-poetry" has, as Bohdan Rubchak once said, affected our poetry like a virus, undermining sentimentality and
pseudo-profundity. A woman poet from Ukraine once told me that it was only after reading some of Rubchak's poems that she
finally understood what economy of expression means. To which I'd add that his cultural allusions intertwine the world with
Ukraine. Bohdan Boychuk explores history, eroticism, and human existence while moving between Western rationalism and national
idealism. Wira Wowk, Patricia Kylyna, Emma Andijewska, Zhenya Vasylkivs'ka, and Maria Rewakowicz have exploded form as well as
linguistic and conceptual taboos. But it's important to realize that the New York Group's innovations were also rooted in Ukrainian
literary traditions. People continue to respond to their work both positively and negatively, because they're still provoking and
But contemporary Ukrainian literature is, as you say, being crafted in Ukraine. What's your assessment of current trends?
I take it as axiomatic that Ukrainian literature will never be like English, American, German, or French literature. Ukrainian
literature is interesting as what it is-as a literature in motion, reflecting the changes that befell the Soviet Union before and
after it collapsed. Ukrainian literature did evolve in the twentieth century, of course, but it was only after Ukraine became
independent that our literature received carte-blanche to be free, to escape censorship, and to experience the clash of generations.
Similar processes also took place in Poland, Romania, Hungary, and the Baltic states. But as Soviet readers, who always hungered
for good books, were replaced by apathetic, impoverished, and confused readers, Ukrainian writers came face to face with a dilemma:
either to produce for the market in Ukrainian, while abandoning literary standards, or to abandon readers to Russian-language authors.
The struggle continues, but now both writers and readers have made concessions and reached a modus vivendi. As a result,
Ukrainian texts get translated into European languages, Ukrainian authors take part in international festivals, and Ukrainian
literature is actually considered European by the Poles and Germans.
How do you write poetry?
I used to write my poems with a pen. Today I usually type them on my laptop. And that's the first important change. As to the
actual process, I don't write when half-awake or drunk. For me writing is a fully conscious activity provoked by the desire to
verbalize intellectual or emotional states. I usually write a poem as a whole, and then make changes. Sometimes love of a text
turns to hatred and a desire to destroy it-which I interpret as a kind of Oedipal complex, a constant struggle with oneself and
Where do you get your ideas for poems?
From many different things-a New York street or a Starbucks cafe, a book, my childhood, my memories. My poem,
"Would You Stop Loving Her if You Knew She Was a Lesbian?", was an ad in the subway. I also get ideas from my travels.
Most of the essays in The Gertrude Stein Memorial Cultural and Recreation Park are exploratory wanderings based on real
countries and cultures. My visit to India "led": to my Indian poems, while Berlin served to inspire the cycle I'm currently
writing. Obviously, New York has been my major source of inspiration. I didn't adapt it to me; I tried to concretize my own
visions and psychological states. Themes, like life, are always changing; one's voice has to remain authentic and clear.
Who is your audience?
My ideal readers have no age, but they probably have a philosophical bent.
Have you ever written novels?
I've written essays, but sometimes I think I'd like to write a novel about my generation as it moved from the collapse of the
Soviet Union to middle age.
Are you related to Nestor Makhno?
Alas, no. My father comes from a village called Dubno, which is now in Poland. The two most common names in Dubno were Hohol
and Makhno. I think that my ancestors came there from eastern Ukraine. It's quite possible that Nestor and I were relatives
in the 1700s.
Vasyl Makhno, thank you.
Nov. 20, 2009
Photo: Stefi Rubin
When did you first start writing? Was it always poetry?
As far as I can tell I began writing poems in my second semester of college. It was partly in response to a really fine teacher,
a man name Rodney Delasanta. This was at Providence College around 1964, and I had just discovered that I loved literature more than
I loved the problems I met up with in my capacity as a Physics major. In fact, Delasanta had us reading Dante's Inferno,
from the Divine Comedy. It was the John Ciardi translation, a paperback that had on its covers a group of cartoon devils.
I not only remember it vividly, but I still have the book itself. I had-I don't know why exactly-taken a lighter to the
edges of the front cover, to make it look as if it had come straight from hell's fires. Rather than this being a trace off
pyromania, I like to think it was a sign of just how real I thought literary texts were: as real as real can be.
In any case, I remember Delasanta was teaching us about Medieval and Renaissance ideals too. I had just learned the word sprezzatura,
to mean the way a nobleman had a kind of elegant capacity to deal with anything the world offered, a non-chalance in the face of
troubles. Well, the word came into play in my life around that time. I had taken my date to the Roger Williams Park in Providence,
and while we had learned against a hurricane fence, the penned buffalo decided to ram us. We laughed more than we should have, as it
was a little frightening. But the next day, early in the morning, in the college library, I was at a long wooden table, and composed
my first lines. They are memorable because they are so god-awful, and sweet in its response to the buffalo who had gone after us:
Butt, butt, base bale beast!
I fear your horns not in the least!
I am sure I was at first proud of the alliteration and the end rhyme. I am sure also I thought I was being nonchalant and
elegant in composing a couplet. Oh well, it was poetic sprezzatura, Providence-style, circa the mid-1960s, and I look on these
lines with real fondness for the lad who penned them and began to hope or wonder if this was what it was like for real poets.
I tell this story with more economy in a poem called "Elephant's Walking," in my first book, Tipping Point. I came from a working
class family, but one wherein there was a genuine love for books, and admiration for authors. So it wasn't completely out of the
blue that there should be a young poet in the family, but I am also pretty sure that falling in love with poetry, the reading and
the writing of it, was as much a surprise to my mother and father as it was to me. But that is what it felt like.
Saul Bellow once remarked that a writer was a reader who had been moved to emulation. I was that reader, and I was in the beginning
moved to emulate. At first it was Dante, then Hopkins, then there were almost too many poets and poems floating around in my mind
for me to say which had meant the most. I was reveling in the art, and did so throughout my undergraduate years. It is also true
that by the time those years were over, it was 1968, a fateful time in our country's history.
As for me, I had transferred to Brown University, across town and across economic divisions. By then the class poet of that year.
I don't have that "class poem," but I recollect it as a vision of all of us marching downhill to some danger, and frankly that was
not too far off. The Viet Nam war was on everyone's mind, one way or another. That is a topic I will pick up later in this interview,
in response to your question about my work at the Joiner Center. For now, let me just end this part by answering your second question.
Yes, it was always poetry, and essays about poetry and poets.
Describe your favorite place to write.
There are two ways to answer this question, one domestically, and the other internationally.
My favorite place to write at home is the attic, or the garage, depending on the season. In the winter, I retreat to the attic,
a small library and writing space, with an equally small window. It is insulated, and that means it is wonderfully quiet. Also
music when I play it is terrifically inspiring. In the summer, I migrate to the garage, again with a workspace I have carved out.
It is airy, and it reminds me of my father's gas station. In both places I can ignore phone calls, something that seems essential
for writing poems, the freedom to ignore the way the world calls after you.
Abroad I have had two residencies at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island in the west of Ireland, in Co. Mayo.
This cottage, originally owned by the Nobel Prize winning novelist, is set at the foot of a mountain called Slievemore.
Sheep pastures surround it, and from some windows you can see down to a bay. It is one of the quietest places in the world.
Of course sometimes one's solitude and quiet get interrupted by folks, usually German, who have made a pilgrimage to see where
Boll worked. But most of the time you can hear the sheep chewing on the grass. It is that quiet.
You can see the theme that holds these places together, the quiet. My mother used to say that sometimes things were so loud
in our house you could not hear yourself think. I liked that phrase. I like to have a workspace quiet enough to hear myself
think. That is all I really need.
Recently, I heard you read from your new book, The Looking House. The poems from this book are stunning.
When I started to read your book, I could not put it down. Talk about your new book, The Looking House (Graywolf Press).
Thank you for those kind, affirming words about The Looking House. I am very glad to know you like these poems. All of them
were written in one of the three writing spots I just described above.
The poem that gives the book its title is called "The Looking House Stanza." It is set in Ireland, near the Boll Cottage, on the
flank of Slievemore mountain, looking East toward the Atlantic. The mountainside is for grazing, with heather and gorse growing
among the grasses. In earlier eras, the people who lived down in Keel village, by the water, would in summertime take their sheep
up on the mountainside. Then in winter, in storms, they would bring them down to the seaside village. Thus up on the flank of
Slievemore there grew up a summertime village, fashioned out of stones. It was a "booley" village, the word denoting that it was
During the 19th century famines, when Co. Mayo became emptied of so many of its people, the Slievemore booley village became abandoned.
What remains are ruins, just the stone frames of houses, and sheep grazing in and among them.
The poem is situated there beside one of those houses, and the speaker is looking out to sea, watching a storm gather and start
heading to shore. It is raining and the wind is strong. The speaker begins to think this storm is analogous to a great interior
affliction, for instance, the onset of a mental illness, but as he looks out over the mountainside, over the bay, over the ruined
houses, he starts to sense what all of this is teaching him is not the similarities among afflictions, but the way in which one is
sometimes helpless to prevent suffering. It is that terrible feeling of coming to know that one really cannot save the ones you
love that the speaker starts to "see" from his vantage point on the side of the mountain, next to a ruined house from
the Deserted Village on Achill Island in Co. Mayo, Ireland.
The poem gives the book its title because I began to see that each poem in its own way was a "looking house" and a "looking house
stanza." I hoped that each poem offered itself as a rough shelter from which one could look out and see the reality of things,
especially those realities that make you want to flinch and turn away.
Write about your other book publications, Tipping Point which won The Washington Prize and Full Moon Boat (Graywolf).
I was born in December of 1946. My first book, Tipping Point, came out in 1994. I was in my mid-forties when it was accepted for
publication. By all standards, I suppose, that was a lot later in life than most poets. At the same time I also know Frost,
Stevens, and my own teacher, William Stafford, all were in their mid-forties before their first books were published, and this
fact always consoled me.
There were many reasons why it took me so long to get started as a poet. I think it took me a very long time to bring into focus what
it meant to have for a vocation the writing of poems. For me the question of what it meant to have that vocation came into focus in
my mid-thirties, roughly ten years before my first book was taken. I had just finished a Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago,
and I had already been teaching at the college level for a half dozen years. I had learned how to teach, and I had written a
dissertation, but I was only writing a few poems every year, enough-I began to realize-to keep the idea alive, but not enough
to really learn or practice the art.
It was about that time, in the that two poets began to influence me greatly. One was William Stafford, with whom I studied in
several different workshops in the far West. Another was Seamus Heaney, a little closer to home in that I was at the time teaching
in Harvard's History and Literature program. Stafford's sense of writing as a process of discovery, his sense of the importance of
writing daily, and his sense that if stuck one could "lower" his standards and keep writing, all these helped me dilute my own
stultifying, and somewhat fear-filled sense of perfectionism. Heaney gave me the metaphor by which to understand these things.
In a remark about his own life, he spoke of having learned to move the writing of poetry more to the center of his life. I had an
image of the solar system, and honestly I saw that poetry had been out beyond Jupiter.
And so I set about bringing the practice of poetry more to the center, gradually, steadily, and daily. It is also true that
the poetry of these two writers, along with many others, became my allies and teachers. I know when I was writing the poems
that went into Tipping Point, I was also on a daily basis reading and studying poetry by these two writers.
I'll respond to your questions about my second book and the Joiner Center in the next section.
You work closely with The Joiner Center (UMass-Boston).
Please talk about this and your involvement in the study of war and social consequences.
Full Moon Boat, my second book, was profoundly shaped by my work with the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social
Consequences at UMass-Boston. In fact my affiliation with the Joiner Center came about because of Tipping Point. My first reading
from the actual book happened in the spring of 1994, and that was when I met Kevin Bowen, himself a really wonderful poet, a
superb translator, and the Director of the Joiner Center for over twenty years. Kevin invited me to give a reading and workshop
in June at the annual Writers Conference sponsored by the Center. I stayed for the entire two weeks of the conference. I thought
I could help by offering manuscript consults, but what happened was that I met four writers from Viet Nam that
summer: Pham Tien Duat, To Nhuan Vy, Nguyen Quang Thieu, and Tran Dang Khoa. The art of translation was very much a
part of the Joiner Center's enterprise, and continues to this day. Martha Collins had founded the translation workshop
there, and in 1994 was herself finishing up her translation of Nguyen Quang Thieu's The Women Carry River Water. In any
case, translation was in the air! And I was able to spent a considerable amount of time with all four Vietnamese writers,
but particularly Tran Dang Khoa.
He spoke practically no English, and I practically no Vietnamese. But we spoke with each other at length through the generosity
and brilliance of Nguyen Ba Chung, the Joiner Center's resident Vietnamese translator and scholar. We even practiced co-translating
a couple of Khoa's poems, spending hours discussing the aesthetic assumptions and practices of our respective poetries.
Both of those co-translations, it should be said, were included in Full Moon Boat. Another way to measure the significance of
my real introduction to Vietnamese culture is in the title poem of that book. "Full Moon Boat" is a series of four vignettes
based on my first trip to Viet Nam, the following winter of 2005. The title itself is borrowed from a line of poetry by Ho Chi Minh.
The last vignette in the title poem actually reflects a moment outside of Tran Dang Khoa's native village. We were at a
river crossing, a place where there was only barge that worked back and forth across the Kinh Tay. Vehicles and people
crowded on. Ahead of me was an elderly woman with a bale of rice strapped to the back of her bicycle, but she had to push
it up a plank, and was having a genuinely hard time with it. I got behind the bale and helped push it with her. When we got
the bike and bale onto the deck, I realized that many of the Vietnamese had stopped to look at us, and to smile. This was
rural northern Viet Nam, and helpful Americans were absolutely a strange sight to most Vietnamese eyes.
The experience made me think of all sorts of crossings, and all sorts of witnesses to those crossings. In fact, over the next
few years the idea of crossings between cultures, between consciousnesses, between languages and poetics became one of my primary
concerns, and the poetry in Full Moon Boat is a reflection of that concern. The book begins with "The Return," which is a poem set
on a 747 jet flying home from the West Coast just after I had received an honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps
as a conscientious objector. I had been stationed on Okinawa when I reached my decision that I would no longer participate in wars
of any sort. It had taken me many years before I ever wrote about that experience, and my first book probably took so long to write
because I knew that somewhere at the heart of it would be an exploration of that topic. My conscientious objection was, and remains,
a central event in the formation of my adult selfhood. But what I was not prepared for was just how extraordinary it would be for
me-twenty years later-to encounter Vietnamese culture, poetry, and people in a direct, face-to-face way. It had the feel of a large
circle being closed, and myself made whole.
Please talk about being co-translator with Nguyen Ba Chung of From a Corner of My Yard.
In 2004, Lady Borton, an American woman who has lived for many years in Hanoi, and a frequent teacher at the Joiner Center
workshops, contacted Nguyen Ba Chung and myself, wondering if we would be interested in translating this booklet of poems
written by Tran Dang Khoa when he was twelve years old. Khoa was a very accomplished young poet at an early age, and in 1968
he made a booklet out of what he said was his "twenty best poems," and mailed them off to President Ho Chi Minh as a birthday
gift. Over the years these early poems became canonical, published in many venues, taught in schools, memorized, and to this day
still so beloved that almost any store that sells books has copies of Khoa's early work. Our friend Lady Borton had, however,
recognized the historic worth of the original document, and proposed to the Ho Chi Minh Museum that they and the Education
Publishing House do a bi-lingual Vietnamese and English edition. And when they said yes, she contacted Chung and me, and of course
we eagerly said yes.
To be a "co-translator" is not the same as being a translator in the strict sense. I don't know Vietnamese, though I know a little
bit about it. But for Chung and me, it was collaboration in the deepest and finest sense. We both prepared basic, literal
translations, he from his fluency in both languages, me from my dictionary. When I finally was sure of the most literal sense
of each word, I tried then to discover as best I could what I began to call the "heart of the poem." Often that was the sense of
its metaphors and the connotations attached to them. Other times it was the rhythms, and the kind of emotions associated with them.
And each time I tried to come up with a version of the poem I would send to Chung for his critique. And we did this sort of exchange
endlessly. Perhaps as many as ten and fifteen times per poem.
The book itself is an historic document, with photographs of the young Khoa, his mother, and his native village. And the poems,
while clearly the work of a young boy, are themselves very sophisticated. Just one example: in one of his poems, he laments the
fact that his favorite "golden dog" has gone missing ever since an American bombing attack near his village. At one point, as the
boy recalls how the dog would rush out to greet him, he says "Oh, how my hand misses you!" For some reason that line told me all I
needed to know about this young poet's true gifts. These poems became famous during the war years, I should add. I have often thought
that in their evocation of Vietnamese village life, they were affirmations of what the people truly believed-that they would
outlast this, the last in a series of invaders. These poems of the village and the farm declared that they would outlast even the
B-52's. I was honored to be a part of this project, and to visit with Khoa in the summer before the book was published, to in fact
go with him to visit his aging parents in his native village, and to eat with them in the corner of that very yard his early
You are the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Suffolk University in Boston.
What has this been like for you? What challenges do you face running a creative writing program?
My teaching has been central to my life as a writer. Not only did it provide me with a way of making a living, but I can say without
exaggeration that all my years of teaching have been years in which I have been learning too, learning more and more about this art,
about the imagination, about American society, and the role literary culture plays within it. I have taught course in composition,
literature, poetry in particular. I have taught workshops in creative writing, and advanced seminars on issues of war and peace.
In all of those, despite the labors and time-commitments, I have found myself engaged as a writer. Of course there are the usual
challenges of not having enough hours in the day, and having to deal with bureaucratic realities such as budgets and scheduling,
but as I look back over many years of teaching, all that sort of thing quickly dissolves from view and what I see is the
extraordinary vision of young people-with all the distractions our society offers-engaged in words and imagination. I feel
privileged to be a part of their investigations into this art.
You also are heavily involved with PEN-New England. Talk about your role in this organization.
I used to be, but not so much any more. I was on the Executive Board of PEN New England for five years. In that time I was the
Chair of the Freedom to Write Committee, a group of PEN members who monitor the situation of writers who have gotten into trouble
with their governments. I also began or more accurately re-started a PEN New England writing workshop in the prisons, particularly
in Northampton County House of Correction. My sense in both kinds of work was that PEN's historic mission world wide was to somehow
affirm freedom of speech wherever it was threatened, and however it was threatened. That is the core value of PEN as an international
organization of writers.
What are you working on now?
A year ago, while on sabbatical I went to Israel and Palestine for a month. Two weeks of that sojourn were spent on a delegation
organized by a group called Interfaith Peace Builders. The goal of the delegation was to meet individual and groups from both sides
of that conflict, people who were explicitly committed to non-violent responses to the conflict. It was a revelation to spend day
after day with person after person so courageously responsive. The experience gave me a new and deeper sense of what living
non-violently was all about; it was the labor of peace-building, of making a civil society as opposed to a martial society.
It was doing this labor in the face of many fear-filled and aggressive forces. It was inspiring. I don't know exactly how
this translates into my poetry, but I do know that somehow that vision of affirmative and un-illusioned human labor in the
conflict zone was one of the most important things I have ever witnessed. I hope that I find the right words for it, and for
how it relates to all of us.
Thanks Fred for doing this interview.
Any last comments
No, except to say thank you for this wonderful opportunity to reflect.
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