Illustrated by Emily Thornton Calvo
Introducing Tina Barr
In settings of breath-taking beauty (catch Tina’s YouTube clip below), she has contemplated a world at once glorious and threatening. In her most recent book, Green Target, as in both poems she includes in this feature, the awareness of the beautiful world is fraught with pressing details of global violence and the dangers of climate change: bees buzzing among flowers remind the poet of the sound of man-made drones dropping bombs; viruses now infest the sea’s bounty and our bodies. Tina’s is a profoundly moving, exquisitely attuned poetry: to live with, perhaps to mine for wisdom.
In addition to Green Target, which won the Barrow Street Press Book Prize and was awarded the Brockman-Campbell Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society, Tina has published Kaleidoscope, The Gathering Eye, which received the Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize, and three chapbooks. She is the founding editor of The Shining Rock Poetry Anthology & Book Review (http://www.shiningrockpoetry.com). I invite you to check out Tina Barr’s own poetry further, and now to discover the poetry from around the world that she has selected for this special international poetry feature.
Poets from Elsewhere
I was thrilled to be able to read submissions from so many different writers, from all over the world. It was wonderfully exciting when I came across a poem that I found arresting. I looked for texture in the language, rather than a more demotic style – strong imagery, a level of the dramatic, a compelling sense of emotion, allusion—and I was most taken by the element of surprise, in, for example, a poem about an iceberg, by New Zealand poet Elizabeth Mornin, or in the Serbian poet Dubravka Djuric’s poem “Nostalgia.” I was also taken with a poem’s geography that might indicate another location on the planet. But plenty of poems simply persuade us with their level of emotion, for example “Despite” by the English poet Susan Wicks. I was lucky to be able to consider poems in translation, and I understand the level of skill involved in rendering a translation that comes close to reflecting the original. The Vietnamese poet Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ’s work appears straightforward; then an image catches our imaginations, “As we shout, holding our years in our arms.” The same strength in imagery evolves in French-Canadian poet Nicole Brossard’s poem from a series, Lointaines, and the sense of the erotic in a line like “I know to swallow the oyster and its salt of claire.” I find her poetry’s slightly evasive quality most intriguing. The Greek poet Liana Sakelliou’s work is less dense linguistically, broken by stunning imagery, “Comets slice through dense leaves, / enormous tree trunks light up and snap.” Israeli poet Linda Stern Zisquit’s narrative poems light up through references to outer locations, outer travel, as well as the inner world of the psyche. The American poet Margo Berdeshevsky, who lives in Paris, likewise takes the reader on a journey, through juxtaposition. I love the ways the leaps work in her poem “Canyon.” These are a rich array of poems; it’s your turn to read them.
The First Iceberg
An eyetooth can be dreamed
arising from the horizon,
a blue and white
or a smallish continent
unmoored from maps.
Through your binoculars
you gain confidence,
it becomes obvious,
grows into the Guggenheim,
a kaffeeklatsch of penguins
chatting at the balustrade.
You win an expedition prize
for your sharp eyes!
By morning you
are surrounded by
an armada of ice ships,
crabeater seals lounging
on the decks. You sway
with the swells, take
your coffee on the bridge
as you continue south.
By tomorrow the ice
will have locked you in,
you’ll awaken to
the throb and cry
of engines straining
against the floes;
your ice dream,
fly for hours
[a New Zealand native tree]
At a certain height, the Horoeka transforms itself—
The lance-like leaves fall from its lanky trunk,
The crown overflows like a fountain
With lush leaves, blossoms, seeds, safely
Above the reach of the giant Moa’s beak.
Giant Moa extinct,
Stacked neck bones
In tall glass cases
In the avian section
Of the museum—
In the bush,
Like the stone obelisks
That sprouted everywhere
After the Great War.
In spite of – when I hear
this music from Peer Gynt a child
comes tripping, tiptoeing towards us
even though I’m thinking of the months,
the years of waiting
and your two miscarriages, the way they never
came to anything but grief, no new
beginning – and yet here we are
again, while in your other life
you have two sisters and the three of you
still dream of Moscow. There is laughter
even in the Chekhov, laughter
in the theatre bar when it’s all over. And today
the sun comes reaching, glancing through the leaves
outside, and they are changing
colour, look, and dancing to Anitra’s dance, a spider’s
spun a single shaking thread
across the window right to left
and top to bottom, twisting, glittering – despite.
Sun in February
I step out through the automatic doors
and see them in mid-distance, a young mother
with a pushchair, and before they can get closer
the child leans forward – torso, arms extended, fingers
brushing the warm tarmac – and then raises
her small self again, her two hands lifted
into sunlight through bare branches, sky, as if
to receive their thanks. Apart from me
she has no audience. She is
too young for self-restraint or sentiment, too young
for climate-change, for words. Her deep obeisance
and upstretched arms describe it all
without exaggeration or self-consciousness
in the short arc her body makes
the way it is.
Translation by Thúy Đinh and Martha Collins
Now the years have taken flight
None of us can escape time
Come, let’s be serene like the wind
As we shout, holding our years in our arms
Time Drinks Me
Translation by Thúy Đinh and Martha Collins
Like a cup of strong bitter coffee
Time drinks me
Drop by drop
Drop by drop
The clock on the wall
Time drinks me
Time drinks me
Time oh god
Time drinks me!
Cities with their oysters
Translation by Sylvain Gallais and Cynthia Hogue
salt on my lips, I love
this savor of intimate matter that nourishes
thought, wine, the naked shoulders of summer nights
in Sète, in Sitges and the whole valley of Memramcook
my head upstream of silence
I know to savor the oyster and its salt-fresh claire
[Original French © Copyright Éditions Caractères 2010. Translated by permission of Éditions Caractères. English Translation © Copyright Sylvain Gallais and Cynthia Hogue 2021.]
Two sections from “Portrait Before Dark”
Translations by Aliki Barnstone
I wear sunglasses with owl frames.
You have a robe wrapped around you—
Something in the emptiness—
a light-hearted life streams above the other life.
Only in brokenness does the light come in—
love from far away.
The sea draws us to this—
we don’t know
what we expose.
Once more music splits the air
and I’m afraid.
Shall I dance fear?
Shall I temper its vanity?
Comets slice through dense leaves,
enormous tree trunks light up and snap.
I recall when I thought
we would be safe.
We drive all morning in the heat,
stop for shakshuka in a desert café.
We go away for four days
“up north” into the hottest days
of the summer when it is already
no longer summer but September.
Now looking out on Lebanon,
the tightness loosens. We take
the new cabin. I have no memory
here. Just a whiff of what filled
the old. Sick with love each time.
A night without dream is punishment,
the Talmud says. But if one studies
one can sleep. All the ancient sites
are booked (Corona allows a limited
number.) Or just closed. The way Elul
comes to block the freeway, demands
an upright and new direction –
not to count the places missed
but look out from where you are:
So Kursi and Korazim remain unseen
and my husband still asleep
will not want to drive again in this heat
only to arrive at Katzrin and Beit Zeda
to find the gates locked and a splatter of
bathers unmasked in a littered stream.
Make me thy Loome then, knit therein this Twine
And make thy Holy spirit, Lord, winde quills
— from Edward Taylor’s “Huswifery”
The addiction, hard as it was, ended.
I ran out basically of the chemical,
no drugstore in sight to supply me
with more. There’s no addiction if
there’s no drug. Right? Yet I went on
wanting to speak with you for a while.
I remember a desperate call,
a sense of no bottom, no hold in the ship,
no reason to stay afloat. But then it
passed. As if without effort, or volition.
Where is that word from? And where
does that stale smell come from?
Unwashed. The music beats down the street.
Someone is having a party. Twine,
this collision of forces, pulling me upward
to flower, and down to a network
of knotty roots. Now you are threaded,
woven into the twisted web
of that other time. The real fix has
been here all along, replacing you.
I speak to him with ease. I don’t even
need to say want, or will. Every day
is like breakfast, a sunlit garden
where we wipe the dew off the table
and the sleep from our eyes.
I wasn’t looking for a thing
Things were looking for
me—said the lens-man
Walker Evans who shot the dead
—those post-mortem babies in
cradles, mothers on their after last
breath beds— it was the fashion
then, in black and white
My mother died on Mount
Lemmon, a poet writes, we
took her up the mountain as she
was dying so she wouldn’t
have to die in a bed. Toss my ash
from any high hill I’ve said
when anyone asked. I am
called the blonde hawk.
Do you want to die in Paris
the shaman woman asked me one
masked night as an owl dipped
wings over her canyon and we
whispered by fire glow through
the hour— I don’t know, I said,
we had been speaking of a barefoot
island I’d left for the gray city of
light, its global branch.
The owl came to her window
where the shaman had left me
to sleep, I wasn’t looking for a thing—
things were looking for me
— bedded in the still.
Not photographed— If
I should die before
I wake I pray the lord my
soul to take, my mama painted
that on my childhood wall
before the fall,
before the rise,
before she climbed~
I wake up to meet a foggy dawn
I sleep like a hamster on the bottom of a clear ocean
The scent of a submerged comma filled the kitchen
Soft teas and the logic of conquest prevail
Houses are uniformly—in gray—move away from the view
The window to the world like a hole in a cardboard box
Litanies of night flaunt themselves in store windows
The quality of writing depends on the remote quality in the distance
Of lit-up mountain peaks of the Alpine landscape
On the world map or in the cartography
Of its amended contents
These new names reveal new faithful moves
With a mere brush on rice paper
In Zen one finds peace and inspiration
Then delves into tattoos of space figures
Three dimensions don’t suffice
Everything eventually takes its course
Toward the foot of rocky mountains
Toward the edge of the Mediterranean
On the borders labeled with directions
I lug myself between them
Guided by the path cut by sliding glaciers
Full stores are a marvel
Gorges of new products through which
Cave people chisel smiling
As a little more champagne
Ferments in my brain
Scores of young people have come to listen
To the frenetic poet
Here holding the flower of oblivion
—Translated from Serbian by Biljana Obradovic
 Nostalgia is a vintage-style café in Ljubljana, Slovenia. During the 90s, it was where people from different parts of the former Yugoslavia gathered. The space was designed with objects and photos from the time of socialist Yugoslavia, and the poem deals with this mourning for the country that had disappeared.
 The poem was written in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The poet left Belgrade for Ljubljana in October 1998, when people anticipated the NATO bombing of Serbia. People in Belgrade joked that Belgrade’s new name was Bombay – because the root of Bombay, “bomb,” expressed how Belgrade was awaiting bombs.
Beyond the porch I hear yelps, putts, sounds
turkey hunters call cutting, a swirl of calls:
the scribble of gobble. Then they flock,
move around each other. Males’ heads
turn blue; they open their tails. They screen
themselves behind brown, black-edged
fans, ends tufted beige.
Snow scatters on
violet hyacinth, or white as stripes
on lower feathers males drag. Flakes
turn to hail, pepper the ground, the size of
The tom walks on a hen’s back,
settles her, then folds his whole fan down
for the spurt, climbs off.
A hen sifts onto
a clutch, prods, turns her white eggs. A
moon’s orbit later, tufts brown, black,
chicks exit on pronged feet, one after another.
Under goose down’s pockets, my husband
is my comfort.
In June’s family’s compound
on a lake in Canada, we played Mahjong
in the big cabin, where her parents slept.
Us kids trooped to a bunkhouse. Once
I was sick and slept in her mother’s bed;
a bat swooped, looped until her father
slammed it to the ground with a racket.
Upstairs in the attic space hundreds
hung, folded, like origami I never
mastered. Floorboards inches high
in guano, but we never considered
histoplasmosis, bathed in an inlet
we called the Ladies “Salle de Bain,”
tossed the tube of emerald Prell,
In Chengdu markets men
smoked in cafes under cages of finches;
no one knew bats would transfer virus.
For sale on a table, in bowls of water,
jade circles: white, emerald, lavender.
Fire ant bites blister into a nub,
dry to a black circle; scabs
spin off. But the man stuck with
a fish hook, his hand bubbled black.
Vibrio floats off coasts, Magnolia
Beach, Ozona, Anna Maria,
eats a leg, kills a man after crabbing.
No saint intervenes for those with bacteria.
A woodpecker taps its Morse into hickory;
a hummingbird shivers at the screen.
So much rain: I cut back Lucifer
crocosmia; mildew browned its green
blades before red laddered its arched
fronds. The arches of Alaska’s blue
glaciers dissolve, the way popsicles
melted on our tongues. From Noxema’s blue
jars, paste on our noses let us pretend
we were Indians. Once sharks cruised
past a red nun buoy. Mounds of mussel shell,
left by Matinecock, lined pearl blue,
glistened; clams they beaded to
wampum bleached white. A virus
has dissolved all white matter in my
brain. Mornings, I claw up chunks of violet’s
pink nubs. What can’t be killed:
crabgrass, dandelion, ground ivy.