Poets from Elsewhere

Illustrated by Emily Thornton Calvo

 
 

Introducing Tina Barr

It’s such a pleasure to introduce the Guest Poetry Editor for the international issue: award-winning poet, editor, and teacher extraordinaire, Tina Barr. Tina’s poetry and scholarship first crossed my desk early in both our careers, and we have followed each other through our poems since. I revel in the lush descriptions in her work, a poetry as syntactically precise and intricately worded as the poetry of Marianne Moore. About the natural world, moreover, Tina’s poems are often as rich as Moore’s in their incisive, unobtrusively ethical observations. Consider the following lines from the first stanza of “The Ecology of Atlas,” a poem which describes its subject before identifying him as a butterfly: “Four white patches arrest us, the whole / embroidery complex as a Chinese robe, silked / in oranges, whites and greys. Even his segmented / carapace is eyed on its underside. … Under a microscope / his whole cape is mailed with shining platelets, / a roman army’s phalanx glinting their shields so sun / becomes a weapon. Seeing him … is to learn regard of a small god.” We have no idea at first where we are, and no choice but to follow these lovely, wide-ranging descriptions through to … not quite the thing itself in this first stanza, but rather to a sense of the divine in Nature. By the second stanza, we know that we have been adroitly led through worldly details to both understanding of and reverence for nature’s magnificent creations.

 

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
toppled monument
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;
wandering albatross
skim through
your ice dream,
fly for hours
without flapping
their wings.
 
 
 
 

 

Horoeka

[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.
Pointless now—
Giant Moa extinct,
Stout beaks,
Stacked neck bones
In tall glass cases
In the avian section
Of the museum—
Horoeka,
However,
Still grow
Like lampposts
In the bush,
Oblivious,
Memorial,
Like the stone obelisks
That sprouted everywhere
After the Great War.
 
 
 
 

 
 

 


Despite

for Bridget
(Anitra’s Dance)
 
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.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 


Years

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
Tick tocks
Down
Down
 
Time drinks me
Time drinks me
Time oh god
Time drinks me!
 
 
 
 
 

 

 


Cities with their oysters

From: Lointaines
 
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
 
1.
 
I wear sunglasses with owl frames.
You have a robe wrapped around you—
our honeymoon.
 
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.
 
 
 
2.
 
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.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 


Corona Summer

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.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Twine

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.
 
 
 
 
 

 


 

Canyon

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~
 
 
 
 
 

 


 

Nostalgia

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
 
—Bye, Bye
 
 
 
In Bombay
 
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
Nostalgia
 
Translated from Serbian by Biljana Obradovic
 
 
[1] 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.
 
[2] 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.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 


Two Poems

 

Rafter

 
1.
 
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
perlite.
 
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.
 
2.
 
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,
the Ivory.
 
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.
 
 
 
 
 

S.O.S.

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.
 
 
 

Bios

Tina Barr’s most recent book is Green Target, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Book Prize, judged by Patricia Spears Jones, and the Brockman-Campbell Award, judged by Michael Waters. 

Margo Berdeshevsky: NYC born, writes in Paris. Latest collection: Before The Drought/ Glass Lyre Press, (National Poetry Series finalist.) Newest collection: It Is Still Beautiful To Hear The Heart Beat/forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. She has been  published in Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The American Journal of Poetry, Prairie Schooner, PN Review, Under the Radar, Beltway, and many more. A hybrid book, Kneel Said The Night  waits at the gate. More info, kindly see website: http://margoberdeshevsky.com

Nicole Brossard has been in the vanguard of the dynamic Francophone Canadian feminist and avant-garde writing community for over four decades. For her writing, she has twice received the Grand Prix du festival international de poésie, among many other honors. She has published over thirty books, including Ardeur, Lointaines, Piano blanc, Lumière, fragment d’envers, and a book on translation, Et me voici soudain en train de refaire le monde. In 2019, she was awarded the Lifetime Recognition Award from The Griffin Trust For Excellence in Poetry.

Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ was born on September 18, 1949 in Quảng Bình and now lives in Huế, Vietnam. She graduated from the famed Nguyễn Du School for Writers and afterward worked as reporter and literary editor of Sông Hương (Hương River published by the Literature and Arts Association of Thừa Thiên-Huế Province). She has published six collections of poetry and three children’s short story collections in Vietnam, and has won several major prizes for poetry. Green Rice, a bilingual collection of her poems with translations by Martha Collins and Thúy Đinh, was published by Curbstone in 2005.

Dubravka Đurić, born on February 14, 1961 in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Poet, critic and Professor at the Faculty for Media and Communication in Belgrade, Serbia, she has published five collection of poems, several critical works and has edited several anthologies, including Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry.

Elizabeth Mornin originally from Eastern Washington State, but emigrated with her family to New Zealand 15 years ago, where she has been working ever since as a hospital physician. She recently completed her degree at The MFA Program for Writers at Warren WilsonCollege.

Liana Sakelliou is a poet, translator, critic, and editor from Athens, Greece. She is the author of eighteen books, most recently: Where the Wind Blows Softly (poetry collection, Typothito, 2017). Among her awards are two Fulbright Fellowships in the US, several fellowships from the British Council, the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship, and the Stanley J. Seeger Visiting Research Fellowship at Princeton University. In 2017 she served as president of the European committee for the European Union Award for Literature, and in 2018 she was president of the Greek committee for the same award. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and member of the Hellenic Authors’ Society.

Susan Wicks has published eight collections of poetry, most recently Dear Crane (Bloodaxe, 2021). Her first, Singing Underwater (Faber, 1992) won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, and her third, The Clever Daughter (Faber, 1996) was a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for both T.S.Eliot and Forward Prizes. She has also published three novels, a book of stories and a short memoir, and won prizes for her translation of two books of poems by the French poet, Valérie Rouzeau. She lives in Kent, England.

Linda Stern Zisquit has published five full-length collections of poetry, most recently Return from Elsewhere (2014) and Havoc: New & Selected Poems (2013). A chapbook “From the Notebooks of Korah’s Daughter” was published in the UK (New Walk Editions, 2019). Her translations from Hebrew poetry include Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (1997), Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (2006), and These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam (2009). Born in Buffalo, NY, she has lived in Israel since 1978.

Translators’ bios:

Aliki Barnstone is a poet, translator, critic, editor, and visual artist. She is the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent of which include: Dear God Dear, Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow, 2009), Bright Body (White Pine, 2011), and Dwelling  (Sheep Meadow, 2016)She translated The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy (W.W. Norton, 2006).  She edited A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now  (Schocken,1980; 2nd edition, 1992), which remains the most comprehensive anthology of international poetry in English, and the Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry (Shambhala, 2002). She is Professor of English at the University of Missouri and served as poet laureate of Missouri from 2016-2019.

Martha Collins is the author of Because What Else Could I Do (Pittsburgh, 2019) and nine earlier collections of poems, including Admit One: An American Scrapbook and White Papers (Pittsburgh, 2016, 2021). She has published four volumes of co-translated Vietnamese poetry, including Lam Thi My Da’s Green Rice (Curbstone, 2005).

Thúy Đinh is coeditor of Da Màu and  editor-at-large at Asymptote Journal. Her works have appeared in AsymptoteNPR BooksNBCThinkPrairie SchoonerRain Taxi Review of Books, and Manoa, among others. She tweets @ThuyTBDinh

Sylvain Gallais is a native French speaker transplanted to the U.S. twenty years ago. He is an emeritus professor of Economics at Université Francois Rabelais (Tours, France) and of French in the School of International Letters and Culture at Arizona State University. His co-authored book in economics is entitled France Encounters Globalization (2003).

Cynthia Hogue’s tenth collection of poetry, instead, it is dark, will be out in 2023. With Sylvain Gallais, she translated Fortino Sámano (The overflowing of the poem), from the French of Virginie Lalucq and Jean-Luc Nancy, which won the Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Joan Darc, by Natalie Quintane. Hogue’s honors include two NEA Fellowships and the Witter Bynner Translation Fellowship. She is the inaugural Marshall Chair in Poetry Emerita Professor of English at Arizona State University.

Biljana D. Obradović, born on February 25, 1961 in Bitola, Northern Macedonia, a Serbian-American poet, the translator teaches at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. She has published four collections of poems, most recently, Incognito, translated several collection of poems, most recently, Zvonko Karanović’s Sleepwalkers on a Picnic, and has edited Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry.

4 Comments on “Poets from Elsewhere

  1. What an extraordinary folio of international women’s poems! The translations are beautifully nuanced. Every poem takes me some place new in language and spirit, and then returns me to myself, changed. Thank you, Tina Barr, for your exceptional work as an editor and poet. Thank you, Cynthia Hogue!

  2. Tina, to reconnect with you after so many years is such an incredible gift ….The poetry you have selected and written illustrate how deeply we all, across the world, are truly connected.

  3. A delightful gamut, running in lines straight and true. I loved the breadth of the offerings, and I love the idea of women at a certain age are ageless, ongoing and ON.
    Thank you.

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