Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen. Whispering Poets: Be good to each other & have lots of sex.

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN. Whispering Poets: Be good to each other & have lots of sex.

This shout is about a whisper – about a reading I participated in last Friday in the Free State of Christiania to which four other poets and myself had been invited to whisper poems for eight minutes to five small groups of listeners seated at five tables in Christiania's Galloperiet.

If any reading this has never heard of or been to Christiania, then I urge you to come at the earliest moment to Copenhagen to enrich yourself with this experience. In brief, Christiania was an abandoned military fort, formerly guarding the Christianshavn approach to the once fortified city of Copenhagen. The fort was taken over by squatters nearly 40 years ago, and in the free spirit of those times approved by the Danish parliament as a social experiment. The squatters seceded from Danish society as well as from the European Union and established their own social order, building homes in this beautiful canal-ringed preserve – both new homes and extensions of the old military buildings. One of my favorites was the House of Doors – a domicile built exclusively of salvaged doors. Peopled by artists, writers, artisans, dopers, and other freaks, the Free State – which resembles a cross between a wild-west town and an ancient dilapidated city – grew with the addition of jerry-built restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, studios, child care facilities, markets, concert halls and jazz clubs where some great musicians have played, including, to name but one, Bob Dylan.

It even, until recently, included a market known as Pusher Street where anyone so inclined could purchase a variety of more or less soft smoke able drugs, quality guaranteed. Pusher Street was torn down at the behest of a new right-wing government a couple of years ago, resulting in a real drug problem spread about the surrounding city, complete with street shootings and knifings.

But Christiania is still here.

When you enter this tiny city within a city (population approximately 1,000), you become acutely aware of departing from the everyday world. If you enter it at night, as I did last Friday, the first thing you notice is the absence of streetlights, the graphitized brick and wood buildings, the rutted dirt streets, the leash less wandering dogs who sniff about in wonder, doing you no harm.

Into the dystopian-looking, post-apocalyptic building which houses Galloperiet, I climbed two narrow flights to find Lennox Raphael, the American-Trinidadian multi-artist (poet, writer, artist, vegetarian chef, social activist, arts arranger) who organized the night of whispering poets under the auspices of an organization known as Des Arts which he helps run and which sponsors a multitude of events and exhibitions around the ancient capital of Copenhagen.

Some readers might remember Lennox Raphael as the author, director and producer of the first all-nude play ever staged, entitled Ché. It included three characters – Lyndon B. Johnson, Chè Guevara, and a nun, all nude. It opened in 1969, closed the next day, was reopened by popular demand the day after and ran for two consecutive years.

The Whispering Poets was only one of several features of this Des Arts evening in the Free State of Christiania's Galloperiet. The evening began with Monkey Rat (, consisting of Anna Iachino, a Sicilian-Canadian woman from Montreal, doing original romantic rap vocals accompanied by her partner on electric bass, Arnold Ludvig of the Faro Islands. Quote of the evening is from Anna Iachino, a delightfully voluptuous 47-year-old with a head of curls that would make an Egyptian princess envious, who told the audience, "As my 80-year-old grandmother always said, 'Remember to be good to each other and have a lot of sex.'"

Then came the Whispering Poets, five of us: Lennox Raphael, Jens Magnussen, Nancy Wakabari, Alan Hammerlund, and myself. The way the Whispering Poets went was that the lights went off, candles were lit, the audience was distributed amongst five tables throughout the room, and each of the poets joined a table to whisper poetry for eight minutes, at the end of which Jens Magnussen did a brief interlude on transverse flute and the poets changed tables until each had read at each table.

The experience was eerie, to be in a large dark room lit only by flickering candles, the only sound the whispering voices of five poets. At each table, the four to eight listeners leaned toward you as you whispered, a mask of candlelight about each set of eyes as you made eye contact to emphasize a line: I saw you naked/rape the sphinx – or Listen, I will teach you to kill – or See me. Smell me. Listen…

Of the perhaps 300 readings I have done over the years, I don't know that I ever felt such an intimate connection to my audience.

When the Whispering Poets had whispered their last, the evening had only begun: Kent Helm gave a demonstration of ergo touch – repositioning the body, de-activating the self – with a half naked lovely woman model; Michael Dyst did a demonstration of music, noise and words, and the famous skeleton man, veteran of many Burning Man festivals, Michael Wolf, spoke about the Black Rock City, Nevada Festival, following which Martin Eisler continued with a few enchanting songs, some Cuban boleros, and guitar, followed by open scene until three or four in the morning.

Being an old dude, however, I withdrew at half-past eleven and rode the metro home to my east side pad, delighted with the evening, floating on Christmas beer, regretting only that I had not asked Anna Iachino whether she has an older, unmarried sister.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Juan Goytisolo Wins Spanish Literary Prize

Juan Goytisolo was awarded the Premio Nacional de Letras Españolas, a prize that honors the literary career of a Spanish author and comes with a cash prize of 40,000 euros.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime

Last weekend we went to the Detroit Film Theatre to see the French film "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime" (I've Loved You So Long). Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) is released from prison after fifteen years and goes to live with her younger sister Lea with whom she's had no contact during her imprisonment. Juliette attempts to rebuild her life and get a job while her and Lea set out to heal the emotional wounds in their relationship.

Directed by first time writer-director Philippe Claudel, the film subtly builds to a powerful conclusion and there were few dry eyes in the theatre at film's end.

Well-acted, with a fine script and solid direction, see it if you get the opportunity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bulgarian Poetry Reading

I recently attended a reading by Bulgarian poets in room 65 of Sofia’s St Clement of Ohrid University, which was to commemorate a similar reading that took place in the same room in 1989, at the time of the (much lamented) changes. Each poet was given a five-minute slot to read a poem or two, which meant after an hour we had only got through about six or seven poets, each of whom had read poems dating from the 1980s plus some of their more recent work fresh off the pages in front of them. Give a poet a microphone and an audience and most feel the need to introduce themselves, introduce the poem (despite the maxim that a good poem needs no introduction), and the compère was left struggling to move things on at the pace he’d intended. But the image that has stuck in my mind is that of the three poets who attempted to recite their poems off by heart, from memory, without referring to the (visible or invisible) page in front of them. Without exception, they ground to a halt halfway through the poem and started gaping as they struggled to remember the next line. Some of the audience threw up their arms in consternation. One poet even substituted the words “I don’t know what” for the words that had gone missing. Which makes me wonder how far we are in control of the words we bandy about daily and sometimes inscribe in poems. Poets like fish, gaping. Waiting for the words that don’t come.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Adam Zagajewski and Translation Roundtables at the University of Michigan

The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski will be reading at the University of Michigan on December 4th and participating in a roundtable discussion on translation the following day, Friday, December 5th. The full schedule for the translation roundtables is below and more information about the reading can be found here.

Two Roundtable Discussions, co-sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature, the MFA Program in Creative Writing, the Modern Greek Program, and the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.

Friday, 5 December 2008
3222 Angell Hall
University of Michigan

10:30-12:30: WHY TRANSLATE?
Yopie Prins (English/Comparative Literature)
Christi Merrill (Asian Languages/Comparative Literature)
Joshua Miller (English Literature)
Alina Clej (Romance Languages/Comparative Literature)
Kader Konuk (German/Comparative Literature)
Vassilis Lambropoulos (Classical Studies/Comparative Literature)

Benjamin Paloff (Society of Fellows, Slavic/Comparative Literature)
Adam Zagajewski (MFA Visiting Poet)
Tatjana Aleksic (Slavic/Comparative Literature)
David Caron (Romance Languages/Women's Studies)
Khaled Mattawa (English Literature/Creative Writing)
Keith Taylor (English Literature /Creative Writing)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Benoît Duteurtre and Customer Service

Once again, Chad Post at Three Percent reviews one of my recent reads: this time it's Customer Service by French writer Benoît Duteurtre, translated by Bruce Benderson, and published by Melville House as part of their series "The Contemporary Art of the Novella."

The novella opens with the hapless narrator leaving his cell phone in a taxi. In his mind, this is an easy enough problem to solve—all he has to do is get a replacement phone and he’ll be on his way. For anyone who’s ever dealt with a cell phone company (i.e., everyone), it’s never that simple. As the narrator finds our, the new phone will cost four times as much as the original, and without his SIM card, he won’t be able to keep his phone number, and besides, his account doesn’t allow for a replacement phone—he’ll have to open a new account and pay for both until the original contract expires.

Refusing to give in to this insanity, he decides upon another approach—getting in touch with Leslie Delmare, Director of Customer Service, who had sent him a letter granting him “preferred customer” status, which must count for something, right?

Read the rest of the review here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

German Lit at No Man's Land

Issue #3 of no man's land--the online magazine of German literature in English--is now available.

Issue #3 features poetry by Gerhard Falkner, Norbert Hummelt, Hendrik Jackson, Bert Papenfuß, Arne Rautenberg, Monika Rinck, Daniela Seel and Waltraud Seidlhofer.

In addition, they present results from a Scots-Franconian translation workshop, with translations of Franconian dialect poets Helmut Haberkamm and Fitzgerald Kusz.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Czech Novelist Emil Hakl

Recently I read and enjoyed Czech writer Emil Hakl's Of Kids & Parents (published by Twisted Spoon Press) and it just so happens that Chad Post has a review of the novel over at Three Percent:

Written almost entirely in dialogue, the novel takes place over one night as a 42-year-old man and his 71-year-old father go from bar to bar drinking, talking about airplanes, about women, about everything. The book is narrated by the son, although expository sections are few and far between.

Read the entire review here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sozopol Fiction Seminar in Bulgaria

From the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation:

Explore your writing on the beautiful Black Sea coast!



June 4-8, 2009

The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation offers its second annual summer fiction-writing seminar in historic Sozopol in Bulgaria. The seminar consists of intensive daily fiction workshops, roundtable discussions, and readings/lectures by faculty and participants.
Fiction writers from Bulgaria and fiction writers from English-speaking countries, including but not limited to the U.S. and the U.K., are invited to apply. A total number of ten applicants will be selected for participation and funding. All participants will receive equal funding.

Programme and Faculty
Morning workshops will be led in English by Elizabeth Kostova (author of the best-selling novel THE HISTORIAN) and in Bulgarian by Emilia Dvoryanova (lecturer in creative writing and author of the award-winning Bulgarian novel VIRGIN MARY’S EARTHLY GARDENS, which will be published in French, 2009).

Guest lectures will be provided by Georgi Gospodinov (Bulgarian fiction writer and poet whose novel NATURAL NOVEL has appeared in ten languages) and Josip Novakovich (award-wining Croatian-born American fiction writer, essayist, and professor at Pennsylvania State University).

In addition to the core programme, Josip Novakovich will offer a writing workshop based on his book FICTION WRITERS’ WORKSHOP, which is currently under translation into Bulgarian language.

Roundtable discussions will feature editor Reagan Arthur of Little, Brown and Company (tbc); John O’Brien, founder and editor-in-chief of Dalkey Archive Press; and distinguished Bulgarian editors, publishers, and translators.

Five participants writing in English and five writing in Bulgarian language will receive scholarships regardless of country of residence. The scholarship covers tuition, room and board, in-country transportation, and 80% of international travel.

Applications require an online form and an original fiction sample of 10-20 pages. Please read the eligibility criteria carefully before filling in the application form. For details and to apply:
On-line applications only, please!

All fiction writers working in English or Bulgarian and over 18 years of age are eligible to apply, regardless of publication record and educational status; acceptance will be based on the quality of the writing sample, statement of purpose, and letter of reference. Applicants from English-speaking countries are not required to have knowledge of Bulgarian language, nor are Bulgarian applicants required to have knowledge of English, although either will be helpful.

Applications and all supporting materials must be submitted by February 1, 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death and Betrayal in Poland

Last Sunday night, Jessica and I attended the final film of the Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival , a screening of the documentary Trzech Kumpli (“Three Buddies”). The film, directed by Ewa Stankiewicz and Anna Ferens, tells the story of three college friends—Stanislaw Pyjas, Leszek Maleszka, and Bronisław Wildstein--during the late 70s in Poland. While his friends were unaware, Maleszka was working as an informant for the secret police (and also informed on the poet Adam Zagajewski, among others). The film explores whether Maleszka's denunciation led to the murder of Pyjas thirty years ago.

What is forgiveness and is it possible to forgive someone who is unrepentant? Can a nation heal when it ignores the past or must all collaborators be exposed? These difficult questions were addressed by the film and were also discussed during a spirited discussion between the filmmakers and members of the audience following the screening.

(The film is particularly relevant in light of the recent allegations suggesting that Czech writer Milan Kundera had informed on the whereabouts of Miroslav Dvoracek--who was captured and imprisoned for over a decade--during Kundera's days as a student.)

Eliot Weinberger's "Notes on Translation"

Issue 74 of Translation Review contains an article by Kent Johnson in which he gives Eliot Weinberger's "Notes on Translation" and provides his responses to and comments on them. The notes by Weinberger (like Johnson's responses) are provocative, insightful, and, according to my unsuccessful Google searches, unavailable online. Here are the first five:
1. Poetry is that which is worth translating. The poem dies when it has no place to go.
2. The object of a translation into English is not a poem in English.
3. A translation creates a specific kind of distance: the reader never forgets that what is being read is a translation.
4. A translation that sounds like a poem in English is usually a bad translation.
5. A translation that strives for the accuracy of a bilingual dictionary is usually a bad translation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN: Dan Turèll's 27-year-old cigar

"Dan Turèll has one of those large, humanistic voices like Mayakovsky
and Yevtushenko. Impressive and engaging and at its best hypnotic."

-Steve Kowit

After a couple months in the shadowland of divorce, I'm
back, and I am here to tell you about Dan Turèll – a too-early late,
great Danish poet – and his poet-actress widow, Chili. And I am here
to tell you about Barry Lereng Wilmont, a Canadian-Danish
artist-writer who fortunately is still very much whinnying with us.
And I am here to tell you about a cigar, a Cohiba robusto, which I
smoked today in the great Copenhagen serving house, Rosengaardens
Bodega, where a Gestapo informer known as The Horsethief was
liquidated on Hitler's birthday, 1943 – a present for the Führer.

Let me start with Barry Lereng Wilmont. He was born in
Canada in 1936, moved with his Danish-Canadian mother and Canadian
father to Denmark in 1940, immediately prior to the German invasion
and five-year occupation of this democratic kingdom. Having been here
when the Germans arrived, Barry had to stay and, as an
English-speaking foreigner, albeit a four-year-old one, be concealed.
In the 1960s, Barry attended the Royal Danish Art Academy and has
since then became a recognized Danish artist, deeply involved in
contemporary Danish culture, inter alia as co-editor of the remarkable
Danish literary journal, Victor B. Andersen's Maskfabrik, as well as a
good friend of the Danish poet Dan Turèll, an icon here who died at
the age of 48 in 1993 but who is still a model and a hero for the
young poets of this country.

"Before I die I want to stroll through the city one last time

let this be my last humble wish

to walk on my own feet through my city

through the city of Copenhagen

as I've done so many times before

and I'll know this is the last time

and I'll choose my route with care…

and I'll know how short and strange life is…"

-Dan Turèll, "Last Walk through the City"

Although I have lived in Copenhagen since 1976 as, I guess
I must say, an expatriate American writer, I never met Dan Turèll or
Barry Lereng Wilmont. Let me expound upon that: I once saw Dan
Turèll, in Cykelstalden Café on the east side of Copenhagen in about
1980. I knew who he was, but he of course did not know me. I sat
over a plate of hash and a beer there, a lunch-time escapee from my
office job, wearing suit and tie, and observed the already well-known
"Uncle Danny" in his black goatee and black jacket and black hat, his
fingernails painted black, nursing a black gold beer and a little
glass of black bitter. He saw me looking and nodded in friendly
acknowledgement, and I thought, He thinks I'm just any old office
stiff in tie and suit and what I should do now is leap to my feet and
recite Ginsberg's "Howl" or Ferlinghetti's "Autobiography," both of
which I knew by heart. But I did not have the moxie to do so, and
anyway what in the world would he have made of that? He finished his
beer and bitter, nodded again and left, and I ate the rest of my hash,
brooding about the fact that I was an expatriate writer who had never
published anything although I had been trying both in the US and
Denmark for nearly 15 years, and here once again I had proven myself
unworthy to the occasion of seizing an opportunity to meet and speak
with a poet who was known to be interested in America and beats and
might very well have been open to an approach.

"…I've sat many hours at my window and stared down at the street

and seen the lonely men drifting around the live shows

gazing at neon breasts and trying to pull themselves together

slink three-four steps away and then back again

look to all sides to see if someone sees them…

they can't see John down in the Comet staring out the window

they can't see Sussie in Sexorama's back room either

but we can see them eventually sneaking in

with their coatcollar up around their ears…"

-Dan Turèll, "Life on Isted Street"

Flash forward about 28 years: I am now a published
writer, author of 20+ books, most recently an anthology of
translations from the Danish, and my telephone rings. It is someone
named Barry Lereng Wilmont, who had just heard an interview with me on
Danish radio in which I talked about translating an extraordinary
Danish poet named Henrik Nordbrandt, my translations of whom had been
published in American Poetry Review, The Literary Review, Agni and
elsewhere. Barry was in the process of translating, to Danish, and
illustrating a new edition of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and wanted
to confer with me about the translation of the line, "Where is the
summer, the unimaginable zero summer?" from "Little Gidding."

We discussed the line, and in the course of our discussion
we agreed that it was extraorindary that two people like us, artists
from the new world who were now living in the old one, had never met
and, further, agreed to rectify that lapse. So we met, discovered
that we both enjoy beer and cigars, exchanged books and thoughts.
Barry mentioned that he had heard the interview on Danish radio in
which I mentioned Henrik Nordbrandt, told me he knew Nordbrandt and
had worked with him, and furthermore asked if I knew the work of Dan
Turèll which he intuited that I might be well-qualified to translate
into English.

Not only did I know and revere the poetry of Dan Turèll,
I could not imagine that, 15 years after the man's untimely death at
the age of 48, it had not already been translated.

"…In my old neighborhood haunt there were signs hanging outside

about serving food

but nobody ever saw anything but bottles inside

and no one could remember when those signs had meant anything

but on the other hand a lot of things were sold

that weren't mentioned on the signs…

and sometimes one of the bartenders did some time

and while Jerry was in for three months for a big shipment of ketogan

Jerry's girlfriend Lizzi moved in with Bob

and when Jerry got out she moved back

and none of the three said much about it

that was just life…"

-Dan Turèll, "My Old Neighborhood Haunt"

To cut to the chase: Barry arranged a meeting between me
and Dan's widow, a Danish poet and actress named Chili Turèll. Barry
suggested to Chili that I might be the right person to translate Dan's
poetry. She agreed to let me try. I tried. She liked what I had
done. Meanwhile, a celebrated Danish documentary film maker named
Anders Østergaard had just completed a film about Turèll, and I was
invited to attend its pre-premiere. It was a wonderful film which
brought tears to my eyes that I had never seized that opportunity 28
years before to make my existence known to Dan in the Cykelstald Café,
but which must have been a far far greater emotional experience for
both Chili and Barry.

"…You walk down through a long street

which you know or maybe don't know

in your own city or an unknown one

and you raise your eyes and look at those thousands

of shining lit-up windows

and you know that behind every single window people live

and that simple thought everytime is so new and strange…"

-Dan Turèll, "Behind Every Single Window"

Cut to another chase, today Barry and I met for the fourth
or fifth time in another Danish serving house, Rosengårds Bodega,
after hearing that some of my translations of Dan's work would appear
in the esteemed 73-year-old American literary journal, NEW LETTERS.
In the Bodega, Barry removed from his satchel a wooden box; from
that, he removed a cardboard matchbox which Dan had brought home many
years before from Malta, where he and Chili had stayed while Dan wrote
scenes of a book set on that island, and a Cohiba robusto cigar
wrapped carefully in a napkin. The Cohiba, Barry told me, had been
given to him by Dan after an evening they spent together in 1981 when
they were collaborating on a book.

This magnificent cigar was, thus, 27 years old. In honor
of our meeting, in honor of the memory of Dan, in honor of the
impending publication of my English translations of some of Dan's
poems in NEW LETTERS, Barry wanted me to smoke the cigar in this
serving house in which a Gestapo informer had been liquidated 65 years
before – there is still a bullet hole in the wall behind the bar.

"It might be dry," Barry said.

"But I can't smoke this," I protested. "It's a piece of history."

"I would like you to smoke it," Barry said in a manner
that convinced me he meant it.

I clipped and warmed the end with a matchstick from the
box of Dan's Maltese stick matches and puffed. The 27-year-old Cohiba
– perhaps thanks to the napkin in which Barry had wrapped and
preserved it – was delicious.

"I like everyday things

that slow waking up to the well-known view

that anyway never is quite so well-known

the morning kisses

the flop of mail through the door slot

the coffee aroma

the ritual wandering to the corner shop for milk, cigarettes, newspapers

I like everyday things despite all the irritations

the bus that rumbles by in the street

the telephone that incessantly disturbs the most beautiful,

blankest, stillest nothing

in my fish tank…"

-Dan Turèll, "A Tribute to Everyday"

And so I smoked Dan Turèll's 27-year-old Cohiba robusto.
And I thanked the gods of fate who had put me into contact with Barry
and Chili and made it possible for me to translate the poetry of Dan
Turèll and to share it with English-speaking people who do not read
Danish. And as I drew the delicious, aromatic smoke through the tube
of that robusto, given all those years ago from Dan's hand to Barry's
and now to mine, I thought about how simple and ordinary the things
Dan wrote about are, and in their simplicity and ordinariness how
strange and compelling and, as he said, "how short and strange life

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!

Thomas E. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Words Without Borders

The new Words Without Borders is available and this month they "present writings on the ultimate act of translation: immigration. Writers cross borders both linguistic and cultural, grappling with language and puzzling out customs to arrive at identities both familiar and foreign."

Read work by Saša Stanišić and many others, including Lidija Dimkovska and Danila Davydov, who have previously appeared in Absinthe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jean-Louis Fournier wins Prix Femina

From AFP:

"Jean-Louis Fournier, a prolific author now aged 69, won the Prix Femina for Ou on va, papa? (Where are we going, Dad?), a 150-page book written with a light touch as a message to his two heavily handicapped children, Mathieu and Thomas."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival

The annual Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival takes place this weekend. The full schedule is available here.

In connection with the Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival, there will be an exhibition of films by Bruce Checefsky at the Work Gallery:

WORK-Ann Arbor. 306 State Street. Avant-garde cinema in Poland by Bruce Checefsky

Exhibition open Saturday, November 8th and Sunday, November 9th from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm. An opening reception for the filmmaker will take place on Saturday, November 8, from 12 pm – 2pm. 998-8178.

The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Making the Lost and Unmade: The Films of Bruce Checefsky examines the lost and unmade works of four important avant-garde experimental Polish filmmakers: STEFAN THEMERSON, (1910 – 1988), FRANCISZKA THEMERSON (1907 – 1988), JAN BRZEKOWSKI (1903 – 1983), and ANDRZEJ PAWLOWSKI (1925 – 1986). The special presentation will include a screening of recent remakes based on the originals. The screened films will include Pharmacy (1930/2001) and Moment Musical (1933/2007) by Stefan and Franciszka Themerson; Jan Brzekowski's, A Woman and Circles (1930/2003), and Andrzej Pawlowski's IN NI [OTHERS] (1958/2005).