Monday, March 30, 2009

Liliana Ursu

We had the privilege of hearing Romanian poet Liliana Ursu and her translator Sean Cotter read this evening from their new book Lightwall, published by Zephyr Press. It was a wonderful reading and I recommend checking out the collection, as well as hearing them read if you get the opportunity. Liliana and Sean have several readings scheduled in the next week, including at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington on April 1st at 4 pm, and next Tuesday evening, April 7th, in Plano, Texas at Legacy Books.

Three poems by Liliana Ursu, translated by Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters, will appear in Absinthe 11. Enjoy a preview below:

Poem Written on a Rainy Day about Garden Shears

On the table white as the sea wall
In de Chirico’s painting
The poetry notebook and “Homilies on Repentance”
By St. John of the Cross.
Next to them the garden shears
With arms yellowish
Like two candles,
The steel coil

And last, the shears’ blades
That trim all illusions,
All sins.
All the way to the bluish skin
Caressed only by angels.

Translated from Romanian by Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Italian Film Festival in Detroit

For those in the Detroit area there is an Italian Film Festival taking place from March 26-April 4 at several venues, including the Detroit Film Theatre. The festival kicks off there tomorrow night with a screening of the 2007 film La Giusta Distanza at 7:30. All films are FREE.

Schedule for PEN World Voices

The schedule is now up for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature taking place in New York from April 27-May 3. The European writers appearing include Muriel Barbery, Lilian Faschinger, Clemens Meyer, and Péter Nádas.

The theme of the festival this year is "Evolution/Revolution":

2009 is a year of significant anniversaries—from Galileo’s telescope (1609) to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), from the Cuban Revolution (1959) to the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe (1989) and Tiananmen Square (1989). For this year's festival, writers from all over the world will consider how the world changes and how we change.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Manuel Rivas

Anyone who enjoyed the Galician writer Manuel Rivas’ poetry in Absinthe 8, or has read one of his novels, The Carpenter’s Pencil and In the Wilderness, or the recent edition of his short stories Vermeer’s Milkmaid & Other Stories, published in the States by Overlook Press, might like to know that the Sofia-based Small Stations Press has just brought out an anthology of eighty poems, From Unknown to Unknown, selected and translated into English by Jonathan Dunne.

The anthology has a condensed and extremely poetic introduction by the Scottish writer John Burnside, author of The Asylum Dance and Glister, which is available to read on the publisher’s website.

Since I am that translator, I should like to include here my favourite poem from the anthology, which always makes me smile…

The Last Judgement

Riseth ye up that ben ded, and cometh to the jugement

And so God will send the angels
to separate the good from the bad.
And they will put some to one side with Saint Abel,
the martyrs
and the beggar Lazarus.
The others with Cain,
the blustering tyrant
and the rich glutton.
On the right Peter and on the left Judas
the infamous.
Till when? the damned will ask.
And the Lord will clear his throat with a glass of water:
For ever and to the end.
And when everything’s over,
we’ll arrive,
the latecomers,
a Soneira cart moaning
in the now deserted valley of Jehoshaphat.

Monday, March 16, 2009



Aarhus, three train-hours northwest of Copenhagen, the Ides of March: Duties fulfilled at the WildWithWords Literary Festival, you wander the city, find yourself on Telephone Square where the Ha’penny Pub bartender sent you at closing time with the promise there would be a blues jam at the Antiquarian Bar. Staggering a few steps ahead of you on the walk along the Aarhus River is a tall man with a bushy black beard, carrying a baritone sax. He also has just left the Ha’penny where he had been blowing New Orleans jazz before asking the young raven-haired barmaid if he could have a Black Bush. She reached for the Irish whiskey but the sax-man said, “No I want a big black hairy bush. You got one?”

He reaches the Antiquarian before you, and to avoid guilt by association, you hang back, let him get well ahead. You puff a cigarillo outside the door, then step in. A quick look down the long bar and the cluster of tables convinces you that you have stepped into a 500-word story you once read by Richard Brautigan, entitled “The Old Bus,” in which the narrator climbs onto a city bus somewhere to discover that all the passengers are very old and very near extinction. From face to face, his eyes flicker but each new face is old and dazed and dusty, each and every one. Realizing that he has inadvertently climbed aboard the Old Bus, he jerks the stop signal and clambers off again, watches with relief as it pulls away toward its unknown destination.
However, the story you have just stepped into is “The Old Bar,” and the faces here blaze with life.

A short bulky man, long white hair dangling from beneath his grey cowboy hat, wearing a fringed, turquoise-studded buckskin jacket, holds a pint in each hand and shakes his hips to the music. Beside him, a tall bent dude in black leather, black cowboy hat cocked across his spotted bald pate, silver-steerhead string tie swinging, claps his hands, scrawny turkey neck bent forward, bopping, as he laughs with wide open mouth.

You order a pint of Royal Pilsner for a pittance and take a chair, spy a life-sized barrel of sealskin two chairs over and do a double take: a pair of ancient blue female eyes peers invitingly out of the sealskin barrel at you. The bushy-black-bearded baritone player is out on the floor now, doing the lindy hop with a lumpy old gal in a flowered dress, twirling her slowly with intoxicated gallantry. It occurs to you that he dies his beard.

On the stage the vocalist, sporting a shiny lilac-striped shirt and helmet of grey hair, is singing:
Lookin’ for some pussy on a Saturday night.
You know the kind a gal who really treats you right.
I got the hard-on blues…

People at adjacent tables – old men, old women – focus welcoming smiles upon you, raise their pints, call out, “Skaal, friend!”

The band starts a new number with a jivy, three-electric guitar opening, and the vocalist bursts out with, “Unchange my heart/Baby set me free…!”

You are about to correct him, shout, “No, no, it’s unchain my heart,” but suddenly you realize that his words are better. Your heart has been changed, and now you want it to be unchanged – unchanged back to whatever it was before.

An ancient duffer beside you goes into a wet, phlegmy coughing fit, just as you spot a babe with stringy long grey hair and no neck checking you out from the bar. A jowly face wearing your own beret is glaring at you from behind her – then you understand that is your own face in the back-bar mirror, and you down the rest of your pint and start backing toward the door. The old babe at the bar has turned full-face in your direction, doing a shimmy, smiling for you and you alone.

You salute her and clamber for the street, stepping smartly across Telephone Square in the direction of your CabInn budget hotel room. You do not look back. You know the destination.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

copyright Thomas E. Kennedy

Friday, March 13, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Marica Bodrožić

The Croatian-born German poet and fiction writer Marica Bodrožić is featured in an article on the Goethe-Institut web site.

The experience of being foreign, of translation into another world and language, of arriving in a new sphere, and of being cut off from the past and losing it, all find poetic expression in the eleven “dream-real” stories in the volume entitled Der Windsammler(i.e., The Gatherer of Winds, 2007). More intensely than in Tito ist tot and Der Spieler der inneren Stunde, the author here trusts her associative-creative linguistic imagination. The dreamy, fairy-tale-like tone does not make the reading easier – but it does make it more exciting and, finally, more exhilarating.

Sounds interesting but it doesn't look like any of her work is available in English yet.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jacek Podsiadło

Absinthe 10 included a poem by Jacek Podsiadło and at the web site for the Polish Book Institute there is a brief mention of his new book of fiction.

An excerpt:

Podsiadło is interested in all paths—the well-trodden, like the Road to Slovakia, to Egon Bondy, and the unfamiliar, explored for the first time. Of these routes, as noted in the book, there are hundreds, and the equally intriguing guide-narrator makes even getting lost on them into an adventure. The whole thing is a journey that has never taken place in Polish literature before.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Orthodox Lent

Orthodox Lent began this week, Easter being a week later than in the Western calendar. I have never understood this disagreement within the Christian church, between Catholics (and Anglicans) in the West and Orthodox Christians in the East, whose head (primus inter pares) is the ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (modern Istanbul). The truth is the truth, so why do we have to disagree over it? The only dogma I espouse is its reverse: am God.

Anyway, in the middle of Sunday lunch, my mother-in-law, who had set a splendid table, abruptly stood up and asked forgiveness of us all, in turn forgiving us for anything we might have done. What was going on? I thought to myself. Mothers-in-law weren’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to torment you mercilessly, not ask forgiveness! I felt a little light-headed. Of course, after that, there was an argument about someone’s birthday and my wife and mother-in-law disagreed over something I had the impression they actually agreed on. But the grandeur of asking forgiveness and being forgiven stayed with me.

If translation has taught me one thing, it is that I am not original. Nothing begins with me. I said this to my mother-in-law, who claimed that to be a good translator it was not enough to know the language you’re translating from, you yourself had to be creative, a writer. I answered that I thought the opposite was the case, meaning I agreed with her. Apart from the fact I would argue it is much more important to know the language you’re translating into (which perhaps you can only truly know when you’ve learnt another language), I believe writers are translators, writing down experiences, impressions, even stories, that come to them.

If we can believe this, that we are not original and our purpose in life is to be translators, then we don’t have to fight over things anymore and a huge weight is lifted off us. This is really what my mother-in-law was doing on Sunday, I think. Translating forgiveness.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Greek literature at Words Without Borders

The March edition of Words Without Borders is up and features writing from Greece, guest edited by Karen Emmerich. The issue presents work by Thanassis Valtinos, Dimitris Chatzis, Margarita Karapanou, Ioanna Karystiani, Vassilis Alexakis, Sotiris Dimitriou, Petros Markaris, Ersi Sotiropoulos, Vassilis Gkourogiannis, and Gazmend Kapllani.

(And Absinthe 11--coming soon--includes a story by Ersi Sotiropoulos, translated by Karen Emmerich.)

Monday, March 2, 2009



This shout from Copenhagen is one that has been lingering, unvoiced, in my throat since Ronald Reagan was laid to rest, accompanied by glowing newspaper reports of the accomplishments of his presidency. Baffled, I asked myself whether I had slept through the years of his administration. I hadn’t known that we loved the man and his scary astrology lady, hadn’t realized how great his accomplishments were. I still haven’t.

Anyone still baffled by the lavish newspaper accolades and ornate ceremony which accompanied that gaudy laying to rest of a B-actor turned American president might be relieved to know the case has been reopened by Michael Neff in his debut novel, Year of the Rhinoceros (Red Hen Press, 2009). Described as “a surrealist and tragicomic tale of courage, love, betrayal, and murder, based on a true story pieced together from (Capitol) Hill hearings, reports and interviews with OSC (Office of the Special Counsel) staff who remain anonymous,” the novel is about – in Neff’s own words – “The agency distorted by the Reagan White House into a force employed to discover and betray whistleblowers…” An agency which Neff notes “still operates today” (quotation from the mid-W years.)

In an interview ( conducted by Cicily Janus at Eclectica, Neff says, “Like many in this country, I am tired of the purposeful revisionism on the part of some Republicans regarding the presidency of Ronald Reagan. They want to make him over into their version of Kennedy, mythologize him into something he wasn’t. Reagan’s regime was one of the most corrupt in American history, especially when one takes into account the number of public officials caught exercising their right to criminal behavior. The Nixon era was more publicized because of Watergate, but the Reagan era was a free-for-all of rampant fraud, waste, and abuse of power at all levels. Also, there is the ridiculous myth that Reagan was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is a little like giving Nixon credit for the first U.S. landing on the moon. Reagan just happened to be making rehearsed speeches at the time of the collapse.”

Pulitzer-Prize winning fiction writer Robert Olen Butler says, “Year of the Rhinoceros is a compelling, utterly original novel that savagely and hilariously explores what went wrong in this country a couple of decades ago, and that keeps going wrong even now.”

Neff’s novel is about an idealistic Reagan supporter, taught from childhood to love “The Gipper,” who is employed by a small congressional agency to protect brave individuals who seek to blow the whistle on government corruption. Dominated by the White House, however, the agency lures and betrays potential enemies of the administration to clear the field for their corporate clients and protect them from public scrutiny. The year is 1984 – a year that evokes Orwellian terror in post World War II hearts.

Michael Neff himself worked in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s and ‘90s as a government staffer during the Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton years.

So is the book fiction? “The setting is real,” says Neff. “The circumstances are real. The struggles of the whistle blowers are real and their prosecutors are real – just the names changed to protect the guilty. The plot is fictional but based on a true story… One particular way I incorporate facts into the story involves the pseudo-legalistic manner in which whistle blowers were forced by Reagan’s agency to run a gauntlet of tests to determine authenticity. Of course, no one ever made it through the tests… It was all a game, one designed to prevent Reagan and his corporate pals from suffering the loss of any important contracts.”

But does what happened under Reagan even begin to compare with the excesses of the Bush administration?

“I recently had a long talk with Tom Devine, director of the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., one of the top three watchdog organizations,” says Neff. “And he told me the Reagan group was more energetically evil than the Bushies – who are mostly morons and evaders. It was during the Reagan era that corporate America began taking over Washington.”

So let us think twice before we begin to shout out praises of famous dead men like Reagan – and maybe take a look first at The Year of the Rhinoceros, a tale of another kind of 1984, the real year.

P.S.: In 1994, Michael Neff created and began to direct, a popular internet publisher and community portal for scores of literary journals, independent presses, filmmakers, poets and writers, serving content to millions of readers worldwide and links from over 40,000 other websites. Readers are urged to visit – it’s a virtual literary mall.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy (