Friday, December 28, 2012

Support the work of Absinthe

As you know, Absinthe is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. This is a great time to help us continue our work: publishing Absinthe, sponsoring our reading series (Wednesday Night Sessions), and the other literary and film events we present.

Next year we enter our 10th year and it promises to be a big year with the publication of a special issue of Absinthe focused on Turkey, and the publication of our first book, European Trash by Ulf Peter Hallberg.

Please consider making a contribution now. You can do that at our web site here or by sending a check to Absinthe, PO Box 2297, Farmington Hills, MI 48333.

Or you can support us by subscribing to Absinthe, renewing a subscription, or taking out a gift subscription here.

Happy New Year and thank you for your continued support!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Interview with Vlad Zografi

The Bare-Footed Leper: An Interview with Romanian writer Vlad Zografi
I expect many have asked you why you abandoned physics to become a writer though history shows physicists are such inventive and successful writers. How does your experience as a scientist influence you as a writer?

I was born in a non-free country dominated by an ideology in which nobody believed. There was almost no hope for change. In think that in a normal country I would have studied philosophy:  studying philosophy in Romania in the 1980s was something quite different from studying philosophy in Göttingen, Heidelberg, Cambridge, Oxford, or Harvard. At that time, in my country philosophy was a one-hundred percent ideology. I needed not to get involved in the “system”, I wanted to be more or less “clean”. On the other hand, I was a good mathematician though awfully poor equipped for science. I heard about quantum mechanics and I needed to understand the limits of our knowledge. It was a sort of philosophical problem I was facing so perhaps I decided to study physics for a challenge. But, after all, these are details: I just wanted to write, even philosophy was nothing but an intellectual game. When I was sixteen, I started to read Dostoevsky, then other Russian writers. And I knew not that I wanted to be a writer but that I already was a writer even without writing. Strangely enough, but it’s true. And then I started to write short stories. They were the traces of my experiences and my thoughts, something like the traces a snail leaves behind - an organic path. So I didn’t actually abandon physics to become a writer – I have always been a writer.
Now it is quite difficult to say to what extent my scientific experience influenced me. After all you must earn a living for which you may be a taxi driver, a professor, a burglar, or a beggar. I happened to be a physicist for some years. I don’t think that being a writer is a profession – it’s just a sort of paradoxical human behavior vis-a-vis a sheet of paper or a computer screen. Anyway, at each moment in your life you are supposed to be the product of all your past experiences – so there must be a scientific influence. But I cannot decouple it from all the other influences. I am much more interested in human nature than in a nature’s nature. I don’t like science fiction. So, if there is a scientific influence, it must be extremely subtle, so subtle that I cannot put my finger on it.

With all my respect to theatre and its system-resistant role during the Soviet era, why have you chosen to write plays when theatre is becoming more entertaining and less metaphorical or philosophical? What does playwriting give you that other genres don’t?

The system-resistant role of theatre you are speaking about has nothing to do with my idea of writing for theatre. I don’t think I am writing a metaphorical or philosophical theatre. My writing is inspired by something very concrete – that is, my obsessions. I am writing for theatre because I live in a very theatrical way. I myself am the theatre I am writing for. It is my view. And it is vivid. Everything I see is a tragic farce. I feel it intensely. You might say that theatre is a sort of experimental literature: it is supposed to be performed so it has an objective dimension. Theatre is a counterpoint construction, like music. Unfortunately, I don’t play music so the only thing I can do is to play theatre. I like contrasts: they have something to do with the genetic code of our world. Everything is paradoxical, and I think that theatre can express all those paradoxes better than other literary genres. On the other hand, I know that writing theatre means that you depend on a lot of things concerning a stage performance. If you are not an author of what you call “entertaining theatre”, it’s very difficult. Bad luck! But what can I do? I cannot falsify my nature. My nature dictates me to write plays. Once again: bad luck!

Your plays are often likened to those of Samuel Beckett. How would you yourself define your literary influences and inspirations?

You cannot write if you don’t read first, and some authors influence you more than others. Beckett is an extremely important writer, and, indeed, he influenced me. Now, maybe it’s not Beckett himself  but his world  that is a wider source. I know that in America Beckett is better known than other writers. They belong to a European tradition of thinking that is sceptical about the world, as it is ordinarily perceived. This tradition has avoided the influence of what we call psychological realism. Simply because psychological realism is a naive lie, it represents the world in a schematic way. Human nature is much wider. Beckett realized this as did other writers, such as Kafka, Jarry, Bulgakov, Platonov, Harms, Ionesco, Witkiewicz, Gombrowicz, Borges, Casares, Marquez. But Shakespeare did it as well. And Cervantes. And Rabelais. And the ancient Greeks. And some Romanian writers completely unknown in America. I think I belong to this vast family.
But “influence” is a tricky word. You are influenced in a sense that some worlds are widely open to you. Nevertheless, you follow your own way – what a splendid cliché! I think what I have in common with Beckett is a certain perspective, but I’m afraid it is a genetic fact.

Which theatre director would you trust most to stage your plays? And do you keep an eye on those theatre projects that have already put your plays on stage? 

I don’t want to speak about theatre directors. Let me explain why. When I write a play, I have in my mind a stage, characters, movement, lights,  colors,  sounds. Yes, I believe I have some imagination, which is my only advantage. But maybe “imagination” is the wrong word for I have the ability to visualize and experience everything. I perform the play in my mind. And I write down the words my characters are pronouncing. I obey. It’s simple. Of course, the starting point is my obsessions but the characters in my mind possess certain independence – they are quite convincing to me. And the geometry of the situations is not a common one. So I must say that the first performance takes place in my head. I admit this statement may be judged as autistic. It doesn’t bother me. The problem is that the performance in my head is very vivid.
Now, when you see on the stage the play you wrote, you should not compare it to your internal performance.  I made this mistake when I first saw a play of mine on the stage. Frankly speaking, the theatre director had some very good ideas, better than mine. I was influenced by them as I am more or less influenced by all the performances I see. But we have a problem here: the play as a literary work belongs to the writer, while the performance belongs entirely to the theatre director. Of course, they interfere but it is better not to speak too much with the director. She or he must feel entirely free. Otherwise, you risk making it a destructive interference. If you leave the theatre director free, you might have a chance to discover interesting things.
I admit I would like to create performances in a certain way but there are a lot of technical difficulties. In the best of all worlds, I would have a theatre of my own in order to act in the plays written by others, or maybe even in my own plays. I have some ideas – not very commercial ones, I’m afraid. Sometimes I “see” performances. Anyway, I do not live in the best of all worlds.

What target audience did you think about at the time of writing Kiss Me: Confessions of a Bare-footed Leper? How did you conceive the image of a leper in the first place?

My target audience is always mankind. I write about extremely general things, such as the fact that human existence surprises us, the fact that we hope, the fact that we die, the fact that we love, the fact that we are condemned to torture and to be tortured. It’s very simple. The audience is not supposed to know quantum mechanics or sophisticated sociological theories. I wrote Kiss Me because I felt I was a bare-footed leper myself, and indeed everybody is a bare-footed leper. A disease is penetrating your life, but your life itself is a disease. I wanted this play to involve the audience: the main idea is to get the feeling that somebody penetrates your intimacy. I admit it is difficult to create a strong impression. You must get the feeling you are touched by a leper. You must not identify yourself with him, but join him, be melted in the same nature, in the same human reality. Because life is like this.
The English translation of this monologue was fortunate to have been handled by Ileana Orlich, a professor of literature at Arizona State University, and she belongs to both Romanian and American cultures. She is best placed for this kind of translation. It feels like the monologue was originally written in English. The same holds true for the other two plays she translated and which were published in the book Kiss Me: Peter and Oedipus at Delphi. I owe her a lot.

With its existential take, your play Kiss Me delivers a critique of conformism. The Communist regime nurtured conformism in particular ways and with an almost religious zeal – a large part of Communist societies adapted very well, and yet the other part went dissident. How has this mentality transformed in the post-Communist Romanian society? Did dissident culture reach its goal, thus losing its significance, or does it still have any mission to pursue?

Romania is a country where people are not used to strongly believe in ideas. I once met  a French philosopher who was speaking about general features of the Communist regime in Eastern Europe. When he was asked if there was any particular feature of Romanian Communism, he answered something like this: “Yes, in Romania nobody really believed in Communism.” This was not the case in other countries. There is a certain Romanian scepticism – and there are good aspects and bad aspects of this reality. In a way, I feel very lucky being Romanian: no preconceptions, having immunity to all ideologies, a detached perspective, a good humour, a very critical eye, sometimes maybe a cynical one. This partly explains why the literary avant-garde has some of its important roots in Romania. On the other hand, we have problems with our civil attitudes. During the Communist regime, generally, Romanians were versatile, but we haven’t got many dissidents. This lack of a civil spirit influenced a lot the post-Communist society but it would be too far-fetched to speak about a “dissident culture”. We have the culture of surviving but without long-term oriented ideas. And that’s our main difficulty.

The shoes image is such an appropriate metaphor: the leper attempts to put the audience into his own shoes through his reminiscences and then at the end of the play he invites us to swap the roles. This puts the audience into a borderline situation:  one either identifies with a leper or remains a spectator alone. Why do you explore and exploit borderline experiences in your works?

Now the problem with the shoes is quite simple. I myself have big and difficult feet. I think I have an extra bone. It’s a problem to find good shoes. When a pair of shoes is destroyed, I experience a tragedy – I must buy other shoes, which might take days or weeks. And it is very important to have shoes, otherwise you can’t walk. And it is very important to walk, otherwise you can’t buy bread and wine and you don’t meet people. And it seems to me quite important to eat, drink and meet people. For me, the shoes image is not a metaphor, it is utterly concrete, it’s an everyday life problem. Generally, I don’t use metaphors, everything is concrete.
Yes, it is a borderline situation. The audience should be pushed towards more than identifying with the leper – rather towards sharing his condition. I create this kind of situation in other plays too. I think we live in  societies that grow ever more autistic. The computer is an autistic way of living. And theatre might be the best solution to avoid this autism. But one should do it in a very subtle and intelligent way – you don’t need to throw tomatoes or eggs. The idea is that the audience should participate in something very important, something that has to do with its survival.

What did it mean to you as a citizen and a writer when the Communist monopoly collapsed in Romania?

It was an extraordinary chance. I didn’t believe it would happen during my lifetime. I think that all of us have an inherent feeling of freedom, something that is deep inside us. I remember each morning I woke up I experienced a sort of perplexity: I was leaving a normal world and then I was supposed to enter a distorted one – a world governed by lies. In 1989 I kept writing short stories though there was no chance to be published. You may write for yourself and for a couple of friends, but sometimes you need to express yourself on a wider scale to really express yourself. You need to say the truth – your truth – loudly. It is an experience completely unknown to people who live in normal countries. On the other hand, by a sort of miracle, I think I’ve always had an undistorted perspective. I had no problems adapting to a free society – I was at home then. And, of course, I could publish.

What ghosts of the not so distant past haunt Romanian society today? What do your own words “the gift of a new disease” identify in it? How could the society as it is now get any healthier?

Apparently, there are no ghosts. People are not interested in our recent past; they just want a better life, something that is not obvious. Many of them, among them many intellectuals, left the country. As a writer, I cannot see it as a choice. In which language should I write? My English is quite poor, so is my French, and my German is even worse. I definitely belong to the Romanian language - so I’ll stay here in Romania till the end. But many of my friends left the country, which is very sad. The economic situation is quite bad and now the political situation suddenly became incredibly bad. At the beginning of this summer, there was a sort of coup d’état organized by the “ghosts” you were speaking about. The almost democratic society was not able to create good economic conditions, but we should not forget the economic crisis that haunted the entire world. Now, the political forces with deep roots in the Communist regime and with nationalistic speeches go in a direction that might be extremely dangerous. We risk being expelled from the civilized world. Nevertheless, we belong to the European Union and to the NATO so this is where the opportunity for our “health” is. We find ourselves in a critical moment. So, you see, the past is still present. Unfortunately.

What challenges you as a writer?

I am not a challenger – I am just a snail. The things I write are my organic trace, as I told you. Writing is a form of existence. But existence challenges you to face the impenetrable mystery of a daily tragic farce. I would like to understand things that cannot be understood. I am not pragmatic. All realistic goals seem to me lousy and ineffective. I want to survive my paradoxes. And I want to express them. I want to have time to express them. I want time. I need time because I want to learn how to die. I want to learn how to die without dying. But maybe it’s better to die at a certain moment. I’m not sure.

It’s probably cheeky to ask an author to be selective about his own works... But which one of your plays would you choose to save if you were told to destroy all but one?

Before publishing for theatre, I destroyed about a dozen plays and a huge novel of 500 pages. So I’m quite good at destroying. The first plays I published were successful: Peter was performed at the best Romanian theatre in 1997, and the theatre gave several performances in Europe. Kiss Me also belongs to that period. Then between 1998 and 2005 I ceased to write. But in the autumn of 2005 I started once again writing – and this is my second period. It sounds very funny to speak about myself in these terms as if I were a literary critic! I am now in my second period, and I haven’t got enough time to write for I work as an editor – that’s my main problem. Looking back, I find the first period plays too explicit. On the other hand, my second period plays had no success. The inherent irony of life!
I had a great opportunity: two years ago I received a stipend in Switzerland. I lived in a small town called Zug, near a beautiful lake (also called Zug) and a beautiful mountain (also called Zug), in the Canton of Zug, of course. It was paradise. In six months I wrote four plays that I consider the best thing I ever did. Last year I published them in a book called All Your Minds (the title of one of the plays). These plays might be difficult to perform, I admit. They have a very powerful fantastic dimension: in Zug I used to speak with birds, cats, and sometimes with fishes (but I’m not sure about the fishes, maybe I overestimate my abilities). One of these plays is The Planet Mars. It is about a man who successfully escapes the irreversibility of time: he explores a tree of erotic possibilities with a lot of women. No consequences. He is out of time. But the problem is that our consciousness, our being is the fruit of irreversibility. We are all the children of death. So the man I was talking about becomes “nothing” in a certain way: he becomes a baby. This is the play I would choose to save but I think I would choose to save the whole book All Your Minds because the four plays are connected.

So what’s coming next?

While leaving Zug at the end of January 2011, I had another play in mind but I don’t want to speak about it because I never had time to write it. I need two completely free months. Meantime I wrote an essay. I never thought of writing an essay, I just had some ideas about theatre and literature. It happened that I wrote a letter to Oliver Sacks, the well-known American author (I am his editor in Romania), because I contemplated a lot about his books and I had some ideas concerning them. I was very surprised to receive a letter from Oliver Sacks – and it was a warm one. He said I should write an essay. So, finally, I did it. I was very lucky: I finished the book two weeks before the coup d’état, otherwise it could have been lost forever under the dramatic conditions we’ve had here in Romania for the last two months. Now I must find a title to publish the book in autumn or winter. This essay is supposed to be something like “How do I see the world” from a theatrical and literary perspective.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Absinthe 18 is coming soon!

Absinthe 18 is coming soon and it’s full of exceptional art & writing from Europe, including a short play by Vlad Zografi, and poetry & prose by Marie-Claire Bancquart, Nichita Stanescu, Pia Tafdrup, Sladjan Lipovec, Marco Candida, Kristina Lugn, Hernan Migoya, Marko Pogacar, Iulian Ciocan, Jose Corredor-Matheos, Kamil Bouska, Jiri Brynda, and a brief intro to Galician literature featuring Xabier Cordal, Anton Lopo, Anxo Rei Ballesteros, and Manuel Rivas. In addition, we have communiqué’s from Copenhagen, Prague, Rome, and Helsinki, along with cover art and a portfolio by Cyril Kuhn. 

You can be sure to get a copy of Absinthe 18 by subscribing now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wednesday Night Sessions Returns!

Join us on Wednesday, September 26th, at Mentobe Cafe in Farmington for the return of our monthly reading series Wednesday Night Sessions.

Our first reading of the fall features these three fantastic writers:

Terry Blackhawk is the author of five previous poetry collections, includingEscape Artist, winner of the 2002 John Ciardi Prize. She has received the Foley Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, the Michigan Governor’s Award for Arts Education, and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. She is founding director of Detroit’s acclaimed InsideOut Literary Arts Project and lives and writes not far from the river in Detroit, Michigan.

Francine J. Harris is a Detroit native whose recent work has appeared inRattle, Callaloo, and Michigan Quarterly Review and she is the author of the recent chapbook between old trees. She is a Cave Canem fellow, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and is currently a Zell Post-MFA Fellowship recipient at the University of Michigan.

C.J. Opperthauser is a Michigander living and teaching in Ohio. His poems have been published in Cleveland Review,Midwestern Gothic, and Controlled Burn, among others. He likes to run and fish, and blogs at

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Death of a Policeman by Hans Durrer

Death of a Policeman
by Hans Durrer

On Tuesday, 26 January 2010, one day before the opening of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Markus Reinhardt, 61, the head of police of the Swiss canton of Graubünden and chief of security at the WEF, was found dead in his hotel room. He had killed himself with his service weapon.

Markus Reinhardt had had "an alcohol problem" for quite some years, his superiors knew about it. His direct boss, the director of the Department of Justice, Barbara Janom Steiner, stated during a press conference: "His alcohol problems never affected his work".

Now the media became active in their typical fashion.

The Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich interviewed Roberto Zalunardo, the Secretary General ad interim of the Association of Swiss Police Chiefs, who said that these chiefs are under a lot of pressure, that it is very lonely at the top and that they need of course to be able to deal with all that. The reader was left with the impression that the ones who were not able to deal with this kind of pressure might turn to alcohol.

Then, the Aargauer-Zeitung interviewed the former chief of police of the Canton Aargau, Léon Borer, who said that Reinhardt's "alcohol problem" had been known for several years and that "the man could have been saved". How this could have been accomplished, he did not elaborate on.

And then, on 19 February 2010, the Tages-Anzeiger ran a story that challenged the view of Reinhardt's boss, Janom Steiner, that his alcoholism had not affected his job performance by citing several incidences - he had shown up intoxicated at work, had driven his car under the influence of alcohol, he was involved in a car accident and had seen to it that there were no offical records etc. etc.

But let me stop here. For we all know this kind of story, don't we? The government officials give you their lines, some brave journalists make efforts to unmask what they perceive to be a cover-up, and sometimes the truth does prevail ...

Well, this is the usual government/media-theater and the problem with it is that we are supposed to take it seriously. Let me elaborate: The government of Graubünden said, among other things, that "it thought it important to distinguish between work performance and private life". No one in the press  questioned this work/private life distinction. If however Mr. Reinhardt really was an alcoholic (and it surely looks that way) then such a distinction is ludicrous because an alcoholic too often cannot control his impulses (and not only when it comes to alcohol) - and that does not depend on whether he or she is at work or not.

So what did the media do? (by the way, no, I did not check whether all the media performed in exactly the same way). They tried to challenge the claim that Mr. Reinhardt's job performance was impeccable ... and in so doing fell for the trap that the government had laid out for them: the totally absurd distinction between work life and private life, that is.


An alcoholic is an alcoholic is an alcoholic. And that means that too often he cannot control his impulses (and that is not limited to drinking) – whether he is at work or at home. In addition, and this makes him especially unpredictable, he's the typical Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind: most of the time he's totally in control of himself until, all of a sudden, he completely loses it.

An alcoholic is dis-eased, in all aspects of his life. Everybody knows that. So why then do governments and media offer us such an absurd spectacle and act as if a dictinction can be made  between private and professional life? Because they do what we all do: they rationalise their behaviour, justify their acts and their non-acts; they pretend to have under control what can't be controlled. Because to live with the truth seems unbearable. And when it comes to addicition, the truth is this: we do not know what triggers it, we do not know how to stop it, we are mostly powerless against it. .

If an alcoholic remains sober after treatment, therapists believe that the treatment has been successful; if an alcoholic however relapses, he is considered unfit for therapy. Fact is that nobody can really say why some (estimates range from seven to seventeen percent) can stop their drinking and others can't.

Established therapies assume that understanding the causes of our acts might lead to behaviour change. If I know why I drink I can influence my drinking. This is wishful thinking for every cause that I will find (that I like, that pleases me) can be a cause for drinking as well as for non-drinking. Which is why in AA they say that there are exactly seven reasons why somebody drinks: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

“There is no general agreement about the nature, cause, or treatment of alcoholism”,  Arnold M. Ludwig (The Alcoholic's Mind) states and the adds: “What is an alcoholic?Where does one draw the line between problem drinking and alcoholism, between alcohol dependence and addiction? Is alcoholism a disorder or a collection of disorders? Ist it a moral failing, a bad habit, or a disease? Do alcoholics have distincts personality features? Is alcoholism hereditary or learned? Does excessive drinking represent a symptomatic expression of an underlying conflict or is it the primary problem itself? Which treatment approach, if any, is most effective? Who is best qualified to help? The question can go on and on. There are no scientific answers.”

It cannot be proven whether therapy works - by a cause-and-effect methodology, that is. That however does not mean that therapy does not work. The fact that miracles can't be proven does not mean that miracles do not exist, it only means that the accepted means of proof are useless. Besides, therapy helps the therapists to have work and earn money. By the way, good therapists know that when their patients are getting better they are sometimes witnessing a miracle of which the Senegalese Wolof say, “nit nit ay garabam”, man is man's medicine.


That the boundaries between propaganda and journalism are blurred is well known. Also, that lots of journalists are seldom more than propagandists. The problem is that they do not know it, that they are not aware of it.

When Brian Eno first visited Russia, in 1986, he made friends with Sacha, a musician whose father had been Brezhnev's personal doctor: "One day we were talking about life during "the period of stagnation" — the Brezhnev era. "It must have been strange being so completely immersed in propaganda," I said. "Ah, but there is the difference. We knew it was propaganda," replied Sacha. "That is the difference. Russian propaganda was so obvious that most Russians were able to ignore it. They took it for granted that the government operated in its own interests and any message coming from it was probably slanted — and they discounted it."

“We decide something, put it out there and wait a while in order to see what will happen. If there won't be a big outcry and no resistance, because most do not understand what has been decided, then we continue – step by step, until there's no more going back”, Jean-Claude Juncker, an influential European politician from Luxemburg is quoted in Eva Herman's “Die Wahrheit und ihr Preis” (The Price of Truth). This is not only how facts ( “fact” stems from the Latin “facere” = to make) are created, this is also how the agendas are set that invariably get picked up and propagated by the media.

Let's get practical:
Everybody believes that for alcoholics treatment ist better than punishment, This is due to the combined propaganda of psychologists and journalists. In the case of psychologists the reason is obvious – they have to make a living; in the case of journalists it can be explained with their pack-mentality. Moreover, as the linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum stated: Once the public has decided to accept something as an interesting fact, it becomes almost impossible to get the acceptance rescinded. The persistent interestingness and symbolic usefulness overrides any lack of factuality.”

This does not mean that punishment is preferable to treatment; this means that whoever believes that treatment might be the solution has very probably a too grand idea of what treatment can do for  it is a field full of paradoxes and contradictions. No wonder if you consider the following (from Arnold M. Ludwig's The Alcoholic Mind):

* "Hitting bottom" is presumed to be a necessary step for recovery. even though being in dire straits, for all other illnesses, usually indicates a poor rather than favourable diagnosis.

* In many hospital treatment settings, alcoholics are immediately discharged from the program if they are presumed to be uncooperative, unmotivated, setting poor examples for others, or if they are found to be intoxicated or drinking on the premises. In other words, they are not regarded as suitable for treatment if they show evidence of their sickness; namely, an inability to control their drinking. The catch-22 is that they must remain sober in order to receive help.

* Alcoholics are regarded as "sick" - at least for purposes of hospitalization or treatment - but society tends to hold them responsible for their transgressions or crimes.

* Because alcoholism is regarded as a "disease", certain therapeutic agencies do not hold alcoholics responsible for the harm caused by past drinking, but they do regard them as responsible for their present and future behaviors, an important and interesting distinction.
 scientific merit for the treatment of serious illnesses, endorse participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, which has a strong spiritual emphasis, as an importnat component of therapy.

* Alcoholism is a "disease" in which characteristic symptoms, such as urges and cravings to drink, can appear mysteriously at certain times, for example, during evenings and weekends, and be absent at others, as at work or at church. With the exception of other addictions, what medical diseases are so dependent on the mental expectations of the sufferers and the physical settings in which they exist?

Given this, it is difficult to imagine a more ignorant reaction than the one of the government of Graubünden. It apparently thought it sufficient that the head of police had agreed to measures set out by a medical doctor in order to “make Reinhardt master of his problem”. The media, in their usual fashion, saw to it that this ignorance was properly disseminated.

PS: In March 2000, Markus Reinhardt had ordered a finishing shot aimed at a young man who had been shooting at random on people on the streets of Chur, the capital of Graubünden. As a consequence, Reinhardt was indicted for willful homicide – he was later acquitted. The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented on 27 January 2010: “This finishing shot has never left him, ” said his longtime companion, national congressman Pius Segmüller to the tabloid Blick: “Since then he had certain problems. In the end it was all too much for him.”

(An essay by Hans Durrer appeared in Absinthe 16.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Romanian Poetry in Asymptote's July Issue

The July issue of the online journal Asymptote is available and, as usual, features much of interest, including poetry by Niels Hav (who appeared in Absinthe 16) and a special section on Romanian poetry (with work by 9 poets).

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Bulgarian Adventure

The special Bulgarian issue of Absinthe was published last month and I had the opportunity to go to Bulgaria to launch the issue at the invitation of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is a wonderful organization, founded by the American writer Elizabeth Kostova, that works to promote Bulgarian literature and writers through a number of programs, including the Sozopol Fiction Seminar. More on that later. 

View of Black Sea from my room
My trip to Bulgaria got off to a rough start when, as I feared, I missed my connecting flight in Paris despite arriving at Charles de Gaulle 50 minutes before my flight for Sofia was scheduled to depart.  I arrived at the gate to see my plane still sitting there. I was not allowed to board even after explaining that my flight arrived 15 minutes late from Detroit, we were then not allowed to leave the plane for several minutes due to a mentally ill passenger (seated directly behind me) needing medical assistance. Instead I was informed (as if I was travelling for the first time) that this was not a bus and I could not arrive at the last minute and expect to get on my plane. I came very close to shouting a few ugly American profanities but, thankfully, the presence of a cute 2-year old Bulgarian boy standing nearby caused me to edit my protests. I did, however, decide to boycott French Fries for one week.

I then discovered that the international phone service I had set up with Verizon before I left was not set up properly so I could not use my phone until I’d spent an hour on a pay phone calling my wife and then Verizon. Once that problem was fixed and I’d called Bulgaria to let my hosts know that I would not be arriving until that night, I “enjoyed” five hours in the airport before catching the next flight. But onto the great part of my trip …

I was greeted in Bulgaria by the smiling (and amazing) director of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, Milena Deleva, and my first experience in Bulgaria was welcoming. By the way, Milena spent many hours working on the Bulgarian issue of Absinthe and we owe great thanks to her for helping to get the issue done.  Since I arrived late (and tired after 18 hours of traveling) I did not get to see Sofia that first night.

Jill Schoolman, Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, and Anthony Georgieff

The next morning it was on a bus for the drive to Sozopol and the drive, though fun, was much longer than advertised. It was a good way to become acquainted with the others heading to Sozopol for the fiction seminar and to see the country. Much of the drive reminded me of driving in the western U.S., particularly Colorado.
After we arrived in the beautiful, Black Sea town of Sozopol, we got settled into our rooms at the lovely Hotel Diamanti and then headed over to the art gallery for an opening reading. At this opening evening I briefly introduced Absinthe #17 to the seminar participants, faculty, and guests.

Ben George enjoying absinthe
While the writers participated in workshops in the morning, I was able to enjoy the sights. Sozopol is a beautiful town and despite the rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures it was great to explore its old churches and small shops. Unfortunately, the closest I got to a swim in the Black Sea was dipping my toes in one afternoon.
With Garrard Conley, Kathy Flann, and Barry Lopez

The best part of the trip was meeting so many great people: writers, publishers, and translators. It was great to get to know the fellows and one of the highlights of the trip was the reading by the 10 writers who participated: Bistra Velichkova, Cab Tran, Delaney Nolan, Garrard Conley, Garth Greenwell, Kathy Flann, Nikolay Fenerski, Nikolay Petkov, Palmi Ranchev, and Philip Anastassiu.

The afternoons and evenings  included panel discussions, readings, and interesting conversations over dinner and drinks with the seminar faculty (writers Krassimir Damianov, Elizabeth Kostova, Deyan Enev, and Barry Lopez) and other visiting speakers (Ecotone editor Ben George, Vagabond publisher Anthony Georgieff, writers Debra Gwartney and Steven Wingate, Archipelago Books publisher Jill Schoolman, Istros Books publisher Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, and editor of Fiction Writers Review Jeremiah Chamberlin. 

Virginia Zaharieva, photo by Jeremiah Chamberlin
Back in Sofia, my final day in Bulgarian started with a live appearance on Bulgarian TV and I discovered that I am not ready for prime time (or any time, really). The best part of the experience was meeting the Bulgarian filmmaker Konstantin Bojanov, director of the film Avé, recommended in the current issue of Absinthe.

After leaving the studio we headed over to + tova, a cool little cafe, for a reading from Absinthe #17 by many of the writers and translators featured in the issue, including Virginia Zaharieva, Milen Ruskov, Kristin Dimitrova, Krassimir Damianov, Zdravka Evtimova, Maria Doneva, Yanitsa Radeva, Ivan Dimitrov, Nikolay Boykov, Theodora Dimova, Jonathan Dunne, and Angela Rodel. Thanks to Bistra, we also had some absinthe to imbibe after the reading!

The remainder of the day was spent exploring Sofia with Jonathan Dunne and Tsveta Elenkova, and attending another reading by the fellows.

With Garrard Conley; photo by Jeremiah Chamberlin
During my week in Bulgaria I conducted a few brief video interviews that I'll be posting here over the next few weeks so be sure to check back for those.

I'll conclude with a random list of some of the things I'll remember most about my trip to Bulgaria: meeting Cab Tran at breakfast my first morning after arriving late the night before; the lovely hosts at the Hotel Diamanti; the view of the Black Sea from my room; looking forward everyday to the video chats with my son and wife; a dinner conversation with Ben George; Barry Lopez flashing gang signs (!) at me; wishing I recorded all the wisdom I heard during discussions with Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney; entertaining walks around Sozopol with Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, Anthony Georgieff, and translator Christopher Buxton; the nearly underground Orthodox Church in Sozopol; getting to spend time with Jill Schoolman, a publisher I greatly admire; the kindness of Elizabeth Kostova, conversations with Garrard Conley (a future Absinthe editor, I hope!); a conversation with Nikolay Fenerski; getting to know two of my new favorites--Milena Deleva and Simona Ilieva; the warm reception I received from the Bulgarian authors and publishers I met; the incredible generosity of Jonathan Dunne and Tsveta Elenkova; the flat tire on the drive back from Sozopol; the authors at the reading signing a copy of Absinthe for me; the fun discussion about religion and other topics with Kathy Flann, Garrard Conley, Delaney Nolan, Boris Deliradev, and Cab on my final night; and many other great moments.    

Poster at airport in Sofia
If you get an opportunity to attend the Sozopol Fiction Seminar I highly recommend it. You'll have a great time and make many new friends. I look forward to seeing my new friends again very soon.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are you ready for some Russian Lit?

Fyodor Dostoevsky

At BEA Overlook Press announced it was partnering with Read Russia on the launch of THE RUSSIAN LIBRARY, “an ambitious one hundred and twenty five volume series of translated Russian fiction, drama, and poetry to be published over the next ten years.” The project will commence in the fall of 2013 with the publication of 5 volumes in both print and digital versions, and continue with 10 books published each year thereafter.
According to Overlook Press President & Publisher Peter Mayer, “the goal of THE RUSSIAN LIBRARY is to transcend the well-respected classics and broaden the awareness of Russian culture by making available for the first time in uniform editions these important works of literature, so many barely known outside Russia. The English language is the key. Obviously a uniform series is easier and is more commonly published in the original language; however, this Russian project has value both for Americans and British readers and internationally as well, as English comes as close to a lingua franca as one can get. Our intent is to expand the appreciation of Russian literature wherever Russian isn’t widely spoken.”
This sounds like a great project and you can learn more about it here.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The State of German Cinema

from Christian Petzold's "Barbara"

Over at the Goethe Institut site there is a discussion about the current state of German cinema. 

From an outsider’s view it would appear that German film is going strong with recent successes by Christian Petzold, Wim Wenders and his documentary Pina, films by Fatih Akin, and 2007 Oscar-winner The Lives of Others, among others.

However, in order to receive funding from the German Federal Film Fund a producer must demonstrate that the film has already been signed by a distributor and so there is concern that some films that receive distribution are not worth being screened and prevent innovative films from receiving funding: “it is not surprising that there should be a trend to funding proven forms, stories and names. The air on which artistic risk lives is getting thinner and thinner, because the public image of funding institutions is also at stake and uncertain ventures may endanger it.” 
There’s more on German film here

Monday, June 4, 2012

no man's land #7 seeking submissions

no man's land, the excellent online magazine of German literature is accepting submissions for its next issue, #7, through August 1st.

More information is available here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Absinthe 17 Preview: Hristina Keranova

This is the 17th in a series of posts previewing the new issue of Absinthe, our 17th, focused on Bulgaria. In this post we an excerpt from an essay by Hristina Keranova.

Rain and the Making of an Immigrant Translator

It all started with the rain. The rain is different here, in Atlanta, the American
Southeast. It pours, pelting vigorously on everything in its way. It’s a
downpour, a squall, hurricane . . . In my memories, Bulgarian rain rarely had
such commanding presence. It is tolerant and will even allow you to run to the
neighbor’s across the street for the daily coffee and still be dry. It invites you to
walk in it and even . . . dance. Fred Astaire would have felt more comfortable
dancing in the Bulgarian rain.

That rain story sounded weird to American ears. Most people I shared it
with looked at me in disbelief. I knew I was exaggerating, but I kept repeating
it because to me, it sounded poetic and somehow restricted the tearful
sentimentality in my nostalgia, making it possible to share without provoking too
much pity.

Whatever the reaction was, I had found a way of expression and could
again withdraw to listen to the rhythm of the rain in my head coming from a
poem I once knew about another European rain, the Parisian variety. In the
poem, a Bulgarian poet described rain as generously spilling gold coins on
the sidewalk. I remembered how my literature teacher at school taught that
poem, her eyes brimming with love for rain and Paris, and although I enjoyed
the past the poem brought back, I also became slowly aware of the increasingly
nostalgic trend in my general disposition. The poem’s magnetism for me was
partly in the text, but mostly in its rhythm, which physically recreated the bursts
of rain on the asphalt. The drumming of the raindrops on the painting of the girl
on the sidewalk washing it away affected my senses directly and the melody of
the poem in my head gave substance to my sadness.

READ MORE by ordering Absinthe 17.

Learn more about Bulgarian literature at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers site.