By Deb A.
William Stanley Merwin died on March 15, 2019. He was 91. Merwin was a poet whose life and works lend themselves well to elegant variation. He was a conservationist—not only in his poetry, which often bemoaned the destruction of the natural world, but also in his personal life; he and his wife restored 19 acres of land in Hawaii ("His poems, like that forest, are a kind of time preserve," noted Dan Chiasson in the New Yorker) and founded the Merwin Conservancy. He was a literary translator who took up the practice on the advice of Ezra Pound as a way of improving his own writing. He was a practising Buddhist and an anti-war activist; he was a conscientious objector in World War II, and he rejected his 1971 Pulitzer Prize (for The Carrier of Ladders), requesting that the prize money be donated to a peace activist and the draft resistance movement. As well as being a Pulitzer Prize winner (twice: He also won in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius), he was a U.S. Poet Laureate and the recipient of nearly every other award available to American poets. Merwin was a prolific writer, publishing over 20 books of poetry—which, in his signature style, offer little in the way of punctuation—and nearly as many books of translation, as well as several plays, memoirs, and other books. His last original collection of poems, Garden Time, was published in 2016, 64 years after his first, A Mask for Janus (1952).
For the Anniversary of My Death
By W. S. Merwin (The Second Four Books of Poems, 1993)
Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
By Deb A.
Astrolabes & Constellations is poet, writer, and artist Cristina Querrer's first full-length collection of poems. Published as part of the Agave Press Manuscript and Portfolio Series, the volume brings together questions of self, identity, travel, nostalgia, loss, and forgiveness, and examines what it is to be the product of circumstance. We spoke to Cristina about growing up in the Philippines, creative expression, and the meaning of home.
AGAVE: Navigation is a recurrent theme in the collection, and you say of yourself that you've "taken the scenic route in life": You were born and raised in the Philippines as an American military child, and you're a U.S. Army veteran with an MFA and an arsenal of tech skills. How do your poems support you in finding your path? How do they reflect that navigation?
CRISTINA QUERRER: Navigation and nautical imagery have been my recurring themes. Firstly, I come from a fisherman family in the Philippines, so water has been in my blood, so to speak. As far as nautical imagery, it mostly comes from my constant traveling since childhood as a U.S. military child and into adulthood. It’s about my seemingly “meandering” migration pattern and the need to map and document the routes and experiences that appear in my poetry. It reflects back life’s circumstances, all of what is within and beyond my reach.
What does the Philippines mean to you?
The Philippines is my starting point. It’s my birthplace. I explore identity, and I find that being of mixed race, I was blessed to have a fixed Filipino identity, thanks to my mother and her relatives for their inclusion, acceptance, and love.
While you're a writer and poet first, you seem to want to delve into as many creative avenues as possible: You're also an artist and a blogger, and you've recently started podcasting; you've got your eye on songwriting as well. What motivates you to explore so many ways of expressing yourself?
What motivates me to explore various ways of expression is the discovery process. I like to explore other possibilities because I find the many modes of expression are interconnected and quite possibly feeds each other. Just as a visual artist can switch and work on several pieces of paintings, is how I approach the many creative avenues. Right now, building my podcast channel is on my radar, but I have other projects I’d like to return to, like my visual art, my next poetry collection, and finishing up my novel, to name a few.
You mentioned on your first podcast that you wanted to investigate what creativity means to you. What have you discovered so far?
Since my interviewing other writers and poets about their creative process on my podcast, I find that mine is not that different from theirs. Staying creative means staying open to ideas, to explore the possibilities. In my podcast, the writers and poets are doing this, no matter what projects they have done or plan on doing. Continuing to be creative to me is more about mapping and planning as well as being open and being spontaneous.
What do you hope readers of By Astrolabes & Constellations will experience through your poems?
I hope my readers can feel a sense of travel through my collection because it is a result of some of my travels: from the Philippines, the U.S. (Connecticut/New Mexico/Florida), to the Federated of Micronesia, where I have lived and worked briefly, and back. My opening poem talks about a paper boat that traveled the world and came “back to this island.” “This island” can represent the Philippines or something as ubiquitous and essential as feeling home with oneself.
Cristina's podcast can be found at yourartsygirlpodcast.com.
By Deb A.
The first ICYMI of the 2019 is all about gratitude and celebration. Read on!
... to Lin-Manuel Miranda and three Hamilton collaborators, who are saving New York City's Drama Book Shop, (New York Times)
... to Simon Beattie, founder of the gorgeous We Love Endpapers group, and to The Guardian for helping the world discover it.
... to Georg P. Salzmann (1929–2013): With recent surveys showing that 5% of British adults do not believe the Holocaust happened and that 20% of young Canadians don't know or aren't sure what the Holocaust is, it's heartening to return to the story of Georg Salzmann, who spent nearly 40 years collecting around 12,000 books banned by the Nazis. (BBC)
... to Wyatt Walker, college basketball player and man with the arm that will save an ancient Roman statue. (Hyperallergic)
... to Jayant Kaikini and translator Tejaswini Niranjana, winners of the 2018 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for No Presents Please. This is the first time that the award has gone to a translated work. (The Indian Express)
... to Hannah Sullivan, who won the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for her debut collection, Three Poems. (Faber)
... to Duncan Murrell for winning the Ocean Art Underwater Photography Contest with his "Devil Ray Ballet". (Lonely Planet)
By Deb A.
Let's start the year with some optimism: $1.7 million dollars has been awarded to an academic research project focused on rescuing the poems, letters, and reflections written by European women in the early modern period (1500-1780).
The goal of Women's Invisible Ink: Trans-Genre Writing and the Gendering of Intellectual Value in Early Modernity is not to find the female Shakespeare. Instead, Carme Font, a lecturer in English literature at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, wants to finally accord value to the writing that until now had been cast aside.
Font and her team will uncover texts written by women who, for the most part, had no formal education. While their style may be less sophisticated than the treatises of their educated male contemporaries, these stories and diaries and prayers and poems nevertheless contain intellectually valuable thoughts.
Taken together, they present a view of the world that has yet to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Most of what women of the time wrote about their lives and ideas was not considered intellectual, whether they were addressing philosophical or religious questions or describing their lives and struggles. Font argues that throughout history, misogyny has permeated how people evaluate texts, leading to what she terms "cognitive androcentrism."
We still tend to forget that women's experiences are worthy too; as Font told El País, "we do not value a woman's text about the pain of childbirth, but we do value a soldier's letter from the front."
In recovering women's voices, Font aims to change our perceptions of women's intellectual contribution to civilisation. With her European Research Council funding, she will employ five full-time researchers to pore through national archives, libraries, and private collections, amassing a powerful collective legacy for us all.
By Deb A.
The Washington Post and the Financial Times have already gotten a head start on end-of-year recommendations, offering up their picks for the best poetry books of 2018. But not every poet can win a Grammy like Leonard Cohen, whose The Flame is a must-read according to the Financial Times, or be hailed as a "Living Legend" by the U.S. Library of Congress like Ursula K. Le Guin, who made the Washington Post's list with So Far So Good. Which is why some Columbia University students set their sights much, much lower, on the 33rd annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest.
Held by the university's Philolexian Society, a literary and debate society that aims to "promote wit and humour on campus," the contest honours Alfred Joyce Kilmer and his meticulously rhyming contributions to the poetic canon. Nearly 40 contestants took to the stage this year, unabashedly embracing terrible metaphors, obnoxious rhymes, and pretentious language in their efforts to drive the three professors judging the proceedings to despair.
There were limericks. There was performance art. There were several modern takes on old classics. The winner was freshman Dylan Tymel and his "A Story of Unrequited Love in 5 Haikus", in which he recruits a "sweet, rotten, rhymeless" orange to provide the necessary imagery.
Your pith in my nails
As I peel you, stinging juice
Squirts into my soul
(From "A Story of Unrequited Love in 5 Haikus" by new poet laureate Dylan Tymel)
(If that strikes your fancy, you might want to check out some past winners.)
As per tradition, the event ended with everyone in attendance reciting Joyce Kilmer's "Trees":
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
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