Thursday, February 19, 2009

Louisiana Literature

Three of my poems appear in the latest issue of Louisiana Literature (Fall/Winter 2008). To date, this is one of the best experiences I've had in publishing: I brought home my contributor's copies last night, and gave one to my dad. All of these poems were either directly or indirectly influenced by him, so I was interested to see if he'd respond any differently than his usual, "Oh, that's nice." The great treat was getting to hear him read, somewhat under his breath, the poem "The Future of the White-Tailed Deer." The speaker in this poem is modeled after him. The line breaks and stanza breaks all sounded good in his voice, and he corrected the poem's grammar where I had intentionally broken a rule, thinking it suited the voice; he read the word "carefully" where the text read "careful." Without knowing it, my dad workshopped one of my poems.

He was also mighty proud of my retelling of one of his stories, "Wild Heart." One day he was wading in the Tangipahoa River, which runs through a piece of our land, and caught a rabbit that had fallen into the river with his bare hands. I've been sweating through drafts of that poem for years. The best reward was hearing my dad say that my poem was "about how it happened." He thanked me.

Mom was asleep last night when I brought home the magazine. I saw her this morning before she left for work. She told me these were the best things I had ever written. I doubt I'll ever get as good, or rewarding, a review.

I was thrilled to see I'm sharing pages with many fine writers in this issue, among them Diana Der-Hovanessian. She co-translated, with Marzbed Margossian, Sacred Wrath: the selected poems of Vahan Tekeyan, an Armenian poet, "one of the few major writers to survive the holocaust of the Armenians in Turkey." I found my copy in the old McIntyre and Moore bookstore in Somerville, MA (in Davis Square. The store has since moved to Porter Square, Cambridge). Sacred Wrath was published by Ashod Press in 1982. A quick Amazon search yielded three copies, each for $99+. I bought mine for $9.00... regardless, if you happen to run across this title at a reasonable price, grab it up. Tekeyan remains one of my favorite personal discoveries, mostly for the title poem, "Sacred Wrath." Here are some lines from the translation:

Indignant, just, ancient saints rebelled
crying: Enough of kissing the executioner's hand.
It is our turn to execute.

Another of my poems, "Good Grief," appears in the March 2009 issue of First Things. I share those pages with fellow poets Rachel Hadas, A.E. Stallings, Paul Lake, and A.M. Juster. Also noteworthy in this issue, Joseph Bottum reviews the Burton Raffel translation of The Canterbury Tales. I'm not so sure the Tales need to be "translated," but apparently it's a money maker if anything in publishing ever is, because you see about as many new translations of Chaucer as Dante these days. I've read mixed reviews of Raffel's other translations. The only one I can vouch for is his Don Quijote, the translation I used in college. I can't compare it to the original, nor have I investigated other English translations, but I can highly recommend Raffel's. When I finally return to La Mancha, I plan to do so through another translation or, even better, the original Spanish. First I have to learn Portuguese. A week from today, I will be in Brazil.

Stay tuned, kids. The real fun's about to start.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The barber knew me as the spitting image of my father but not by name. He estimated it had been five years since he'd seen me last, but I counted at least ten since he'd cut my hair. When I was in my teens a friend of mine took over as chief groomer. And so I missed out on a biweekly ritual of sitting in an honest-to-God barber's chair for a sure-enough real, all-American shearing. In Boston I'd walk across the street from my office to a salon where I twiddled my thumbs, strained through ten minutes of small talk for an uneven $20 haircut. Sitting in his chair today, talking hunting and fishing, I regretted giving up what is surely one of the best professional relationships a man can have. You have your doctor, your dentist, your preacher, your lawyer (if you're especially miserable), and your barber. Some might throw in butcher, various merchants (tailor comes to mind). But of these the barber is best of friends, by my estimation, especially if your hobbies and politics agree. Because this is where you go to learn what's wrong with the world and what will set it right, if only Washington would take a listen. It's also where you learn the local lore hidden deep in the pine woods and at the river's lowest bed. I envy anyone whose job consists of conversation. The barber's got it better than Letterman. He gets to talk his fool head off all day minus the make up and hot lights of the cold studio, and without kissing up (too much, anyway) to soulless celebrities. 

I'm losing track of the days, and told the barber as much. It's not that time moves slower throughout the day here, it's just that when you look back over the past two weeks, it feels as if months have oozed by. This may be a symptom of unemployment, but I remember keeping a regimented schedule here in Louisiana and the time still dragged on. For me, it could slow even further. It's a nightmare feeling when you blink and a week is gone. And that's the way it felt in the city. Like we were hurtling into oblivion without a hope to stop.

I am due for a rude awakening when I land in Brazil -- I haven't studied Portuguese with any regularity. So this will be an experiment in immersion learning, although my background in French and linguistics will, I know, prove helpful. The job search is going on as we speak, and I'm confident I'll find something worthwhile pretty quickly. I might get another haircut before I leave. To look my best for the interviews.