Robert Pinsky on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Robert Pinsky by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Robert Pinsky

Robert PinskyRobert Pinsky‘s new book of poems is At the Foundling Hospital (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). His Selected Poems appeared in 2011. Pinsky has described his 2013 book Singing School as a combined anthology and manifesto. His best-selling translation The Inferno of Dante was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Prize. His other awards include the William Carlos Williams Prize, The Lenore Marshall Prize, the Korean Manhae Prize, the Italian Premio Capri and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pen American Center. As Poet Laureate of the United States, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, featuring the videos at www.favoritepoem.org and a summer Poetry Institute for K-12 Educators. He performs with pianist Laurence Hobgood on the spoken word CDs PoemJazz and House Hour, from Circumstantial Productions. Pinsky is William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at Boston University and has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the only member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters to have appeared on both The Colbert Report and The Simpsons.

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Samurai Song

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had no
Mother I embraced manners.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

Alexis Rhone Fancher on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Alexis Rhone Fancher by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Alexis Rhone Fancher

Los Angeles poet Alexis Rhone Fancher is the author of How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen and Other Heart Stab Poems (2014), State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies (2015), and Enter Here (forthcoming in 2017). She is published in Best American Poetry 2016, Rattle, Slipstream, Rust+Moth, streetcake, Hobart, Cleaver, Public Pool, H_NGM_N, Fjords Review, The MacGuffin, Poetry East, and elsewhere. Her photographs are published worldwide, including spreads in River Styx, HeArt Online and Rogue Agent, and the covers of Chiron Review, Witness, and The Mas Tequila Review. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly, where she also publishes a monthly photo essay, “The Poet’s Eye,” about her on-going love affair with Los Angeles. Find her at: www.alexisrhonefancher.com.

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Cruel Choices

When my husband’s two grown daughters are in town, the three of them go to the movies, or play pool. Share dinner every night. Stay out late. I haven’t seen my stepdaughters since my son’s funeral in 2007. When people ask, I say nice things about the girls, as if we had a relationship. When people ask if I have children I change the subject. Or I lie, and say no. Or sometimes I put them on the spot and tell them yes, but he died. They look aghast and want to know what happened.Then I have to tell them about the cancer. Sometimes, when the older daughter, his favorite, is in town, and she and my husband are out together night after night, I wonder what it would be like if that was me, and my boy, if life was fair, and, rather than my husband having two children and I, none, we each had one living child. His choice which one to keep. Lately when people ask, I want to lie and say yes, my son is a basketball coach; he married a beautiful Iranian model with kind eyes, and they live in London with their twin girls who visit every summer; the same twins his girlfriend aborted with my blessing when my son was eighteen, deemed too young for fatherhood, and everyone said there would be all the time in the world.

from ASKEW Literary Journal, Winter 2016

Mandy Kahn on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Mandy Kahn by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Mandy Kahn

kahnMandy Kahn is the author of the poetry collection Math, Heaven, Time. In January of 2016, former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser featured a poem from the collection, “At the Dorm,” in his syndicated newspaper column American Life in Poetry. Kahn collaborates with composers to create works that feature poetry in tandem with classical music and has had readings and signings at Colette (Paris), Motto (Berlin), Shoreditch House (London), Davies Symphony Hall (San Francisco), Printed Matter (New York) and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena). She was one of several librettists who wrote the text for the critically acclaimed opera-in-cars Hopscotch; her libretto for the project was subsequently quoted in The New Yorker. Kahn also works as an essayist, and is coauthor, with Aaron Rose, of the nonfiction book Collage Culture: Examining the 21st Century’s Identity Crisis, which features graphic design by Brian Roettinger. Collage Culture was simultaneously released as a record which paired readings of the book’s texts with a score by the band No Age.

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The Tour Guide

I followed the German tour guide
through the hulking old basilica.

He told the group (or so I guessed),
indicating high and low:

This is where the wind begins.

This is where the childhoods of a thousand
martyrs live, untouched.

Wood grain in these pews still curls
to likenesses of patron saints.

Window-holes are cut the breadth
of human souls, when loosed.

Dark paint in the frescoes is crushed ants.
White paint is light.

Leaves and fauna long extinct are rendered
in the porticoes. See that goat
with antlers? Gone from life,
but captured here.
(Hold your breath and it bows its head.)
(Reach towards the ceiling and sigh, and it sighs.)

Worth two times the value of the Bulgar Sea
is that old bell.

(When younger priests
would ring it,
the nuns were warned to shield their hearts.)

He said far more
I can’t recall

and when I tried to pay him,
he spurned my coins, saying, in German,

What good is money,
my child, to the wind?

Ron Starbuck on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Ron Starbuck by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Ron Starbuck

StarbuckRon Starbuck is an Episcopalian, a Poet and Writer, and author of There Is Something About Being An Episcopalian, When Angels Are Born, and Wheels Turning Inward, three rich collections of poetry, following a poet’s mythic and spiritual journey that crosses easily onto the paths of many contemplative traditions.

He has been deeply engaged in an Interfaith-Buddhist-Christian dialogue for many years, and holds a lifelong interest in literature, poetry, Christian mysticism, comparative religion, theology, and various forms of contemplative practice. As the Publisher-CEO of Saint Julian Press we works

He has been a contributing writer for Parabola Magazine. And has had poems and essays published in Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature, an interview and poem in The Criterion, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, ONE from MillerWords, and Pirene’s Fountain. A collection of essays, poems, short stories, and audio recordings are available on the Saint Julian Press, Inc., website under Interconnections.

Starbuck is also the Publisher-CEO of Saint Julian Press, Inc., a new literary press. Saint Julian Press as a literary and educational organization embraces a vision to create a local and worldwide community, by engaging in an artistic dialogue that promotes world peace, cultural conversations, and an interfaith awareness, appreciation, and acceptance. In our mission as a new creative imprint we hope to identify, encourage, nurture, and share transformative literature and art of both past and living masters.

While giving emerging artists, poets, and writers a place they may come home to and share their work; celebrating the enduring mystery within creation that calls us into relationship with one another. Forming an independent press to work with emerging and established writers and poets, and tendering new introductions to the world at large in the framework of an interfaith and cross cultural literary dialogue has been a long–time dream. Saint Julian Press has just released its fifteenth book of poetry, seven of those books have been published this year, in 2016.

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Voices

Like the poet, Rilke, with each breath taken, I have heard
and half heard the angels calling out from the depths;

—let them speak, as the whisperings of holy messengers,

in the unfathomable nighttime before dawn, upon the air,
in a quickening of flesh.

These are the forgotten memories we may all one day
recall, more often than not, subtle and obscure,

—traveling on countless pathways of neural light,

crossing our thoughts with distant remembrances that arise
out of the silence of the saints. These are the voices I
heard once before,

—in a church north of Pienza, when we travelled in Italy,

where lighting a candle and bowing her head, Joanne
offered with a sad smile and a small hope, prayers for close
a friend, who was ill at the time,

—struggling in life, and in death, as we all do.

In every church and chapel, we entered that journey,
she repeated the ritual, and in each one, I heard, the
same order of murmuring voices.

Not that I could understand their musings, far from it,
since they spoke only in hushed tones, in the ineffable and
intangible—tongues of angels and heaven.

Willis Barnstone on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Willis Barnstone by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Willis Barnstone

Willis Barnstone, born in 1927 in Lewiston, Maine, and educated at Bowdoin College, the Sorbonne, School of Oriental Studies of the University of London, Columbia and Yale (PhD), taught in Greece at the end of the civil war (1949-51), was in Haiti in 1960 during the deadly rule of Papa Doc and in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War (1975-1976). He was in China during the Cultural Revolution in 1972 invited by Chou Enlai. A Fulbright Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University (1984–1985). Former O’Connor Professor of Greek at Colgate University (1973), he is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Spanish at Indiana University. He lives in Oakland, California.

A Guggenheim fellow, he has received the NEA, NEH, ACLS, W.H. Auden Award of NY Council on the Arts, Midland Authors Award, four Book of the Month selections, four Pulitzer nominations, six awards from Poetry Society of America, including the Emily Dickinson Award. In 2015 he received the Fred Cody Life Achievement Award in 2015. His work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, Paris Review, Poetry, New Yorker, and Times Literary Supplement.

Some poetry books are A Day in the Country (Harper), Life Watch (BOA), Mexico in My Heart: Moonbook & Sunbook (Tupelo Books), New and Selected Poems (Carcanet), Stickball on 88th Street (Red Hen Press), Café de l’Aube à Paris / Dawn Café in Paris (Sheep Meadow Press); translations include Poetics of Translation (Yale), ABC of Translation: Poems & Drawings (Black Widow), Ancient Greek Lyrics (Indiana), Restored New Testament (Norton), The Gnostic Bible (Shambhala), The Other Bible (Harper); memoir books are Sunday Morning in Fascist Spain (Southern Illinois), We Jews and Blacks (with Yusef Komunyakaa), and With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires (Illinois). Borges has written, “Four of the best things in America are Walt Whitman’s Leaves, Herman Melville’s Whale, the sonnets of Willis Barnstone’s Secret Reader, and my daily Corn Flakes—the rough poetry of morning.” Harold Bloom describes his version of the New Testament as “a superb act of restoration.”

__________

Borges Defines Happiness During the Dirty War

One evening after reading Kipling to
Borges in Buenos Aires, I took him
slowly downstairs (he had dirt on his shoe
which I wiped off) and out along a dim
back street to the Saint James Cafe. The war,
the dirty one, was noisy. Gun shots, a bomb
in nearby flats, a midnight visitor
pounding a door, the city’s catacomb
of terror operating fine. The mess
and drama thrilled me, though the country-bled.
We sat under our gothic mirror and
began to eat and gossip. Borges said,
smiling, ‘Reading Kipling is happiness’,
and blood shivered in his transparent hand.

__________

An Island

By white walls and scent of orange leaves,
Come, I’ll tell you. I know nothing.
By this sea of salt and dolphins
I see but fish in a dome of sun.

In stars that nail me to a door,
There are women with burning hair,
And on the quay at night I feel
But hurricanes and rigid dawn.

On cobblestones at day I watch
Some crazy seabirds fall and drown,
And as the bodies sink in sand
I know I pay my birth with death.

I only see some plains of grass
And sky-sleep in the crossing storks,
I know nothing and see but fire
In the volcano of a cat’s eye.