Margo Berdeshevsky on Poets Cafe

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


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Biographical Information—Margo Berdeshevsky

Margo Berdeshevsky, born in New York city, often writes and lives in Paris. Before The Drought, her newest collection of poems, is from Glass Lyre Press, September 2017. (In an early version, it was finalist for the National Poetry Series.) Berdeshevsky is author as well of Between Soul & Stone, and But a Passage in Wilderness, (Sheep Meadow Press.) Her book of illustrated stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, received the first Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award for Fiction Collective Two (University of Alabama Press.) Other honors include the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, a portfolio of her poems in the Aeolian Harp Anthology #1 (Glass Lyre Press,) the & Now Anthology of the Best of Innovative Writing, and numerous Pushcart Prize nominations. Her works appear in the American journals: Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The Collagist, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Southern Humanities Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, The American Journal of Poetry, Jacar Press—One, among many others. In Europe her works have been seen in The Poetry Review (UK) The Wolf, Europe, Siècle 21, & Confluences Poétiques. A multi genre novel, Vagrant, and a hybrid of poems, Square Black Key, wait at the gate. She may be found reading from her books in London, Paris, New York City, Los Angeles, or somewhere new in the world. Her Letters from Paris may be found in Poetry International, here. For more info kindly see margoberdeshevsky.com

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It Is Still Beautiful to Hear the Heart Beat

It’s 3 AM. The crows on one leg or none are already starving for infant nests. A few leaves hang on still. A prayer of godwits enters the dream from the upper left quadrant. No, I tell the dream-maker,

no, make it a lamentation of swans. The times demand it. Instead, I’m given an affliction of starlings tearing the leaves that remain as they fly, and the dream is ruined. What’s real is in bed with me,

mounts me, slides in like a husband entering with the unquestioned privilege of his sexual entitlement. Drowsy, I open my thighs to him, to it, to the day. To my habit of saying “Accept it, I’ll

die tonight,” each night when I pull the quilts for sleep, so that I can practice belief. The next day is new. Always. Fair or fetid, bring with me only what I dare to remember. Opening new eyes, there is

the baby in her crib, her shape nothing I wanted. Waking is waking. What’s real is the child with her badly sculpted brain, her damaged possibility of dream. What’s real is our day in a diseased year and

the baby has come out wrong. Blame it on the chemicals. Blame it on the sting of the genus Aedes aegypti, white stripes on her legs, a marking in the form of a lyre on her upper thorax. Say that she

comes at dawn. What’s real is I was another one of the harmed, the infant, more so, but less harmed than the worse harmed than we.

Awake, it is still beautiful to hear the heart beat, I repeat. A prayer of godwits hovers at my door.
I am so deeply awake.

* from After A Death—Tomas Transtomer

Yun Wang on Poets Cafe

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


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Biographical Information—Yun Wang

Yun Wang is the author of two poetry books (The Book of Totality, Salmon Poetry Press, 2015, and The Book of Jade, Winner of the 15th Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, Story Line Press, 2002), two poetry chapbooks (Horse by the Mountain Stream, Word Palace Press, 2016; The Carp, Bull Thistle Press, 1994), and a book of poetry translations (Dreaming of Fallen Blossoms: Tune Poems of Su Dong-Po, White Pine Press, forthcoming 2019). Her poems have been published in numerous literary journals, including The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, Salamander Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and International Quarterly. Her translations of classical Chinese poetry have been published in The Kenyon Review Online, Salamander Magazine, Poetry Canada Review, Willow Springs, Connotation Press, and elsewhere.

Wang grew up in rural southwest China and began writing poetry when she was 12. Her father was a political dissident who was brutally persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. He convinced her to become a scientist to escape political persecution. Wang majored in physics at Tsinghua University when she was 16. She came to the U.S. for graduate school in physics in 1985, and got a Ph.D. in physics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1991. She was a professor of physics and astronomy at University of Oklahoma from 2000 to 2017. She is currently a Senior Research Scientist at California Institute of Technology. She is the author of the cosmology graduate textbook, Dark Energy (Wiley-VCH, 2010). Her research focuses on exploring the nature of dark energy, the mysterious cause for the accelerated expansion of our universe. She was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2012.

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The Carp

My father was the school principal. The day I was born, he caught a twenty pound carp. He gave it to the school kitchen. All the teachers and boarding students tasted it.

Waves of mountains surrounded us. I grew up yearning for the ocean. Smoke arose from green mountains to form clouds each morning. My father named me Cloud.

When a son was born to Confucius, the king of Lu sent over a carp as present. Confucius named his son Carp.

The wise say a carp leaping over the dragon gate is a very lucky sign. My father says he named me Cloud because I was born in the year of the dragon: there are always clouds following a dragon. Confucius’ son died an early death. My father has only three daughters.

When I was three, I wandered all over the campus. A stray cat in a haunted town. My mother says I passed the room where my father was imprisoned. He whispered to me, hid a message in my little pocket. It was his will that I should grow up a strong woman, and find justice for him.

They caught me. My father was beaten to near death. Some of them were students, whose parents were peasants. Some of them were teachers, who used to be his best friends. They had tasted the carp.

It has been recorded that Confucius could not tell the difference between millet and wheat, and was thus mocked by a peasant. This peasant became a big hero, representing the wisdom of the people, thousands of years after Confucius’ death.

My father still goes fishing, the only thing that seems to calm him. The mountains are sleeping waves. My father catches very small fish. My mother eats them. My friends laugh at me, when I tell them that once upon a time, my father caught a carp weighing twenty pounds.

—from The Book of Jade (Storyline Press, 2002) by Yun Wang

Douglas Manuel on Poets Cafe

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


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Biographical Information—

Douglas Manuel was born in Anderson, Indiana. He received a BA in creative writing from Arizona State University and a MFA from Butler University where he was the managing editor of Booth: A Journal. He is currently a Middleton and Dornsife Fellow at the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. He has served as the poetry editor of Gold Line Press as well as was one of the managing editors of Ricochet Editions. His work is featured on Poetry Foundation’s website and has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Los Angeles Review, Superstition Review, Rhino, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, New Orleans Review, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. His first full length collection of poems, Testify, was released by Red Hen Press in the spring of 2017.

“In his breathtaking debut, Testify, Douglas Manuel charts the raw emotional complexities and the impossible daily reckonings that confront a young black man coming of age today in America. Faced at every turn with condescending, fixed assumptions about his ‘proper’ role in his community and culture, the speaker faces each indictment with a stunning and searing intelligence. Each powerful testimony in this collection stands as evidence of an eloquent and dramatic new voice in American poetry.”
—David St. John

“In Douglas Manuel’s Testify the act of witnessing is by turns burdensome and bittersweet, narrative and lyrical, ecstatic and irreverent. Here the holy words are the ones that offer no easy epiphanies yet grant us dazzling, off-kilter compassion and a strange, surprising grace. These potent poems testify to those ambivalent moments that might rend or right us, as when an interracial couple drive past a truck with a Confederate flag painted on its back windshield and from which a little boy turns to smile and wave: his ‘blond hair // split down the middle like a Bible / left open to the Book of Psalms.'”
—Anna Journey, author of The Atheist Wore Goat Silk

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Testify

I swear on the melody of trumpet vines,
ants feasting through animal crackers, Burt’s Bees,
Tyler Perry movies, my daddy’s .38 slug, footie-socks
inside high-top Jordans, disidentification, drag
queens, blond dreadlocks, headstones
salt-and-peppering the grass, vanilla wafers
in banana pudding, Zeus-swan chasing,
blunt-guts, sharp thumbnails, keloid scars,
cash-only bars, R&B songs, on what the pot
called the kettle. I put that on my mama’s good
hair, on playing solitaire with a phantom
limb, the white woman I go home to,
my auntie’s face when she says: You know
he always loved them pink toes. I put that on
everything, on the signifiers I gobble up,
candlesticks blown out by whistling lips.
I put that on dervishing records scratched
on down-beats, empty beehives,
fresh-fade head-slaps, hand claps, bamboo shoots,
liminality, mestizos, the purple-black crook
of my arm, split sternums, on You can’t save
him now. I put that on skinny jeans, get rich
quick schemes—Gotta get that C.R.E.A.M. Know what
I mean?—freckled black faces, leafless trees
throwing up gang signs, phlegm hocked
onto streets. I swear I catch more stones
than catfish. I lose more collard greens than sleep. I think
nothing is here but us darkies, high yellows, red bones,
cocoa butters. Someone, no, everyone has jungle fever.
Don’t touch my forehead. Blond
as moonshine, mute trombone choking.
I put that on Instagram. Post me to the endless chain
of signifiers. Strawberry gashes on kneecaps, Let me
get some dap, Newports, Kool’s, and folding
chairs instead of barstools, that white drool
caked on your face. Mommy please wipe away
the veil. I thought I was passing into the eye
of the streetlamp. I swear. I promise on frondless
palm trees, long pinkie nails, sixteen years, serve eight,
and Miss Addie’s red beans and rice, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
and the brother on the Cream of Wheat box. It don’t mean
a thing if it don’t buckle your knees. Open your hands.
I’ll give you a song, give you the Holy Ghost
from a preacher’s greasy palm—When he hit me, I didn’t
fall, felt eyes jabbing me, tagging me. Oh no he didn’t!—
give you the om from the small of her back.
I put that on double consciousness, multiple jeopardy,
and performativity. Please make sure my fetters
and manacles are tight. Yea baby, I like bottomless
bullet chambers. I swear on the creation of Uncle Tom—
some white woman’s gospel. She got blue eyes? I love
me some—on Josiah Henson, the real Uncle Tom, on us still
believing in Uncle Tom. Lord, have mercy!
Put that on the black man standing on my shoulders holding
his balls. Put that on the black man I am—I am not—on
the black man I wish I was.

__________
Douglas Manuel, “Testify” from Testify. Copyright © 2017 by Douglas Manuel. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.

Literature Lives in Print

Note: This article first appeared in the print edition of the Press-Enterprise on December 15, 2013, in the Inlandia Institute’s weekly column.

Last month San Antonio, Texas, opened Bibliotech, America’s first bookless public library, which allows patrons to borrow inexpensive e-readers and download electronic books from home. For us writers and lovers of literature, the mission before us was clear: Lament! My Facebook feed was full of posts forecasting the end of paper books: Would it be five years? Ten? “Technology doubles ever year, Moore’s Law!” the pessimists fretted. The more nostalgic among us simply shared their first encounters with books: the smell of the glue, the weight of the pages, the paper-cuts—all things our children will never have a chance to experience.

As a publisher of print literature, my career is on the line—I should be rending my garments as much as anyone. But I’m not worried. Paper books are here to stay, and every tablet and e-reader that’s sold only makes them a better home for writing that we truly value.

When I hear publishers complain about ebooks, I’m reminded of broadcasters predicting the demise of radio when television was introduced in the late 1940s. Their concerns were understandable: Why would anyone just listen to a program that they could also watch? And it is true that television brought an end to the Golden Age of Radio—but it’s also true the producers were able to adapt.

When an environment changes, creatures survive by learning to fill a new niche. There was no longer a need the serial dramas and quiz shows of the past—television could clearly do that better. But there were other formats that played to radio’s strengths. The high costs of television production meant that radio was more nimble, and it quickly became the superior format for up-to-the-minute news. This led to further development as a medium of discussion, with popular call-in shows that gave their audiences a new and broader soap box, and then the modern shock jocks and NPR story hours in counterpose.

Six decades after the introduction of television, there’s still a radio in every car—and the internet has brought it back into our homes, in a way, with the ubiquitous and often idiosyncratic “podcasts.” I don’t have access to television, but I listen to radio-like streams every day—interviews with authors and lengthy lectures on an array of topics that would have never been broadcast otherwise. What’s more, this content works better as audio, where complicated information can be presented without any excess visual distraction. The mind has room to muse. Podcasts, I think, have become the medium of the day-dreamer—and millions of listeners take advantage of that every week.

As we become increasingly plugged-in to the digital age, I’m sure paper books will find a similar fortune. Books provide something that technology tends to destroy: Let’s call it “sanctuary.” I don’t have to explain how this happens; everyone who has a smartphone knows the bitter-sweet buzz of a new message. Everyone’s read an article online and been distracted by the banner-ad at the side of the screen. This will only get worse. Google Glass. Cortical implants to project the web directly into the mind’s eye. If you think you feel distracted now, just wait ten years.

And in ten years, when you want a break from it all, you’ll pick up an old-fashioned, dog-eared, glue-smelling, paper-scraping book.

The tech companies want you to pick up an e-reader, but the problem is e-readers feel too much like what you’re longing to avoid. E-ink is nice—especially for those with vision problems who need to enlarge the text—but anything that has a screen and is the size of your phone looks like your phone. And you’ve already spent too many hours conditioning your brain to be distractible while using it. When I read an ebook, I can feel a tingling on the left side of my frontal lobe that’s telling me to toggle over to another program and check my email. It’s an itch that I’m wasting attention on by not scratching even when I don’t. My fingers are ready to X-out a pop-up ad. My auditory cortex is primed and waiting for the next beep of a tweet. Even though none of these things will be coming from my e-reader, my brain has been trained to expect them. It’s impossible to lose myself when I’m so self-aware.

Only when I open a real book can I finally relax and become immersed in what I’m reading.

In the future, we will return to paper as a sanctuary, as a place for quiet contemplation and introspection. We won’t bother reading tabloid magazines or informational texts in print—ebooks are better for that; we can give up that ground. But when we want to escape our world, when we want to explore complicated ideas, when we want to feel deeper emotions and come to truer understandings and use our imaginations at full capacity—when we want to experience literature, in other words—we’ll always turn to paper books.

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p.s. This article was written almost five years ago. In the time since, Real Books Are Back: ebooks sales are down, print sales are up. You can also see our waning interest in ebooks by looking at the download totals of Rattle‘s ebooks, which are offered free to subscribers. Every issue sees fewer download than the last, despite the fact that print subscriptions are up 105% (more than double!) since 2013.

Hugh Welchman on Poets Cafe

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


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Biographical Information—Hugh Welchman

Loving Vincent is the world’s first fully oil painted feature film. Written & directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, produced by Poland’s BreakThru Films & UK’s Trademark Films. The film brings the paintings of Vincent van Gogh to life to tell his remarkable story. Every one of the 65,000 frames of the film is an oil-painting hand-painted by 125 professional oil-painters who traveled from all across the world to the Loving Vincent studios in Poland and Greece to be a part of the production. As remarkable as Vincent’s brilliant paintings, is his passionate and ill-fated life, and mysterious death. No other artist has attracted more legends than Vincent van Gogh. Variously labelled a martyr, a lustful satyr, a madman, a genius and a layabout, the real Vincent is at once revealed in his letters, and obscured by myth and time. Vincent himself said in his last letter: ‘We cannot speak other than by our paintings’. We take him at his word and let the paintings tell the real story of Vincent van Gogh.

Loving Vincent was first shot as a live action film with actors, and then hand-painted over frame-by-frame in oils. The final effect is an interaction of the performance of the actors playing Vincent’s famous portraits, and the performance of the painting animators, bringing these characters into the medium of paint. Loving Vincent stars famous faces to match the famous paintings they portray including Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Aidan Turner and Helen McCrory,

“A one-of-a-kind work of art.”
—Variety

“Hypnotic and beguiling.”
—A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“Remarkable. You will marvel at the art in this labor-intensive labor-of-love.”
—Bob Mondello, NPR All Things Considered

“A new film that tears up the rule book of animation…I’ve not experienced anything like it before.”
—Florence Waters, The Telegraph

“A jaw-droppingly beautiful film.”
—Tomris Laffly, Film Journal International

“Never has there been a film that spoke to the heart of an artist like “Loving Vincent”. Animation and fine art painting come together in this loving tribute to the work and life of a master artist.”
—Tony Bancroft, SIFF Animation Jury