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.

Ilyse Kusnetz on Poets Cafe

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

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Biographical Information—Ilyse Kusnetz

Ilyse-KusnetzPoet and journalist Ilyse Kusnetz is the author of Small Hours, winner of the 2014 T.S. Eliot prize from Truman State University Press, and The Gravity of Falling (2006). She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and her Ph.D. in Feminist and Postcolonial British Literature from the University of Edinburgh. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Guernica Daily, the Cincinnati Review, Crazyhorse, Stone Canoe, Rattle, and other journals and anthologies. She has published numerous reviews and essays about contemporary American and Scottish poetry, both in the United States and abroad; she has served as a guest editor at Poetry International and the Atlanta Review for feature sections on Scottish poetry.

SmallHourCoverShe is currently at work on a new poetry manuscript—Angel Bones. She teaches at Valencia College and lives in Orlando with her husband, the poet and memoirist Brian Turner.



Just another day           in hyper-capitalist society—
in my Facebook feed,           news of rabbits and

chickens tortured on meat farms,           but I’m still not
vegan and I’m waiting           to die myself

from cancer I may have gotten           from soil or ground water
contaminated by nuclear weapons,           and no amount

of posting uplifting stories           is going to fix that.
And lord, let them cease           trying to control women’s

bodies, people’s genders,           people’s desires,
let them stop hating people           because of their color

and ethnicities. I want to shake           the bigots and racists
till their teeth come loose           and they lose their bite,

till their tongues           swell up in their mouths
and they’re stricken mute.           I want to save

all the slaughtered animals,           save the seas and their
inhabitants—whales, birds,           the tiniest bivalve—

from choking on plastic.           I want to purify the air
of sulfur and carbon dioxide,           scrape the lead

from plumbing pipes,           god I need to do something
besides dying, besides           thinking about death

and the neo-fascist           politicians who lead
a nation of people           unable to think critically

after 40 years’ systemic           dismantling
of the education system           by the rich

so their lackeys           can make it
illegal to prosecute           corporations for poisoning

the air, earth, water—and Jesus,           isn’t it
a kind of           mental illness

annihilating what you need           to stay alive
for the accumulation of           blind profit—

and in the process killing           and killing and
murdering me,           along with the people and animals

I can’t save but want to,           with all my goddamn
fucking heart, but instead           I’m waiting to die,

trying to find some           last meaning in all of this.
A warning, perhaps.           You’re next.

—First published in Rattle, 2016

Mario Feninger on Poets Cafe

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

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Biographical Information—Mario Feninger

Mario CollageBORN IN CAIRO, EGYPT in 1923, Mario Feninger received his early music training from his mother, Teresa de Rogatis, a noted pianist, guitarist, composer and teacher. He made his debut at the Salle Gaveau, whereupon the Figaro declared him “a remarkable artist… an important musical personality (with) a very beautiful, powerful tone.” From Paris, Mario proceeded to London’s Wigmore Hall, where the Daily Telegraph proclaimed him to have “found the essential poetry in Chopin.”

Mario made his GRAND NAPLES DEBUT at the Sala del Conservotorio San Pietro a Majella, performing the Busoni Konzertstruck, Op. 31a with the A. Scarlatti Orchestra. The Italian press lauded Mario’s “brilliant virtuosity,” celebrating him as “a complex artist searching for his soul and animated by a great ideal.”

PERFORMING his extensive repertoire in the great halls of Europe, North Africa, North and Central America and the Middle East, Mario established a distinguished international reputation as a soloist and recitalist.

“A powerhouse virtuoso in the grand manner.”
~ New York Times

“Urgent style, comprehensive technique and command of tone and color, won repeated cheers and standing ovations.”
~ Los Angeles Times

“Feninger belongs to a distinctive part of European pianistic literature.”
~ Il Giornale De Bergamo – Oggi, Italy

Performs as guest artist with:

• Centre Culturel de Valprivas
• The Castle in Baja (Naples)
• Summer Musical Festival at Sorrento, Italy
• International Festival at Echternach, Luxembourg
• Liszt Festival at Angers, France
• American Liszt Society in San Francisco
• Mozart & Company in Beverly Hills

The first American performance of Busoni’s Concerto, Op. 17 for piano and strings

Performed an entire program of Busoni in Empoli, Italy (Busoni’s native city)

Busoni program performed at Schoenberg Institute

Performed at Busoni Festival in New York

MARIO FENINGER currently resides in Los Angeles, California where, in addition to his performance schedule, he conducts master classes and continues his research into piano technique. www.mariofeninger.com



THE VARIOUS musical seasons, with all the marvelous artists we have the opportunity to hear, give rise to some thoughts that I would like to share.

IT IS more and more self-evident that, as the civilization of leisure is brought into existence, we shall need more and more great artists.

THERE ARE three communication lines from the performer to the public: Technique, Expression, and Presence.  A performer with any one of three lines “well in” is a good performer; a performer with any two of these lines in will be an arresting performer; and a performer with the three lines in could be called a genius.

WHY IS the public thrilled by technique?  Why do thundering octaves, pearly scales, fleeting arpeggios, etc., leave them agape?  Why is it that technique by itself is sufficient to create an impact?  The answer I found is that technique represents the mastery over and control of those parts of the physical universe involved in the performance; and those parts are the instrument and the body of the performer!  Technique also presumes certainty.  It is a science in that it has very precise laws that work every time.  This is true of a juggler, a car racer or a pianist.

AS REGARDS expression, Busoni gave a very exhaustive and impressive description of it as poetry, imagination, elegance, sense of style, of form, or colors, feeling for distance, for volumes, etc.  In other words, anything dealing with the mind, the mental machinery and the emotions would pertain to expression.

THE THIRD line, presence, would be the being himself, his ability to command attention, to hold together, spellbound, three or four thousand people, all stranger, and infuse them with a unanimity of feelings and reactions.  This is the least visible ability, but one that makes the difference between Busoni, Horowitz, etc., and most pianists.

IT MAY APPEAR that I am an optimist. How many times have I heard that without “talent” or “gifts,” there is nothing in the way of greatness.  However, I say that anybody with interest and persistence should be given the chance of reaching the heights he has perceived or the goals he has formulated.  In fact, it is my experience that although “gifts” may help at the start, often the so-called “gifted pupil” is fixated in his gifts, and cannot change and/or beyond them.  Of course, there are no gifts that cannot be expanded or improved upon.

TECHNIQUE, expression, and presence have each their own separate technology, but it is impossible in a short article to describe in detail each one.  One thing is certain, though:  when one has applied a new true datum, the piece that was once difficult has now improved, at least in some respect.  It is definitely not the number of hours of practice that will create audible technique, but intelligent practice in the right direction.  No amount of drudgery will ever produce a lovely tone, but know-how will!

ARTISTS ARE, after all, creators of universes and it is indisputable that any training insight, revelation, etc., into the world of personal magic associated with a grounding in the natural technique would create artists.  We must not forget what Schoenberg said: “The laws of the man of genius are the laws of future humanity.”

Ami Kaye on Poets Cafe

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

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Biographical Information—Ami Kaye

1-Ami 3Ami Kaye is the author of What Hands Can Hold. Her poems, reviews and articles are forthcoming or have appeared in various journals and anthologies including Comstock Review, Amore: Love Poems, Naugatuck River Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Eyewear, Kentucky Review, Iodine, Tiferet, East on Central, First Literary Review- East, Cartier Street Review, Peony Moon , Diode, and The Dance of the Peacock among others. Ami edited Sunrise from Blue Thunder in response to the Japan 2011 disasters and is co-editing Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace, as well as Collateral Damage, a benefit anthology for disadvantaged children. Ami is the editor of Pirene’s Fountain and the Aeolian Harp Series, and the publisher and founding editor of Glass Lyre Press.

Glass Lyre Press is an independent publisher with a catalog of technically accomplished and stylistically distinct literary work. Glass Lyre seeks diverse writers with a dynamic aesthetic and the ability to emotionally and intellectually engage a wide audience of readers. Glass Lyre’s vision is to connect the world through language and art, and expand the scope of poetry and short fiction for the general reader through exceptionally well-written books which evoke emotion, provide insight, and resonate with the human spirit.


Shadow Nocturne

You were a skein of nerve, blood from my marrow,
sliver of bone, a silver weave of luminous cloth,

fire that spread through electric nerves.
Your little core palpated in its fine mesh,

its tremolo of strings could not hold you.
You shrugged off my body and slipped seamlessly,

knife-edge moon in the water, final glide from the womb,
before dissolving into a blossom on the snow.

Against the light I thought I saw your tiny fist,
too quickly pulled back before I could grab you.

Skin-tight storms ripped a trail of fireflies from the sky
but I remember only the ripe weight of grief, an ocean,

with you curled underwater as if you could breathe
at all from pinched blue nostrils.

Fallen sparrow, tiny creature I could hold in my palm,
I thought I could reach out and kiss your delicate eyelashes

but they were air-brushed with disappearing ink
on a fluttering moth that vanished into the remnant of night.

—First published in Kentucky Review, 2015

Kelly Thomas on Poets Cafe

The following interview about Kelly Thomas by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).

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Biographical Information—Kelly Thomas

KellyThomasIs there a person nationwide who doesn’t know the fate of Kelly Thomas? Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas’s father remains an outspoken advocate for the homeless community. Four years after Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were acquitted of brutally beating his son Kelly Thomas to death near the Fullerton bus station in 2011, he continues to be an advocate for justice, not only for his son, but for all those affected by homelessness in his local community and nationwide. We spent an hour with Ron talking about the early days of Kelly Thomas, the need for social reform, the use of excessive force from both sides of the fence (Ron is an ex-sheriff) and much more. We were joined by homeless advocate, fine artist and poet Leigh White, as well as poet and reading series host, Steve Ramirez.


To My Son

A second trial has just begun
It’s been over 4 years since I lost you my son
On that hot July night with such fright in your eyes
Those six murdering thugs beat you, until you were no longer alive
As citizens watched the horror unfold
All of them learning something—that none of us were told
The fact that those who took an oath to protect and serve
Could kill a man so brutally without any reserve
I often look back on all of the years—
We did so many things together,
And soon come my tears
So many times we played our guitars
Both of us knowing we wouldn’t go far
And when we laughed so hard it hurt inside
Realizing that neither one of us could sing—
Not knowing what July 5th, 2011 would bring
I spend every day seeking justice for you
My redheaded son with eyes of blue
I give you this promise, as your dad that is true
I will not rest a day until justice comes through
You cried out my name 31 times—
And within moments you were no longer alive
I will forever miss you, my heart always sad
Those 31 times you cried out—
Crying out for me—
Your dad

The only poem every written by Ron Thomas, father of Kelly.