Ilyse Kusnetz on Poets Cafe

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


[download audio]

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.

__________

HARBINGER

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).


[download audio]

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

__________

CAN WE CREATE ARTISTS?

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).


[download audio]

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

So You Want to Write a Political Poem?

The following article appeared in the Press-Enterprise, Sunday, April 17, 2016.

This is the year it could happen. Maybe you’re stuck in a stop-and-go rubberneck on the 91 Freeway, the radio a dull drone through your morning migraine as the partisan station of your choice recaps last night’s 184th presidential debate, a town hall-style, lightning-round game of charades, where the candidate who terrifies you the most intellectually pantomimes the dismemberment of the candidate who offers at least a squint of hope, like those glimmers that might or might not be oncoming headlights emerging from the glare of a blinding commuter’s sun. Maybe it’s already happened. Maybe you’ve already begun making a list of rhymes in your head. Dump. Slump. Jump. Maybe you’re slant-rhyming Bernie with wormy, smarmy, and germy—most poems start as limericks (it was true until the fact-checkers checked it, I swear).

Wherever it happens, you might find within yourself at some point over the next eight months the sudden urge to write a political poem. If you do, I’ve prepared this simple guide to help you handle the situation with aplomb.

First of all: Don’t panic. Pull over to the side of the road somewhere safe, or wait for the nearest exit, then find an empty parking lot or an exceptionally long drive-thru line. Poems sometimes write themselves, but they can’t write themselves while you’re driving. Only poem in park.

Don’t feel guilty. A poem is just a special way to talk about special things. Human beings come equipped with language processing lobes in their brains that demand we talk, and all humans are subject to special times like now, and special thoughts about those times like these. We all have an innate desire to say the unsayable, to articulate all that lies just beyond the reach of articulation. Poetry can happen to anyone, anywhere, so remember: It’s not your fault.

Find a recording device. Often people today carry with them smartphones, and if you yourself have one, you can record your poem as a voice memo, text it to a long-lost friend, email it to yourself, or tap it out using a standard writing application. If not, many of the world’s greatest poems have been written on ancient, crusty glovebox napkins. It’s true. If all else fails, there’s still rhythmic memorization, a pneumonic device, which historically has been the point of poetry more often than not. Whatever tool you use, just don’t lose it.

Now that you have your poem saved, the real trouble begins. Sure, you’ve written something “felt in the blood and felt along the heart,” as Wordsworth put it, but what next? Does your political poem have any cultural value? Should you share it with close friends, or perhaps even the general public?

On this question, poets themselves have long been split. In “A Defense of Poetry,” Percy Shelley famously wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and others have been trying to pat themselves on the back equally firmly ever since. William Carlos Williams says, “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Your political poem could be a matter of life and death! More recently, Meena Alexander writes that, “We have poetry/ So we do not die of history,” a statement I particularly love.

Not everyone agrees, though. In a 1965 lecture to students at Berkeley, Jack Spicer said, “I don’t know of any political poems which have worked,” and suggested instead of writing poems that they write letters to their congressmen. Both would be equally effective, he reasoned. I once asked National Book Critic’s Circle Award winner Troy Jollimore why he finds political poems difficult to write, and he worried about preaching to the converted: “The people who know those are good values are already on my side; the people that don’t think they’re good values aren’t going to be convinced by my siding up with good values.” He has a point, too. A poem isn’t an argument. A poem’s purpose isn’t to persuade—persuasion is for op-eds and campaign ads. Poetry doesn’t argue; it argonauts.

So keeping that in mind, re-read your political poem. Is it cheer-leading, or is it trail-blazing? Is it just a bullhorn for someone else’s bullshit, or does it reach deeper into that abyss to haul up some new creature?

Last month, an Orange County poet named David Miller wrote in a political poem, an elegy for the personified American Dream: “I ran when I heard you crying/ like a phone, no one told me how alone you are.” Now that’s what Shelley meant when he said that poetry “purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being.”

Be honest, does your political poem really purge the film of familiarity, or is it just more mosquito guts on the windshield? If it’s the former, then by all means share it widely!

This is the year for purging.

Blink of an eye / ideas and people connect / in haiku

The following article appeared in the Press-Enterprise, Sunday, December 6, 2015.

When my grandmother’s hearing had grown too poor for the telephone, we started exchanging letters. Once a month—on the same day as the Edison bill—I’d receive a handwritten letter, pressed firmly with a retired schoolteacher’s perfect cursive, yellowed paper cut neatly from the same ancient notebook. Family gossip, news of my father, the weather back east, details of her various ailments.

She’d close every letter with a haiku. It was both a hobby of hers, and a nod to my odd profession. Her last was probably her best:

snow-covered sundial
waiting
to tell time again

I imagined her as the sundial, snowed in by age, her bed long-since moved to the living room so she wouldn’t have to negotiate the stairs, waiting patiently for whatever spring might come in whatever existence might come next.

When I had a moment, I’d tap out a hasty reply, glancing out at the palm trees on Ventura Boulevard from my office window, and close with a responding haiku.

it’s December too
in California
the crickets shout!

There was a joy to the haiku that I’ve only recently come to understand. Easy to write but impossible to master, they never grow old. You can write them in the car stuck in traffic, or plop them easily at the end of a newspaper article. Haiku are so simple they can be simultaneously silly and profound, and that contrast has kept them fresh for centuries.

Most often my grandmother’s haiku would offer a shift in mood, adding levity or perspective or clarity to the information that the letter had shared.

lost my other shoe—
now even the right
isn’t left

Almost a decade later, I still remember many of them fondly, and they always embody my grandmother’s quietly sarcastic personality.

More recently, I interviewed Richard Gilbert, a haiku scholar at Kumamoto University in Japan. He described with great enthusiasm the beloved space haiku holds within Japanese culture. With a total population of 130 million, it’s estimated that 12 million attend a regular haiku group. Witty celebrities compose haiku-like senryu live on TV.

Haiku itself descends from a party game, so it should be no surprise that they’re fun to write. At the kukai, as it was called, friends would gather around a bottle of saké, taking turns composing lines on a chosen topic. Class boundaries and social conventions dissolved as participants adopted pen names, many of them humorous. Bashō was named after the banana tree outside of his hut.

Listening to Gilbert tell it, haiku as a social act sounds like so much fun that I can’t help wishing we made it a part of our culture in the West. An outlet for playfulness and creativity and face-to-face interaction, haiku embody much of what we seem to be lacking in the age of smartphones and Facebook.

So let’s start now. Why not cap off your annual holiday letter with a summary haiku? Turn a family dinner into your own kukai, composing short poems about the season.

Before you start, it’s important to know what haiku are and what they aren’t. No other form of poetry is so misunderstood. Haiku are not three-line poems of five, then seven, then five syllables. Counting syllables doesn’t make any sense in Japanese, which is divided into units of time and not sound. You can think of traditional haiku as three lines that are short, then long, then short in duration, but even that generality isn’t an important rule in modern haiku.

The heart of a haiku is really the kireji, the cutting word, which is almost a form of punctuation that divides the poem in two. In English we might use a dash or colon—this division separates the first image from the last, creating a comparison that can be evocative or uncanny. The best example is Bashō’s famous frog:

old pond—
frog jumps in
the sound of water

That dash is the kireji, and it signifies a complete cut in time and space. The haiku presents one image, an old pond, and then another isolated image, the frog jumping into the sound of water. How the two images relate to each other is left up to the reader—and it’s that interactive, connective leap that stirs our thoughts and emotions. This is one of the many things Bashō meant when he said, haiku jiyu, or “Haiku is for freedom.”

Much more goes into classical haiku, but this is all you need to know to write decent modern haiku in English. Don’t count syllables, just count images or ideas: There should be two.

watching football
my keyboard
almost silent

To learn more about the history of haiku, you can find my interview with Richard Gilbert in issue #47 of Rattle, or read his translations of contemporary Japanese haiku poets at his website.