At first, it seems simple to outline the role of place in poems by Reina María Rodríguez. She began writing poetry in Havana, Cuba, a city that permeates much of her work. She grew up in a building on Ánimas Street, not far from the ocean, in a neighborhood of modest means. Eventually she and her partner built a tiny apartment on that same building’s roof out of largely recycled materials, and there they ran a historic, open-air cultural salon in the 1990s. Today Rodríguez remains interested in everyday life, in the realities accessible to inhabitants moving through the city streets. Alongside her explorations of the present, she incorporates memories from her neighborhood into many poems.
Sylvie Durbec was born in Marseille and lives in Provence, near Avignon. She writes texts in both prose and poetry, as well as painting and making collages. The many books she has published over the past twenty years include the prose-poetry memoire Marseille : éclats et quartiers (Marseille, fragments and quarters) which won the prestigious Jean Follain prize; Prendre place (Takingplace) concerning the internment camp at Douadic in France and Soutine, a prose-poem about the painter, published in The Common. This year she has published 50 carrés du jour (50 squares of the day) and Ça qui me poursuit (That which pursues me).
Denis Hirson grew up in South Africa and has lived in France since 1975. He has published nine books, several concerning the memory of South Africa under apartheid. The latest, both published in 2017, are Footnotes for the Panther, ten conversations with William Kentridge, and Ma langue au chat, in French, concerning the torture and delight of speaking and writing in that language.
Table of Contents
The Ignorance of Beasts
The Ignorance of Beasts
I still don’t know how to type a tilde on a computer keyboard
when writing the name of a Spanish or Portuguese writer I love.
Fakirchand of Kusumpur set out on his way to meet the Big Man. A bundle of meagre belongings hung on his back from one end of a cane stick that rested on his shoulder. Old Fakirchand walked with a slight stoop.
It was moments before sunrise, and the March morning was soft and cool with a genial air and the earth still pleasant to walk on. The cocks were still crowing. Swarms of little children were already out in the open. Old Fakirchand walked slowly, as though measuring each step, and raised both hands to his forehead in obeisance or ‘pranam’ to the rising sun. Yes, his eyes felt better and so did his body. In the brisk morning air, he touched his rheumy eyes with his cold hands.
Hebe Uhart’s “A Trip to La Paz” is delightfully misleading in that we never arrive at our destination; we never see the city that touches the clouds. This essay is concerned with a different kind of beauty—the getting there, the buzzing potential of travel. It encapsulates why we embark on grueling car rides, on flights, on long train journeys, in the first place.
Through radar, the Americans made contact with the moon, which of course is exciting. But the most important event of the week happened with my cornstalk.
In my backyard, in a pile of dirt the gardener gathered, something was born that might have been just plain grass—but that I discovered was a cornstalk. I transplanted it to the narrow flowerbed in front of the house. The small leaves were dried out; I thought it was dead. But it revived. When it was the size of a palm, I showed a friend and he declared disdainfully that it was actually grass. When it was the size of two palms, I showed another friend, and he confirmed that it was sugar cane.
Şükrü Erbaş was born when, as his mother said, “the vineyards were boiling”—that is, when the pekmez (a traditional grape syrup) was being made. He grew up among those vineyards and wheat fields and apple orchards, deep in the Anatolian countryside, in the town of Yozgat, not far from the ruins of the ancient capital of the Hittites.
Erbaş’s reputation in Turkish poetry hasn’t strayed far from the geography he grew up in, neither from its idyllic beauty nor from its brutal poverty and neglect. But while Erbaş doesn’t shy away from the politics or economic struggles of the long-suffering Anatolian people, he’s not reducible to a mere political or a nature poet. His reviewers usually accord him something like the status of a poet of witness. Poet-critic Şeref Bilsel calls Erbaş a socialist poet without slogans, one who doesn’t say “I need to speak” but rather “I have heard.”
On the night Billy Ray was born
(New York, 28th and 7th)
not one soul contemplated the geraniums
There was, however, the sound of the world falling
like multiple stalactites
in the area surrounding the hospital