THE BLOG @ TIR
January 31, 2013
The Global Soul and the Search for Home
As a twenty-year old in Italy, I once spoke four languages in the space of an hour. It began when an Englishwoman asked me where the bathroom was, in Spanish. I answered her in the same language, but as we walked to the bathroom we discovered that we had another language in common, which was English. Then, the woman in charge of the hotel where we were staying gave me further instructions, this time in Italian. When we wandered out, a Pakistani-Italian stallkeeper started chatting me up in Hindi in the Piazza Bra.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
His question—and that hour—recur to me at the 2013 Jaipur Literature Festival (tagline “the largest literary show on earth”) an enormous five-day festival of literature and ideas in Jaipur, a tourist city in the middle of the north Indian desert. In one of the sessions, Pico Iyer, Abraham Verghese, Laleh Khadivi, Akash Kapur and Sadakat Kadri are discussing “the global soul and the search for home” with Aminatta Forna.
The panelists are all exiles by choice, distant from the homes they once knew. The term they use, repeatedly, is “global soul”—which, based on the definition offered, makes a “global soul” sound a bit like the “Davos man’s” more literary cousin. Iyer is the senior statesman, and his book The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home gave this session at the Jaipur Lit Fest its name and its purpose. Much of Iyer’s writing—including Global Soul— attempts to examine a culture or a society from outside its conventional paradigm, and at the same time answer the overarching question of belonging.
Verghese, Indian-American, approaches literature through the language of a trained physician, a worldview of its own. Khadivi is Iranian-American but originally a Kurd, and a frequent documenter of displacements. Kapur is a former development consultant who now writes nonfiction about the challenges inherent in modern India’s rise. Kadri was once a lawyer who worked in both the United States and London. Forna, their moderator, traces her heritage to Scotland and Sierra Leone.
“[Language is] all I can hold to as I move from place to place,” Khadivi says. She refers to walking into a room and speaking the same language as the other occupants, “it was as if someone had built a house around us.”
Any immigrant would understand Khadivi’s sentiment, and it’s the same claim that the shopkeeper asserted over me in Italy years ago. The notion that language is intimate knowledge—and that a shared language confers familiality—is one of the reasons the Biblical story of Babel remains so disturbing.
Language is also one of the few elements of home that moves as easily as we do, as the panelists point out.
In literature, language can be a powerful tool for delineating the limits of community, but also for creating new communities. Like any building block, it can be used to construct places where people can come together. Khadivi references Junot Diaz, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao contained frequent uses of Spanish, and not just the Spanish found in textbooks but a raw and far more urban version. Much of Wao’s tension was illustrated by the permeable boundaries between languages, meant to indicate the permeable boundaries between the main character’s conflicting worlds. Wao’s linguistic shifts—and the wide acceptance the book found in the United States—indicated the power of innovative language to create new gathering places within existing cultures.
“Language is a very hopeful place,” Khadivi says of Diaz’s success.
Iyer is no stranger to the hopeful powers of language. In an interview several years ago with ascent, he referred to himself as “the beneficiary of exploded boundaries between East and West.” Language has been a critical part of that explosion, as English has expanded its territory ever more Eastward.
As the discussion draws to a close, one audience member asks how much of being a global soul is akin to being “homeless.” The panelists all laugh. Finally, they take a crack at it.
“I see it as being homeful, you construct home over and over again,” says Forna. This is what immigrants do, they construct home over and over again. And the act of writing—manipulating a familiar language—is the act of constructing a home as well, sometimes the only bulwark that exists against the wide unknown.
Guest blogger Anika Gupta is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. Her travel writing has appeared in Smithsonian Magazine and the Literary Bohemian. She has covered the economy, technology and digital media for publications in the United States and India.
January 25, 2013
Anne Babson, "Ariadne Explains Why She's Mixed Up with a Boy like Theseus" (poem, Fall 2012)
What I love about this is the giving of voice and agency to the supposed victim of Theseus's unfaithfulness, at least according to the usual myth, and what a strong, sexy voice! Also, the fact that she becomes the (bull) rider at the end. I read this aloud to my undergraduate class when we were talking about adaptations, and I could see them all sit up in their seats, their eyes opening wide. —R. Valentino, TIR Editor
Ayşe Papatya Bucak, "Iconography" (fiction, Fall 2012)
This story follows the enigmatic hunger strike of a female Turkish student at an American university. The student, known only as the Starving Girl, feels "strangely happy" to be fasting, despite constant media attention and efforts by her parents, her university, and even Bono, to feed her. The narrator is similarly anonymous, occupying different roles as the plot shifts. Bucak's prose is spare and haunting: “Soon the world is split between those who want to feed her, those who want to join her, and those who are afraid.” This piece asks us to contemplate the nature of hunger and of protest, and to question our tendency to interrogate and impose narrative on what we don't understand—publicly, incessantly, until "the Starving Girl...cannot anymore remember if she is a person." —J. Hammerich, Asst. Managing Ed.
In this essay, Heinlein tells the story of her relocation from Germany to the United States through the lens of her kinship with rabbits, which she's kept as pets all her life: "We rabbits," she writes, "are masters of escaping enclosures." Newly arrived in New York City, she adopts a rabbit for companionship but soon learns that pet rabbits are considered "exotic species" in the U.S. Feeling a bit exotic herself, she seeks out fellow rabbit owners, enthusiasts, and "lagomorph lobbyists," ultimately discovering America—and her own perserverence—through her floppy-eared playmate, Sunshine. This piece is funny, heartbreaking, and unexpectedly educational. (Who knew a rabbit could smell a banana 200 feet away?) —J. Hammerich, Asst. Managing Ed.
“Superangel” impresses by its imaginative range and also its rich language (heddle?), which is always apt, never excessive. The invented correspondence between E (Manet) and Victorine (Meurent) made me laugh out loud. There is also a very strong scenic sense throughout, which accords with the subject matter, set up from the start by the reference to film making, which provides efficient little canvases all the way through, like Arachne's father "furious, waving his discolored indigo arms, calling her worthless and unmarriable...." because she's just sitting in front of the empty loom eating olives. —R. Valentino, Editor
Geoffrey Nutter, "Rapprochement" (poem, Winter 2012/13)
"Rapprochement" is a narrative poem of an imagined visit with the younger selves of one's parents. The narrator starts out intending to complete "the day's necessary tasks," which include such items as "a visit to the aluminum mills" and "a meeting with one Solomon Mighty," but soon finds himself taking a different path. He cuts through the forest and discovers a clearing where he finds his parents as young newlyweds and himself as a child. He is invited to join their picnic, and he observes "they were not unkind to me, only / so very involved with one another, / fascinated by and in love with the child." The poem is haunting and nostalgic, a wish-fulfillment fantasy of turning back time, as well as a melancholy realization of how much time changes things. Throughout, Nutter sets the scene the way a short experiential movie would: the narrator notes "a rusted weathervane standing in the grass / tied with red strips of fluttering ribbon, / and scraps of red cloth fluttering in the trees." —L. Nugent, Managing Ed.
[Note: On January 30, "Rapprochement" will be featured on Poetry Daily!]
Molly Patterson, "Don't Let Them Catch You" (fiction, Winter 2012/13)
"Don't Let Them Catch You" is a first-person story narrated by a seven-year-old girl, Kaitlyn, who matter-of-factly recounts her days as a latchkey kid with a distracted single mother, an loving but absent uncle who is deployed in Afghanistan, and an older sister who considers her a nuisance. The voice is convincingly that of a young child who is trying to navigate a world in which the TV news sensationalizes stories about young girls getting abducted and killed. These stories become the focus of her inner monologue as she navigates the dangers both real and imagined of her suburban neighborhood. Simultaneously charming, terrifying, and sad, the story also subtly comments on the effect of parental overwork, dispersed families, war, and economic strain on children in our society. —L. Nugent, Managing Ed.
December 4, 2012
We are pleased to be soon publishing the winners of the 2012 Iowa Review Awards! Look for them in our forthcoming Winter 2012-13 issue. Many thanks to all who entered and to our 2012 judges, Megan Daum (nonfiction), Timothy Donnelly (poetry), and Ron Currie, Jr. (fiction). Below, our judges discuss what stood out to them about the pieces they chose.
Winner Emily Hunt
and Runner-up Aditi Machado
On the winners:
Much of what there is to love about rhythm is beautifully showcased in Emily Hunt's poetry: its capacity to hold together a poem that's conducted by intuition and association, the way it induces a soft and especially welcome hypnosis, and its ancient power to distinguish poetry from other, more soluble kinds of language use. I've read these astonishing poems, particularly "Figure the Color of the Wave She Watched," with tremendous admiration, swells of feeling, and over and over again.
Aditi Machado's poems, like Emily Hunt's, impressed me with the apparent ease with which they articulate a kind of waking dream state. I love the slightly impersonal, bemused but cerebral tone of these poems, and how their speakers, like persons moving through an enchantment, appear unthreateningly but wholly captivated by what unfolds in front of them, as if they can sense that the solution to some great mystery is just about ready to manifest itself. I particularly admire the masterful syntax and lineation of the long last sentence at the end of the remarkable "Walk Through Eucalyptus Lane."
Winner Bernadette Esposito
and Runner-up Marcela Sulak
On the winners:
"The Principle of the Fragility of Good Things" [by Bernadette Esposito] combined research, rumination and existential inquiry into a thought provoking pastiche. I appreciated the way the author struck a balance between dispassionate reporting and deep human feeling.
"Getting a Get" [by Marcela Sulak] was sad, funny and relatable, even to those who've never gotten a get (or don't get what a get is!) I found the author charming and real, with a voice that seems to speak directly to the reader.
Winner Kyle Minor
and Runner-up Emily G. Martin
On the winners:
My tastes tend toward the dark, and "Seven Stories about Kenel of Koulèv-Ville" [by Kyle Minor] is genuinely beautiful shadow play, a fever dream of humanity caught in the grip of catastrophes both natural and man-made. It succeeds at that most difficult of narrative tricks--the nearly impossible task of creating, in a few short pages, a whole world for the reader to inhabit. One feels black magic lurking in the margins of this story. It reads like a fable, but the people who inhabit it are quite real, and their tragedies and dark humor are deeply affecting.
What a strange and wonderful story "Claude Piron Beholds his Beloved" [by Emily G. Martin] is, a kaleidoscopic, staccato narrative that at first baffles, then slowly and expertly begins to reveal its secrets, and more importantly its heart, to the reader. "Claude Piron" also enjoyed, in my mind, the distinction of having the best final line of all the stories--brief, plain, and gorgeous, a single line of text standing in beautiful relief against all that blank white page.
—Ron Currie, Jr.
November 28, 2012
“Taxidermy-ed animals back-lit in heavenly light, the everbefore and meatloaf, history’s memory and perhaps the devil himself. We at Anomalous are proud to unveil our hand-stitched creation, our curated collection of a glass-jarred world, life in stand-still for your observation.
P.S. We have no qualms about shattering glass.”
Anomalous Press recently launched its newest (seventh) issue, a range of pieces dark to light, heartbreaking to hilarious, and full of the ups and downs of language, life, and death. The non-profit, on-line literary magazine founded by editor Erica Mena was launched in March 2011, and is dedicated to the diffusion of writing in the forms it can take. Sculpted by the Anomalous team of editors spread across the country and connected by email and share drives, Issue 7 is full of unexpected experiments with the possibilities of language, a wall of glass jars for eerie wonder and microscopic examination.
The issue features translation by TIR’s very own Russell Valentino. In Pierre Menard’s Alexander Blok, Russell underscores the expansive possibility of translation by translating the same poem in multiple versions: http://www.anomalouspress.org/7/16.valentino.menard.php.
The issue also contains an interactive poetry translation by Kurt Beal, a graphic flash by Elizabeth Catanese, translation by Jen Zoble, Sandra Kolankiewicz, and Brandon Homlquest; poetry by Karen Carcia, Joshua Daniel Edwin, James D’ Agonstino, Eric Parker, Cait Weiss, Ricardo Maldonado, Elizabeth Mayer, and Mathais Svalina; fiction by Harold Abramowitz and Nalini Abhiraman; and memoir by Katie Click. The photos are courtesy of Mike Edrington’s series After Life.
November 14, 2012
Check out this award-winning video, "Poets in No Man's Land," by scholar and poet Stephanos Stephanides, a former International Writing Program symposium participant and featured writer in the IWP's "100 Words" project.
"Poets in No Man's Land" won the award for Video Poetry at the 2012 Cyprus International Film Festival and was co-produced by filmmaker Stephen Nugent.
To view Stephanides's "100 Words" video, "Home/Land," visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVcU6C_cpKc.
Stephanides is a dean and professor of comparative literature at Cyprus University in Nicosia.