Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Some of the world’s greatest art has been inspired by revolution, but how often does a work of art become part of the revolution itself? Watching the protests in Cairo last week, Egyptian poet  Tamim Al-Barghouti was inspired to write a brand new poem — its Arabic title roughly translates as “Oh Egypt, It’s Close.”

With the internet down, he faxed the poem to a Cairo newspaper, copies of which were distributed in Tahrir Square.  Then Al-Jazeera asked him to record it. The video of his reading was projected in the Square every couple of hours on makeshift screens, helping to fuel the protests in real time.

Al-Barghouti did all this from the United States, where he teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. This isn’t the first time his poetry has gotten him a lot of attention. Al-Barghouti’s poems opposing the Iraq War led to a temporary expulsion from Egypt; he could only return once the war ended. And in 2007 his poem “In Jerusalem” became a viral YouTube sensation after he performed it in an American Idol-style competition called “Prince of Poets.”

Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen reached Tamim Al-Barghouti this week at his home in Washington, DC. He said that under Mubarak, freedom of expression wasn’t exactly forbidden — but people never knew when the government was going to crack down. “Mubarak had this motto: ‘you say what you want and we do what we want.'” Now the poet whose words helped provoke the uprising is optimistic for Egypt’s democratic future: “This is one of the very rare moments where our hopes and expectations are not so far apart in the Middle East.”

Listen to Kurt’s entire interview with Al-Barghouti here.

–Michele Siegel

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One of the highlights of new releases in poetry this fall is a long poem by John Shade that begins with the remarkable line “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain.” It’s all the more remarkable because John Shade does not exist.

Shade is a creation of Vladimir Nabokov, and his 999-line poem is the start of Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire. Shade has (in the novel) died, and the balance of Pale Fire is taken up with commentary on the poem by his friend, Charles Kinbote. But Kinbote is obviously off his rocker, and he has something to get off his chest. Did he murder John Shade? Is he John Shade? Nabokov scholars have spent almost 50 years debating the fictional relationship. An author never had more fun playing with his audience.

Now, Slate reports that the small poetry press Gingko is publishing the fictional poem (also called “Pale Fire”) –- that is, about one-quarter of Pale Fire — under the name John Shade. This with the blessing of Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, who caused a stir last year with the posthumous release of his father’s novel The Original of Laura, which Vladimir had ordered to be incinerated.

This edition of “Pale Fire” –- the poem –- will include commentary from a Nabokov scholar, Brian Boyd. Take a moment to appreciate the meta-mess: Nabokov’s Pale Fire is about a completely deranged attempt at interpreting a poem. Now, a real scholar will interpret that same poem. It’s as though Nabokov had the whole thing planned all along.

-Stephen Reader

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With the new decade fast-approaching, I can’t help but think about reinvention. Studio 360 has done several segments that take dusty old ideas and wipe them clean with poetry. Recycling them into verse can reveal surprises. Here are some of my favorites.

Susan B.A. Somers-Willet created poems based on the impoverished mothers of Troy, Michigan. I especially liked the found poem born out of a visit to the Office of Temporary Assistance:


Listeners share original haiku inspired by the financial crisis:


Poet Ruth Padel transforms her great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin’s life into verse:


Here’s to your own personal reinvention in this new decade!

– Jess Jiang

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Generally when somebody says to the editor of a radio program “I’m going to get a grant to do long-form multimedia reporting with a poet writing about the working poor,” the editor gets a look on his face.  Poetry and poverty — not the most popular subjects in the rundown.  But when that somebody is very persuasive, and also one of the most talented and tenacious producers in public radio, the editor swallows the small thing in his throat and says sheepishly “Great.  When’s our first edit?”

Now I’m not feeling so sheepish about “In Verse,” the collaborative project put together by our regular contributor Lu Olkowski and Ted Genoways, the editor of Virginia Quarterly Review.  “In Verse” combines intimate, startling photography, from-the-gut poems, and documentary tape — you’ve never heard/seen anything quite like it.  The first installment is live: “Women of Troy,” a set of three stories about Bille Jean and DJ, single mothers in the hard-luck town of Troy, New York.  They’re brash, snarky, tired, pissed off, raunchy, desperate.  Check out their stories.  If you’re impressed, read how the sausage is made on Jay Allison’s radio insider site Transom.org.  And shout thanks to the folks at the Association of Independents in Radio, for going out on a limb to support creative work in sound.

(If you can’t see the video, watch it here.)

You can read more of Susan B.A. Somers-Willett’s Troy poems at VQR; and see plenty more of Brenda Ann Keanneally’s photographs.  Let me know what you think.

– David Krasnow

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William Elliott, Kazuo Kawamura, Myself and Tanikawa

Poets in an undisclosed location (Left to right: William Elliott, Kazuo Kawamura, Myself and Tanikawa

While the girls were hanging out in Golden Gai last night, I was picked up by William Elliott and Kazui Kawamura, the English translators of the poet Shuntaro Tanikawa and taken to an undisclosed location to meet the poet himself. I had met Tanikawa in Copenhagen 10 years ago and immediately liked him and his poetry (think Walt Whitman meets Ron Padgett, in Japanese). We had an interesting conversation about poetry, buddhism, empty space, and old radios. Turns out Tanikawa’s great passion is collecting and assembling vintage radios. During the war it was forbidden to listen to foreign radio, but armed with transistors and his soldering iron, Tanikawa was able to tune into Australian and American broadcasts.

Tanikawa has about 70 vintage radios in his collection

Tanikawa has about 70 vintage radios in his collection

He didn’t understand much English and he wasn’t really interested in the content, but he found poetry in the sounds of the distant voices and the atmospheres of far away cities. His favorite; Live broadcasts from Hollywood Bowl. Here is his poem A Night Radio:

I’m holding a soldering iron, tinkering with a ’49 Philco.

Despite warm tubes, the radio is stubbornly silent

but its odor, still fresh, mesmerizes me.

Why do ears wish to hear beyond their capacity?

I think we hear much too much nowadays

and I feel nostalgic over this broken radio’s silence.

I can’t say which is the more important to me, tinkering with a radio or writing a poem.

I long for the days when I’d nothing to do with poems

and walked those dusty childhood roads.

But I’ve forgotten about women and friends,

as though time did not exist.

I just wanted to hear, should have heard, something more,

my breath held, my ears cocked,

in every summer’s towering clouds,

in the muttering of family get-togethers in an untidy room,

refusing to compress living into a story.

– Posted by Pejk Malinovski

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