December 17, 2015

The Sparkling Trail

"When creating a manuscript, I often assemble a constellation of books.  My own is born under these auspices. The other writers chosen for their sensibility, language, topic, and skills are like aunts in the fairytale who come to bless the newborn."

According to Wikipedia, de Kerangal's celebrated novel, Birth of a Bridge [Naissance d'un pont, 2010]', presents a literary saga of a handful of men and women who are charged with building a bridge somewhere in a mythical California. Birth of a Bridge was short-listed for the Prix Goncourt, and awarded the Prix Médicis and has been translated into several languages worldwide.

Mend the Living [Réparer les vivants, 2014] has also won several prizes including the Prix Orange du Livre and the Grand prix RTL du livre. Mend the Living was recently adapted for the stage at the theatre festival in Avignon, receiving rave reviews for its intimate look at the realities and philosophical questioning around organ donation.

Maylis de Kerangal was interviewed by Jessica Moore, her translator, for Bombsite (Arts) Magazine.  They discussed the way that a writer explores a story under the influence of a chosen few texts.  Jessica Moore says, "Books are shapers of our inner landscape. We are composed of the texts that have passed through us, leaving that sparkling trail..." and de Kerangal responds:
I write from all these books, and also through them. This is not at all something that overshadows a voice of my own. On the contrary, it’s through all these books that I love that I’ve been able to find something that is my own. I try to formalize this approach a little by gathering a collection around me as I begin a novel.
I don’t know if many authors do this, but one of the great movements of the beginning of a book for me is to summon these influences, to go in search of them. I put myself under their influence. And putting together the disparate collection of texts that will accompany me is already an act of writing. All kinds of books and printed matter: Mrs. Dalloway for instance, or poetry, scientific texts, articles from newspapers, novels. They aren’t on the same subject—the heart, for example, in Réparer—but they are texts with which I establish echoes, resonances. I compare this to getting together with a group of friends for a big bank robbery, a language hold-up. I already have my collection for the next book.
The interview explores de Kerangal's writing process and is a conversation about translation. Translation, de Kerangal says, is like listening to her music that is played upon a different instrument than the original. This is a wonderful analogy, as it evokes the process of composition and performance, and it reassures that although the translated is not exact, the interpretation can be beautiful.

December 10, 2015

Barry Lopez

The writer Barry Lopez has long provided deep insight into the natural world, human interaction with wildlife. This excerpt is about place, language and seeing. It's in Granta Magazine, Dec 2015:

If the first lesson in learning how to see more deeply into a landscape was to be continuously attentive, and to stifle the urge to stand outside the event, to instead stay within the event, leaving its significance to be resolved later; the second lesson, for me, was to notice how often I asked my body to defer to the dictates of my mind, how my body’s extraordinary ability to discern textures and perfumes, to discriminate among tones and colors in the world outside itself, was dismissed by the rational mind. 
As much as I believed I was fully present in the physical worlds I was traveling through, I understood over time that I was not. More often I was only thinking about the place I was in. Initially awed by an event, the screech of a gray fox in the night woods, say, or the surfacing of a large whale, I too often moved straight to analysis. On occasion I would become so wedded to my thoughts, to some cascade of ideas, that I actually lost touch with the details that my body was still gathering from a place. The ear heard the song of a vesper sparrow, and then heard the song again, and knew that the second time it was a different vesper sparrow singing. The mind, pleased with itself for identifying those notes as the song of a vesper sparrow, was too preoccupied with its summary to notice what the ear was still offering. The mind was making no use of the body’s ability to be discerning about sounds. And so the mind’s knowledge of the place remained superficial.
READ the entire essay:

December 8, 2015

Nobel Lecture by Svetlana Alexievich

No one captures a human voice as well as Russian/Ukrainen writer Svetlana Alexievich. This is an excerpt from her speech, "On the Battle Lost."   
So what is it that I do? I collect the everyday life of feelings, thoughts, and words. I collect the life of my time. I'm interested in the history of the soul. The everyday life of the soul, the things that the big picture of history usually omits, or disdains. I work with missing history. I am often told, even now, that what I write isn't literature, it's a document. What is literature today? Who can answer that question? We live faster than ever before. Content ruptures form. Breaks and changes it. Everything overflows its banks: music, painting – even words in documents escape the boundaries of the document. There are no borders between fact and fabrication, one flows into the other. Witnessеs are not impartial. In telling a story, humans create, they wrestle time like a sculptor does marble. They are actors and creators. 
I'm interested in little people. The little, great people, is how I would put it, because suffering expands people. In my books these people tell their own, little histories, and big history is told along the way. We haven't had time to comprehend what already has and is still happening to us, we just need to say it. To begin with, we must at least articulate what happened. We are afraid of doing that, we're not up to coping with our past. In Dostoevsky's Demons, Shatov says to Stavrogin at the beginning of their conversation: "We are two creatures who have met in boundless infinity ... for the last time in the world. So drop that tone and speak like a human being. At least once, speak with a human voice."

Twin Ports Arts Express Workshop

Lisa McKhann of Project Lulu

NEW workshop: 2016 Twin Ports ARTS Express 

art play for any body touched by cancer 

(patient, survivor, spouse, family, caregiver, or friend)

3 Mondays
January 11, 18, and 25, 2016 5:30 to 8 pm at On the Rocks Art Studio in Canal Park, Duluth

with teaching artists:
Elizabeth Kuth, painter; Sheila Packa, poet; Lisa McKhann, dancer; Joellyn Rock, digital artist

Note: you need not have any prior experience with art or writing - simply a willingness to play!

and some participants who are interested will be able to create experimental digital art and video at UMD's new Motion and Media Access Disciplines Lab (MMAD Lab).   

$20 registration fee, space is limited.  

This workshop is presented by Project Lulu 
For full information visit:          -

To register - call or email Lisa McKhann 218-349-9121 or

December 3, 2015

Rosemarie Waldrop: Shall We Escape Analogy

Rosemarie Waldrop is a German-American citizen, a teacher, translator, and experimental poet. She and her husband Keith Waldrop created a press (Burning Deck). They published a magazine, chapbooks and created the Once Festival for experimental composers.  She has contributed greatly to the conversation about poetry in the U.S.  Considering poetry, silence, and witness,  I've gathered some excerpts from an extraordinary interview of Rosemarie Waldrop by Matthew Cooperman (read the entire interview at

Waldrop once wrote:
When eye and mind are interrupted in their travel, a vertical dimension opens out from the horizontal lines. Suddenly we’re reading an orchestral score as it were. No longer one single voice.
This short excerpt provides deep insight into her own art.  Waldrop's poems seem to evolve from her own life experience. She enjoys intertextuality [characteristic of the work of Poet Jabes, who she translated], explorations of pattern or sounds, and fluid forms:

I vividly recall my first bus ride on arriving in this country, from New York to Michigan. The feeling of SPACE, of relatively wild space, of woods going on and on was overwhelming to me.... You might say it’s a natural site for a poetics of metonymy, of horizontal expansion. 
...the discrepancies between my two languages need not be an obstacle, but could, on the contrary, become a generative force. 
I don’t usually start with “content,” but with something formal, a pattern, a sequence of sounds, a particular phrase, a rhythm. The “content” will come in obliquely. As Gertrude Stein says, “nobody knows what contemporariness is. In other words, they don’t know where they are going, but they are on their way.” 
[About intertextuality]: I would not actually call what I do “citational.” In a citation, as I would define it, you want to bring the author and his/her authority into your text along with the citation. Whereas I mostly collage unidentified fragments and use them for texture the way Picasso or Schwitters tore a piece of newspaper and glued it in, the way Rauschenberg will work in a piece of a reproduction of a painting. 
Just think how the infinite potential of language exceeds our grasp, no matter how thoroughly we analyze systems of grammar and vocabulary or how extensive our study of instances of embodiment, or parole. But most of all, even though we clearly created it, language defines us, creates us. Just as the God we created creates us. Here I mean that the being that can conceive of God is different from a being that has no such transcendent ideas.  
I suppose I talked about artistic form as not rigid, as preserving an element of fluidity, which makes a dialogue with the reader/viewer possible. “Non-teleological thinking” is an excellent term. I prefer calling it “form and discontent.”

Against Analogy

Finding her own voice, Waldrop articulates her reasons for her own poetic design methods.  As a child, she witnessed catastrophic changes.  As a young adult immigrant, she experienced profound changes in language and landscape.
[Influences]: Coming out of the cellar after my home town was bombed in 1943 and seeing rubble where a street had been was the first drastic change of my world. But: “A second followed in 1945, a not exactly Nietzschean revaluation of all values. ‘Our leader’ turned into ‘the criminal,’ ‘the enemy’ into ‘Amis’ [abbreviation of ‘Amerikaner’], ‘surrender’ into ‘liberation.’ This went deeper. And took years to understand.”  
When I worked on my thesis, Against Language?, in the sixties, I noticed a move away from metaphor (and “expressiveness”) toward the horizontal dimension of contiguity, composition, syntax in contemporary poets like Charles Olson and the German Helmut Heissenbüttel, with Gertrude Stein as probably the earliest example.  
 This was the beginning of a reaction, not only against Imagism and Pound (or against Surrealism and Expressionism in Europe), but against the credo of “organic form” with its reliance on metaphor to express “inner” states, the credo that had defined poetry ever since the Romantics.
 I began to experiment in this direction by avoiding literal metaphors in my poems, but in an intuitive way, whereas Anne-Marie Albiach and Claude Royet- Journoud had a fully conscious, explicit program. A manifesto: “shall we escape analogy”—without question mark.  
That the war experience of our childhood played some role in this is just a hunch. It is easier to see such a role in our emphasis on fragmentation, interruption, disjunctiveness, blank space. But I might say that in war you experience such crushing force from the outside that it is hard to see the world in terms of analogy to inner states—or divine design.


The interviewer Matthew Cooperman pursued questions about silence pertinent to poetry of witness and the inability of language to reach all meaning. Here are her responses: 
Silence and elision figure in many poets’ work. Almost by definition: every line of verse at its end turns toward silence, toward the white of the page, toward what is not. (It is one of the challenges of the prose poem to preserve this silence once there is no white space at the end of a line because there is no line. It has to be displaced into syntactical/ grammatical “turns.” Or semantic shifts. Recently I have created silence inside the sentence by using periods rhythmically where they don’t belong grammatically). 
 One could also say that white space, while it interrupts the text nevertheless is the larger continuity, and that the poem rests on this continuity, on this silence that is present in the white of the page. 
I suppose I talked about artistic form as not rigid, as preserving an element of fluidity, which makes a dialogue with the reader/viewer possible. “Non-teleological thinking” is an excellent term. I prefer calling it “form and discontent.”


Just as Waldrop does not identify herself as a German writer, preferring to identify as one among many immigrants who have come to the shores of the United States, she is reluctant to call her work, poetry of witness.  

we must be aware of—and responsive to—the horrors as well as the beauties. We must not sequester ourselves.  
I have difficulties with what’s called “poetry of witness.” The main one is that most often there is no room for questioning. The lines are drawn from the start, both intellectually and emotionally. 
And it’s a vast war, not only against a large part of the population of Iraq, but against the Bill of Rights, international law, the earth, non- Christians, the poor, and, if the Social Security “Reform” should be adopted, against the old. Poetry, like philosophy, leaves everything as it is. But in spite of this, when your government consistently lies through its teeth, it just may be very important to pay attention to words in the way poetry does. 

For biographical information, visit

Poetry sample:

Essay about Waldrop: