WEEK IN REVIEW: letters that echoed each other

(Evan Karp)

At first it was your turn. You were handed a book of poems by a local author you had never read. You read aloud and then passed the book to the next person, also a novice to the poet, who read and passed the book, and so on. Then we made rules for each poem, had fun—yes fun—with it. Free wine and cookies were served, the bookstore closed and we walked out and onto Valencia. It was windy, but just, and just dark. The moon was nearly full.

Across the bay in another bookstore, the first local lit umbrella brought together two pioneers—of SF spoken word and of the nonfiction genre—for a single evening.

Poems written in, and smuggled out of, a WWII labor camp and recently translated into English for the first time were read aloud during lunch hour. We looked at pictures of the sisters who wrote them and wondered about the purpose of poetry. “All of her poems were written during the war,” said poet and translator Fanny Howe, “and in one she described their content as ‘nothing more than desire for help or revenge.'”

“Suffering is precious and personal,” she went on. “Some might even say that it holds up the heavens with its radiance. How a person manages their suffering and how it is managed by others is often surprising. Some people never speak of it and some never give it away. Some hold it tight and some drop it on the ground and run.” This week we took the suffering of a friend and made it communal. We donated skills, goods and services to support herOthers postponed their event so we could join them. It was a late Saturday night, a little bit sprawling, but as I walked down the same stretch of Valencia I’d traversed a week before I felt a bit stronger. And  maybe a little taller.

“I spread out the English versions that they sent me, and the Polish originals beside them, and at first I experienced the Polish as crooked and incomplete, like organisms still evolving, or as little figures adapting to the light and paper that was now their habitat. Many times I examined them like microscopic species, hoping that I could see relationships between letters that would stir up a recognizable activity. This way I hoped that the Polish language would remind me of something somewhere in my brain. I did see letters that echoed each other. But in the end I was faced with the problem of two languages with very different sounds and implications, and two sisters with very different personalities.”

A lively crowd gathered in a large Oakland house for a trio of readings, recalling the Lorine Niedecker poem:

  advised me:
        Learn a trade
I learned
  to sit at desk
        and condense
No layoff
  from this

The readings went on for a long time but the crowd was attentive, engaged to the end (poetry). Meanwhile, across the bay, some shared new mythologies to reinstall our geography with life.

None of this is to mention Cassandra Gorgeous at InisdeStoryTimeTamim Ansary and Camille Dungy together at The Rumpus, Erika Lopez at Lyrics & Dirges, Michelle Tea‘s “love hangover” from the RADAR Spectacle fundraiser, and stargazing at the public library with Mary Roach!

Did you see what’s going on this week?