SPEAKER 1: Good evening, and welcome to this evening's Messenger Lecture and poetry night. On behalf of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, which is my department, and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, who have been heroic in their collaboration with us putting on this poetry night. And I'd like to acknowledge Frank Robinson, the former director, under whose directorship this first began as a lovely, lovely event. I hope you all enjoy yourselves for those of you who are here for the first time. Well, I hope all of you do actually.
An elegant soiree of Near Eastern and Mediterranean poetry and pastry. It's a little different this year. And in fact, for regulars, you'll know that it's always a little different every year. I've never been a big fan of reprising events, something I don't tire of telling student groups with which I'm connected who continue to ignore me and put on the same event every year.
One year it was Mediterranean, Francophone, and world poetry. One year it was just Near Eastern. This year, it's an elegant soiree of Near Eastern and Mediterranean poetry and pastry. The pastry has become de rigueur, and we always have it. And you will have free access to it at the intermission.
The reason it's different this year is that we have among us a person that I've come to describe as a luminous presence. AE Stallings is a poet and a translator. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a MacArthur fellow. She's held a Guggenheim. She's won the Richard Wilbur Award. She's won the Walt Whitman Prize. And I could go on, and you'd get bored.
Her poetry is, in my estimation, stupendous. And some of you will have heard this many times, so give a brief account of it. I started reading Poetry Magazine many years ago and didn't much like what I read, and then things changed under new editors. And one of the people, one of the poets, that I read was AE Stallings, and I decided that AE Stallings was probably going to become my favorite poet. And soon enough, she did, displacing the likes of Philip Larkin and Charles Causley.
By the way, the children that you hear are her children, and so we will put up with it.
I discovered during this visit that she has an equally lovely husband and two lovely children, Jason and Atalanta. You'll probably hear Atalanta more than you'll hear Jason.
I approached Gail Holst-Warhaft one day, and I said, you know, Gail, I really like this poet AE Stallings. I like her so much I put her on a T-shirt. And Gail says to me, well, I'm seeing her next month. Just give me the T-shirt. And so I gave her the T-shirt. She delivered it to AE Stallings, and thus began a correspondence and connection that resulted in Gail and me thinking that we should nominate her for something to bring her to Cornell so that we could benefit from being with her.
And so I put together-- we put together-- a Messenger Lectureship nomination. I believe it's the first to a poet-- to be given to a poet. We had the wonderful support in the nomination of the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of English, Department of Classics, the Carol Tatkon Center on North Campus, the Mediterranean Studies Initiative which Gail heads, and the Department of Near Eastern studies which I do not head.
But I would like to acknowledge my head. I don't know if she's here, but Kim Haines-Eitzen is so luminous presence, actually two luminous presences, and really a tireless supporter of all things relating to the Near East but also to culture and things elegant and things important. And a lot of things wouldn't happen if it weren't for people like her, lecture series like the Messenger Lectures.
I decided not to put everyone's name on the program, but I would like to acknowledge the French Studies Program, which has also been a close collaborator. And two people who represent it will be performing today and can speak as it were for themselves.
I do want to tell you that AE Stallings spoke on Monday in the first Messenger Lecture entitled "Writing Poetry." She subtitled bit "Of rhyme and unreason" and explained why and how rhyme was part of the-- I think she liked the loom terms-- so the warp and weft of her work. And it's not something incidental or accidental. Perhaps it's something elemental. You see, she's not looking at me, so she's concentrating in her work. And I was delighted by the talk. Some people who were there are here today, so maybe others were, too.
Tuesday, she very kindly in a non-Messenger capacity appeared at the dr T projecT and shared with students and others three items of cultural interest, one of which was olives. And she actually brought olives from Greece. It's the title of her latest collection. This is mine. These ribbons signify that they're mine, this one is.
She also spoke about AE Housman, a poet she admires. And the musical item she spoke about was-- I'm going to get this right-- The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, the title song in that album. Yesterday, she spoke in the second Messenger Lecture about translating poetry. She is the translator of the Penguin Classics edition of Lucretius' De rerum natura, or natur-ah maybe, and talked about the craft of producing that translation.
Today, she's reading her poetry. She's already shared some of that with us in the earlier lectures, but I asked if she would do this. And it's just been a wonderful visit so far, and it's a wonderful synergy as well that she can do this and then we will break for pastry and then the rest of us will try and, well-- I was going to say she has set the bar and we're going to try and meet it, but that's not possible I don't think, if I can be permitted to say that. But we will aspire to contextualize her poetry properly with other material by both famous poets and I'm delighted to say poets present and translators present.
So I think I've said everything I need to say and thanked everyone I need to thank. And at the end, I'll think the really important people such as the people who are filming this, people who are providing the security, the people who organized it, the people who aren't always thanked. But now, I invite you to join me in listening to the beautiful verse of AE Stallings.
AE STALLINGS: Thank you, Surkat. It's been a wonderful week. We've enjoyed this perfect time in Ithaca, this beautiful weather, this very un-Greek landscape despite the name. And thanks to Gail and the Messenger series. It's really been a wonderful experience, and to the audiences.
Some of you will have been at my husband's lecture earlier today on the Greek crisis. And crisis seems to me the wrong word since that sort of suggests a moment in time and not years and years of slow-motion train wreck. And I will start with a poem. It's not a beautiful poem, but as a poet, I always felt like when people were asking me about the Greek crisis, you need to talk to my husband. He knows. He's the journalist. I'm just the poet.
But as a poet, I'm always struck by the term austerity measures because it sounds like a kind of poetics.
If you believe the headlines, then we're sunk. The latest oracle giddy with dread-- and this is an actual headline-- Greece downgraded deeper into junk. Stash cash beneath the mattress. Pack the trunk. Will drachmas creep where euros fear to tread? If you believe the headlines, then we're sunk. A crisis that lasts for years? Call it a funk. Austerity starves the more it's maw is fed, Greece downgraded deeper into junk. Every politician is a punk. The right, the left, the blue, the green, the red. If you believe the headlines, then we're sunk.
We've lost our marbles. Elgon took a chunk. Caryatids gone on strike, sit down instead. Greece downgraded deeper into junk. Weep, Pericles, or maybe just get drunk. We'll hock the Parthenon to buy our bread. If you believe the headlines, then we're sunk. Greece downgraded deeper into junk.
I will read more positive on Greece, but I thought for those of you that been at the earlier lecture that was a sort of segue. That was my political poem.
I think I will start with some older poems and move towards newer poems, which is always a bit of a dangerous thing because people might come up and say I really liked your old poems better. But that's what I mean to do.
And in some other lectures, I've talked a bit about Greek mythology. This poem, I must have written it when I was-- well, I won't even go into that-- but a long time ago and not when I was living in Greece. And again, I've been very interested in the Hades, Persephone, Demeter myth.
But this first poem that I wrote on this subject, I think it seemed to me it might be kind of easier to write from the Persephone or Demeter perspective. I think most people can identify with one of those two. But it might be kind of fun to get into the mind of the abductor. So this is "Hades Welcomes His Bride."
Come now, child. Adjust your eyes, for sight is here a lesser sense. Here, you must learn directions through your fingertips and feet and map them in your mind. I think some shapes will gradually appear. The pale things twisting overhead are mostly roots, although some worms arrive here clinging to their dead. Turn here. Ahh. And then this hall we'll sit our thrones. And here you shall be queen, my dear, the queen of all men ever to be born.
No smile? Well, some solemnity befits a queen. These thrones I have commissioned to be made are unlike any you imagined. They glow of deep black diamonds and lead subtler and in better taste than gold, as will suit your timid beauty and pale throat. Come now. Down these winding stairs, the air more still and dry and easier to breathe. Here is a room for your diversions. Here, I've set a loom and silk unraveled from the finest shrouds and dyed the richest, rarest shades of black.
Such pictures you shall weave, such tapestries. For you, I chose those three thin shadows there, and they shall be your friends and loyal maids. And do not fear from them such gossiping as servants usually are wont. They have not mouth nor eyes and cannot thus speak ill of you.
Come, come. This is the greatest room. I had it specially made after great thought so you would feel at home. I had the ceiling painted to recall some evening sky, but without the garish stars and lurid moon. What? That stark shape crouching in the corner? Sweet, that is to be our bed. Our bed, ah. Your hand is trembling. I fear there is, as yet, too much pulse in it.
This will get happier. And I am also very thrilled to have my college roommate in the audience. And I will embarrass her by reading a poem. Or I could even read two.
And she is a painter, so this seems the appropriate place to read this. "Study in White."
A friend and artist phoned me up and said, what shall I do for flesh and what for bone? All has some white, and the best white is lead. But lead gets in the flesh and in the bone and if you are a woman in the child you bear years hence. And I know, have read, that you may use titanium or zinc, not poisonous. But you may be reviled because you lack the seriousness bred for art in men, or else how could you think of compromise in this?
And I own I've tried them both. But the best white is lead for making up the colors bold and mild, conceiving still-lifes, matching tone with tone to reproduce the spectra of the dead. And I have stood for hours at the sink scrubbing white from hands until they bled, and still my hands are stained. And still I think, o flesh and blood, but the best white is lead.
And I think I will also do this one, if I can find it, but maybe I can't. That's always a terrible thing to hear from a poet as they are standing up as they are flipping through the book. OK. We will move on.
So I will read some poems from the second book, Hapax, which means once and once only. But as Surkat points out, there are more than one copies of this book. Actually, I just realized all the ones I've marked are like grave and cemetery poems. Is there anything more cheerful than that? "Jet Lag," which is what we will be in a couple of days. Jet lag, as we will be flying to Athens, Greece.
Oriented suddenly Aurora, I rise without alarm in the random dark, already full of purpose without coffee or tea to the cat's delight revving her pleasure. Breakfast is a poem light in good measure, a great fruit split to reveal the spokes and rays of the sunburst wheels on a golden chariot. I dress. I shake the dew drops from tips of my tresses. It is as if I can hear them, imagined horses astir in the stable, fogging the air with their breath, snug under blankets awaiting the currycomb and oats, ready to set out over the hill, over the sleeping city, over the sill of the sea, islands dribbled like pancake batter, knowing where I am is always east, always ahead of the day that's going to matter.
All right. Now, to the tomb rooms. This is called "Implements from the Tomb of the Poet, Pireaus Archaeological Museum." I'm very fond of small, out-of-the-way museums, ones that don't overwhelm you. Particular with archaeological museums, I love the little everyday objects that sort of connect you through time. And masterpieces as well, but I love fishhooks or just anything that. And I love it, some Mycenaean or Bronze Age object. It's clearly a fishhook, and the thing will be object shaped like a fish hook. It's a fish hook.
But this is kind of interesting, because this particular exhibit for the objects of the tomb of the poet, they've been able now-- maybe I should change the poem-- to decipher some of the cracked up wax tablets and get some words out of this, so that perhaps changes the whole poem.
On the journey to the mundane afterlife, you travel equipped to carry on your trade a bronze small-toothed saw to make repairs, the stylus, and the ink pot and the scraper, wax tablets bound into a little book.
Here is the tortoise shell for the cithara, bored through with holes for strings, natural sound box. Here is the harp's wood triangle all empty, the sheep gut having long since decomposed into a pure Pythagorean music.
The beeswax, frangible with centuries, has puzzled all of your lyrics into silence. I think you were a poet of perfection who fled still weighing one word with another since wax forgives and warms beneath revision.
This is another museum tomb poem. Some years ago, as Athens was preparing for the Olympics, there was a marvelous exhibit. One of the things that had been done in preparation was to open up some new metro stations. But in a city like Athens or like Rome, digging a tunnel for a new metro station is an enormously slow task because every foot you've got to call in the emergency archaeologists before you knock through something.
And there was a wonderful exhibit called the "City Under the City," which was about all things that have been discovered digging the metro. And there were all kinds of marvelous things, but again I sort of focus on-- so this is "An Ancient Dog Grave Unearthed During Construction of the Athens Metro."
It is not the curled-up bones nor even the grave that stops me, but the blue beads on the collar whose leather has long gone the way of hides, the ones to ward off evil. A careful master even now protects a favorite just so. But what evil could she suffer after death? I picture the loyal companion bereaved of her master trotting the long, dark way that slopes to the river, nearly trampled by all the nations marching down one war after another, flood, or famine, her paws sucked by the thick, caliginous mud deep as her dew claws near the river bank.
In the press for the ferry, who will lift her into the boat? Will she cower under the pier and be forgotten, forever howling and whimpering, tail tucked under? What stranger pays her passage? Perhaps she swims, dog paddling the current of oblivion. A shake as she scrambles ashore steps the beads jingling, and then at last tense moment touching noses once, twice, three times with unleashed Cerberus.
And again, a mention of the blue beads on the collar, which are these objects all over that part of the world to ward off the evil eye. And I didn't used to believe in the evil eye, but I don't mind it having taken off me. That makes me feel much better.
"Evil Eye." And this is also in memory of Kalliope, who was a family friend, family member who died recently, and a lovely, very wise, illiterate woman from Crete, very witty kind of woman in a very good kind of way.
Yes, it's on you. Kalliope frowns, dribbling amber beads of olive oil down thick fingers into the water glass where they amass in one big cyclops blob and do not scatter. Something it seems always is the matter, vague pains or clumsy accidents, a dim nimbus on my head, a personal cloud.
Perhaps she is endowed with second sight. I'm lifted by a loss as she thumbs my forehead with a cross. Anointed for a moment, I forget the failed rehearsals of a mirth, and grief floods me like relief. Yes, something's wrong, something she can see. Even you glance differently at me for half a second that we do not believe in village superstition. Still, we ask, and she performs the task. I always have it, and she always takes it off of me, which gives her stomach aches. And we are grateful, but do not offer thanks. That would undo it somehow. We walk out like shadows of a doubt into the changed look of the afternoon.
I'm going to read to you an entirely wholesale stolen poem or translation, whatever you want to say, called "The City," which you will know is a famous poem of Cavafy's. And one of the sort of shocks of attempting to learn modern Greek-- and my son who is eight, his Greek is infinitely superior to mine-- but in my efforts as an essentially monoglot person to learn another language was realizing that a lot of these Cavafy poems, which I had known in the very limpid and clear translations of Kelley and Sherrard, were densely, sonically rhymed. And that was a shock for me, but also kind of exciting as a poet because rhyme is what I do.
And so I thought I would I would give it a try. In fact, it's not even rhyme in our sense. It's rhyme riche. It's homophones. So that for instance, I'll read you a bit of the Greek-- and forgive me actual Greek speakers.
My son is appalled.
Now, thamini in the line just previous means buried. Thamini in the second line means shall remain. And he constantly is doing these amazing things with these rhymes, which I have not reproduced. But I've reproduced at least the sense of rhyming, but I put that out there for other translators.
You said, I'll go to another land. I'll go to another sea. I'll find another city, one that is better than this. Here, my every effort is sentenced to fruitlessness. And here, my heart's entombed as if it were a cadaver. How long will my mind loiter in this wasteland? For wherever I turn my eyes here, whatever I look upon, I see the black wreckage of my life, all the gone years I frittered away destroyed, wasted utterly.
But you will find no other lands, no other seas discover. This city will pursue you. The same streets you will follow. You will grow old among the neighborhoods that you know now. Among the same houses you will turn gray. Forever you are coming to this city. Do not expect another. For you, there is no ship. There is no road for you. For as you've wrecked your life in this small corner, so too you have wrecked your life the whole world over.
I'll read a couple of poems from Olives and a couple of really fresh ones. I shall perhaps read the title poem "Olives."
Sometimes a craving comes for salt not sweet, for fruits that you can eat only if pickled in a vat of tears, a rich and dark and indehiscent meat clinging tightly to the pit on spears of toothpicks, maybe, drowned beneath a tide of vodka and vermouth rocking at the bottom of a wide, shallow, long-stemmed glass, and gentrified or rustic on a plate cracked like a tooth, a miscellany of the humble hues eponymously drab-- brown-greens and purple-browns, the blacks and blues that chart the slow chromatics of a bruise washed down with swigs of barrel wine that stab the pallet with pine sharpness.
They recall the harvest and its toil, the nets spread under silver trees that foil the blue glass of the heavens and the fall, daylight packed in treasuries of oil, paradigmatic summers that decline like singular archaic nouns, the troops of hours in retreat. These fruits are mine, small, bitter droops full of the golden past and cured in brine.
You cannot unburn what is burned. Although you scrape the ruined toast, you can't go back. It's time you learned the butter cannot be unchurned. You can't unmail the morning post. You cannot unburn what is burned.
The lovers in your youth you spurned, the bridges charred you needed most, you can't go back. It's time you learned smoke's reputation is well earned, not just an acrid, empty boast. You cannot unburn what is burned. You longed for home. But while you yearned, the black ships smoldered on the coast. You can't go back. It's time you learned that, even if you had returned, you'd only be a kind of ghost. You can't go back. It's time you learned that what is burned is burned is burned.
Since my son is here, I will read a couple of Jason poems. Shall I? He's not sure. For a while, Jason pronounced seagulls as sea girls. And I would try to correct him, and then I was like, I'm a poet, what am I doing? So this is "Sea Girls" for Jason.
Not gulls, girls. You frown, and you insist. Between two languages, you work at words. R's and L's, it's hard to get them right. We watched the heavens flotsam garbage white above the island dump just out of sight. Dirty, common, greedy, only birds. OK, I acquiesce, too tired to banter.
Somehow, they're not the same, though. See, they rise as though we glimpsed them through a torn disguise, spellbound maidens wild in flight forsaken, some metamorphosis that Ovid missed with their pale breasts, their almost human cries. So maybe it is I who am mistaken, but you have changed them. You are the enchanter.
Read a couple of newish poems. Actually, this is also kind of a Jason poem. We were this summer in Sewanee, Tennessee. So this is a little bit outside of the Mediterranean, but you'll see it comes back as it always does. We were in Sewanee, Tennessee, and went to a mountain crafts fair in the local town of Monteagle, and Jason became obsessed with the blacksmith. So we went a couple of days in a row and watched him for hours in the hot sun.
And then Jason announced that he wanted to be a blacksmith when he grew up. And I was going to, I don't know, say something about that. And then I'm like, I'm a poet. Blacksmith is as good a career decision as any, possibly better.
The rose head nail, but can you forge a nail, the blond boy asks. And the blacksmith shoves a length of iron rod deep in the coal fire cherished by the bellows until it glows volcanic. He was a god before anachronism, but for the tasks that had been craft were jobbed out to machine, by dint of hammer song he makes his keen raw point and crowns utility with rows, quincunx of facets petaling its head, the breeze made visible sidewinds. The boy's blond mother shifts and coughs.
Once, work was wed to loveliness. Sweat-faced, swarthy from soot, he reminds us of the old saw he employs and doesn't miss a beat. Smoke follows beauty.
And this combines my southern background and my study of classics. And it was because my mother brought over a cast iron skillet on the plane to Greece. That should have been taken away as a weapon, but for some reason she was led to take that on a carry on. And anyway, then someone washed it. [LAUGHTER] Cast irony. [LAUGHTER]
Who scrubbed this iron skillet in water with surfactant soap meant to cleanse not kill it? But since it's black and lustrous skin despoiled of its enrobing oils dulled lets water in, now it is vulnerable and porous as a hero stripped of his arms before a scornful chorus. It lacks internal consistency as ancient oral epics, where a Bronze Age warrior might appeal to a boar's tusk helmet-wearing foe who has an anachronistic cart of steel, will of iron, from which metals no one has yet forged a weapon, much less pans or kettles, though there must have been between two eras awkward overlap enacted in the kitchen when mother-in-law and daughter wrangled over the newfangled, over oil and water in proverbial mistrust, brazen youth subject to Iron Age as iron is to rust.
There can be no reasoning with sarcastic oxygen. Only a reseasoning can give the vessel's life new lease. Scour off the scab the color of dried blood. Apply some elbow grease to make it fast. Anoint it. Put it once more in the fire where everything is kept.
I'm going to read one last poem of mine, and then I'm going to recite a Greek poem in Greek, or I will attempt to do so. So this is the newest poem. You can come up and make comments later. This is "The Mycenaean Bridge." If you're driving to the town of Nafplio, between Nafplio and Epidaurus, which is this windy mountain road, there's a little brown sign that says points and says Mycenaean Bridge. And I think hardly anyone stops there, but in fact it's one of the oldest bridges still in use, still in existence. And it's fantastic. I love it.
But anyway, so this is "The Mycenaean Bridge." Perhaps it is also a political poem in a slight way.
Beside the culvert of cement, beside the ill-made, potholed, modern road, the cyclopean boulders hold their poise, and the keyhole of the corbelled arch bears their load. Atop, goat droppings tell that it is still in use, at least for goats. This bridge that shouldered soldiers on the march and chariots and harvest-laden carts over the sudden moats, the torrents of the rainy equinox now from its centuries-dark archway pour.
And back again, their dive a host of stings, the sweetness-hoarding wild black bees. They hive here in the hollow, in the rocks upon which leans the bridge and gather gold dust for their queen out over hills pockmarked with looted tombs across eons that span from ridge to ridge.
And I'm going to hopefully conclude on a poem of George Seferis called [GREEK], which means denial among other things actually. And it's a hermetic love poem-- where is my translation of it? It's a hermetic love poem, but it became under the junta a protest song. And that's one of the things that obscurity can do when it is met with oppression is that it can be a sneaky way of protesting.
But it was set to music by Theodorakis, and Gail can correct me on any of this. Feel free to. But at Seferis' funeral towards the end of the junta, huge crowds amassed and started-- this is what I hear-- started spontaneously singing this song. So again, poetry and politics. This is my very, very rough translation.
There in the secret cove, when the noon sun seemed to halt, I thirsted with my love, but the water there was salt. We wrote out her name upon the blinding sand, then ahh the sea breeze came with its erasing hand.
So fiercely did we long with spirit, heart, and strife to grasp at this life. Wrong. And so we changed our life.
I hope this is not a bad note to end on.
[SINGING IN GREEK]
Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
SPEAKER 1: Well, it's a hard act to follow, but we are going to now have part two of poetry night, in which the practice has been to have various people read in various languages from the parts of the world that are construably Near Eastern or Mediterranean or whatever. We don't police these borders. We've had Bulgarian. We've had Swahili. We're capacious in our understanding. In fact, we reject the borders. But it has to have a title of some kind.
I do want to emphasize that AE Stalling is-- well, this is actually quite nice because she's studied in Athens, Georgia, and she lives in Athens, Greece-- but she's from Athens and flew here with her family from Athens and flies back. If that isn't Mediterranean, well, nothing is. Well, I suppose if she'd sailed it would be more Mediterranean.
I won't do too much thanking. It's the Department of Near Eastern Studies that we can thank, I think, and the Herbert Johnson Museum for continuing to do the poetry night. The way it's organized I think is worth explaining. I'm going to invite folks to come up and read a poem. They're numbered, and that number is so that if we read out of sequence you can be referred to the number. It was simpler than trying to put together a program with everything carefully sequenced.
Because of AE Stalling's brilliant visit, I haven't been able to be as careful as I'd liked, and so I don't have the names of the readers and so on. But to the extent possible, we have the poetry. We have the names of the poets and the translators. And so what I'd like to ask the readers to do, since you know who you are, is to follow this sequence and introduce either the poem, the selection, the translator, or yourself in 30 seconds.
Example. Hi, I chose this poem because it's my favorite. And then you just begin. Or, Nazik al-Malaika-- Atour will do this-- Nazik al-Malaika is an Iraqi poetess who-- so just that we have a little bit of context, but not too much. Biography can interfere.
If you'd like to explain who the poet or translator is after you read, that's fine, too. There's a question, yes?
AUDIENCE: What happens if you're number zero?
SPEAKER 1: No. Your number is zero because Turawa started numbering it wrong and then had to put 10 in front of zero. So we'll start with 10, go to zero, and then-- And yes, you'll have a little insert, which is 10a, which accompanies 10. It's poetic.
So if we could begin part two, I'd like to invite-- I happen to know that the leader of the first poem is Atour from the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She's a graduate student in her first year, and she will explain her choice of the poem. And I will stand to your left to make sure that you don't take too long. I'm sorry. And in the sunna, the practice is that the reader reads in the foreign language if it is a foreign language poem, and you can follow it in that language if you know it or you can follow the translation.
SPEAKER 2: So I will be reading a piece Nazik al-Malaika, as Professor Turrell said. She is, in my opinion, one of the most important poets in Arabic because she was one of the first poets to break away from classical Arabic meters and to write in free verse. And she was also one of the first people to theorize that break. And this is a poem written in free verse, and so that's what it sounds like.
SPEAKER 1: Accenty. The thing you're supposed to say is Allah! [LAUGHTER] That's the correct response to well-read Arabic poetry. Yes.
Next is number 11. Jonathan Tenney, who goes by John to his friends, so I'll call him Jonathan, is a dear colleague who joined us last year-- this year, last year-- and has put together an Assyrian elegy for us.
JONATHAN TENNEY: Can everyone hear me? This is a translation of a cuneiform tablet found in the library of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. It dates to the early-seventh century BC, though from the language that it's written in it probably is significantly older than that, but we can't date it entirely.
Why did I choose it? I don't really know. The translation is loosely based on the rather masterful work of Erica Reiner, who is no longer with us, but one of the greatest Assyriologists to ever live. I didn't give you the entire thing because it's sort of broken.
So it's an elegy about a woman who has died in childbirth, and the story ends with her being dragged into the underworld.
SPEAKER 1: What does one say? I'm trying to think. I think the only thing I know in Assyrian, and it may not be Assyrian, is [SPEAKING ASSYRIAN].
AUDIENCE: That's Babylonian.
SPEAKER 1: French, Spanish, Italian. As I believe I mentioned at the beginning, another difference this year is a few instances poets are reading, and Gail Holst-Warhaft, who is Alicia Stalling's and John Psaropolous' and Jason and Atalanta's co-host together with me, decided rather than reading one of her own superb translations-- she's a fabulous translator-- she decided to read a poem of her own.
GAIL HOLST-WARHAFT: When I met Alicia and John, I had just come back from a music festival on the island of Skyros, which I had visited many years before. And I was delighted to find it just as it was. Alicia's husband John said to me, that's the first island I took Alicia to when she came to Greece.
It is a wonderful island, and it happens to be the place where Rupert Brooke is buried. And Alicia had written a poem, which I didn't know at the time, about Rupert Brooke. And I wrote my own sort of Rupert Brooke Skyros poem, and so I dedicated it to them just because it seemed to be a lot of nice connections. So it's called "Off Skyros, for Alicia and John."
Early in the morning, I walked to the sea, its surface slick as oil on a plate, and break the stillness carefully like separating an egg. Swimming, I calculate how many summer mornings are left sublime as this. Was Brooke aware, dying off this island, that his grave would satisfy his prescient prayer, dug in a field, fragrant with sage and thyme, as his friend Brown wrote. No foreign corner this, but cornerstone of all he'd learned in classrooms now remote.
SPEAKER 1: The first person to give me a poem when I contacted my department was Nava Scharff, and she couldn't be here tonight. And she gave me the name of students. And then every few days, she would say, well, it's not going to be A that's going to be reading. It's going to be B. And then the next day, it's not going to be B reading. It's going to be C. And sort of had trouble keeping track.
I happened to know the first two readers. Nathaniel Rosen was my student. So was Eli Grossman. They couldn't be here. I believe his name is Michael.
SPEAKER 1: Mind like a steel trap. Welcome, and you can tell us about the Hebrew poem.
SPEAKER 2: All right. So I'll be reading the Hebrew poem [HEBREW] by the poet Zelda.
SPEAKER 1: So Michael is an undergraduate student at Cornell. One of the things that has always made us happy when we put together this event is that it has attracted people from across the various constituencies. We have undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff, interlopers like myself, and others, distinguished poets.
So it's wonderful another student, this time I believe first year just started learning Turkish at Cornell, and has very-- I don't want to say bravely because I know you're good at this-- but bravely agreed to read a Turkish poem.
SPEAKER 3: I will be reading a poem by Fazil Husnu Daglarca. He is one of the most prolific Turkish poets. He was born in 1914, and his first works were published in 1933. Many of his poems are focused on anti-war themes and also children, and this poem is a good example of both of those. It's called [TURKISH].
SPEAKER 1: The reason I said he was brave is because his teacher is in the room, and she is the translator. Nihon is here and translated it. Turkish is one of those scripts that I learned to read, that and 35 others, so I know that he read it correctly but I didn't understand a thing. And I forgot to follow the English because I was transported by his excellent reading.
There are some people who are regulars or fixtures or-- I think of a better word-- there are some people without whom poetry night would not be poetry night. And sometimes they're old, and one of those people is Cora Batic who's always read for us and who has given us something in Italian, which I believe she's translated. I don't see a--
SPEAKER 4: With a slippage from Wales Brown and Gail Holst-Warhaft. So this is a person very dear to me, a good friend and a wonderful poet, I think. It's Suzanna Glavashkieva, who's a Neapolitan poet who doesn't write in Neapolitan dialect but in Italian. She's a philologist and teaches at the University of Naples. With a wonderful name, anybody would want to teach there. The university is called L'Orientale. So as a person with a love for words, I think it's just the most wonderful place to work at.
I realized that, when I look back at it every year, this old person Shokad reads something hyphenated, from a hyphenated author and something with hands. So somebody please explain to me what fixation I have. So last year, I remember it was Italian-Swiss poem, and now she's a Jewish-Italian poet. And yes, there are hands involved. So I read about hands first, or gloves at least.
SPEAKER 1: We now have a poem in Persian. As we all know, Persian is the most beautiful language in the world. So we only need to here four lines of it. That may actually be the fault of the instructor who is also here. Iago, are you here? And again, another brave soul reading-- unless it's your native language?
SPEAKER 5: It is actually.
SPEAKER 1: A brave soul reading in front of a professor of Persian.
SPEAKER 5: Hi everyone. My name is Alex Haikali. I'm a senior at Cornell University. I'm currently taking Iago's course Elementary Persian and will be reciting one quatrain from Omar Khayyam's-- well, he has a bunch of quatrains, so I'm reading one of them. [LAUGHTER]
SPEAKER 1: I'd like to invite the second poet-- person who'll be reading an original poem unless Neil isn't here. Yes, he is. Have we-- of course we've met I didn't realize you were Neil.
NEIL OLLER: Hi ya.
SPEAKER 1: Welcome.
NEIL OLLER: My name is Neil Oller, and my humble contribution here is called "To Touch Her."
It takes a sun-leathered neck to feel her fatigue, a windburnt face to feel her kiss, cracked lips and a dry tongue to return it, and ashen eyes to see her eyes gleam.
It takes fingering your own lacerated knee to know the violence of her past, broken ribs to feel her breasts against your body as she breathes. But most of all, it takes letting her sleep, her hair cool and fine along your cheek, her downy ass against her thigh, a mild touch to feel her youthful heat, to smell the callow musk about her ears, to hear her soft-sighed lullaby.
SPEAKER 1: Laurent Ferri will now read a poem that he has also cotranslated.
LAURENT FERRI: So I'm going to read Ovid, the beginning of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, which is the inspiration for Romeo and Juliet. Hope you will enjoy the musicality of this very compact and witty piece, though I've decided not to scan it fully. Normally, hexameters should sound like.
But it sounds a bit pompous, and I also wanted to stress meaning of a vestification. There are a few verses missing, but you've got the whole translation.
SPEAKER 1: Laurent is one of those people without whom poetry night doesn't happen. This is also true of Wayles Browne, whom I now invite to read a particularly judicious choice I think, splendid choice.
WAYLES BROWNE: First, to say that Sasha Iskandariyah is a Bosnian or Bosnian-American librarian and information scientist who was able to leave during the recent war, went to Prague, with a little help from his friends came to Ithaca. And for most of the past 10 years, he ran the website of the Law School at Cornell on which you could find all the laws of all the nations. And he did theoretical work on information flow around the world.
But he is better known as a poet, and I am better known as his English translator. So this is our second book.
It would make Sasha happy and certainly me if one copy of the book ended up in Athens. So I will give it to our visitor from Athens.
SPEAKER 1: I know invite myself to present. What is it called? It's called abusing the emcee's privilege or something. So this will take a little bit of introduction.
I was sitting with Don Share, one of the two editors of Poetry Magazine, in the museum, in The Two Naked Guys Cafe. And I'd like to say publicly that The Two Naked Guys have been removed, and it is no longer The Two Naked Guys Cafe and never again will be and I'm very sad but we were sitting in there, in the cafe formerly known as The Two Naked Guys Cafe, and talking about poetry and translation.
I mean, I would have been in awe of Don, but I just spent two days with Alicia Stallings, so I was just kind of chatting with him. And I mentioned Antonio Machado, and I mentioned that he was my favorite poet. And I'll tell you in a minute why I mentioned Machado. My favorite Spanish poet, excuse me.
And he said, well, I've translated him. And I said, no way. I actually said something else, but no way. And he said, yeah, absolutely. And when I get back, I'll just send you the stuff. That's great. And then I said, look, why don't you come-- I had to head back to the Statler Hotel so I can meet AE Stallings for lunch, so why don't you join us since you're meeting with Alice Fulton isn't till later? I know I'm dropping names. I'm sorry.
And so he sat there, and he mentioned Machado. And it so happened that AE Stallings had invited someone to join us for lunch, who's in the audience, who is the translator of this poem I'm going to read, Nicholas Friedman. And he said, unbidden, oh yeah, I write poetry and I've also translated some Machado. And I thought, the spatial coordinates at Banfi's-- because Don had sat there and talked about Machado eventually later, and then so did he.
And then I said to Nicholas, I said the reason I want to read a Machado poem is a few days ago, Maria Rosa Menocal called passed away. after a three-year struggle with cancer. She was Sterling Professor at Yale and director of the Whitney Humanities Center and one of the people responsible in the English-speaking world for increasing the understanding of hispanists mainly, but everyone of Muslim presence in Spain, Iberia. She has a famous book called The Ornament of the World.
And I thought that it would be appropriate if I read something in her honor and in honor of a language she loved so much. So this is a Machado poem, translated by Nicholas Friedman, who is right there.
The second thing I'd like to read you don't have in your program. I am not a poet. I am a passable translator. Every once in a while, someone shows up and says, I need you to write a poem for this publication. And I don't know why that happens, and I've only ever agreed to do it in languages that I don't know very well because then you can get away with it because people say, he doesn't really know French, he doesn't really know Creole.
So I published a Creole poem, and it just so happens that the only place I think it's ever been read has been the Johnson Museum, and certain people here in the front row have heard it. I've also written a poem in French, which I am now going to share. And so those of you who follow it, great. And those of you who don't well, you don't have it in your program. And it's never been translated by anyone, including me.
But I will explain what it's about. Robert Surcouf was a corsair. And in 1997, in the city of Port Louis, Mauritius, the government and private enterprise created a waterfront, a beautiful waterfront. And someone decided, an amateur maritime historian, decided why don't we rebuild the Confiance? La Confiance was the ship that Surcouf used as a corsair to terrorize British shipping.
And it's ironic because the ship Confiance was actually a British ship that he'd captured, and then he raised his own flag. And it was the flagship of the British Navy. The British never forgave them. They defeated the French at Ile de la Passe in Mauritius. After the French had captured their ships, that capture was the only time the French had ever defeated the British. And it's a sore point.
So I thought, I wonder what Robert Surcouf would think if he came to the front de mer, the waterfront in Mauritius, and then saw this replica of his ship in 1997. And this is what he would think. I think.
The last poem in your program and the penultimate poem of the program is "Une Dame Creole" by Baudelaire. I realized when I put the program together, there were no French poems, although it says that there will be in the fancy thing that we produced. So the two rescue things that I did is I grabbed mine, and I figured I would read it.
But then I thought, no, Laurent would be here, and I will ask Laurent to read a poem by Baudelaire. The only bilingual edition I had at hand was this, and so I've produced it. And he's very kindly agreed to read it. I know you're tired of hearing this now, but poetry night wouldn't happen without him either.
SPEAKER 6: Thank you. So it's true that I didn't know I would read something tonight before 7:10, something like that. But as I said to Shakur, it's true that I believe I have read this poem at least once in my life, maybe a few more times.
So this is one of the early poems by Baudelaire, and the metrics of these thread within Fleurs de Mal, The Flowers of Evil, the metrics of all the poems pertaining to a voyage, journey, and the evocations of islands, from "L'Invitation au Voyage" to [NON-ENGLISH], this one.
So this one is a very early one, and it is entitled "Une Dame Creole."
GAIL HOLST-WARHAFT: So these things have to go around in a circle and start somewhere and end where they began. So we're ending with a poem of Alicia's, again from this lovely book Olives called "Deus Ex Machina."
Because we were good at entanglements but not resolution and made a mess of plot, because there was no other way to fulfill the ancient prophecy, because the will of the gods demanded punishment, because neither recognized who the other was, because there was no difference between a tragic ending and a comic scene, because the play was running out of time, because the mechanism of the sublime to stay in working order needed using, because it was a script not of our choosing, because we were actors, because we knew for a fact we were only actors, because we could not act. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you very much for coming. Please feel free to stay a little longer. I'm sure there are still some pastries left if Morad hasn't eaten them all. And please feel free to mingle. Keep an eye out for the next poetry night, which will happen between 11 and 18 months from now.
If you haven't yet seen the collection, The Open Door 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine, which includes, by the way, a poem by AE Stallings, it's a Lovely collection. And long may poetry thrive.
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A.E. Stallings, award-winning poet and translator, presented three lectures, October 15, 17 and 18, as one of this year's Messenger lecturers.