Saturday, June 27, 2009

Scribbles from Barcelona

After mayterm and before returning to the good ole US of A, I spent four days of surreal transition in Barcelona with Mr. John Jefferson. We drank a lot of bad cappucinos and a lot of great wine; we spent hours and hours with Picasso, Dali, and Van Dongen; we weaved through gothic streets in a constant state of lost; we stewed over Hopkins and the Beatniks; we ended the trip in complete poverty and spent our last pence on kebab. We also carried around paper--me, a journal; John, three carefully folded pages. My little scribbles ended up scattered through my journal, on napkins buried in the bottom of my backpack, or on torn scraps that were tucked into pages of my book. I've attempted to collect them and piece them together to shape into something worth posting soon while the trip is still recent, but most of them require a significant amount of editing or expounding. However, there is one small haiku that I am satisfied with. It was the first thing I wrote, on the train that we assumed would take us from the airport to the city center of Barcelona (lots of assuming in countries where you don't speak the language).

Charred-purple skies spread,
lit by low glowing lamp-stars.
Air: humid cigars.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Atlantis by W. H. Auden

Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted, and that you
Must therefore be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.

Should storms, as may well happen,
Drive you to anchor a week
In some old harbour-city
Of Ionia, then speak
With her witty sholars, men
Who have proved there cannot be
Such a place as Atlantis:
Learn their logic, but notice
How its subtlety betrays
Their enormous simple grief;
Thus they shall teach you the ways
To doubt that you may believe.

If, later, you run aground
Among the headlands of Thrace,
Where with torches all night long
A naked barbaric race
Leaps frenziedly to the sound
Of conch and dissonant gong:
On that stony savage shore
Strip off your clothes and dance, for
Unless you are capable
Of forgetting completely
About Atlantis, you will
Never finish your journey.

Again, should you come to gay
Carthage or Corinth, take part
In their endless gaiety;
And if in some bar a tart,
As she strokes your hair, should say
"This is Atlantis, dearie,"
Listen with attentiveness
To her life-story: unless
You become acquainted now
With each refuge that tries to
Counterfeit Atlantis, how
Will you recognise the true?

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

All the little household gods
Have started crying, but say
Good-bye now, and put to sea.
Farewell, my dear, farewell: may
Hermes, master of the roads,
And the four dwarf Kabiri,
Protect and serve you always;
And may the Ancient of Days
Provide for all you must do
His invisible guidance,
Lifting up, dear, upon you
The light of His countenance.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Binge

We had a class at Trinity College this morning with Nick Johnson, an American who took off for Europe after college in the states to research German ensemble theatres in Berlin on a grant. From there, he got his PhD at Trinity, specializing in Samuel Beckett's prose work. Now he is teaching classes at Trinity and meanwhile is the artistic director of the up and coming Painted Filly Theatre ( He also acts and directs. Yes, I was inspired and maybe fell a little bit in love. Nothing funny, it was just reassuring to hear someone describing my dreams as their reality.

Afterwards, I was feeling particularly hungry for some new art. As if the 20 plays I've seen in the last few weeks aren't enough, right? But art is paradoxical like that, the more you eat the hungrier you get. And each new flavor and texture is so delicious that you want to gorge yourself on it forever, until you are reminded that there are hundreds of others still to try.

So I stomped down the cobblestone streets of Dublin without a destination or a map or any real idea of where I was, which is always the best way to find what you want. For an appetizer, I found a little market with tables full of silver jewelry (I resisted buying another ring only because I have run out of fingers) and hand-bound leather journals (which I resisted only because of the two small crumpled bills in my wallet). There was a great vintage shop with pink walls and teal floors and beaded hangers with tempting frocks and jackets. Somehow I pried myself out of that store without a purchase as well. My thriftiness broke down at the sight of bookshelves with sale signs. For only four euro I bought a used copy of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and the 50th issue of the Poetry Ireland Review from 1996.

At this point, I needed some real food if I was to continue aesthetically fasting, so I crashed at a table outside Metro Cafe. I expected good things based on the many smiling faces filling the tables (note: always pick restaurants based on the diners, rather than the menu) and was not disappointed. It was more like a community than a restaurant, almost everyone at the tables around me knew the staff and caught up about their hangovers and their families in between ordering. The guy who waited on me practically ordered for me, and jovially begged me to trust him that the penne pasta salad with pesto was the best thing I could possibly order that day in all of Dublin, besides a Guinness, of course. He was right. While eating, I people-watched and flipped through my new book of Irish poetry. One of my favorite finds so far is Peter McDonald. I'll share a little exerpt from his poem "Day-trip to Iceland" that I found particularly striking after the conversation this morning about the difference between America and Europe's cultural scenes.

Although we started in Belfast,
my people in the recent past
took their part in the general flight
to a fresh suburban satellite
where homes increase a hundredfold,
and few are more than ten years old,
where culture is a shopping mall
and there's no history at all

To sum up the rest of the day, I hit two more bookstores: Books Upstairs and Dubray Books. Dubray was first, a little more commercial but with a great poetry and drama selection. I bought Marina Carr's play "Woman and Scarecrow" because we had talked about her in class and if the Irish love her, I will probably love her too. Also, a collection of poetry by Leonard Cohen, "Book of Longing" because my Dad sent me his Live in London cd's and I've been crazy for his lyrics for the last two weeks. His writings, like his drawings that accompany his words on many of the pages, are rough and sensual with simple lines and smudged edges that touch something very human and very deep. When I read it, my chest tightens in that way when you try to hold back an excess of emotion in a public place.

Books Upstairs is dark and musty with lots of little neon orange sale stickers on covers. Basically, heaven. For cheap, cheap I bought "...She Also Wrote Plays: An International Guide to Women Playwrights from the 10th to the 21st Century" because, well, duh. And "The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation" which is the best beat anthology I've found, with 18 authors. I leave you with one of my favorite excerpts from Kerouac's "On the Road":

"We seek to find new phrases; we try hard, we writhe and twist and blow; every now and then a clear harmonic cry gives new suggestions of a tune, a thought, that will someday be the only tune and thought in the world and which will raise men's souls to joy. We find it, we lose, we wrestle for it, we find it again, we laugh, we moan. Go moan for man. It's the pathos of people that gets us down, all the lovers in this dream."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ireland Soundtrack


Softs are hard here.
Weightless clouds shake the bowels of metal birds
and the unfortunate occupants--
a new generation of Jonahs,
who have thrown themselves willingly into
the belly of a beast
to be carried to a new shore.
What gods have we ignored?

My body anticipated its return here,
and raises my temperature as a purging fire.
Heightened awareness, my super-self burns,
iron eyelids crash to meet and then are hoisted apart again,
each vertebrae hammers nails into its neighbor's fence,
lungs suck oxygen out of fog,
each breathe thick like the history of this place,
grey like the streets and the buildings and the sky.

To compensate, true Irishmen learn to count the shades of green,
more than forty, they say (with their beautiful r's).
Each shade is a seed,
it gets planted in the spirit
until blood flows green and veins are vines.
I must learn to count the greens.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Camden Town

Today I met you in the day, in life--
not lit by stage lights and scripted,
or through grimy windows on the double deck of a bus
on my way to a park on a hill at night with stranger-friends
[spontaneity and wine overcame nightmare nerves for a view and a memory that was worth it]

I dressed for the occasion in my stompin' red Dr. Martens,
not aware that you originated them.
I ate American food on your street:
milkshake in glass and tin, fries (not chips),
didn't think you'd mind,
something tells me you understand nostalgia.
Thanks to you, I don't have to brave needles or offend my elders
to carry my symbol, my roots with me.
You really took it out of me though.
Never thought I could tire of this hippie Disneyland:
silks and scarves,
rings for fingers and bells for toes,
buddahs and bongs,
superheroes and punks,
mullets and mohawks,
florals next to spikes,
incense, leather, tea, and kung pow chicken.
KUNG POW---that's how you hit me.
A solid aesthetic knock to my senses.
I need a nap, a latte, an inheritance.

I miss you already.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Peace in Stratford

In Stratford,
where the city is two streets that I have known before,
and the bed is a cloud of feathers and white,
there is permission to rest.
It is good to release,
as if collapsing into an embrace,
to offer tension and weight
as both proof of need and thanks for arms.
And so I practice laying like a child
or a cat.
From the window, a breeze strokes my skin
purr purr purr.