Derek Walcott, born in St. Lucia in the Windward Islands, died on March 17, 2017 at the age of 87. He was the greatest poet produced by the strong literary culture of the Anglophone Caribbean, and is often listed among the greatest poets of the English language of the second half of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 and was knighted in 2016. Continue reading
By Dean Rader
“a word is elegy to what it signifies” –Robert Hass
The first poem of mine to be accepted for publication in a national magazine was about Robert Motherwell. It bears the dizzyingly innovative but not misleading title Motherwell. It was (and is) an homage to his spectacular series of Elegies to the Spanish Republic, completed between 1957 and 1990. That Motherwell is the subject of a poem is not surprising since the main aesthetic concept for the Elegies finds its roots in poetry. Motherwell’s artistic guide was the French Symbolist poet Stephan Mallarmé, who urged artists “to paint, not the thing, but the effect it provides.” That advice is highly symbolic and highly evocative in that it foregrounds the poetic over the literal. Continue reading
Last year saw a victory for a US President running on a platform of hatred, and a UK vote to leave the EU on a platform of fear. Both campaigns painfully revealed how deeply divided both the United States and the United Kingdom are, and how conflicted our ideas of justice have become. But 2016 also marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. And if anyone understood what comprises the bedrock of justice, Shakespeare did: Love. Continue reading
I met Jordi Alonso at a writers’ conference in New York in the summer of 2013. At the time, he was working on a series of erotic poems inspired by the Greek poet Sappho that would become his first book, Honeyvoiced, published by XOXOX Press. Jordi studied literary translation and poetry at Kenyon College, where he graduated with an AB in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, in the spring of 2014. He went on to receive his MFA from SUNY Stony Brook, where he was the Turner Fellow in Poetry, and today he is a PhD candidate and a Gus T. Ridgel Fellow at the University of Missouri. Continue reading
By Steve Light
In memory of my father
“…let the blood be seen as it mounts, swells, throbs,
and traces out the white scar of an ancient wound.”
Bergson and Lukacs each in their own way said that every great philosopher possesses but one idea. And each great poet? But isn’t the poetic signature unique among all signatures? Continue reading
By Steve Light
In memory of Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016)
Poetry never stops
Nor the proximities
Beneath the African distances
Assumed and awakened
By my anxious exuberance…
Lead image: Naoko Haruta, Life #107: ‘Africa #2’, acrylic on canvas, 43″ x 67″ [110cm x 170cm]
Steve Light, a basketball point guard following upon Nate Archibald, Pete Maravich, and Willie Somerset–and akin as well to Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and Earl Boykins–is also a philosopher and poet.
I do not know her, the woman caught
in the passions of the wind machine
as the cameras work their angles,
her hair blown back to imitate the spirit
of youth and whatever they are selling
I do not know her, but I love her hair,
the way it moves about in the stillness
of the photo, the bedroom tangle just so.
Must be something in the look of speed,
the illusion of approach, that keeps
hands flipping the pages to feel the breeze.
But we know better. If winds could pass
out or wither from exhaustion, it’s here,
in fashion pages glazed as cakes and fast
cars that men afford when they are old.
We know the wind is not the paper it blows
any more than breath is flesh, flesh a wind
machine we take apart and reassemble.
I do not know the woman or her product,
though I like to think she is paying off
her student loans, and the gaze she wears
she has borrowed from a man, a stranger
with a long lens, who whispers, yes, yes.
What I do know is the wind is real wind,
sweeping back and forth from some machine
that says, no, to the camera’s little death,
the blades of the shutter, the capture of souls.
Who has not had a troubled love affair
with stillness and walked the galleries filled
with dead and beautiful things and felt renewed.
You hear a lot when the world goes still.
Just you and the portrait of the woman
with her sick child who, if lucky, died old,
possessed by spirits such as yours. And then,
you are that child. You are the wind
in the lungs of the child and ask your mother,
is she afraid of death, and she whispers,
no. Her hand is in your hair. It’s nothing,
she says. And then, more softly, nothing, nothing.
If you sit still, you can hear it, the thrum
of the power cables that puzzle a sky
grown intricate with satellites, doors,
hands that write the checks to make them open.
It was always this way, not the cables
but how a puzzle loves a harder puzzle,
the cell an animal, the beast a town.
Long ago my mother taught me to be
hungry, to pry the shutter on our piano
that carried the tune she always longed to play.
If you sit still, you can hear it, the clock
among the millions who grow old with us,
who sit beside radios and gold frames,
snapshots of the kids when towns were small.
Long ago progress was a river
fed by snows that never ceased to fall.
The bombs we invented we would invent
into extinction. So said the music
in my teacher’s voice. I loved her. I listened.
I hid beneath my desk from history’s
strange devices and the will to use them.
But the sky is different when we are small.
A bolder, more manic blue. Long ago
I laid my hands down, ambitious to play
a piece to fill the emptiness of ambition.
Always a city inside the city, rising,
complicating its traffic like a tax code
or circuit board that makes hands obsolete.
I met a man once who feeds the homeless
of Los Angeles. It’s complicated, he said.
They break the law to live now, they must,
In other words, the law is broken, shattered
into the numberless financial concerns
that move their eyesores further into hiding.
Which says, I live in many cities. In one,
the smoke of factories and oil drums.
In another, a mother’s love that tells me
how to hide, to hunker in the basement
when the missiles fall. So simple then,
we thought our sunglasses would make a difference.
Or that hope might repossess the anthem
in our hands. If you sit still, the room goes dark,
the world more articulate with stars,
with the flashlights of phones that screen our calls.
Music is everywhere we aren’t these days.
And yet it touches us, we cannot help it,
the child’s hope that feels a little hopeless.
It moves to move us, snowing in elevators,
spilling through the windows we cannot open,
in fallen light of which, we will, we will.
Bruce Bond is the author of fifteen books including, most recently, For the Lost Cathedral (LSU, 2015), The Other Sky (Etruscan, 2015), and Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press, 2015). Four of his books are forthcoming: Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, University of Tampa Press), Gold Bee (Crab Orchard Open Competition Award, Southern Illinois University Press), Sacrum (Four Way Books), and Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems (L. E. Phillabaum Award, LSU). Presently he is Regents Professor at University of North Texas.
By David Shook
Juan Tomás Avila Laurel is Equatorial Guinea’s most important living writer, but he’s often been persecuted by his own state for his outspokenness regarding their blatant disregard of human rights. This week that disregard has turned dangerous, as Malabo’s infamous security forces have forced Avila Laurel, 48, into hiding for his work as activist. Avila Laurel had planned a sit-in protesting a recent wave of police brutality, and had requested official permission to stage the event, as required by national law. Soon after being denied the requested permission, Avila Laurel was informed that political party El Elefante y La Palmera [Elephant and Palm Tree], which had made the official request, had been declared dissolved by the Guinean government, and that he was one of several activists targeted for arrest without formal charges. The government crackdown centers on the political party El Elefante y la Palmera [Elephant and Palm Tree], known for its peaceful protests of police and government brutality, and is officially focused on the arrest of party founder Salvador Ebang Ela.
Avila Laurel, whose first book in English is forthcoming from And Other Stories in a superb translation by Jethro Soutar, is no stranger to government harassment. After declaring a hunger strike in February 2011, he eventually sought exile in Spain at the recommendation of national and international observers concerned for his safety, where he lived for two years before having his request for asylum denied. Since his return to Equatorial Guinea, Avila Laurel has been active in organizing peaceful protests of the Obiang regime, especially its police brutality.
Under the leadership of Guinean president Teodoro Obiang Nguema, now the longest-serving head of state in Africa, Equatorial Guinea continues to rank among the most corrupt states in the world. Its human rights record is particularly concerning. The Human Rights Watch World Report for 2013 reports:
Corruption, poverty, and repression continue to plague Equatorial Guinea under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979. Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty. Those who question this disparity are branded “enemies.” Despite some areas of relative progress, human rights conditions remain very poor. Arbitrary detention and unfair trials continue to take place, mistreatment of detainees remains commonplace, sometimes rising to the level of torture.
Avila Laurel’s extensive work includes novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, like this newly translated poem from his collection Intimate History of Humanity:
en boca de pelinegros
de seso torcido.
de indígenas indigentes
de fe y bravía.
Al color rojo lo llaman sangre
la púrpura de los prebendados.
Bantúes con lengua negra
y con todos los pecados capitales en la punta
de los pies y labios carnosos.
Eso sí, no murió el gran Cristo entre nosotros.
Y playas, ríos, plantas y otras plantas que atraen
de ladrones de ilusiones ajenas.
Muchos citan el refrán del río.
in the mouth of black-haired men
with twisted brains.
of the indigent indigenous
of faith and savageness.
To name the color red blood
because they don’t know
the purple of the prebendary.
Bantus with a black tongue
and with every cardinal sin on the tips
of their feet and fleshy lips.
It’s true, the great Christ didn’t die among us.
And beaches, rivers, plants and more plants that attract
of thieves with foreign illusions.
Many cite the refrain of the river.
translated from the Spanish by David Shook
Juan Tomás Avila Laurel’s safety is currently at risk; he faces dire conditions if captured by Guinean security forces. The international visibility of his situation is an important protection. Follow his case and learn more about what you can do at the PEN Center USA and EG Justice websites.