We are living in extreme times with the whole world brought together by loss and life- threatening situations. This spring came and went past our doors, yards or gazes unreachable, yet very potent. The general lockdown turned out to be an opportunity to reflect and regroup, to mourn and then rejoice, but mainly to connect. It was a compelling time for creative people such as poets, translators and writers to flourish and reach out to one another and their readers.
This collaborative project, involving twelve poets and four translators, has gathered voices from across the world. One of the poets, John Casquarelli, saw this as a manner of getting and offering support, both aesthetically and emotionally. To his mind, this “eclectic soup” was an opportunity to address a common concern, the dangerous Covid-19 pandemic, by giving space to various feelings, thoughts, impressions.
It was John who invited me to close our poem, “maintaining social distance through the language of longitudes” and first, I was excited and then I became nervous. I have always believed that we cannot grow as individuals without a strong community and a poet, much as their creative endeavors are solitary, needs to be part of a literary tribe. There was my chance to unite in spirit and interests with poets I have long admired and valued. Shortly after reading the poem in the making, I began to lose courage. What if my voice did not fit the common narrative? I could not embarrass myself, let alone ruin the effort of all others. Then it dawned on me it was hardly a matter of personal failure; this space we had created for ourselves to reflect, read each other, write, exchange was, as poet Wang Ping says, “what we love to do every day, pandemic or not.” I tried to summarize the way lock-down and social distancing felt to me and my family and how there was still hope through all the piling up of worry and uncertainty. All we had to do was slow down, “observe springtime’s arrival and allow the fresh air to help our emotions”, as poet Juan Morales confessed.
I am also a translator and though at the time, I was caught up with my editorial work and adjusting to online teaching, I wanted to join the four translators and have the poem also breathe in my native language, Romanian. I still foster this warm thought because it would be a challenge to translate my own part from English, an acquired language into my mother tongue. It also made me reflect on the process, especially after hearing the thoughts of the translators.
Sevda Aykuz, Turkish translator, spoke of her passion for translating poetry, the uniqueness of this meaningful experience and the outcome of diverse form, feeling and mood.
Aydin Behnam, the Persian/Farsi translator, defined translation as walking a fine line: the challenge to stay close enough to the original text and the urge to “take the text as close as possible toward the target language speaker, so that the reader “doesn’t have to face the hiccups of reading a translated text alone”.
The Italian translator, Paola Martani, said that while translating she felt carried away by this poetic narrative with several voices, and tried not to readjust the words too much in another language so that the Italian readers could savor, as she did, “the knots and metaphors that dot this small and intense composition.”
John helped me connect with some of the poets and translators. What started as a genuine exchange of impressions turned into further collaborations. Thus, the joint project lives on, not only in the creative work we continue to produce, but the intimacy of the process and the togetherness that poetry engenders.
Juan J. Morales is the author of three poetry collections, including The Handyman’s Guide to End Times, winner of the 2019 International Latino Book Award. He is a CantoMundo and Macondo Fellow, the Editor/Publisher of Pilgrimage, and the Department Chair of English & World Languages at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
Michelle Reale is the founding and managing editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing and is the author of two recent collections, Season of Subtraction, (Bordighera Press, 2019) and In the Blink of a Mottled Eye (Kelsay Books, 2020). She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Lauren Camp is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press, 2020). Her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic, and honored with the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. www.laurencamp.com
Haleh Liza Gafori is a poet, translator, vocalist, and educator born in NYC, of Iranian descent. She received her BS from Stanford University and MFA from City College of NY. Her poetry has been published by Columbia University Press and Rattapallax. Her translations of Rumi’s poetry will be published by New York Review Books in April, 2021.
Nazmi Ağıl is a Turkish poet and the translator of many canonical works including Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, The Rape of the Lock and The Prelude. He is teaching literature at Koç University, has an academic book on “ekphrasis” and has recently taken up writing for children.
John Casquarelli is the author of two full-length collections: On Equilibrium of Song (Overpass Books, 2011) and Lavender (Authorspress, 2014). He is a Lecturer of Academic Writing at Koç Üniversitesi in Istanbul, as well as the Managing Editor for Lethe Literary and Art Journal. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.
Ping Wang is the author of 14 books of poetry and prose: My Name Is Immigrant, Life of Miracles along the Yangtze and Mississippi, American Visa, Foreign Devil, Of Flesh and Spirit, Aching for Beauty, The Magic Whip, Last Communist Virgin. She’s the recipient of NEA, Bush, Lannan and McKnight Fellowships.
Adeeba Shahid Talukder is a Pakistani American poet, singer, and translator of Urdu and Persian poetry. She is the author of What Is Not Beautiful (Glass Poetry Press, 2018) and her debut collection, Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved (Tupelo Press, 2020), is a winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize.
Essayist, translator from Turkish poetry and editor of Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry (Talisman), Murat Nemet-Nejat’s recent poems include Animals of Dawn (Talisman) and Io’s Song (Chax Press). He is presently working on the new poem Camels & Weasels and translations for a collection of Sami Baydar’s poetry.
Lee Herrick is the author of three books of poems, including Scar and Flower. He co-edited The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit. A former Fresno Poet Laureate (2015-2017), he was born in Korea and adopted to the U.S. at ten months.
Sevda Akyuz studied English literature at Bogazici University. She taught English and Academic Writing in the US and Turkey for 30 years. She also taught Western Civilizations, Film &Visual Culture, History of Drama and Translation. She has translated and edited books, articles, theses, dissertations, art catalogs, movie scripts, plays, stories, and poems.
Paola Martani is a lecturer at Koç Üniversitesi in Istanbul. She has seven books to her credit. In April 2018, she received an award for her work by the Women Economic Forum, and in June 2019, she received the Young Personality of the Year from the International Academic and Research Excellence Award.
Jhon Sánchez is a Colombian born lawyer and writer. His most recent publications are ‘Handy’ (Teleport Magazine) and The DeDramafi (The Write Launch), upcoming in Storylandia Issue 36. In 2021, New Lit Salon Press will publish his collection Enjoy Pleasurable Death and Other Stories that Will Kill You. Visit his Facebook page @WriterJhon.
Aydin Behnam is an Iranian-Canadian writer and English instructor who currently lives in Istanbul, teaching English at the Koç University English Language Centre. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. He was the recipient of the 2007 Vice Chancellor’s Award from the Science University of Malaysia, which included a full scholarship.
maintaining social distance through the language of longitudes
Paused in quiet like pre-quarantine
and stay-at-home, the sky is an aviary of
normalcy with robins, crows, doves, and sparrows.
Distanced from touch of others, we honey
each call and Zoom in gratitude. We bike the neighborhood,
masked like bandits, honoring the simpler times.
If anxiety holds us, burrow from its arms like daffodils bloomed,
careful to never forget each breath a blessing.
My father prepares what will be his summer garden
digging the soft ground, pausing, looking up and then
down. I approach and watch. I want to drown in the
trivialities of everyday. I want the luxury of benign concerns
from a distance. My father turns around and sees me, drops
the shovel on the grass, shuffles down the small incline.
Ho! He calls to me and I wave. He stretches out his arms, an instinct
from the distance of safer days. I shake my head no. He looks at me as if for the first time.
I have broken the shutdown rules
to visit my mother, who isn’t well.
I have driven two hundred miles
to be with her and ease her suffering.
I don’t know what is happening—
no one knows. It’s out of our hands.
But I know my mother is happy to see me.
I will tell you sorrows and sun for destinations.
One of my neighbors pulled a rifle on another.
Seven chickens pock the coop at the heel of the road.
The renter planted three beds that have anxious green shoots.
Every day becomes again and is a world.
We stay on our screens with the logic that home
is a chance to pass between losses.
I say a prayer for tomorrow in a language I don’t understand.
All my life I will describe it, forget it and retrace it.
It’s the spring of songbirds and sirens.
Few walk the streets and if anyone smiles, you wouldn’t know —
behind bandanas, scarves, and hand sewn masks,
we do our best not to inhale or exhale the enemy.
Does it ride on a breeze? We don’t know. What could we know —
grocers are sudden heroes, rebellion is a visit to a barber, a hug can kill,
and our mischievous, submicroscopic slayer is holding up a mirror.
Who was ready to face this fragility? Who was ready to see —
their health is our health, our health is theirs.
It is a virus of two dimentiality,
cutting the trunks of trees, scything the stems
of every flower, mowing the grass
in the untrodden lawn, pushing everything grown
back into the hard surface of a picture,
and there to freeze, only as one stain of color.
They say it deprives its victims the sense of smell,
while millions like us stay home, look at this photo
and say, well, thank God we did not catch the virus.
Some days feel like a sleepwalk through
a series of Munch’s paintings. The herbal emetic
of profit fueled by twin engines of selfish
algorithms in the time of weeping lilacs.
Maybe I’m a seagull guided by howling winds
before a late afternoon shower, shitting on sidewalks
and wanderers. Maybe tomorrow will bring dry coughs,
fevers, or the flat note of a bird’s last song.
I haven’t seen a soul for days, but I see angels and good spirits from each country.
I haven’t hugged my kids for weeks, but they know how much they are treasured.
I’m no longer allowed to step on campus, but more students/alumni write to me for guidance.
I haven’t been talking to neighbors, but a smile, a glance and a gesture is enough to stay in touch.
I haven’t danced flamenco since Tapestry closed, but I tap love & prayer to my dance mates with each step.
I haven’t sung in church for a while, but I sing with poetry as my daily communion with the universe.
We’re alone but never alone, as we embrace life with thoughts, words & deeds for peace.
O fire, golden
cage— cast before me
You are no sun—A beloved of stone,
let me gather my ashes
Smelled flowers are great, but those unsmelled, greater.
in a solitary room surrounded by another and another filled with the invisible
Pandemic is spiritual,
the Crowns of sorrow bent by rituals of ablution, ablution
my body porous to its sorrow
waiting to be written in the book
of life, or death,
angels of mercy vibrating in the air
we’re made of music, a concert
of angels in a time of pandemic,
a collaboration with the birds
migrating from open space to the next
wild dream where I hold your hand again,
and you whisper in my ear, we’ll make it
through, we’ll make it through
In the eveningland, children’s calls across fences,
the sun’s long shadow, a brushstroke of lavender.
This claustral air, the tooth-sinking, water-wanting
craving of a body. Stranded in a sea of distant bodies.
Among dangling dreams wrapped in cotton,
still hungry, the future watches.
Index of Contributors
I. Juan J. Morales
II. Michelle Messina Reale
III. Thaddeus Rutkowski
IV. Lauren Camp
V. Haleh Liza Gafori
VI. Nazmi Ağıl
VII. John Casquarelli
VIII. Wang Ping
IX. Adeeba Shahid Talukder
X. Murat Nemet-Nejat
XI. Lee Herrick
XII. Clara Burghelea
Sevda Akyuz (Turkish)
Paola Martani (Italian)
Jhon Sanchez (Spanish)
Aydin Benham (Farsi)