Category: Europa

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Willis and Tony Barnstone, Poets, Scholars, Translators, and Artists


Willis and Tony Barnstone

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Willis and Tony Barnstone, Poets, Scholars, Translators, and Artists

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Click here to read Willis Barnstone’s poems Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

Click here to read Tony Barnstone’s poems in Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: Let’s begin with a question for Willis: You’ve met and worked with many renowned persons of our time. In 1981, you conducted a lengthy interview with Jorge Luis Borges, where he says: “Personally, I suppose all writers are writing the same book over and over again. But I suspect that every generation rewrites, with very slight variations, what the other generations wrote. I don’t think a man can do much by himself, since after all, he has to use a language, and that language is a tradition. Of course he may change that tradition, but at the same time that tradition takes for granted all that came before it.” In your view, have today’s writers changed literary traditions for better or worse?

WB: You ask me about today’s writers. I have to say that I’m quite old-fashioned. I mean, for me, Hart Crane is a modern poet; in part because I find so much modern poetry to be stunt poetry, meaning it’s an exhibition, and it really doesn’t depend upon language as it depends upon circus, which is fine, but it doesn’t interest me too much. I’d rather read Sappho or Homer.

DG: That’s interesting. Those are strong traditions. So, in your view, modern writers haven’t exactly taken advantage of this tradition in the best possible way?

WB: Well, no, not all writers, but many of the most popular ones. I mean, today, I had a long conversation with my friend Khaled Mattawa, who was my student at Indiana university, and I got his first book published, and he feels the same as I do—that people tend to be on the illiterate side. They don’t read Sappho—if they’ve ever heard of her. I’m a kind of pedant. You know, I don’t mind being pedantic.

DG: Let’s talk about that and about Borges perhaps. You met him in 1968 in New York and the two of you went on to have a long friendship, in which you discussed this literary tradition—

WB: I spent a year in Argentina or so, and I lived exactly across the street from him. I brought him three times to Indiana to give talks. I went around the USA with him. We had a fun thing. When we got to New York, one of the questions from the audience was: “Mr. Borges, you know so many things. When will we ever finish the East Side Highway?” And he said to me: “What’s that woman talking about?”

TB: I remember when Borges was in Indiana, he was on stage, and someone from the audience asked him: “Mr. Borges, I wonder, was there ever a woman who for you was the quintessence of all womanhood, who was your Muse?” And he said: “Yes, in truth there was, but the strange thing is, she kept on changing her face.”

WB: I remember: “She kept changing her face and name.”

TB: And name, yeah.


Jorge Luis Borges with Willis Barnstone

DG: That’s a wonderful story.

WB: Borges also had this theory: He said that Charlie Chaplin was an outsider and had a very distinct view on humor, because he was a Jew, and Jews are on the outside of things, and, therefore, can laugh. Well, the fact is that Charlie Chaplin married two Jews, but he was from a Catholic family—he was self-educated, and brilliant, of course. As an acrobat, he was a master. He wrote the music, everything. But it wasn’t because he was Jewish, it was because he was Charlie Chaplin.

DG: Certainly, dual identities, and navigating that is certainly a tough task—

WB: I think you’re like Borges. You know so many languages—it’s popping out of your ears.

DG: English is my third language. It’s my native language, but it’s not my first one.

WB: It’s good to have a native language. We’re not happy without one, but the problem is when you’re like us—in what language do you dream? For years, I dreamed in Chinese, but always with a dictionary in my hand.

TB: One of my great anxiety dreams is I have to speak Chinese, and often what will happen is that it’ll come out in Chinese and when I forget the words, I’ll switch over to Spanish or Greek—in my dream—and then it’ll be so confusing, I’ll wake myself up.

WB: Tony was very good in Chinese, especially when it came to legalistic stuff, things like how much we have to pay for a room, because everybody was trying to cheat us, alas.

TB: The thing is that we were given special treatment as scholars from the West, as Fulbright Scholars. They gave us “Friends of China” status, which meant that we had what’s called the “white card,” and with a white card you could get Chinese prices as compared to Western prices—which meant sometimes the difference could be—

WB: Almost twice as much.

TB: Could be, yeah, sometimes the difference of a thousand percent in the price. And so, you would go to an expensive hotel and ask for the Chinese price, and first they’d say: “We’ll get you into a room.” But when you showed them the white card, they’d say: “Oh, I’m sorry, we’ve just filled up.” And then you’d have to argue. Just to have a place to stay the night. This is a long time ago.

DG: These are idiosyncrasies and peculiarities you can’t read about in books. You can only get them through stories. Let’s shift gears a little and talk about your recent work, Willis, Poets of the Bible: From Solomon’s Song of Songs to John’s Revelation, published in 2017. In the foreword, you wrote: “Bible speech is our atlas and guide to language, literature, and philosophy. The great voices in Genesis, Solomon, Job, and Psalms, and Gospels, Paul, and Revelation keep the biblical fountain flowing with magnificent speech. It continues in contemporary poetry from T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas to Joan Baez, John Lennon, Theodore Roethke, and C.K. Williams.” Would you say that declining religiosity might produce poorer literatures, or do you see faith and religious texts as independent things?

WB: Well, I think religiosity is a pejorative word. No, I don’t think that religion helps or hurts. It depends on who you are. If you’re good, you’re good. It doesn’t matter whether you are Catullus, or secular, or Sappho, who certainly was secular. If you’re good, you’re good, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing in Provencal, Italian, English, French, or Inuit language—whatever they write in. I say “whatever” because every twenty miles, it’s slightly different.

TB: Another way of thinking about it is that declining religiosity, or the undermining of the church because of Darwin and science, and so on—without that, you wouldn’t have the essential crises of morality, consciousness, and spirituality that gives us “The Waste Land,” or the terrible sonnets of Hopkins, for example, or the great poems of Matthew Arnold. My point is that the sea change caused even religious people to doubt their own religions, like T.S. Eliot did his childhood Unitarianism. So he converted to a conservative Anglicanism, with some forays into Indian Vedic Literature—The Upanishads, and so on—exploring world spirituality as options to a childhood religiosity, and that transition gave his work an arc, from the early poems of Prufrock, all the way through the Four Quartets. His example shows us the decline of faith, but also the reassertion of a certain necessity for faith in the end.

DG: That’s interesting because it’s this kind of difficulty—the crisis of the modern that makes a lot of this modern poetry possible. It ties in with what Willis said—this idea that it’s about who you are and not the religion itself. And so I’d like use this as a jumping off point: You’ve lived and worked in different parts of the world, and this exposed you to ideas and customs in a direct, tangible way. At the same time, you’re also a man of letters, having studied at the most prestigious institutions such Yale and Bowdoin College. You’ve seen the world through books and travel—the wisdom of experience and the tangible truth of the page. What’s a place and book that made a particularly strong impression on you?

WB: Well, I think the person who influenced me maybe most is Sappho, and she writes in a dialect of Greek—Aeolic Greek, which isn’t that different, if you learn a few consonantal changes. About religion, I think it’s probably done nine-tenths harm and one-tenth good, in terms of painting for example. Except in Greece, where you have the sculpture of Antiquity, which is infinitely beautiful. They rescued so much of it there when they had the 2004 Olympics, because they went underground, and all they found was marble statues. I think if you go to every great museum, about eighty percent of the pictures are religious, until you get into the middle of the 19th century, and it’s so repetitious, but also sometimes marvelous. Most of the time it’s not. And so, I don’t think religion in that sense has helped diversify the stories we can tell.

DG: Indeed, when something follows essentially the same formula, one can get overwhelmed by it.

WB: Much of it is New Testament, and I did a translation of the New Testament. It’s a two-thousand-page book attacking the outsider. And I could go into this at great length. I have lots of essays on it. I wish it were a good book, but Jesus does too much punishing.

DG: That has to be admitted. It’s like that. There’s very little of what you can do and a lot of what you can’t.

WB: Exactly, exactly.

DG: Let’s go back to you, Tony. I would like to ask you about your creative process. Your literary approach is multifaceted, in the sense that you prefer to blend various kinds of media with the written word. With Alexandra Eldridge, for example, you released The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity. You also wrote a collection of poems, of War From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, which later evolved into Tokyo Burning, an album of songs with John Clinebell and Ariana Hall, part of a duo called Genuine Brandish. Along with a discussion of these projects, what are other ways you’ve mixed literature with different arts, and do you prefer to start with the written word or to draw inspiration from another art form?

TB: The Radiant Tarot came about because I had the idea—what would it be like to publish a book of poems that was actually a deck of cards? A book that didn’t have a page order—a page numbering. You could shuffle the poems, and pull them out, like you might deal cards from a deck. I had the idea it might be interesting—it’s a bit like Rayuela or Hopscotch, the great novel by Julio Cortazar—to choose your own story. Or “The Garden of Bifurcating Paths” by Borges—the idea that you can find your own path through the story, and time, and the universe. And partly I was inspired by “The Waste Land,” where Tarot cards appear. You can think about the different scenes or different voices of “The Waste Land,” many of which could go back to Madam Sosotris’s reading of the cards, the drowning man, and so on, like cards. In this way, “The Waste Land” itself is a kind of shuffled deck, and a lot of that modernist collage from Paterson to The Cantos to The Sound and the Fury, or Ulysses, has that shuffled card effect. That was my interest. Then it slowly evolved, and it ended up being a Tarot deck, not a book of poems. I wrote the book that accompanied a Tarot deck. My friend Alexandra Eldridge made the wonderful art, and it turned into a twelve year journey together—about fifteen years since I started it—in which I delved into the history, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of creativity. So it becomes a Tarot of creativity—a Tarot which tries to get at what makes us creative. And what is the creative process? Without going into much detail, if you think about the four Tarot suits (which have evolved into spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs in the common deck of cards) the Wands, the Pentacles, the Swords, and the Cups are each associated with different mental acts, so that the cups are meditation and dreaming, the prewriting process, and the striking of inspiration, the charging forward, the fire of the creative process is the Wands. The process of revision and cutting back and rationality is the Swords, and the process of giving it all structure and grounding is the Pentacles. So I ended up making this Tarot, which is really for everybody, but especially for creative people. For every card I’ve created a creative prompt—a game, an act, or a journey you could apply to your life. They’re not all about sitting down and writing a poem, or making art. It’s really more about taking the ideas of the card, applying them creatively to your life, with the idea that your life itself could be your artwork, and you could be the creator of your life, just like you’re creating a work of art. That’s The Radiant Tarot in a nutshell.

DG: When you’re reading the work, you’re both discovering the work, but also discovering yourself in a sense. Both for you as an artist, but also the relationship between the reader and the text.

TB: Absolutely true. Think about the Tarot card as a Rorschach. You look at a Rorschach—there’s an old joke. A man goes into a psychologist’s office and says: “Well, I’ve been having all these strange dreams. I don’t know what to make of it.” The psychologist says: “Well, let’s do a little test. Here, look at this picture. It’s called a Rorschach. And what do you see?” The man says: “Well, I see a man and a woman making love.” The psychologist says: “Well, look at this next one. What do you see here?” The man says: “I see a man and another man and yet another man and a woman making love.” The psychologist says: “Okay. Look at this one. What do you see here?” The man says: “A man and a woman and a dog making love.” The psychologist says: “Well, I think I’ve diagnosed your problem—you’re a sexual addict.” The man says: “You’re calling me a sexual addict after showing me all these dirty pictures?” So, anyways, bad joke, but the point is that so much of what see in the cards comes from what’s in our mind. It’s just like theater exercises or art prompts or creative writing exercises. You drop a line into the unconscious and whatever deep sea fish is swimming around down there will grab the hook. You pull it out and the Tarot card is your fishing line.

DG: This leads into the next question of mindset, and what you feel in any given moment. I would like to ask you, Tony, talking about psychology and this sort of fishing hook into the psyche, there’s a story that you met the pilot of Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets, who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima—that must’ve been a pretty big fishing hook into your psyche. What was that meeting like, and for better or worse, what did you learn as a result of the encounter, and how did it change you?

TB: At that time, I was married to my college girlfriend, Ayame Fukuda, who was born in Japan, later naturalized as an American citizen, parents also born in Japan, and I was very close with my in-laws, my Japanese-American family, knowing that the children I thought we were going to have were going to be Eurasian, so sitting down at the dinner table with the man who dropped an atom bomb on a non-military target—creating a chain-reaction explosion that with the power of twenty-thousand tons of dynamite killed 130,000 people in an instant, plus all the people who died of radiation poisoning afterwards—it was a challenging moral moment for me. I felt I couldn’t just sit silently and be polite and have good dinner conversation with this “honored guest” who was brought to the college. I had to ask the question: “What do you think about these revisionist historians who question the morality of dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima?” And his response was: “If you could’ve seen the patriotism we felt—if you had seen our sincerity, you would never have asked that question. The days of knights meeting out on the field in one to one fighting, that’s long over. In total war, everyone is guilty, and everyone deserves to die.” Now, that’s a moral stance. That’s a very strong moral stance. You asked the question: “How did that make me feel?” Well, I mean, obviously I didn’t have much to say. I wasn’t going to argue with our distinguished guest, right? I did, at least, ask the question, and I got his response, and it made me really understand something key, which is that maybe the atom bomb sped up the end of the war, although some argue that, in fact, it didn’t—depends on the historian. If my father, for example, had gone off—he was of the age—to Japan and fought, well a million Americans, they say, would’ve died in the invasion of the home islands, and there is a good chance that I would never have been born. On the other hand, I was married to a Japanese American—my mother-in-law was from an old Samurai family, and it’s a complex mix of feelings. In some sense, I was on both sides of the war. It felt a bit like the perspectivism of Santayana and Nietzsche—this idea that your morality depends on your perspective. There’s the African proverb: “Until the lions learn to speak, the hunters will always be the heroes of the story.” And so, this launched me into the Tongue of War book, because I began to ask: “Well, what would Oppenheimer say? What would Gandhi say? What would Truman say? What would a Chinese prisoner of war say? What would a Japanese Kamikaze pilot say? What would they all say about these aspects of the war—the dropping of the bomb, the Rape of Nanjing, and so on. What would a prisoner of war who found himself released because the war had ended—what would the people in America who were dancing in the streets and celebrating after the dropping of the bomb, because finally this war is going to be over—say? What would a child walking through the streets of Hiroshima— watching people walking with their arms stretched out because their skin had been burned black, it chafed too much, it hurt too much for the skin to touch skin because their skin had been charred like a roast in an oven—say? What would all those people say? And so, this one perspective—this very intense perspective of Paul Tibbets launched me on this journey.

DG: A lot of people feel it was a necessary act, but it was truly courageous of you to ask that question, because, really, necessary for whom? That’s ultimately what we’re talking about. It certainly wasn’t necessary for the innocent Japanese people who had nothing to do with the war.

TB: Do you know why they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki?

DG: I know they dropped the bomb because it was a way of deterring the Soviets—

TB: From seizing more of the islands, because they understood the next conflict was going to be with the Soviet Union, but more specifically, why Nagasaki? Because the first two targets—

DG: Ah, yes, I know this story.

TB: You know the story?

DG: There was the cloud cover—

TB: That’s right.

DG: They moved the target and dropped the bomb on another city—I don’t remember which city they were initially supposed to drop it on—but they moved the target because the original city had been covered by clouds. And that’s fate for you.

TB: That’s fate. The clouds opened up just in time for them to drop the bomb. If the clouds had not opened up, 80,000 people in Nagasaki wouldn’t have died.

DG: And we’re talking about religion. Is this an act of God?

WB: I was with the Quakers—I’m not a Quaker, but I went to a Quaker school, and I worked for the American Friends Service Committee in many countries, especially Mexico, Spain, parts of Latin America, and so forth. I happened to be in an Indian village called Miacatlán. The only people who spoke Spanish were the doctor and the pharmacist. The rest spoke Aztec or Nahuatl—the ancient language—and it came over the radio that the bomb had dropped and the war was over. Most of people whom I was with were Quakers, but not the kind in the East, who were rich and sophisticated, but Central American, who didn’t believe in dancing or going to the movies, and all of them got on the table, and they sent me down to get Tequila, and we all screamed at the top of our lungs: “La bomba ha caído. Termina la Guerra.” “The bomb has dropped. The war is over”—in English and Spanish, and any language we could figure. So, it was a magnificent day for the rest of us. As far as the bomb goes, it’s a long story, as many people had been killed in Tokyo with all the radiation—

TB: In the firebombing of Tokyo, 100,000 people were burned to death in a firestorm.

WB: And the Japanese had tried to have poison gas blown to America so that all the people on the West Coast would die; unfortunately, the winds changed and blew it back on Japan, so they quickly got rid of it. I mean it was a ruthless war on all sides.

DG: Let’s hope we won’t have another—

WB: Hopefully there won’t be major ones, because the world will disappear. Look what’s going on right now. By the way, I just got this book—it’s a beautiful translation of Baudelaire, whom I’ve translated also, the complete poems. It’s by Aaron Poochigian.

DG: Ah, yes, I’ve heard of him. He’s posting on social media about that for some time. It’s such a pleasure to know that you have it, Willis. He’s working incredibly hard on that.

WB: Yes, yes.

DG: He’ll be glad to know that you have it.

TB: He’s a wonderful translator and he’s done many of the great classics.

DG: Willis, let’s transition back to China. You were in China during the Cultural Revolution and even translated some of Mao’s poetry before arriving. In a 2015 NY Times interview you stated that “Mao was an excellent poet behind the gibberish translation. It was the worst kind of Chinglish. If you are a writer, you can see the writing behind even a bad version. Most of his poems have a political element, but he never forgets to bring the classical gods in.” It’s also interesting that China—a country with such an ancient history—should have a language whose grammatical structure accommodates only the present. With respect to the past, how does Mao’s poetry measure up to the great historical voices of Du Fu or Su Dongpo, for example?

WB: Mao had an interesting life. He was a laundry man, of all things, poor. He slept in a bed with eight other people. When they wanted to turn, they had to give a message, and they’d all turn at once, or they’d all fall on the floor, kind of ridiculous. I thought he was a very good poet. I haven’t looked at his work in recent years, but I hold to that. The works are all political, and they refer to ancient Chinese gods, and they’re all based on ancient tradition.

DG: That’s interesting because this is an aspect of his life that many people don’t really know about—the fact that he did write poetry, and, like you said, his poetry isn’t actually that bad. One more question for you, Willis, before we transition back to Tony. So, Chinese poetry and actually Asian authors in general are largely ignored by Western academics—

WB: I don’t think so. On the contrary. It was Pound, Amy Lowell, the whole Bloomsbury group that discovered Chinese poetry, and Japanese, which gave them Imagism, and a whole new way of expressing picture poems in verse. No, I think Chinese poetry had an immense effect on Western poetry, in particular English poetry. I mention Amy Lowell and so forth, and Pound, of course.

DG: What I mean is that, of course, Chinese literature did influence many individual writers, especially those you mention, but what I’m saying is that the academy doesn’t study it often. We don’t really read translations of Chinese poets, for example, in an MFA program, or even Comparative Literature programs—

WB: That depends on which one it is. They certainly did in mine.

DG: So times have changed, then? When I was a teaching assistant at the comparative literature program at Cal State Long Beach, most of that was very Eurocentric, but it seems like in the past there was this emphasis, like you say—there was a focus on Eastern authors as well, yes?

WB: It’s not only Eastern authors, but also “Eastern” authors also in Europe, like Mayakovsky, and a whole gang of other marvelous poets, including Greek poets. I think in the 20th century—this is a generalization, but I stand by it—the greatest poetry, apart from English, was written by the Greeks and the Spaniards (Lorca, Jimenez). They had more Nobel Prizes than America has had, but America has never had a Nobel Prize in Poetry—

TB: Well, with the exception of Bob Dylan, because that’s songwriting, of course. And, actually, Louise Glück just won.

WB: That’s right!

TB: Now we have two.

DG: Times are a-changin’ and so I agree with you, Willis, it depends on where you are and who you’re studying with, but there should be more emphasis in general on Eastern literature, because it’s just as good, if not better sometimes. Let’s come back to you, Tony, but let’s stay with China. With your father, you spent one year in Beijing translating the work of Tang Dynasty poet, Wang Wei. Can you talk about those experiences, what you learned, and not just about translation but the overall culture in which you were situated, and how the approach in translating Chinese poetry differs from other translations? In other words, how close can an English version, for example, get to what you’ve called “the poem behind the poem?”

TB: It would help to define my terms a little bit. When I talk about the “poem behind the poem,” I go back to an idea that was prevalent in modernism—that, as Le Corbusier said, “a house is a machine for living in,” and a book is also a machine for understanding. As William Carlos Williams wrote, “a poem is a machine made out of words.” Well, if it’s a machine, it does work, and it does a particular kind of work. And if you translate a poem without translating the work that the poem does, then what ends up happening is you haven’t really translated what the poem’s function is, like for example, let’s say you translate the poem’s meaning—meaning by meaning, not just word by word, but meaning by meaning, phrase by phrase, image by image, and you get that all across in your English, but maybe the poem was really not about any of those things. Maybe the poem was really a sound poem, or maybe the poem was a formal poem in which the rhyme is really essential, or maybe like “Drinking Alone in the Moonlight,” by Li Bai for example, it’s a poem about the moon, but the word “moon” only appears once or twice in the poem, but the moon radical—Chinese characters are made up of radicals put together, like little pictograms—appears several times throughout the poem. And so, the poem has moonlight shining all the way through it. That’s the poem behind the poem. So, your job isn’t just to figure out what the poem says—that’s what CliffsNotes does to literature; it says: Here’s what you can write your paper about. So, it’s not just what the poem says, but what the poem does. If you’re translating the poem behind poem, that’s what you’re translating. When you come to Chinese poetry, that’s particularly hard, because compared to English, Chinese is immensely ambiguous, especially classical Chinese poetry. You often don’t know the number of things. Is it one crow and one tree, or is it many crows and many trees, or many crows and one tree? We don’t know, right? And so, there’s an incredible ambiguity—you can drop the pronouns, it can almost be just pure language in the five characters, or seven characters, or four characters of the line. It might be largely nouns, verbs, and adjectives—power words—with maybe a preposition or so, but these connectives that give it specificity in English are dropped out for a more precise, more intense vision in the poem. So, what do you do in English? How much of that ambiguity do you bring across without losing the poem’s meaning? Another question—is this really what the poem’s work is? Is this really what the machine of the poem is trying do? So, in the sense, the deeper question to ask yourself is: How can I translate the machine of the poem? And from Chinese to English it’s really hard as compared to, say, Spanish to English, where there’s so many cognates, and where the structure of the language is so similar.

DG: Indeed, the whole concept of the machine of the poem, not just the meaning, but what it’s doing, the process itself of the poem—it has many parts and they come together and it’s important not just to translate the parts, as you say, but what all the parts do—

TB: I’ll give you one quick example. There’s a poem by Su Dongpo that is a poem which can be read beginning to end, or end to beginning. Now, when you’re translating that poem, you better damn well make sure that your translation can be read the same way.

DG: That’s going to be quite a challenge.

TB: It’s a challenge. It’s a big challenge, but if you don’t live up to that challenge, you haven’t really translated the poem.

DG: Very interesting. Let’s stay with one more question for you and then we’ll jump back to Willis. Given all the fascinating things you’ve said about Chinese poetry, I’d like to talk about your anthology of Chinese poetry, The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry, covering 3000 years of literary tradition from the Book of Songs composed during the Zhou Dynasty to the Swiss-Chinese poet, Yang Lian. In the introduction, you write: “We have also attempted to adjust the canon, here and there, to shine a spotlight on fine poets whose work is often overlooked, and especially to make room for the poems of Chinese women.” Along with the difficult process of selecting, compiling, and editing this anthology, can you talk about how the activity of bringing less recognized Chinese writers to the forefront helped shape your own understanding the literary tradition, and how is their writing either stylistically different or similar to the more well-known names in the anthology?

TB: I think of the Chinese tradition in contrast to that of Japan, where sexism made the mainstream of Japanese literature female versus male. In Japan the male writers were so caught up in Chinese culture that they often wrote in Chinese, as a literary language—in the way that many writers through Milton and onward would write in Latin in addition to writing in English, but the real language of literature was supposed to be in Latin. Or like those Greeks who would write in the artificial language of Katharevousa versus Dimotiki (Demotic Greek), the clean, cleansed language of newspapers and politicians in which you couldn’t really write good poetry—so many examples of that. In Japan, because the women were often not educated in Chinese they wrote in Japanese, and because they were writing in their home language they wrote better literature, and they’re now remembered when a lot of the men are forgotten, so fascinating. But in China, a lot of women were not educated. Sometimes scholars would educate their daughters, and so on, but it was—remember that education in the arts in China was the high road to political promotion, because it was part of the Confucian classics that you had to study, the memorization of The Book of Songs, imperial anthologies, calligraphy, and musical ability, this is what in the West we would call the “renaissance man,” but in China it was a necessary part of passing your imperial exams in order to be promoted up in the government—not something that women could do, unless you happened to be the empress and the emperor died in which case you could run the country as the Empress Dowager, but that was rare. So, therefore, women’s literature wasn’t preserved; it was often written but not preserved in the way that men’s literature was. I’ll give you an example: There’s the Nüshu, the woman’s writing, where women in the west of China created their own language, and would write in this women’s language poems of love, poems of friendship, elegies, and so on, that were so important to them that knowing they would never be published, never be part of the literary tradition, they often would take their books of poetry and ask to be buried with them or burned with them upon their death. So there’s a great literature in China—a great women’s literature in China, and guess where it is? It’s ash in the sky. It’s rotting in the ground, underground. Yet some women’s literature still does survive. It may be that Li Qingzhao only has fifty or some poems that survive versus Lu You who has over a couple thousand, but every one of her poems is better than every one of his. So, I’m happy to emphasize her work over his, even though fewer of hers survive.

DG: That’s fascinating. Talking about women, we spoke about Sappho as well. Much of her work is just fragments, and it doesn’t exist anymore. Only God knows how much better she would be if we had the complete collection, all the work?

WB: We still have enough to make her the best of all, the best we ever had and have.

TB: It’s a process of literary reconstruction, right, Willis? You work with the fragments and fill in the gaps.

WB: If you have any knowledge of Greek, you can save so many poems, as I did.

DG: You have to recover as much as you can.

WB: One thing, however. If you have a son as smart as Tony, you better watch out. You’re in trouble.

DG: Aha, but this competition is a healthy competition. It leads to a lot of positive creative developments and breakthroughs, so this is quite good. Let’s come back to you, Willis, and go to a different continent now, Africa, where you also traveled extensively. You spent a lot of time in Kenya, for example, and your sequence of poems, African Bestiary, contains sonnets as well as invented forms. Can you talk about your travels throughout Africa, the uniqueness of this land, how it influenced the poems you wrote, and some of the forms you invented for this particular sequence?

WB: Well, I first began going to North Africa, back in 1951, and I kept going to Tangier, which is a fascinating city where the exiles of former kings and counts—from Eastern Europe, especially, but also some from Western Europe, French—went because they had no taxation, so they could make as much money, inherit as much money, and not give anything back. I loved being there. I loved the meals, everything. Later, Tony came up with the idea of going to Africa, and he said you have about twenty minutes to decide, and so we went. It was the most magnificent experience. We saw not only Kenya in the end. We also saw Tanzania. We went down as far as Zanzibar. We were in the middle of the Indian Sea, and a boat came by with about fifty or a hundred college girls, and Tony went off, saying: “See you soon, Willis.” And fortunately, I had—

TB: I don’t remember that.

WB: I had rubber fins to keep me floating because we had been towed up by a motorboat—it was impossible to get back to shore on my own. And I thought: “What a wonderful way to die out here in the sea.” But after a few hours or so Tony came back, and we had a great time. We continued, and I hope he had a good time with the women. I don’t think he ever told me, but Tony—

TB: I don’t remember any of that, but I do remember going to the island that we swam to and seeing the giant sea tortoises there.

WB: Yeah.

TB: I remember that.

WB: He must have been intoxicated—totally intoxicated by the lovely, young American women.

TB: I think Willis had an erotic dream and placed me in it.

DG: Aha! You’re still here, Willis. You made it through all of it. You’ve been everywhere and lived to tell about it all. You wrote about it, so you’ve truly seen and done everything there’s to do.

WB: I’ve never been to the South Pole—

DG: There’s still time, Willis. There’s still time. God willing—

TB: One quick thing about Africa. When we went to Kenya and Tanzania, and especially in Kenya, we did an extensive amount of touring of the game parks, along with birding at Lake Baringo, as well. So we would be in our truck, our Jeep, and we would be driving along with our guide through the Savannah—who was named Moses, which was appropriate. And so, Moses would be taking us along, and I would be like: “Look, Willis, a rhinoceros. Look, Willis, a leopard. Look, Willis, an ostrich.” And Willis would be writing sonnets in his notebook. He would look at the animal and then look away from the animal to write it all down. He spent his whole time writing, but he enjoyed it too. This book came very much out of his focus to write a bestiary.

DG: There was a poem about a hippo that you sent me, Willis, with your illustration that was quite nice. I like that poem, and now I know where all the inspiration came from. Tony was directing your inspiration there.

WB: We had a marvelous time. I remember in Zanzibar we each bought shoes to go on our rough feet. I think we paid about a dollar or fifty cents for them. They were lousy but at least we had something to protect our feet. The Africans were so sweet. They were poor. They ate too much meat. When we left, they treated us to a big free meal at a restaurant called something like—

TB: It was called Carnivore. It was a place where you would go to eat unusual animals, like ostrich, or crocodile.

WB: Crocodile tongue.

TB: Crocodile, or wildebeest, yeah.

DG: Truly an experience. This is not something you can get from books. You can only get it from people who’ve been there, like you. And so, I want to ask you, Willis, would you say you learned more about the world through your travels or books. If you had to have one or the other—is travel more essential to the human experience or books?

WB: I think it’s an unfair question because—

DG: It is. It is. I admit: It’s an unfair question, but you’re the perfect person for it. You’re both well-read, and you’re also well-traveled.

WB: If you’re not well-read, you can’t do anything with travel, and if you haven’t traveled what you read isn’t necessarily superficial, but it lacks a lot of very emotional and pictorial truths, which you only get by being there.

DG: That’s a perfect answer. I agree with you, because you miss much of the context in which that literature is written.

WB: The Romantics had—I mean Keats was marvelous but he hadn’t been to many of the places he wrote about. At least he ended up in Rome, and sadly died so young.

DG: Shelley, on the other hand, didn’t make it.

WB: The wind was too strong. He drowned.

DG: One more question for you, Willis. We’re basically at the end. We’ve done a good job.

WB: We’ve gone so fast through an hour? Is there no way of expanding time?

DG: Time is time. We can neither shorten nor lengthen it. Let’s go to the last frontier. Let’s go to the New World. Let’s go to America. I would like to talk about something quintessentially American. So from Africa we jump to America and Babe Ruth. It seems like you knew him. Did you really live in the same building, and do you have any interesting stories?

WB: I did live in the same building, on 90th and Riverside, which went from 90th to 89th. He lived on the 89th street side, and what happened was I was ten years old, and the doorman said: “Hey, kid, we’re going up to the Babe’s.” We crossed the little place there, the courtyard, we go up to the 18th floor. He had the penthouse up there, in a very big place. And when I went in, there were twenty or thirty photographers. It was 1939, just before the war started, and he had been an orphan himself. Very poor as he started out. He had sympathy for the poor, believe it or not, even though he was one of the richest baseball players. He loved women. He loved alcohol—

DG: And cigars.

WB: So, anyway, they took the picture, and it appeared on the front pages of most newspapers, and so I became famous for a day. When I got back to the World’s Fair (1939-1940), we picked up Pepsi and Coke bottles and sold them for two cents each at the local grocery, so we could get rich and pay our way back on the trains. It was great fun in those days.


(Willis Barnstone, left, with Babe Ruth)

 

From Willis Barnstone’s STICKBALL ON 88TH STREET

The Building

Babe Ruth lives on the other
side of the court. His brother-in-law

jumped from the 18th
story into the handball

area where play until tenants
got angry. I heard the thump

when I was in
bed. The Babe gave

me a baseball diploma. The same
elevatorman, Joe, who slapped for

not being nice to
Jerry (it wasn’t true)

took me upstairs to the Babe’s
for the photos in the Daily News.

Sunday afternoon we hear
Father Coughlin and Hitler

live, shrieking on the radio. Everyone
hates Hitler. Comes a strike, new

men keep billy clubs
by the doors. I

like the scabs same as Ruddy
and Joe outside to whom we

bring sandwiches. I heard
Ruddy got hit trying to

bust in. They almost broke
his head. It’s funny for men

to ride me up
the elevator. I always

run downstairs. They slow me down
as I race for the outside

into the north pole
wind and the gully.

But often I spend the afternoon
in a corner of the elevator,

going up and down
in the tired coffin.

When no one else is riding,
they let me close the brass

gate. I do it
like a grown man.

 

DG: Indeed. These stories are equal to the ones you and Tony told about Africa, and they’re quintessentially American. Thank you for that. Let’s transition back to you now, Tony. In staying with the American theme, I’d like to talk about your 2006 collection, Golem of Los Angeles, which won Red Hen’s Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, and contains a powerful poem, “Parable in Praise of Violence,” featuring the following epigraph by H. Rap Brown: “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Throughout the poem you sarcastically give thanks for all the greatness and depravity produced on these shores, but the fourth stanza is especially powerful: “My life is like a loaded gun, and when I aim it at you / I hope to take off the top of your head, / no safety on, no playing nice, just the spark, / the flash, the damage, just red American / cherry pie violence.” Did you compose the poem as a response to something specific or was it more a state of mind back then, and how do you feel about all that today, when things aren’t exactly improving—do you manage to retain a sense of optimism?

TB: Part of it, of course, is the reference to the Dickinson poem—“my life was like a loaded gun,” a very interesting poem. But for me, it also goes back to the idea of the poem being a machine made out of words. And one kind of machine, of course, is the gun. Like the gun, like the violence of the gun, the poem itself, as a machine, may not take off the top off your heads—”I know it’s poetry if it takes off the top off my head,” as Dickinson writes. It may not actually take off the top of your head, but it can give you that sense of almost violent ecstasy. The poem can ravish you emotionally. For me, from the very beginning, I wanted my poetry to do something, not just be polite—nice, domestic poetry that didn’t actually move the emotions and challenge you intellectually. So, there’s that. But on the other side of the question is the way in which, at that time and especially today, the American obsession with violence—particularly with guns and using guns as part of our revolutionary consciousness—permeates so many levels of society. I think we have been a sold a story of America, one story of America, whereas there are many stories of America that could be told—as can be seen with the current debate about critical race theory. But one story of America is that it was an enlightenment project, a revolutionary project against the order of absolute monarchs, or limited monarchy such as in England, and of despotic rule, culminating in a move towards the democratic representation of the people that started out with only white males of a certain economic level who could vote, and slowly that expanded to the rest of Americans, except for children, of course. Yet, that story of the Revolution, that story of the justifiable revolution against the father country, against the king, where we take up arms against oppression, has so permeated American consciousness, it has so become our “rebel without a cause,” not to mention the “movies” that are constantly sold to us about these violent men who create Second Amendment solutions to social problems, who are basically, if you think about it, no different in their own way than those men who put on white hoods and lynched African Americans, Jews, and others they considered undesirable—the lynchings in the Old South—that vigilante justice is at the core of the story Americans tell about themselves, and especially how it ties into our idea that the three hundred or so million guns owned by Americans are a bulwark against an oppressive government. And what’s happening right now, sadly, is that because of the pervasive propaganda, the disinformation of right-wing media has sold Americans a story that their government has been taken away from them, and they need to threaten death against election workers, politicians—they need to be ready to take up arms, as they did on January 6th, and storm Congress to take back America, just like the American Revolutionaries had to do against King George. That story is being told to us. It’s all a lie. But Americans sadly enough, if they get their news from the wrong place, they will get that propaganda, and they will believe it’s true, and they’ll be willing to kill each other. That’s why violence is as American as cherry pie. It’s our essential story. We need to take up violence, take up guns, take up arms, against oppression, even if that oppression doesn’t exist, even if the people we’re taking up arms against are, in fact, the victims. So, sadly enough—obviously I’m worked up about this—we’re in a bad place in America. We might be at the end of democracy. And I hope not.

WB: I don’t think that’s true. I mean it’s something that anyone who went to junior high school should know, but the notion of the Second Amendment giving people the right to have guns is not in the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment was written because—I think it was in 1812 or 1810 that they thought the English were going to attack again and try to reconquer the States, or America, whatever you want to call it. And it said they could have militias—it did not say people could have guns, and it was only for a special purpose of fighting the British, and so this misleading idea that it gave single people the right to have guns is just nonsense.

TB: And the supposedly originalist Supreme Court justices who said we have to go back to the context in which the laws were written ignore that history, because it doesn’t fit with their preferred story.

DG: I agree. The laws were written for a certain time. We can’t apply the standards of one time onto another.

WB: Right, and it isn’t only that it didn’t say that—it didn’t even say that because it doesn’t deal with the question of personal ownership. It doesn’t say you can’t have guns. It only says you can form militias.

TB: Dark image to end the interview on. Do you want to ask another question, so we end on something lighter?

DG: I have two more questions. For you and Willis. Are you reading or working on anything at the moment, Willis? What are you up to these days?

WB: I’m up to about three books. I did a book on Apollinaire—a translation with many illustrations. I finished my Baudelaire translation, again with paintings, and right now I am just tuning up with Tony’s help to make it all stay in place—these are big books—a 656-page book called Magic Couplets: Portraits of Poets

TB: Beautiful paintings he made, and with couplets.

DG: Yeah, the stuff you’ve been sending me, Willis, the illustrations, the poems—you’re incredibly active. You work on every level—

WB: I’m only 94 years old—give me a break.

DG: You work like you’re 55. That’s what I’m trying to say. You’re incredible. The energy you have. The vitality with which you produce the work is just incredible. May we all reach that point. May we all have a little bit of the blessing that you’ve had. Keep on going, Willis. All the power to you. You will write more books. You may even make it to Antarctica. Who knows?

WB: I’ll tell you a funny story, if there’s time for it. When I was 20, I went to spend a year in the Doctoral Program at the Sorbonne. At 21, I went to Greece, and Louis MacNeice, the poet, was then head of the British Institute. And in those days, everybody knew everybody. The world was small. If you wanted to get in touch with Camus, you wrote him a letter, and he answered you within twenty-four hours. I had wonderful correspondence with everybody. And so, MacNeice, said: “Willis, you know, I’m here, head of the British Institute. I taught Greek history and translated plays from Ancient Greek all my life, and here we are, and I’ve never climbed the fucking Acropolis.” In those days, they didn’t have roads to go up there, because they didn’t want the Turks to bring their big guns up top again. So it was a farce, this thing—MacNeice was a man of about 6’3 or 4, handsome guy, and we’re walking together, and he trips and falls. His head is full of blood. He takes his handkerchief—there’s a huge smile on his face. He takes his handkerchief out of his—in those days, you know, everyone who climbed the Acropolis had a three-piece suit on, and so he takes his handkerchief, wipes the blood of his face, and he says: “I’ve come to Greece. I’ve climbed the Acropolis. And bathed myself in blood and marble.” The image of blood and marble is memorable.

TB: Let me tell a very fast anecdote. I was walking through the streets of Athens with my ex-girlfriend and her nephew. He was six years old at the time. And we look through the streets, and up the hill we see on top of the hill—the child says: “Look, look, over there, you can see the apocalypse!”

WB: He was a Bible scholar, obviously …. Heaven is described terribly in the New Testament. I translated the New Testament—2000 pages—and you know, there’s nothing to eat up there, because the walls are made of diamonds, the floors of gold, etc. You can’t get much food growing in pure, rich, wealth of stones. It doesn’t work, so better go to Hell where you can roast things—you can roast lousy hamburgers on the fire, unless you’re with Dante.

TB: It’s like an old joke, but I won’t tell the joke, but it’s like an old joke I could tell you.

DG: Well, well, guys, we’ve come a long way. I’d like to ask you the same question, Tony: What are you working on? You’re helping Willis, and it would also be nice to hear something about your own projects. This is a nice note to end on.

TB: Sure. Four things right now, which is actually less than normal. Usually, I’m working on about fifteen, but a lot of them have come to fruition. One: I just published a translation of the Urdu ghazals of the great Kashmiri poet, Ghalib, and that just came out with White Pine Press. That took a good fifteen years or so. I’m really happy to have that out—

DG: Congratulations.

TB: Thank you. My co-translation is with Bilal Shaw—a good friend of mine. I’m writing children’s poetry. I’ve written a book of children’s poetry. I’m collaborating with my niece, Maya Barnstone, who’s a wonderful young artist who lives in Sydney Australia, and so that’s going to be a really exciting project. We hope to get the book illustrated within a year and start sending it out. Here’s one poem:

I’ve also written an ABC of animals that I illustrated myself. Here is “N is the Nightingale”:

The other thing I’m working on—a very large critical book about William Carlos Williams that uses Williams as a lens to open up modernism, within the question of how the arts and humanities relate to technoscience, and the battle for authority between, let’s say, science and technology on the one hand, and poetry, art, and philosophy on the other hand. And the ways in which they began to—you know, the machine made out of words. When Williams talks about that, he’s appropriating the language. He’s doing the intellectual appropriation of technology, so as to give poetry the aura of the machine. Poetry in the machine age, or the authority of science. It’s a long story and a big book that starts with Bacon and goes all the way through the atom bomb. It’s a big project.

WB: What are you working on?

DG: I’m living in Italy, Willis. I’m working on interviews. I’m having fun interviewing incredible people like you. I’m focused on my writing and teaching English here to Italians. It’s all going well. Thank you so much for asking, Willis. It’s going well. It’s going about as well as it can.

WB: Yes.

TB: There’s a lot of room for good translations of contemporary Italian poets.

DG: There is. There is. I just have to pick up the language a little bit more. I’m not quite at that level.

TB: Indeed. Oh, I did want to mention one other project I forgot to mention.

DG: Sure.

TB: The other last project I’m working on—I’ve finished a book of new poems. And as you could probably hear from what I was saying before, it’s very much a response to where are in the current moment politically, to four years of Trump, and the certain rhetoric of violence, the decline of democratic norms, the fear of the end of democracy that we seem to be spinning towards, the era of climate change, environmental degradation and disaster. “Look, you can see the apocalypse!” Right? That sense of difficult times that we’re living through right now, and that’s really what the book’s premise is about.

DG: That’s fascinating, Tony. Probably the Greeks—they would’ve perhaps had better solutions. They’re an ancient people, but, in a sense, perhaps, they would’ve been more in tune, more in touch with how to solve these problems because they had a complete education. They focused on the whole individual. They didn’t just focus on the so-called mental aspect of education—they cared for the spiritual, the physical side of the individual, which are things we neglect, and perhaps this is why we’re in the state we’re in today. We are focused on science, but we neglect the spiritual side of our own being, and that’s maybe why have these disasters—COVID is a product of science. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to the question. All I know is that we have to try and get out of this conundrum.

TB: It could be that we’re living inside a Greek tragedy.

DG: Maybe. Maybe. Yeah, like Huxley said: Maybe this world is another planet’s hell. Who knows? No one really knows, but somehow we have to persevere and make do. We have to stay positive. Thank you so much. It’s truly been a pleasure, Tony, Willis. With immense gratitude from the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate it. This has been an incredibly positive experience for me. I wish you, Tony, all the best with your projects. Willis, likewise. I wish you all the best. I look forward to seeing more of your poems, more of your illustrations, more of your books. I’m sure that will happen.

TB: Thank you, David. Thank you for all that you do.

DG: Be well.

WB: And as I say to my good friends: “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

DG: I won’t, Willis. I won’t.

 

 

About Willis Barnstone

About Tony Barnstone

 

Ant by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, an Anthology Collected and Edited by the Author’s Great-Great Niece, Jean Findlay, revi...

C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Translator, Poet, Critic, WWI War Hero 

Best known for bringing Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (also known as In Search of Lost Time) into English for the first time.

 

Ant by C.K. Scott Moncrieff

An anthology of Moncrieff’s work, compiled and edited by Jean Findlay (the author’s great-great niece) written in his youth, during the war, and afterwards.

Reviewed by David Garyan

 

Price Beyond Rubies: On Writing “The Hat Jewel,” an article by Jean Findlay, published by Interlitq
Read Jean Findlay’s Interview with David Garyan, published by Interlitq
Read David Garyan’s review of Jean Findlay’s biography on C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Chasing Lost Time
Read David Garyan’s review of Jean Findlay’s novel The Queen’s Lender

 

The Review

It has become an indisputable maxim, at least in the Western literary tradition, to separate the author from the work he or she has written. Unlike Chinese culture, which views the writer as inextricably linked to the literature he has produced, our own academies treat the text as the sole “living” entity—in that sense, the single credible source from which readers should derive literary meaning. “The author is dead,” remarked the French literary critic, Roland Barthes, a man only born into this world when C.K. Scott Moncrieff was already twenty-six years old, and had, by that time, seen action in France as a commissioned officer. Moncrieff, however, though severely injured, died neither as a person nor as an author, and along with the work he managed to publish during his military service, he later went on to have a flourishing literary career as a translator of French and Italian literature, along with establishing himself as a trusted critic.

The poems and short stories, collected and edited in Ant by Jean Findlay (the great-great niece of Moncrieff) are a testament, firstly, not just to the author’s vitality, life, and perseverance, but secondly, and more importantly, the assembled literature also proves a more general point: It’s futile and perhaps also impossible to separate the author from his own creation. C.K. Scott Moncrieff was a man both of his time and likewise a man out of time, an individual of paradoxes and contradictions—a devout Catholic and unrepentant homosexual, a steadfast war hero and also the most tender love poet, an open individual unafraid to show emotion but also a spy who both preferred and also had to keep many secrets to himself. Suffice it to say, there was no one else better equipped to write the philosophical insights, vivid descriptions of humanity, and observations about the natural world we find in Ant than C.K. Scott Moncrieff.

While the majority of the work collected here has been published in various prestigious literary magazines of Moncrieff’s time, including T.S. Eliot’s New Criterion, it’s ultimately the job of the editor to assemble them in such a way that does justice to Moncrieff’s artistic vision, and this is something Jean Findlay has certainly done. It’s a great relief to know that the collection isn’t organized chronologically, but rather thematically. We enter the author’s literary world through his short stories, and the first one, in this respect, is “Evensonge and Morwesong,” a piece Moncrieff wrote while studying at Winchester, the most prestigious boarding school in the UK. In this work, he decries the hypocrisy of the master, deals with homosexual themes, and exposes the snobbery of such institutions. Moncrieff writes: “As he was transcribing the address this most consummate of headmasters received an unpleasant shock … a picture of two boys in a thicket; of the one’s charming nonchalance; of terror sickening the other, a child that had just lost its soul.” Here, Carruthers, the school master, has punished two boys for essentially the same act he himself committed; he’s reminded of this by a photo he’d long forgotten, and we find out that one of the pupils being punished is, in fact, the son of the boy he himself seduced.

As we reach the end, Jean Findlay reminds us that Moncrieff published this story in 1908, and the fact that the book opens with one of the first things Moncrieff ever wrote is only a coincidence. It’s a larger testament to the courage and openness that would make the author in question not only an excellent solider, but also a sharp, observant translator and critic. The story, in a sense, both defines the man known as C.K. Scott Moncrieff, as it reveals to readers his uncompromising, brave search for truth, and yet it also doesn’t define him, precisely because his failure to get into Oxford as a result of the story’s publication doesn’t go on to stop him from becoming one of the foremost literary figures of not only his generation, but also ours.

We subsequently jump fourteen years in time to the story “Mortmain,” published by G.K. Chesterton’s The New Witness in 1922. The main character, a soldier named Farleigh Bennett, has been seriously wounded and is preparing to undergo surgery. The injuries are so bad “as to make amputation the one possible remedy,” and it’s further unfortunate that he “had not been wounded in any glorious encounter; a bomb badly thrown by a man of his own Company had fallen back at his feet from the parapet and, while he groped for it in the dark trench, had exploded actually under his right hand.” This work is a prime example of how the author is so intimately connected to his work. Moncrieff himself, according to Jean Findlay’s biography, Chasing Lost Time, was wounded by a “British shell aimed at the German trench [which] fell short and exploded in front of him.” The brave officer was nominated for a medal, but as Findlay writes: “Charles initially refused the award because he was injured by his own barrage, and because he did not think himself more deserving than anyone else.” We hence see—and this very clearly—how the author’s life and experiences are at once present in “Mortmain.” While Moncrieff, unlike his character Bennett, never lost his own limb, his own injuries were nevertheless permanently disfiguring, and it’s not difficult to imagine how he, similarly to Bennett, may have perceived his own leg to be a separate, independent entity from the rest of his body, unable to find coordination with the whole. Thus, the story’s supernatural element of the limb having its own life serves as a parallel for the author’s private struggle to “start” a new life after the war, while simultaneously having to bear the burden of the old one as well.

After “Mortmain,” we jump four more years ahead in time to “Cousin Fanny and Cousin Annie.” Published in 1926 by T.S. Eliot’s New Criterion, this story is perhaps the most touching, yet bittersweet in the entire collection. Crafted with Proustian-like memories of childhood that influence the future, we follow Alec, who spends many of his days with Cousin Fanny and Cousin Annie, mainly because his parents travel to India. Recollections of Cousin Annie’s generosity towards him, and Cousin Fanny’s mother dying on the Queen’s birthday, along with memories of his own birthday, serve to emphasize the borders between life and death.

Alec grows up and joins the war effort, and except for one visit during this period, he gradually loses touch with both Fanny and Annie. Memories, however, of the generosity they had shown before his leave for school—how Cousin Fanny had given him “a pound, which he didn’t quite like to take if she was so poor, except that he needed it, really, more than she did,” and how Annie had given him “a huge cake which she had baked for him”—trigger a desire to visit them once more. When he does, however, it’s already too late, as Annie has died, and this leaves Alec feeling incredibly upset: “Every single day since her childhood Annie had had to prepare all her own meals, and, until extreme old age, other people’s as well. He thought of all the services that had been rendered him every day of his life, at school and in the army, and how easily he had taken it. What had he ever given Annie? Kisses, when he was little; and a china dog—and she had spent every moment when she was not in her kitchen by his bedside when he was ill. Why this was the bed he had been ill in.” When he meets Fanny and tells her that Annie has passed away, he’s surprised at her heartlessness: “Well, we must all die some time, I suppose.” The story is fascinating because while it does closely resemble the sentiments and nature which formed the author’s own character, the resemblance is exactly the opposite. In other words, the author, during his own life, was completely devoted to taking care of his family, relatives, and friends.

In her biography, Findlay recalls a time when Moncrieff’s brother, John, accidentally killed himself while cleaning a gun; upon receiving the news, the grief-stricken man promised to do everything in his power to support his family, and he wrote the following to his brother’s widow, Anna: “I swear to you that as long as I live I will do all I possibly can to be a father to them [the children] and a helper to you.” Indeed, we would never expect these words or actions to emanate from a character like Alec, who, in the author’s words, accepts services of support easily and without second thought, but it’s precisely this reversal which shows us the traits that Moncrieff himself admired—honor, commitment, and sacrifice for the family.

From the section “Short Stories,” the collection moves to “War Serials,” and while war does also feature in works like the aforementioned “Mortmain” and “Cousin Fanny and Cousin Annie,” the pieces in this section are assembled in a way that brings forth the potent descriptive powers Moncrieff had as a writer. We begin with “Halloween,” which is, as Findlay writes in the anthology’s introduction, “a weekly story for the New Witness,” that Moncrieff wrote “while in the trenches and on sick leave with trench foot in 1916.” The story revolves around the main character, Allison, a soldier moving with his Company through Belgium towards the city of Ypres, in preparation for battle there.

The scene is both tranquil and chaotic, which mirrored Moncrieff’s own experiences in war. He was known to raise the spirits of soldiers by reading literature to them, but was at the same time calm under fire, always demonstrating the highest level of courage in dangerous situations. As he once wrote to his mother in an October 27th, 1914, letter: “There is something rather stimulating in being under fire.” As the war dragged on, however, this “stimulation” naturally turned into contempt, and finally into weariness; through it all, however, courageous Moncrieff remained, and, in fact, so does his main character, Allison, who states how he’d “grown savage now after a whack on the head from some passing projective, drove the scattered troopers—they were calmly sitting here and there among his own Jocks—like sheep before him on to the road—where they fell in and duly disappeared.” With the same courage our author demonstrated during the war, Alison goes on to describe his situation: “And now we ourselves were neatly sandwiched: for our guns had begun to shell an outlying row of houses just behind us while the enemy plastered the town and the fields in front. But we got out somehow, and by midday were spread out in front of the Steenebeek, and digging ourselves in for dear life with our entrenching tools.” Indeed, Moncrieff himself would’ve been no stranger to such experiences, and neither would the men under his command; the story, thus, brings to life not only the individual who was C.K. Scott Moncrieff, but also paints—and that precisely—a vivid account of the war; this is another instance where the author can be said to be inextricably linked to the work he has produced.

Moncrieff’s insights about people and his understanding of human nature are further highlighted in the war serial, “On Being Wounded,” which starts this way: “It is extremely interesting to have seen the business of being wounded from the point of view of a casualty. For those who only know the wounded soldier as a carefully washed individual ministered to by efficient nurses and seen against the staged background of a ward filled with sunlight and bright flowers, the reality of the thing cannot exist.” Many subtle things are happening here, and perhaps there are also aspects of his personality that Moncrieff himself would become aware of only later. It’s important to understand that our author, especially in his later years—but not only then—lived a life which was incredibly transparent and emotionally open, yet at the same time that life was also one of secrecy and necessary evasion: He was a poet, comfortable enough to reveal his own thoughts and feelings—to publish them as well; yet, he had to keep his homosexuality private. Later, he slowly began to be more comfortable with his own identity, revealing also that aspect of himself, but there was now something even more compromising than his sexual orientation—he’d become a spy, and truly, no one could know about that.

Moncrieff became aware of the difference between appearance and reality quite early—indeed much earlier than anyone else his age. Hence, reading “On Being Wounded,” the reader will by no means be surprised to see him ponder the difference between the world we see on the surface and what exists underneath it, all at the young age of twenty-eight. Already then, Moncrieff understood there’s a distinction between how the wounded man “presents” himself to others and how he “exists” by himself; the former implies happiness while the latter embodies the suffering only victims themselves can understand.

In addition, Moncrieff speculates about the relative nature of time, in the sense that we can’t pinpoint exactly when something happens—more specifically when a man has recovered from his wound: “But it is doubtful whether the man himself can make any more accurate an estimation of his condition. There is a continuous, insensible shifting of the perspective from the moment that he feels the thud made by the arrival of the bullet to that when he realizes one day at the end of his convalescence, that he is well again. The gradual changes are so subtle, the inability to reproduce any one state of consciousness when in the next is so complete that the most introspective must hope for nothing better than confused reminiscence.” Moncrieff, here, as an intellectual, is utterly ahead of any contemporary and even those who came after him: He’s realized something psychologists are only now starting to understand about human memory—that it’s malleable, open to suggestion, and rarely ever fixed. What we remember not only changes with time, it’s also influenced by the future—what we hear and see around us, what we’re told, and most of all our recollections, change by listening to what others want us to believe.

From the section “War Serials,” we move right back to Moncrieff’s earliest days, to the final part of the collection, which is the author’s poetry, divided into “Early Poems,” “War Poems,” “Love and Dedicatory Poems,” and “Satirical Verse.” One curious thing that may jolt readers is having to move from the early verse directly into the war poetry, and then finding themselves among stanzas of love. Upon closer inspection, however, the editorial decision seems sound: Even if Moncrieff, at a young age, did find out what it’s like to feel strongly about someone, it was ultimately war that made him see the fragility of human life, allowing him to gaze, truly, into the limitless depths of love. While his romantic poems before the war, such as “The Beechwood,” and even the earliest poem handwritten in pencil at university are certainly strong, it’s ultimately his poems written in the most terrifying states of despair which really capture love in its most naked, unforgiving forms—it’s in those works written after the deaths of his closest companions, Wilfred Owen and Philip Bainbridge, where Moncrieff’s creative power is at its highest. And would the reader expect anything else? I will quote the poem written after Owen’s death in full:

When in the centuries of time to come,
Men shall be happy and rehearse thy fame,
Shall I be spoken of then, or they grow dumb,
Recall these numbers and forget this name?
Part of thy praise, shall my dull verse live
In thee, themselves—as life without thee—vain?
So should I halt, oblivion’s fugitive,
Turn, stand, smile know myself a man again.
I care not: not the glorious boasts of men
Could wake my pride, were I in Heaven with thee;
Nor any breath of envy touch me, when,
Swept from the embrace of mortal memory
Beyond the stars’ light, in the eternal day,
Our contended ghosts stay together.

It’s truly unfortunate that life had to drag men like C.K. Scott Moncrieff to the deepest depths of despair in order to lead them up their creative mountains, but that’s often the burden geniuses must bear. This collection, skillfully edited by Jean Findlay, proves, finally and conclusively, what we’ve probably suspected but have yet to express—had Marcel Proust not written À la recherche du temps perdu and brought it to life for Moncrieff to discover and translate, the latter would’ve become an accomplished poet in his own right.

 

About C.K. Scott Moncrieff

Charles Scott Moncrieff was born in Scotland in 1889 and died in Rome in 1930. He published poetry in literary journals from the age of sixteen and after studying at Edinburgh University, went into the First World War as a Captain in the KOSB. From the trenches he wrote trenchant literary criticism, war poetry and war serials. Wounded out, working at the War Office he contributed short stories for T.S. Eliot’s New Criterion, G.K. Chesterton’s New Witness and J.C. Squire’s London Mercury. Later as an editor at The Times he translated The Song of Roland and Beowulf and started on Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, a work that was to make him famous. Leaving London in 1923 to work as an undercover agent in Mussolini’s Italy, he settled there. As well as continuing work on Proust’s lengthy novel, he translated much of Stendhal, Eloise and Abelard and some of Pirandello.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Clint Margrave, Poet and Novelist interviewed by David Garyan


Clint Margrave

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Clint Margrave, Poet and Novelist

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Click here to read Clint Margraves’s contribution to Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: Let’s begin with your novel, Lying Bastard, published last year in May; this is a daring work, abundant with satire, philosophy, and piercing observations on the tediousness of quotidian life. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Berlin Saunders, an adjunct instructor at Long Beach City College, we encounter a world that resembles our own; it’s quintessentially American—cutthroat, competitive, and unforgiving, and at the same time, the characters are written in such a way that defy any regional or even national stereotypes. As an American living in Italy, I’ve likewise encountered many a Berlin Saunders on these shores, perhaps not as hell-bent on suicide, but nevertheless similarly disenchanted with not only their jobs (whatever those may be), but also life in general. Along with your own background as an adjunct instructor, can you describe, perhaps, the inspiration behind Saunders, along with the overall essence of the book, and how these themes ultimately transcend the American way of life you’ve so richly described?

When I started writing the novel in 2007, the literary books being published at the time all seemed to have these earnest “likable” characters, flat, humorless, and boring to me. I had written bad drafts of a couple novels like that myself and I wanted to write about a different kind of a character, a kind I hadn’t seen in a while, a character people might consider an “unlikable bastard,” who had no interest in doing “the right thing,” an absurd anti-hero, like the protagonists in some of my favorite novels from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground to Camus’s The Stranger to John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. I don’t think Berlin Saunders ended up being this character entirely, but I wanted him to be someone who perceived the world in at least an honest and authentic way (even if he himself isn’t honest to others or himself). It was also a response to the institutional deadness of academia, not that much different from the corporation, where everyone wore masks long before the pandemic, regardless of tenure status. That question of authenticity ended up being one of the major themes of the novel and Berlin Saunders is somebody who both seeks it and questions if it’s even possible. Though the work is not overtly autobiographical, other than Berlin’s career choice, this concern with authenticity was no doubt also inspired by the imposter syndrome I felt when I first began teaching college.  On top of that, school shootings on college campuses began to ramp up around 2007, beginning with Virginia Tech, which influenced the darker less satirical elements of the book. Suddenly, being a teacher on a college campus became a more literal kind of existential battle, not just the battle for one’s soul. But a novel won’t be confined to simply one theme and as I wrote it, the characters and ideas expanded to be about many other things beyond academia or the life of an adjunct. It is in this way that it hopefully begins to transcend the American experience and touch on more universal themes.

DG: America is the embodiment of a consumerist culture, and many parts of the book capture that essence. One of the funniest instances of this is when Tom, a colleague of Saunders, vehemently defends his reasoning for using an anti-plagiarism detection software called “Copycat,” saying “it’s another thing to add to my résumé. It cost the department $12,000 just to have the account. They want us using it.” Here, we get the sense that it’s ultimately money which dictates why things are done or not—ethics are another matter, and, indeed, before readers get this dialogue, the narrator states: “What differentiated the act of plagiarism from any other of the countless lies being spun around the nation? Didn’t plagiarism equal patriotism? Wasn’t it the American way to copy somebody else’s work?” These outlooks you’ve captured are indeed American, but in what way are they also quintessentially European, for example? Did Rome not copy from Greece? And was the Renaissance not, in fact, a rediscovery of those traditions, rather than a trailblazing institution? After all, much of Europe really looks the same as well, which makes me wonder: Is this book, in fact, a criticism of America per se, or is it actually critique of modernity through the prism of American values?

CM: Elite progressive hypocrisy was invented in universities. A lot of lip service is given these days to catch phrases like “inclusivity,” “diversity,” and especially “equity,” because it makes people in power sound virtuous while not actually having to do anything. But in action, the university today is not much different than the corporation, except that it still sees itself as more noble (and let’s hope for at least a morsel of truth left in that). For all the talk, whether it’s from administrators, department chairs, or tenured faculty, there is very little self-awareness and recognition that the university operates on the backs of a second-class citizenry, namely its 75% adjunct faculty. Tom, like many adjuncts, plays the game because he really wants to be part of this elite class who snidely looks down on him. Mostly, he wants it because he’s financially insecure, but also because working within this tiered system can weigh on one’s self-worth. He is humiliated, alienated, and depleted by this demeaning system. He doesn’t realize it’s never going to happen for him, partly because he’s a weirdo, but also because he’s not really their type no matter how hard he tries. Saunders, on the other hand, has given up this dream long before, figuring it’s better to be disillusioned than delusional.

As for the other part of your question, I agree, I don’t think these outlooks are quintessentially American nor even European. I think they are quintessentially human. I’m not even sure if I’d call it a critique of modernity, but I can see how the novel touches on some of the same themes the modernist writers addressed a hundred years ago regarding the atomization of society and the alienation of the individual. But I don’t have a romantic notion of a time before “modernity” that would have been much better. I’m fairly certain there were individuals who lived in caves thousands of years ago who felt alienated by the human condition. To be human, in a way, is to feel some sense of alienation.

DG: As a poet, novelist, but also writer in general, you’ve never shied away from controversy. Given the far-reaching nature of social media, it’s easy to be attacked and even cancelled outright for exercising your freedom of speech. Although this right is a fundamental cornerstone of democratic life in every aspect, why is it especially important to protect this value in the sphere of art and literature, even perhaps during pandemics and times of war?

CM: I decided long ago this is my one life and nobody is going to silence me. As Christopher Hitchens once said, the grave will provide plenty of time for silence. Unfortunately, it’s a resolve that isn’t easy for most, and with good reason. For myself, I haven’t yet decided if I’m just crazy or naïve. Most of us have to worry about making a living, myself included, and the last thing we want is to find ourselves in the midst of some social media controversy. This has caused a chill on speech. Most would prefer to be silent and who can blame them really? Even if at times, I find it cowardly and disappointing. What’s also disturbing about this era though, is that a lot of threats to free speech come from other writers, artists, and publishers themselves, who participate in these online heresy mobs, and in the case of publishers, meet their demands to remove somebody’s work. Where do we go from here? It used to be the artists and publishers were the ones who stood up to the government. Who needs the government or big tech to do the censoring when people who are supposed to be defending it, are perfectly willing to go along with them if it suits their ideology. And yes, it seems even more important to protect art and literature and our democratic principles during vulnerable times, because as we’ve seen, the human instinct for power and control of others is alive and well.

DG: Let’s shift the discussion to poetry—your new collection, Visitor, is scheduled to be released soon. Without giving away too much, what can we expect from the new collection that might resemble the best aspects of your previous work, but also, how might it be a departure from what you’ve done before, given that most likely some of it, or perhaps even most of it was written during the pandemic?

The new book is a culmination of about four years’ worth of poems (and maybe even a few older poems) so it is a mixture of pre and post pandemic stuff. In fact, there are not a lot of poems written about the pandemic or even written during that time, but I must say that the pandemic has altered the way some of the older ones might be read. I’m thinking of one poem called, “When Death Travels,” that was written two years before, but now seems to have taken on an eerily new presence.

As for what you can expect, I think you will still find some of the same mix of serious and humorous, familiar themes, but maybe, if anything has changed it’s that I’ve learned to trust the reader a bit more and leave a little more mystery to the poems.

DG: You were good friends with Gerald Locklin—not only the larger-than-life figure of Long Beach, but also the archetype of what many would consider the exemplary poet. His work embodied masculinity, uncompromising humor, and the courage to describe life in the way most of us live it—the glorification of the everyday experience, so to speak. Your poem, “Toad Dies and Goes to Heaven,” is a wonderful tribute to him, also mentioned in the LA Times. Along with your favorite poems, do you have any interesting Locklin stories to share, and why is his work especially relevant now—at a time when elitism, censorship, and woke culture seem to be not the exception, but norm?

There is so much I learned about writing from Gerry. I say that, by the way, without ever having taken his writing class (I did strangely take a contemporary lit theory class with him). Just reading his work over the years taught me to strive for clarity, simplicity, humor, and brevity without dumbing anything down or shying away from being intellectual. Gerry was very much someone who embraced life in every aspect. He always said that a writer shouldn’t just read poetry or fiction, but everything, history, science, philosophy, etc. Nor should a writer confine oneself to reading, but should be fully engaged in the pleasures of living. I remember at some point in my twenties, I stopped by his office and was contemplating whether I should travel or stay home and write, and he made it a point that Hemingway didn’t write while he was off living those experiences. That it was as important to go out and engage with life, to gain experience, as it was to stay home and be disciplined at your writing desk. As sad as his death is, it’s not sad in the way that he was someone who lived his life fully in every aspect. He savored this world. He was of another era, informed by existentialism rather than despairing postmodernism. He had dared death in middle age when he had some health issues, and recovered and embraced life even more fully it seemed. He was an amazing cultural aficionado and critic too. He probably has written more ekphrastic poems than any American poet and maybe more than any poet period. These are some of my favorite poems of his for their insight not just into art, but the connection between art and life. He was also the kind of academic you don’t see anymore.  I don’t remember who said it, maybe somebody in the LA Times article, but they said Gerry was “the rebel among academics and the academic among rebels.” I thought that was great.

I do think his work is relevant now in that it presents a counter to today’s zeitgeist, which tends to be dogmatic, neo-Victorian, and infantilizing. Gerry stood against all forms of fundamentalism. He disliked dogma and puritanism. Coming out of the university and having read all the theorists who spawned a lot this “woke” stuff, Gerry had been fighting against it for decades by the time it went mainstream. He saw the dogmatism and rigidity within postmodern theory early on and despised it from the beginning. He was a modernist to the core. And yeah, if he were writing and working in academia today, he’d be cancelled. I don’t think he could’ve survived the rigidity of modern academia.

DG: You travel frequently to Europe. What are some of the countries which have made a particularly strong impression on you and how has this influenced both your personal and literary sensibilities?

It’s a cliché to say, but I do believe that spending time abroad wherever it might be, can open you up to learning about yourself and where you come from. Not only that, it’s good to feel a little awkward and uncomfortable as you do when you are in a foreign country. Discomfort creates new ideas and can teach you something about yourself. I definitely think anyone who wants to write should travel the world or try to live abroad as much as they can afford to, which isn’t always possible (I did it on credit cards and school loans when I was young). I love to travel and yes, I no doubt had a romantic affiliation when I was younger with visiting places in Western Europe, particularly I have memories of riding trains through France, Italy, Spain, the kind of stuff I think everyone should experience but can also be a bit cliché. As a young man who’d eaten up Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, as well as the poetry of Baudelaire, or the philosophy and fiction of Jean-Paul Sartre, and had studied the French language for as long as I can remember, I romanticized Paris and for a long time it held a mythical power over me as it does for many people. I lived there as a student for a short time in my twenties and as Hemingway said, one never forgets such a thing. That being said, as much as I still love the city, it’s mostly just a museum these days. Because my girlfriend is Bulgarian, as you know, we spend a lot of time in Bulgaria and Sofia particularly, which is a city I love, and one that is still artistically alive in ways that much of Western Europe doesn’t feel to me anymore, much less the United States. Eastern European poetry (not that it is one thing) has been a huge influence as well. Has there ever been a bad Polish poet? What I love about a lot of Eastern European writing is the dark humor and love of the absurd, conveyed in a clear, minimalistic style.  This sense of the absurd and dark humor seems to fall to the wayside in so much American writing, especially American poetry. I do think this has influenced and informed my work.

DG: If you had to pick only one American and one foreign writer to serve as inspiration for the rest of your life, who would they be and why?

Wow. That’s a tough question because I am a fan of so many. Living or dead? I know the minute I say one name, I will later think of multiple others I should have said. It also depends what you mean by inspiration. Style wise or philosophically? I guess I’d say Albert Camus for foreign writer then. Even though I haven’t read some of his work in years, style-wise, he’s an amazing writer, and philosophically I feel very aligned with his worldview. If not Camus, I’d probably say Dostoevsky (these two very much informed my youth so it tells me something about their staying power throughout my life). And since I only get one…for the Americans, maybe I’d say Herman Melville as I can read a book like Moby Dick over and over again and find inspiration and poetry there.

DG: Are you working on anything at the moment?

I am writing poems, finishing up a short story manuscript for what may be a forthcoming book, and contemplating whether I dare attempt to write another novel. Also, speaking of Locklin, I am in the process of putting together a manuscript for what will be the first posthumous selected poems, put out by NYQ Books in early 2023.

 

About Clint Margrave

Clint Margrave is the author of the novel Lying Bastard (Run Amok Books, 2020), and the poetry collections, Salute the WreckageThe Early Death of Men, and Visitor (Forthcoming) all from NYQ Books. His work has appeared in The Threepenny ReviewRattleCimarron ReviewAmbit (UK), Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac, among others. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

El problema de las elecciones en EEUU recién comienza (por Ignacio Montes de Oca)


Ignacio Montes de Oca

 

El problema de las elecciones en EEUU recién comienza

 

Por Ignacio Montes de Oca

Trump subió la apuesta y denunció que Biden se proclamó ganador a través de los medios sin esperar los resultados finales. En parte tiene razón, los medios tuvieron una injerencia inédita en estas elecciones que se tradujo en un trato muy poco periodístico de las noticias de la campaña, la difusión de las denuncias contra uno u otro e incluso disposiciones editoriales poco habituales como la decisión de cortar un discurso del presidente alegando que mentía. En ese contexto, perdida la objetividad, desde el lado contrario se legitimó el dudar de las noticias del triunfo de Biden y de todas las noticias relacionadas con los resultados electorales, las denuncias de fraude, las refutaciones a ellas y las cifras que se iban publicando. Y las redes, en particular Twitter, no estuvieron ajenas a esta toma de posición. El cuestionamiento de Twitter a los posteos de Trump marcó la asunción de las redes como actor político con derecho a veto. Cada cuenta fue construyendo su propio ganador y demonizando al que considera derrotado. Al final de ese proceso, presenciamos un escenario donde cada cual tiene su presidente electo, su autoridad legitimada por la opinión frente a hechos que al final no resultan confiables. En resumen, se perdió la posibilidad de que exista una realidad y en lugar de ella se construyeron realidades hechas a medida de los partidarios de uno u otro candidato.

La novela electoral abre una nueva y arriesgada instancia en la que el riesgo de un poder bicéfalo puede agudizar las tensiones y, quizás, desatar la violencia. Las manifestaciones a favor de los dos candidatos están cargadas de fanatismo, promesas de venganza y, en algunos sitios, de armas capaces de desatar una cadena de hechos que eleve el nivel de tensión en el que transcurrió la campaña. Debemos recordar que en EEUU y en escenarios como el actual cargado de tensiones, un hecho de violencia es sucedido por otro en represalia y así hasta que cambian las condiciones o se impone una autoridad que, por ahora, no está claramente definida. Luego de la muerte de Floyd hubo al menos 20 muertes asociadas con la reacción, es una realidad que no debemos pasar por alto. Por eso la peligrosidad del escenario tenso de los días posteriores a las elecciones.

Y en eso tienen muchas responsabilidades los candidatos, sus comités de campaña y los medios que se enrolaron en la disputa. Tanto Trump como Biden dejaron en un lugar secundario las propuestas para concentrarse en convencer al electorado de la inhabilidad de su oponente. Y en todo caso, las propuestas iban dirigidas a confrontar con desprecio sugerencias y archivos del otro.

Trump acusó a su oponente de no ser apto para el cargo al que se postulaba. Su comité, de deslizar a la prensa afín las denuncias de corrupción y pedófila contra su hijo, Hunter Biden. La prensa republicana de resaltar los logros de Trump como un imposible de emular en caso de gobernar sus oponentes y de despreciar cada logro de la gestión anterior como argumento constante de campaña. En ese contexto, instalaron la idea de un oponente senil e incapaz de sobrellevar e incluso de entender las complejidades de presidir la nación mas poderosa del planeta en un momento crucial, con todas las presiones personales que ello implica. Y en el ámbito exterior, todos ellos instalaron la idea de un escenario en el que una disputa en escalada con China demandaba un líder nacionalista y de personalidad fuerte que encajaba en Trump y no era posible hallar en Biden. Y no olvidaron sugerir que era “amigo de China” y de las disctaduras enemigas de EEUU.

Biden resaltó con insistencia el carácter inestable de su oponente, dando a entender que aquella personalidad no solo era responsable de todos los males del presente, sino que además iba a agudizarlos si continuaba en la presidencia. Desde el comité demócrata, se operó la imagen del presidente como un evasor asociado con los fraudes corporativos y también se deslizó la idea que pudo haber tenido un rol en las orgías con menores que organizaba Jeffrey Epsetin en el pasado. La prensa afín, que por lejos era más numerosa e influyente en centros urbanos se encargó de instalar la imagen de un presidente desaforado, fuera de sí y preocupado solo por satisfacer los intereses de los poderosos mientras ignoraba las muertes de la pandemia. Y en el plano exterior, criticó el aislacionismo y culpó a Trump de afectar la economía local con sus decisiones estratégicas a las que presentaron como un capricho de un aspirante a autócrata.

En realidad, las elecciones del martes 3 de noviembre fueron el resultado de un proceso en el que los norteamericanos tuvieron que hacer dos elecciones: por un lado elegir un presidente y por el otro se vieron forzados a tomar posición frente a los dilemas que plantearon los candidatos a lo largo de la campaña y cuyas urgencias se volvían, como eran presentadas, como una cuestión de vida o muerte para la nación.

Es comprensible entonces que el ánimo de muchos esté caldeado y que ni Trump ni Biden hayan esperado el resultado final para admitir una derrota o un fracaso. La primera elección es sencilla y se resuelve con el voto. La segunda es imposible de solucionar por ahora dado que las dudas y temores instalados en la campaña no pudieron ser resueltos con un ganador claro. Por el contrario, la mitad que no vea satisfecha su expectativa quedará presa de la duda instalada respecto a si las promesas apocalípticas están en vías de cumplirse.

Y eso conduce a una explicación sobre la actitud de ambos contendientes. Por primera vez en años EEUU no eligió un presidente sino una salida a una encrucijada muy compleja. Y ninguna de las salidas satisface a al mitad perdedora que ahora debe hacer frente a un futuro negro instalado por candidatos, comités y medios.

Pero además hay cuestiones concretas a la vista. Biden propone deshacer algunas de las medidas centrales de la gestión Trump. Entre ellas dar marcha atrás con la reforma impositiva que favoreció a las empresas, finalizar la política monetaria de endeudamiento  y fortalecer al sistema público de salud. Pero además aumentar las regulaciones en materia ambiental que supuso una caída de costos de muchos sectores y avanzar en un sistema temporal para que los aportes impositivos sean progresivos, lo cual impactaría sobre las empresas, los empresarios  el nivel de inversión en un momento en que la economía está especialmente necesitada en ese campo. Trump, por supuesto, no solo se propone sostener las reformas mencionadas, sino que además prometió un mayor inventivo a las empresas y en el campo exterior profundizar el proteccionismo, la lucha económica contra China para tener mayor protagonismo económico global y bajar el gasto estatal una vez superada la emergencia de la pandemia.

Dicho en palabras breves, Trump propone un estado afín a las empresas para crear empleo y una política exterior enérgica, mientras Biden apoya la idea de un sistema de asistencia más extendido frente a la crisis y la necesidad de regulaciones más sofisticadas para lograr un crecimiento más armónico que rápido. Y acuerdos exteriores menos furiosos y más conversados, al estilo de lo que se hacía en tiempo de Barak Obama cuando Biden operaba como embajador itinerante de esos arreglos. Son visiones a veces opuestas, pero ambas tienen costos diferentes, beneficiarios distintos y parten de diagnósticos quizás opuestos de la naturaleza de la mayor crisis que atraviesa EEUU desde el gan derrumbe de 1929.

El problema de fondo es que en cualquiera de los dos modelos propuestos se hace necesario que exista tanto legitimidad de origen como un liderazgo basado en acuerdos de fondo entre los dos partidos que dominan la escena política norteamericana. Porque esa nación depende de la aprobación del Congreso para cada medida y si el ambiente de confrontación se traslada a las cámaras del Congreso, conduciría a una parálisis política que, sin importar quien sea finalmente proclamado, profundizaría la crisis generada por la pandemia de coronavirus.

Y esos desacuerdos luego llegan a la calle. La brutalidad policial estadounidense es un fenómeno tan viejo como la existencia misma de esa fuerza. Pero la muerte de George Floyd en mayo de 2020 desencadenó una ola de protestas desproporcionada, que reveló el potencial de violencia que anidaba en la sociedad norteamericana. Las protestas del Black Lives Matter pronto se derivaron a reclamos más profundas como el sistema de reparto de la riqueza, cuestionamientos de orden racial, religioso y hasta de género y, finalmente, se convirtieron en un factor de oposición a Trump y sus políticas en un contexto  de crisis agudizado por la pandemia, al que numerosos grupos explicaron por la postura del presidente frente a la aparición de virus. Tanta violencia preexistente fue canalizada en la campaña.

Sucede que tanto Trump como Biden sabían que con la base electoral no les alcanzaba para logra el triunfo. Fueron a buscar a indecisos y apáticos con un discurso de batalla para llevarlos a las urnas. Y lo lograron. El nivel del 68% de votantes es el más alto en décadas. Pero ese nivel de interés se logró por medio de discursos que dejaron un rastro importante de ánimo de revancha, miedos y una violencia retórica que ya desembocó varias veces en violencia física en disturbios, vandalismo, algún linchamiento y la muerte de algunos manifestantes a manos de adversarios en la previa al 3 de noviembre.

Esa violencia es el dato central de toda esta crisis y el factor que debiera preocupar hacia el futuro, habida cuenta que no se resuelve con un resultado electoral. Por el contrario, sea cual fuera el desenlace, se potencia por la defensa o rechazo al resultado. Porque junto a las protestas de los sectores opuestos a la presidencia surgió desde el otro lado un grupo igual de radicalizado que un poco reaccionó en defensa de las políticas oficiales, pero mucho más por el riesgo que sienten por la actividad de esa masa a la que consideran portadora de peligros tan antiguos como arraigados: ideas socialistas, deseos de aprovechar la situación para tomar sus propiedades y bienes y el siempre irresuelto peligro de un escenario anárquico en el que el país se deslice de un presente de superpotencia a una inmensa arena de lucha directa dirimida por las armas, cuya presencia se registra en una por cada habitante de EEUU.

Entonces, la estrategia de desgraciar y destruir al oponente utilizada por ambos candidatos, partidos y partidarios, tuvo una consecuencia. Atrapados por su propio discurso, ninguno de los contendientes está en condiciones de aceptar el resultado dado que al hacerlo estarían entregando a los EEUU a todos los peligros que estuvieron describiendo durante el año anterior. Y aunque lo hicieran, es tarde porque ya le han quitado al otro su legitimidad ante una mitad del pueblo que acudió a las urnas.

Los políticos de uno y otro bando se encuentran ante una encrucijada igual de difícil. Los congresistas deberán lidiar con un presidente deslegitimado ante una parte importante del electorado, sin importar quien sea electo. Cada decisión a favor o en contra los expondrá a preguntas en sus distritos de los que depende su continuidad. Y luego está la imagen, un activo que los políticos norteamericanos consideran a veces el más decisivo de sus carteras políticas. Con los medio adoptando una posición de fiscales políticos con mayor entusiasmo, ahora deberán hacer frente a un escrutinio doble al que antes esquivaban con relativa facilidad.

Esto pareciera sr un asunto menor en un ambiente normal. Después de todo, los políticos están acostumbrados a lidiar con electores y periodistas. Pero puede suceder que ante la falta de definición electoral se aplique Enmienda 12 de la Constitución  y sean los congresistas los que deban elegir el presidente y a su vice. Dado que la demanda presentada por Trump podría llegar a la corte Suprema y ese trámite tardar postergarse más allá del 15 de diciembre que es la fecha límite para elegir un mandatario, no es ilógico pensar en la posibilidad que finalmente sean los hombres del Congreso los que deban resolver la disputa.

Y por más que no se eligiese presidente por la Enmienda 12, la instalación de un escenario de confrontación aguda los obligará a trabajar en un ambiente en donde la mitad será gobernada por un presidente al que se le atribuirá una ilegitimidad de origen.

Ante esa instancia cada uno de los legisladores deberá sopesar las presiones de la calle, de sus electores, de los empresarios y de sus propios compañeros para deshacer el entuerto creado por la competencia feroz entre los dos contendientes. Y esa decisión no solo tendrá un efecto profundo en la vida cotidiana de cada habitante del país, sino que además delegará la responsabilidad en cada uno de ellos. Lo que suceda y el nombre del elegido será facturada al Congreso cuya distancia con el electorado en muchísimo menor que en el caso del presidente. A diferencia de otros países, la representación directa implica que un error de cálculo de un legislador apoyando al político adversario al que su público desea, puede conducir al fin de su carrera política y más aún en un ambiente de ánimos enervados como el actual.

Se sabe que las diferencias entre republicanos y demócratas al llegar al Congreso suelen ser relativas. Hubo republicanos con Biden y demócratas que dieron su apoyo a las iniciativas de Trump sin molestias ideológicas severas.

Y en ese sentido, todo puede pasar una vez que el asunto de la Enmienda 12 llegue al Congreso. Y dada la cantidad de intereses en juego y la acción simultanea de la presión civil y la actividad de los grupos de presión interesados por un resultado, es imposible afirmar que cualquier conclusión refleje necesariamente el resultado de las urnas. Por el contrario, puede ser tan diferente y dar lugar a compromisos tan distintos, que podrían cambiar el futuro inmediato de un modo tan fuerte como la elección presidencial frustrada.

Y entonces deberán optar entre dos candidatos cuya elección tiene factores positivos y negativos en cualquier escenario que surja. Si respaldan a Trump le darán el ímpetu que necesita para avanzar en la construcción de una presidencia fuerte, con un grado de discrecionalidad mayor a la aceptable dentro del rango tradicional de los EEUU. Si eligen a Biden, tendrán una figura menos polémica, pero al mismo tiempo un interlocutor más accesible pero más sensible también a tomar medidas estratégicas que podrían tener un impacto económico objetivamente negativo como una postura más restrictiva frente a la pandemia (que incluye quizás confinamientos todavía no ensayados por Trump), una actitud regulatoria contraria a los intereses de los sponsors en cada distrito y un gasto estatal más elevado que impactaría tanto en el valor de la moneda como en la estructura impositiva actual.

En cualquiera de los casos, soportarían una presión constante de los medios locales y nacionales que los abordarían con la misma actitud militante a favor de uno u otro modelo, dado que si hubo un despliegue más político que periodístico durante la campaña, nada hace pensar que adoptarían una postura diferente en caso de ser decisores de la disputa por el nuevo presidente o el nuevo modelo de estado y país en el contexto de crisis en el que asumieron en nuevo rol.

La demanda conjunta de la calle, los medios y los grupos de presión se da, como vimos, en un contexto de violencia retórica y a veces directa instalada desde que se inició la campaña. EEUU se debate en un escenario pocas veces visto de tensiones irresueltas todavía y que por el momento parecen lejanas a concluir, incluso luego de dirimirse el nombre del próximo presidente. Trump y Biden, en su deseo por ser el próximo presidente, crearon junto a sus comités y medios afiliados un contexto de paranoias, presagios de desastre y descalificación un ambiente que no presagia una salida sencilla. EEUU no eligió presidente, eligió meterse en un estilo de política confrontativa y sucia que era propia de naciones a las que criticaba. El país de las barras y las estrellas se enfermó de violencia y ahora debe encontrar el modo de salirse de un pantano en el que está atorado. La mitad empuja para un lado y la otra para el opuesto. Así, es poco probable que se resuelva el dilema planteado por dos adversarios que convirtieron la disputa entre dos competidores en una lucha entre enemigos declarados.

 

Acerca de Ignacio Montes de Oca

 

Seeing the Netherlands, an article by David Garyan

July 14th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Seeing the Netherlands

Before I even begin describing my experiences in the beautiful country known as the Netherlands, I’d like to point out right away that, despite having stayed in Amsterdam for three nights, none of the pictures in this article were taken in that city. Don’t get me wrong—I think the capital is an amazing place to visit and many people looking for thrills of various sorts will find plenty of opportunities to partake in whatever activity they desire, but I’d like to go a less conventional way. I don’t want to reduce this country to just one city. Let’s just say that I, myself, took full advantage of everything that Amsterdam had to offer, but if I may be real frank, the best and most fulfilling experiences didn’t actually happen there—they occurred in places like Utrecht, Delft, The Hague, and Den Bosch.

The reason why so many people are drawn to the capital and rarely visit other places in the country—which from an aesthetic point of view are just as, if not more impressive, than Amsterdam itself—is because a lot of tourists unknowingly (and perhaps even deliberately) misinterpret Dutch tolerance as a right to be reckless; this couldn’t be further from the truth. The real reason, in fact, why sex work and soft drugs like marijuana are legal in the country (the former exists only in some cities while the latter can be found almost everywhere) really has its roots in the Dutch belief that each and every human being should have the right to decide in a sensible way about the matters pertaining to their own health; this is a fundamental rule of Dutch society and it’s based on the idea that individuals have not only the right, but also the inherent ability to exercise their own reason and prudence for the purpose of making sound decisions that coincide with their existential tastes and preferences.

I can only speak from the perspective of my own people and thus I’ll say that the typical (in this case young) US traveler arrives in Amsterdam, spends three or four days doing all sorts of reckless things there, and then leaves with the belief that he or she has “seen” the Netherlands, so to say; to witness a country, however, is to experience, at the very least, another city that’s different in character, culture, or perhaps even size. As someone currently residing in Italy, I can tell you that life is far from similar if you compare places like Venice and Rome. To the question of which city (or cities) represent the so-called authentic Italian spirit, however, no one can say—and perhaps there’s really no answer to this question, but to stay in Rome for three days only to leave immediately after just to claim you’ve visited Bel Paese is kind of pathetic. You’ll neither find Italy just in Rome, Venice, Naples, or Palermo alone; perhaps, however, you may succeed through the combination of experiences that are gained by having visited two or more of those places—truly, you may begin approaching the feeling of what it means to be “Italian” by looking at the sculpture of nationality from different angles, not just glancing at it directly for a second and walking away.

The Netherlands are no different in this regard. Many people use Holland to describe the entire land, but actually the whole nation is divided into twelve provinces which together constitute the Netherlands—North and South Holland are just two of those aforementioned territories; having said that, getting around the entire country is incredibly easy. The trains are fast, efficient, and clean—I expected nothing less from the Dutch, and, of course, the level of trust on which the ticket system relies on restores your belief in the goodness of humanity. Let’s just say it’s not difficult to walk behind someone who’s scanned their pass and then walk to your train (where vouchers, at least in my experience, were never checked); even in stations like Utrecht, where no physical barriers are present, people nevertheless scanned their passes as they entered and exited. Accountability, honesty, and respect for the rules—this is perhaps why the country has been one of the most successful in dealing with the coronavirus and is today, once again, not just open, but also thriving. In Italy, on the other hand, discotheques and nightclubs either remain totally closed or have begun opening with very strict distancing rules; additionally, masks are still absolutely mandatory when going to the supermarket or any kind of indoor establishment, for that matter.

The Netherlands, for their part, have been so successful at dealing with the pandemic that Amsterdam has even decided to reopen its Red Light District (as of July 1st) during a worldwide pandemic—it was supposed to restart in September; almost comically, the only place where people still wear masks more or less regularly is on the train. Again, accountability, honesty, and respect for the rules—as a writer I’ve never really possessed any of those virtues in great quantities, but I’m starting to realize that art does exist in order, consistency, and caution—all traits which, nevertheless, go against the principles of “passion” that fuel creativity. Indeed, I must say there’s something incredibly admirable to be found in those qualities which the Dutch hold in such high regard; whatever opinion you may have about the people, you can’t accuse them of lacking imagination. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), around “17% of the entire land area has been reclaimed from the sea or lakes.” My point is that while the so-called “creative” Italians are letting Venice sink, the Dutch, since at least the 16th century, have been raising (quite literally, in fact) large portions of their country from under the water—that, in and of itself, is the greatest artistic achievement a country can claim for itself. The following image shows the difference in the amount of territorial expansion that was achieved with land reclamation techniques.

Truly, enough philosophizing, however—any philosopher knows it’s easy to fall in love with a country when you’ve first visited it and it likewise doesn’t take much effort to get sick of a place when you’ve spent almost a year living there; that’s why, in the interest of Dutch prudence and caution, I won’t give a hasty response as to where I’d ultimately prefer to settle down. All I can state with relative confidence is that having traveled more or less extensively throughout Europe at this point, I know that I still love Italy and everything it has to offer.

Let’s at last move away from abstract discussions now and focus on what actually matters—experiencing the Netherlands outside of Amsterdam. My relationship with the country really goes back to when I was a nine or ten year old kid, living in Germany; the precise details elude me but my parents found an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of young kids and this establishment was in the business of organizing yearly summer trips to the island of Ameland, where I ended up going for two summers. Despite the fact that more than twenty years have passed, I still remember some of the rules, duties, and activities: Whatever primitive technologies we did possess at home (Game Boys and other gadgets from the nineties), these were strictly forbidden; every kid had to help in the kitchen at least twice during their month-long stay; a special disco-styled dance (the lighting equipment was pretty awesome) was organized in your honor if you were lucky enough to be born in the right month of summer; that was the case for me as I was born on July 26th; furthermore, those who had birthdays also received presents which weren’t cheap, let’s just say. I remember getting a high-quality soccer ball on one occasion and I was able to play with it for many years. Other things I remember are swimming in the cold North Sea and repeatedly being warned about the tides by the camp counselors; all these things are distant memories, however, and despite the impression I’m giving here of being able to throw around details left and right, there isn’t really much I can recall from those times, except that I never felt happier at any point in my life; perhaps this is why the Netherlands hold such a special place in my imagination.

Maybe it’s not so much the Netherlands I missed and more so the easiness and effortlessness of my childhood, but when I set foot on Dutch soil again, I realized it was both. The hustle and bustle of the capital helped me drown this bittersweet nostalgia for some time, but when I left Amsterdam and arrived in The Hague, the thought—for some odd reason or other—that life is incredibly difficult for all of us came to me. Even for those who’re wealthy and have every privilege imaginable (I have neither of those things), the certainty that there can never be another childhood, that greed, hunger, and crime do constitute a part of our world (perhaps even making up an unchangeable aspect of it) is a realization that no amount of money or status can change; as I marveled at the International Court of Justice, I thought about all of those things. The impressive nature of the building did give me some reassurance that perhaps it is possible to rid the world of its problems with human institutions, but then I remembered everything that my professors had said about the ineffectiveness of the UN, its inability to stop genocides, and all the other plethora of problems that continue to exist. For a moment, however, I felt at peace standing next to this structure; in the attempt to rediscover my youth, I just imagined that it was a magical fortress which protected the world from every misfortune and inside it no bad thing could happen either. Maybe my expression in this photo shows that.

After spending some time in the city center of The Hague, I walked to the beach and discovered one of the liveliest scenes that a coastline can offer: a modern pier next to which people were bungee jumping from a crane, a tall Ferris wheel, and varied dining opportunities along along with dynamic gaming scenes all around. This shot I took from the pier really gives you an idea of how big everything is; the entire shoreline offers various entertainment opportunities for adults and kids alike.

The next city I visited was Delft. A classic university town in the most pleasant sense, it’s home to the Delft University of Technology, which is one of the best universities in the Netherlands; likewise, according to recent data, it’s one of the top fifteen engineering and technology schools in the world.

Due to the contributions of Dutch Golden Age scientists such as Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Martinus Beijerinck, Delft is often considered the birthplace of microbiology.

Architecturally, the city is quite stunning. Here’s the picture of the main square and not far from it there once stood the home of the great painter Johannes Vermeer, whose painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring has become one of the centerpieces in the art world. Walking among the canals and enjoying the seclusion and silence of this city proved to be a very memorable experience and one I’d like to have again.

Trees line the waterfront and when their leaves fall, they create a type of moss that really adds to the character of Delft. One of most stunning views I captured was this one.

The following day I decided to visit Utrecht, which Lonely Planet calls an unsung gem of the Netherlands, and when I saw it for myself, I realized why. The city with its canals, dining scene, and architectural offerings feels both medieval and modern at the same time. Surely, you’ll find crowds and many people out and about; however, where Amsterdam is noisy and stressful, Utrecht is calm and relaxed. I simply couldn’t resist asking someone to take a picture here. The entire city pretty much looks like this and there are endless opportunities to enjoy a coffee or meal right on the waterfront.

In terms of its history, Utrecht was actually the cultural center in the Dutch Golden Age before it was surpassed by Amsterdam. It was the location where the famous Peace of Utrecht was signed: Since he died childless in 1700, Charles II of Spain, in his last will, had named Philip of Anjou (grandson of Louis XIV) as his successor. The other great European powers, however, weren’t prepared to tolerate the possible merger of such powers like Spain and France. What the treaties, therefore, accomplished is that it allowed Philip to assume the Spanish crown by permanently giving up his right to the French throne. The treaties were, thus, an essential component of maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Since the eighth century, Utrecht has also served as the religious center of the Netherlands and the Dutch Roman Catholic leader, called the Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht, has his seat in the city. It’s the location of Utrecht University, the largest institution of higher learning in the Netherlands. The famous Dom Tower, completed in 1382, was, unfortunately, undergoing major renovations and couldn’t be seen.

The next location I visited is officially called ‘s-Hertogenbosch (no, neither the apostrophe nor the hyphen are typos). Furthermore, despite the fact that the aforementioned name is the very one you’ll see above the entrance to the train station, most locals simply refer to their city as Den Bosch; it’s quite picturesque and quaint. Although there were plenty of people in the main square, I still consider the city a well-kept secret in the Netherlands. One of its claims to fame is being the place where Hieronymus Bosch lived and died, along with the fact that the oldest brick building (pictured below) in the Netherlands is located in the main square.

St. John’s Cathedral, the burial site of Hieronymus Bosch, looks as impressive from the outside as it does when gazing at the interior. In vain, I tried taking a good picture of both, but none of them did the cathedral any justice. Instead, here’s the plaque on the ground which commemorates the burial of the famous artist, whose depictions of hell are so vivid and intriguing that I consider them to be what the Divine Comedy would’ve looked like had Dante chosen to become a painter.

For the time he lived (the 15th and 16th centuries), Bosch’s paintings really are some of the most original and idiosyncratic that ever existed. So many people praise the vision of Salvador Dali’s composition without ever having heard of the man who really had one of the most fantastic imaginations any painter can have. This particular image is a closeup of The Harrowing of Hell.

It’s only fitting, then, that the great citizen of this city which bears a name just as eccentric as his own (Hieronymus) should pay tribute to the artist with a statue right in the main square. The less strange thing, of course, is that few tourists really look at it and perhaps not many even know who he is; instead they sit around the master, enjoying whatever tasty beverage or snack they’ve just purchased—ah, the beauty of travel and relaxation.

The main square is rather busy, not just with restaurants but also with food trucks serving traditional Dutch-style seafood. To escape that scene for a bit, I stumbled upon this incredible place by pure chance. Sit and think about whatever comes to mind—it’s both a blessing and curse to be free.

I finished my trip in Eindhoven, which in all honesty, I wouldn’t have taken the time to visit had my departing flight not been from there. Aside from the fact that it’s very modern and clean, along with the beautiful St. Catherine’s Church in the center, I really have only two things to discuss in terms of this city—the classic example of Dutch organization and also my scenic walk to the airport. The former is highlighted in the picture below.

As you can see, the sidewalk is divided into two halves, each side serving to accommodate one flow of traffic; this is just one measure enacted by the Dutch government in the wake of the coronavirus—to make movement more efficient and to decrease congestion, which leads directly into my next point: The pride with which the people maintain not just their infrastructure but also their natural world can easily be seen here. Although the country is one of the flattest in the world, the amount of amazing nature is never in short supply. On every train ride out of Amsterdam, I saw some of the most pristine and well-kept landscapes. The decision not to take the bus which I’d already paid for and instead walk to the airport, thus, seemed only natural, as discovering the Dutch countryside was one of the things few I didn’t do.

I would like to end this article with a quote I saw painted on the side of a building in Den Bosch. I did a quick translation on my phone and the literal one is as follows: The feeling that you are just a bit bigger today than you were yesterday; it probably means that each and every day offers us an opportunity to grow and if we seize it, we realize our potential—that would be the most standard interpretation.

Since we’re in Den Bosch, however, I take it to mean something else; for me it’s that bittersweet nostalgia I described earlier—the realization that you’re no longer a child in the country you once experienced the greatest happiness in and have now returned to as an adult who, at that exact moment, is longing for those very days you’ll never have back. You’re now a little bigger than you were over twenty years ago and the past is even less likely to come back the more you try to convince an empty house that it needs a lamp at night. So go. Live. Whatever has happened has already happened. The people who really want you in their lives won’t keep trying to run away.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.