The Round Top Poetry Festival, April 17-19 2009 in Texas – between Austin and Houston –began in a down pour, with emphasis on both words. Imagine a ring-your-socks-out rain that continued for over a day. I bought the last pair of galoshes in my size – white ones! Soggy poets and wet umbrellas. Lightning. Thunder. Then, as if it never rained, Sunday morning the sun lit everything and the gardens were beautiful. Naomi Shihab Nye calls Round Top “paradise for poets,” and since my idea of poet-paradise would include Naomi and W.S. Merwin, I agree.
One unforgettable moment was seeing Paula Merwin leaning across the dinner table, deep in conversation with Dorothy Stafford, widow of William Stafford; the other was the answer W.S. Merwin gave to my question: In the work of translation, is attunement with the poet a serious consideration? I was in the first row, and his word blast scoured my heart and mind. All I remember was the last part, “…for translation, the best way is to LOVE the poem.” Merwin was introduced as “the Complete Poet.” When he read his poetry his gentle tone and cadence mesmerized the audience. He read long and deeply from his grey book, The Shadow of Sirius. A day or so later, that book won the 2009 Pulitzer prize for poetry, announced April 21. Sirius is not dazzling and clever, but rather casts a solitary even gleam – like gold – that enchants the listener. I feel it is largely important because of the great lifetime of experience and longevity he brings to each poem. In his youth Merwin was mentored by John Berryman and received vital guidance from Ezra Pound. Like Milosz, Merwin shows us the perspective of an octogenerian who is wise and thoughtful. From the poem in the Sirius collection,“Worn Words:”
…it is the late poems
that are made of words
that have come the whole way
and they have been there.
From “By Dark:”
When it is time I follow the black dog
into the darkness that is the mind of day
I can see nothing there but the black dog
the dog I know is going ahead of me
not looking back oh it is the black dog
I trust now in my turn after the years when I had all the trust of the black dog…
Kudos to the co-directors, Dorothy Barnett and Jack Brannon, who made it happen. Naomi made us all feel welcome and offered us her brave, engaging poems. Other highlights included Fady Joudah’s translations of Mamoud Darwish, and poetry by Jennifer Clement and Jo McDougall, all extraordinary word-masters. Jennifer lives in Mexico City and runs the glorious San Miguel Poetry Week writers’ retreat. Merwin once said these haunting words about Jennifer: “She writes in English but she dreams in Spanish.” From New and Selected Poems, my new favorite poetry is her Lady of the Broom, forty-eight poems about a woman who died of unrequited love at the end of the 17th century. Find it and read it.
from Jennifer Clement’s Lady of the Broom:
…Without a mother,
no girl walks safely,
no other will place their body
between her body
and the bear.
Here are some jewels from Jennifer’s workshop: “Study the etymology of a word. Sincere has to do with the Roman language of marble. Flaws in a slab were hidden with wax fill. Those without artifice were sincere... If you use dialog – go to the playwrights!” She appreciated Tennessee Williams especially. One technique he used was to “…have one character ask a question and the other ignore it. Then something wonderful happens.” Coleridge wrote that “poetry is best when it is not totally understood.” [Not advice for beginners!] ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The stunningly elegant hall at Round Top where the readings take place.
Jo McDougall offered a class and gave excellent pointers I will talk about in another post. I met a young poet named Jeff Stumpo whose performance poems were a knock-out. More on him as well.
The word I came home with is fascicle – [rhymes with bicycle], a small bundle or cluster, as in the clusters of poems bound in blue ribbon and placed under her bed by Emily Dickenson. <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <> <>