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We do things funny over here…
I recently attended the Poetry International festival in Rotterdam – one of the best poetry-related events I’ve ever been to – meeting day and night with poets from countries other than the USA, and heard – literally – not a single word about writing programs, nor about avant-gardes, post-avant gardes, flarf, or conceptual writing .
Imagine that! Well, I know that writing programs exist outside of the US (particularly in the UK now), and yet… we sure seem to do things very differently over here. The relative lack of toadying and jockeying for position I found among poets from other countries – and I know that a single week is nothing conclusive – leads me to wonder how and why things seemed so different. I have no answer. But among all the poets, editors, and attendees of poetry events I met or saw … most very keenly wanted to read and learn about everybody they could. There was an impressive urgency among poets to encounter the work of people who were different. Sure, we had a few passionate and even heated discussions – but never about the kind of pecking-order stuff one must take for granted day in and day out over here. We’re a big country, but our literary culture seemed quite small over there.
Two poets in particular opened my eyes in many ways; they are not completely unfamiliar to American readers. Dunya Mikhail is an Iraqi poet now living in the US, with books published by New Directions; Vera Pavlova lives partly in Alaska, partly in her native Russia with her husband and translator Steven Seymour (whom you’ll hear in this recording), and her poems have appeared in places like Tin House and The New Yorker.
Click here to listen to my interview with them, which includes questions about exile, women poets, translation – and getting pigeonholed!