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Aside on Expat Life (after Martin Earl)
I might not be the best person to comment on Martin Earl’s account of expatriatism and poetry (A.E. Stallings probably has a deeper perspective, after a decade in Athens). Spending a year abroad here and there can’t compare to spending a decade, or two or three. I have met people who did indeed bear signs of a kind of social deformity after a restive career around the globe. My own extended family suffered quite a bit of psychic damage as refugees and immigrants. But I have also found the New York-centrism of poets deadening. I agree that Modernism could not have happened without expat perspectives (I wrote about that here). But I also find I prefer the American Modernism of those who stayed behind—Williams, Stevens, Moore. I know about the coldness of “English as the language of business” and the joys of bilingualism (I wrote about these here and here). But I find that having English ambient around me informs my prosody, and not having it around me untethers it. I miss humor in language: when I was in the U.S. these past two weeks, nothing pleased me more than American verbal comedy, from Tina Fey to Stephen Colbert. (The brain decodes metaphors and jokes in the same area of the right brain, neuroscientists tell us.) I can say, after living abroad, that the cliche that Mediterranean peoples “know how to live” is correct: they still prefer children to pets; their food is better; their wine is better; they socialize rather than watch screens; they still have bookshops. Beirut has a poignancy and natural beauty lacking in U.S. cities. Yet I hang by a thread to the place. The ambivalent saudade of Martin Earl’s post rings true ….