Literary Friendships, Part One
One of the difficult things about ex-pat life is social—one doesn’t really fit in with the host country, nor, often, with the usual ex-pat crowd. One has many acquaintances among local writers, but ultimately language can be a barrier as well as a shared passion. And of course, being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t help on the isolation front. Returning briefly to Harriet reminds me how precious literary friendships are. One of the highlights of my term at Harriet was becoming friends with fellow-blogger Ange Mlinko.
Actually, I think it was a very good group we were in all round—I certainly found the conversations stimulating and conducted with good-will and respect. But maybe being the two women—and the two mother-poets—had something to do with our continuing our conversations off the blog. And maybe being from opposite sides of the poetry “spectrum” added too—we could compare notes on our respective “scenes.”
I was able to meet Ange in New York late in our Harriet tenure for a coffee, and then later we roomed together at AWP. (We were both on a panel organized by Craig Arnold... more on this later.) Then, when Ange moved to Beirut this year, I was excited to have a mother-poet-literary-friend in the neighborhood, so to speak.
In January, Ange was actually able to visit me here in Greece, and we (plus my four-month old baby girl) spent four days on a Greek island in the dead of winter.
Trust me, a Greek island in the dead of winter is no Mama Mia experience—it can be cold and rainy and windy, ferry service is erratic if not interrupted, tavernas are closed, save maybe one for the locals. We had to go to the pharmacy at one point for contact lens solution, and discovered the pharmacist performing minor dental surgery on a local Albanian worker. (To go to a real doctor or dentist entails getting a boat to the next, larger island.)
But we had a great time hanging out, building fires in the fireplace, cooking and eating, taking long walks, drinking an organic box wine called "Pausilypos" (a word straight out of Euripides, I think), which means "sorrow-cease" or "woe-stopper," pushing the baby the 7 or eight kilometers to other side of the island. (For which feat, apparently, we acquired some notoriety among the locals.) Conversations were about anything from the difficulty of writing while caring for small children to po-biz gossip. At one point we exchanged long passages of a book of free-verse we had both memorized: Go, dog. Go!
Literary friendships--real, live, in-person friendship (as opposed to Facebook "friend"-ship), where you store up the laughter and silence of real meetings, in sound-of-voice conversations--are nourishing and replenishing. It can be easy to forget this in an era of energy- and time-draining social "networking."
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...