Readings: Guenda

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Modiano’s Nobel Prize speech:

I have always thought that poets and novelists are able to impart mystery to individuals who are seemingly overwhelmed by day-to-day life, and to things which are ostensibly banal – and the reason they can do this that they have observed them time and again with sustained attention, almost hypnotically. Under their gaze, everyday life ends up being enshrouded in mystery and taking on a kind of glow-in-the-dark quality which it did not have at first sight but which was hidden deep down. It is the role of the poet and the novelist, and also the painter, to reveal the mystery and the glow-in-the-dark quality which exist in the depths of every individual. My distant relative, the painter Amedeo Modigliani, comes to mind. In his most stirring paintings, the models he chose were anonymous people, children and street girls, maids, small farmers, young apprentices. He painted them with an intense brush stroke reminiscent of the great Tuscan tradition – Botticelli and the Sienese painters of the Quattrocento. He also gave them – or rather revealed – all the grace and nobility that was inside them, beneath their humble appearance. The work of a novelist must travel in the same direction. His imagination, far from distorting reality, must get to the bottom of it, revealing this reality to itself, using the power of infrared and ultraviolet to detect what is hidden behind appearances. I could almost believe that the novelist, at his best, is a kind of clairvoyant or even visionary. He is also a seismograph, standing by to pick up barely perceptible movements.

Solmaz Sharif’s writes minimalist collages of political terror.

• it was my job to put a cross on each home with dead for clearing • it was my job to dig graves into the soccer field • I wrote red tracksuit • I wrote Shahida, headless, found beside Saad Mosque • buried in the same grave as the above • I wrote unidentified fingers • found inside Oldsmobile car • I wrote their epitaphs in chalk • from my son’s wedding mattress I know this mound’s his room • I dropped to a knee and engaged the enemy • I emptied my clip then finished the job • I took two steps in and threw a grenade • I took no more than two steps into a room before firing • in Haditha we cleared homes Fallujah-style • my father was reading the Koran when they shot him through the chest • they fired into the closet • the kitchen • the ninety-year-old standing over the stove • just where was I • uno a uno tu cara en todos los buses urbanos • Here lie the mortal remains of one who in life searched your face • call me when you get home • let’s miss an appointment together •

John Walser writes of midwest landscape and longing in the eclectic Hiram Poetry Review to which today I will submit a few things.

Because in March
when I still drive down
every other weekend
but not on this,
at one in the morning,
this cold alternate Saturday morning,
I will sit lonely in the window
of a loud, crowded, dark Main Street bar,
drinking a glass of wine,
reading by streetlight as thin as condensation
a paperback of Gogol or Kafka,
while she sleeps alone in her bed
232 miles away

and the snow falls in swarms
like lakeflies in July,
in waves of summer moths

A. Anupama’s poetry blends myth and science and sex.

A red hibiscus flower in a tall hedge
attracted me with its color
and its long bright stamen,
extended in a sort of greeting.

I didn’t notice until I got closer
the green parrot sitting directly above it.
I stopped still, for fear of startling the bird.
It looked at me with one eye, then hopped
deftly into the flower,
where it disappeared.

Xtiidxanu’ hruzá’ xquendabiaaninu

Our language molds the gifts of our thoughts: Zapotec poetry by Irma Pineda.

Pineda’s poems weave universal themes of birthplace, homeplace, and the human connection to the natural world. Two other poems, which she performed to music matching the rising and falling tones of Zapotec, are part of a series that describes choosing a clay pot for her child’s doo yoo. This “cord-house,” holding the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta, is buried on the family’s land, physically connecting person and place. Isthmus Zapotecs speak metaphorically about “home” as doo yoo: both the specific site of their buried cord-house and the broader landscape to which they are intrinsically tied. Pineda says of doo yoo, “This tradition happens less and less often. We’re becoming less and less connected to the earth.” She writes in another poem about the doo yoo:

The clay vessel is wide and cool
so your soul might rest
protected by the land of your grandparents
the land bathed with their sweat
the land blessed with their labor

In the Zapotec version of this stanza, Pineda uses the word guenda, which exemplifies the Zapotec connection to the earth. The word appears frequently in Pineda’s poems and resists straightforward translation. She translates it into Spanish most often as “soul,” but also as “totem animal,” “spirit,” “guardian,” and “gift.” In Pineda’s poems, these gifts include a woman’s brilliant gaze, one’s whole life, a child’s smile, and the darkness in the eyes of the dead. Talent—say, for writing poetry—is also a guenda, as is taking on an important community responsibility such as being elected town mayor. “Guenda is also our parallel being in this life,” Pineda says. “This parallel being journeys with you through life. If something bad happens to your guenda, you will be hurt, as well.”

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