Liz Ahl’s poetry is always beautifully crafted, but this collection in particular is a stunner. The strength of the collection lies in her ability to make even the most mundane aspects of New England life sparkle with a twist of humor or a quirky thought. I, like her, am from away. And I, like her, connect with the landscape and culture here in Northern New Hampshire. How perfect, then, to find a collection of poems explaining the “why” of my fascination with my new home.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Certainly a must-read for anyone who’s lived in or visited the White Mountains or Lakes Region.
Above the flint-filled ruins and The Blade, a Red Kite
glides ‘round on thermals, never lands
or feasts within this site
of dissolution. Two Magpies, though,
pick at the only flesh on abbey’s bones:
a wall-top meadow that centuries have sown.
I’m not sure why I can’t stay put — why I always need to be planning the next trip to [insert destination here]. I adore my house on wooded acres, tucked into the hills above a tourist destination. Maybe I caught my grandad’s wanderlust that he caught from his dad’s work on the railroad. Maybe it’s genetics, stemming from the same urge that drove my ancestors to trade one continent for another. But it’s more likely a by-product of moving: having so many loved-ones in such a long string of scattered places. Social media is fine for keeping up with the facts of someone, but it’s no replacement for real-time bonding with someone over a shared meal. Even as a child, my parents made sure we traveled on what little discretionary funds we had to maintain the relationships that were important…relationships I would later rely on after my parents left for Africa.
So it’s no wonder that as an adult I followed their example. And once the internet created the ability to meet and collaborate with strangers-who-become-friends, my string of scattered people became a web that now spans oceans. Since 2009, I’ve made a point of meeting up with writer-friends whenever family-travel brings me into close proximity. I’ve shared pints with Mel Bosworth, toured the Louvre with Dorothee Lang, dined in Beacon Hill with Tim Bridwell, took Yorkshire tea with Samantha Priestley…and New York City? Rose Auslander, Casey Tingle, Elizabeth J. Coleman, Paco Márquez… These meet-ups play a critical role in a key component of my writing life: creative kinship.
Creative kinship is what sparked the idea for my calligraphic treatment of Ben Moeller-Gaa’s haiku. His guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for English-language haiku crossed-pollinated with my guidance on what is and isn’t reader-friendly book design. Our geeky discussions yielded a unique approach to a frequently mistreated poetic form. My practice of that approach over the course of four haiku poets’ collections has honed my calligraphic skills while giving me wabi-sabi instincts. Now I can’t write haiku to save my life, but I have enough awareness of their spirit to help another haiku/haibun poet, dt.haase, develop two works-in-progress. The only thing that could have beat dining with dt. one night and Ben the next on my latest train journey would have been for the three of us to dine together! Maybe someday…
I’m sure it’s possible to write in seclusion and only share work with faceless entities, but I can’t imagine it’s much fun. Working for a press out of my home, writing at a desk in my home — the internet makes these possible. Having to drive an hour+ to engage with poets in real life, however, sometimes leaves me isolated. The creative kinships I’ve developed over the years have opened up collaborations that have taught me skills I never would have gained on my own. And it’s the endorphins that come from these intense, trusting partnerships that carry me through the long, dark January nights when the roads are too icy to attend Writers Night Out…or Down Cellar Poets…or Boston Bookbuilders…
If you have grown thanks to creative kinships, please share in the comments. How did you meet? Have you ever met in real life? What works of art exist in the world now because of your creative kinships?
My practice of translating poetry is more than just a decoding of what someone wrote in a tongue not my own. It’s the unlocking of thoughts, the unveiling of sights, and the unmuting of sounds that I would otherwise never imagine. These discoveries facilitate word-play and poetic insight as I interact with my Anglophone world.
This week yielded a classic example. We took my daughter north for spring break to Québec QC so we could revisit it without the crush of summer crowds. While there, I read Robert Macfarlane’s essay at The Guardian about his book LANDMARKS. Of all the words he highlighted in his essay, the one that stuck with me was ungive from Northamptonshire /East Anglia and its peculiar definition “to thaw.”
On the same trip, I began researching Québécois snow-poems to translate. One of the books I picked up was Claude Beausoleil’s MÉMOIRE DE NEIGE. As everyone else slept-in after our long drive home, I started reading the book’s first poem “Tempête.” And there it was on the second page: l’effet de givre submergé. I’d never seen the word givre before. Wary from past experience with false cognates, I did a quick search in my French dictionary app. Et voilà: frost — the effect of flooded frost.
Frost/givre. Ungive/thaw. Robert Macfarlane’s thoughts on the derivation of ungive for thaw are poetic, but I wonder if the Norman conquest and its effects on the English language also play a part.
I don’t really want a definitive answer because the fun is in wondering; I only have this kind of fun because I translate. And now, because of translation, I’ll wonder all the more every time the givre on my window ungives at sunrise.
The sky turned black and we were stuck behind
a three-mile line of cars. I’d tried to find
a back way home from Megan’s Boston doc
but didn’t figure in the five o’clock
non-weekender just wanting to get home
to Essex County, Mass (I’d hoped to roam
its Whittier spaces). Rain began to pelt
the car as Haverhill came in view. We felt
quite nervous when we couldn’t see if there
were two or four lanes ‘cross the bridge over
the Merrimack. Our wipers set on max
could not keep up. We followed tracks
of a one-ton truck until it led us through
a flooded patch of Main Street. Thus we knew
we had to park and let the deluge pass.
We turned uphill and looked for treeless grass
to park beside. Rain-Bound. No debate:
John Greenleaf Whittier’s farm would have to wait.