A Writer in Every Port

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.

Dinner at an Irish pub with Ben Moeller-Gaa in St. Louis

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…

Eating the world’s best pizza (Giordano’s) with dt.haase in Chicagoland

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?

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An Evening of NH Landscape Readings with Three Authors

Very excited to be reading in New Hampshire with my mentor and friend, William O’Daly. The Griffin Free Public Library is a cozy, historic venue with a lovely group of patrons. Hope to see you there!

Why I Translate: the Gift of Givre

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.

givre as it ungives at sunrise
givre as it ungives at sunrise

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.

FINALLY [AÐ LOKUM]

on the work-for-hire publication of HOW TO WRITE AN EXCEPTIONAL THESIS OR DISSERTATION for Atlantic Publishing

My tome began three months before
the World Cup 2010.
I had twelve weeks to take their notes
and send a book back in.

Through migraines, travels, and lost sleep
these 67,000 words
turned into cash which I then used
as my earned payment towards

a laptop for The Fold. I thought,
With all Atlantic’s rush
my book should come right out this spring.

(This thought now makes me blush.)

Another World Cup came and went.
I moved cross-country too.
I gave up hope of holding it;
what else was I to do?

But yesterday, the red mail van
arrived with box first sent
to California, then sent here—
its corners awfully bent.

Yet safe and crisp inside the box:
six copies of my tome.
Four years, one month, eleven days…
My book is in my home!

©2014 JS Graustein
Meredith, New Hampshire USA

click for more info at Google Books

NEBISKAT [DÖGG]

small water maker

not possessive
not personified

a being that is
a being that does

unseen
unknown

whose handiwork
appears at dawn

recognized
by the Abenaki

We just call it dew.

©2014 JS Graustein
Meredith, New Hampshire USA

click to see full size on Flickr
click to see full size on Flickr

RAIN [REGN]

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.

©2014 JS Graustein
Haverhill, Massachusetts USA

Click to read SNOW-BOUND at Google Books.
Click to read SNOW-BOUND at Google Books.

DISSONANCE [MIS-HLJÓMUR]

Today

on Lake Winnepesauke

in Gold Country

local children play

my daughter plays

a band concert

on the MS Mount Washington—

in the high school theatre—

their introductory performance;

her farewell performance;

I am [not] there.

©2014 JS Graustein
Meredith, New Hampshire USA

Recorders, played with gusto.
Recorders, played with gusto.

SUNSET [SÓLSETUR]

After Michigan’s miles       marked with graves
and Ohio’s highways       hindered by cones,
I landed some lodging       in a lakeside town.
I planned to unpack       and plop on the bed.
But I went to the window       to watch the traffic
and noticed — through noise       and nuisant wires —
sweet-light from the sun      setting over the lake.
Driven, I dashed       down to the lobby
where a man marked       a map to the beach
on Presque Isle (the piece       of peace where my son
waded and watched       the waves last year).
I revved along roads,     racing the sun.
I lost. But the last       liquid red
shone on the shingle.     The shore glowed.
The wave-rhythm washed       away the roar
of a day spent driving       and dodging pot-holes.
The sand massaged       the soles of my feet.
I paced. I took pictures.       My pulse    slowed.
No matter that I missed       the moment of setting.
The fade was fantastic:       a finish worth
extending my trek.     Two days to go —
impossible made possible       by peaceful Lake Erie.

©2014 JS Graustein
Erie, Pennsylvania USA

an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie
an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie

GREEN [GRÆNN]

My world turned green this week—a welcome change.
The winter’s white, while beautiful, had left
behind the brown of empty branches, mud
and rotten leaves. Two days ago, this green
enticed a woodchuck off his sunning-rock
to graze fresh grass behind my house. The deer
now come three times a day to fatten up
(their ribs are showing through their shedding coats).
I even saw a fox emerge to hunt
for rodents scurrying beneath the thatch
that’s pierced by fiddleheads and horsetails. Birch
and Quaking Aspen trees were first to leaf.
The other trees have buds about to break.
This green has sound as well as sight—at night
my wetland rings with courting frogs so loud
I hear their songs through walls and window glass.
But after half a year of silent nights,
this verdant lullaby is what I need.

©2014 JS Graustein
Meredith, New Hampshire USA

My meadow, lush on a May evening.
My meadow, lush on a May evening.