A Reader Abroad

A Reader Abroad

I went half-way around the world
To sit and read
A book about somewhere else,
A novel of the British raj
In an armchair at the edge
Of an Icelandic lava field.

And we travelled
Far and wide
To gossip over tea
About our lives,
Speculating on details,
Or dissecting
What had turned out
Well, or less than charming.

Here in the very northern light of summer
I read, for once, an appropriate
Prose saga
Where each character, coming or going, is labeled
As part of the story or shared history.
For since childhood
I’ve been seeking
That narrative which sets a frame on life itself
That tells me on the threshold, without doubt:
“Now you are brought
Into the saga–
You are out.”

New Mayor of Reykjavik–punk rocker of the “Best Party”

I wouldn’t normally re-blog from the Times here, but Rich just sent me this article and I’m entranced. Plus, Kath and I are heading out to Reykjavik this very morning (a lovely cool sunny one). Plus, spa towels mean a lot to me. Enjoy!


Jon Gnarr mocked politics, and picked up protest votes.
Published: June 25, 2010
New York Times

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — A polar bear display for the zoo. Free towels at public swimming pools. A “drug-free Parliament by 2020.” Iceland’s Best Party, founded in December by a comedian, Jon Gnarr, to satirize his country’s political system, ran a campaign that was one big joke. Or was it?

Times Topic: Iceland

Hordur Sveinsson
Jon Gnarr is now the fourth mayor in four years of a city that is home to more than a third of Iceland’s 320,000 people.
Last month, in the depressed aftermath of the country’s financial collapse, the Best Party emerged as the biggest winner in Reykjavik’s elections, with 34.7 percent of the vote, and Mr. Gnarr — who also promised a classroom of kindergartners he would build a Disneyland at the airport — is now the fourth mayor in four years of a city that is home to more than a third of the island’s 320,000 people.

In his acceptance speech he tried to calm the fears of the other 65.3 percent. “No one has to be afraid of the Best Party,” he said, “because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.”

With his party having won 6 of the City Council’s 15 seats, Mr. Gnarr needed a coalition partner, but ruled out any party whose members had not seen all five seasons of “The Wire.”

A sandy-haired 43-year-old, Mr. Gnarr is best known here for playing a television and film character named Georg Bjarnfredarson, a nasty, bald, middle-aged, Swedish-educated Marxist whose childhood was ruined by a militant feminist mother.

While his career may have given him visibility, few here doubt what actually propelled him into office. “It’s a protest vote,” said Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political science professor at the University of Iceland.

In one of the first signs of Europe’s financial troubles, Iceland’s banks crashed in 2008, plunging the country into crisis. In April, voters were further upset by a report that detailed extreme negligence, cronyism and incompetence at the highest levels of government. They were ready for someone, anyone, other than the usual suspects, Professor Kristinsson said.

“People know Jon Gnarr is a good comedian, but they don’t know anything about his politics,” he said. “And even as a comedian, you never know if he’s serious or if he’s joking.”

But as Mr. Gnarr settles into the mayor’s office, he does not seem to be kidding at all.

The Best Party, whose members include a who’s who of Iceland’s punk rock scene, formed a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (despite Mr. Gnarr’s suspicion that party leaders had assigned an underling to watch “The Wire” and take notes). With that, Mr. Gnarr took office last week, hoping to serve out a full, four-year term, and the new government granted free admission to swimming pools for everyone under 18. Its plans include turning Reykjavik, with its plentiful supply of geothermal energy, into a hub for electric cars.

“Just because something is funny doesn’t mean it isn’t serious,” said Mr. Gnarr, whose foreign relations experience includes a radio show in which he regularly crank-called the White House, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and police stations in the Bronx to see if they had found his lost wallet.

THE polar bear idea, for example, was not totally facetious. As a result of global warming, a handful of polar bears have swum to Iceland in recent years and been shot. Better, Mr. Gnarr said, to capture them and put them in the zoo.

The free towels? That evolved from an idea to attract more tourists by attaining spa status for the city’s public pools, which have seawater and sulfur baths. For accreditation under certain European Union rules, however, a spa has to offer free towels, so that became a campaign slogan.

Mr. Gnarr, born in Reykjavik as Jon Gunnar Kristinsson to a policeman and a kitchen worker, was not a model child. At 11, he decided school was useless to his future as a circus clown or pirate and refused to learn any more. At 13, he stopped going to class and joined Reykjavik’s punk scene. At 14, he was sent to a boarding school for troubled teenagers and stayed until he was 16, when he left school for good.

Back in Reykjavik, he worked odd jobs, rented rooms, joined activist groups like Greenpeace and considered himself an anarchist (he still does). He also wrote poetry and traveled with the Sugarcubes, Bjork’s first band. He said he hated music but was a good singer, and began his career with humorous songs punctuated by monologues.

“I didn’t have many job options,” he said. “It was a way of making a living and still having fun.” His wife, Johanna Johannsdottir, a massage therapist, is Bjork’s best friend.

Mr. Gnarr said his idea for the Best Party was born of the profound distress and moral confusion after the banking collapse, when Icelanders fiercely debated their obligation to repay ruined British and Dutch depositors.

Practically speaking, Mr. Gnarr said he had no qualms. “Why should I repay money I never spent?” he asked, a common sentiment here. But on a deeper level, he had misgivings.

“I consider myself a very moral person,” he said. “Suddenly, I felt like a character in a Beckett play, where you have moral obligations towards something you have no possibility of understanding. It was like ‘Waiting for Godot’ — I was in limbo.”

LAST winter, he opened a Best Party Web site and started writing surreal “political” articles. “I got such good reactions to it,” Mr. Gnarr said, “and I started sensing the need for this — a breath of fresh air, a new interaction.”

The campaign released a popular video set to Tina Turner’s “The Best,” in which Mr. Gnarr posed with a stuffed polar bear and petted a rock, while joining his supporters in singing about the Best Party.

“A lot of us are singers,” said Ottarr Proppe, the third-ranking member of the Best Party, who was with the cult rock band HAM and the punk band Rass. Mr. Proppe now sits on the city’s executive board, where he will be deciding matters like how much money to allocate for roads. “Making a video was very easy,” he said.

At a recent budget meeting, Mr. Proppe, who has a wild red beard, ran his hand through his bleached-blond hair as he studied the fiscal report from behind tinted, gold-rimmed glasses. His old band mate S. Bjorn Blondal quizzed the city’s comptroller. Heida Helgadottir, who ran the campaign and is now assistant to the mayor, wore a diaphanous minidress and typed notes.

Mr. Gnarr, who comes across as thoughtful and reserved, did not speak often. When he did he had the whole room, including the strait-laced Social Democrat, in stitches. Still, he is not just playing a cutup; friends describe his move to politics as a spiritual awakening. He agreed.

“Of all the projects I’ve been involved with, this one has given me the most satisfaction, the greatest sense of contentment.”

Iceland: Arrival at the Blue Lagoon

The flight to Iceland was smooth—even getting on the plane felt like the start of a foreign country. We arrived jet lagged (2:30 am Boston time) at the airport but were promptly met by Northern Lights–young woman van driver said her two favorite things in Iceland were hot springs and looking at sculpture. The airport had a big egg with a tail hatching out–a dragon’s egg, I presume.Later I was amused to realize I’d quizzed her about Iceland’s educational system, and found out about college and vo-tech too.  We were very lucky to be able to check in and go go straight to sleep! Northern Lights is a bit chic and bit cozy, with a full view of the admired geo-thermal plant–steam billowing. Feels a little Soviet Union to have industry as a view. Woke up at lunch (onion soup and smoked salmon–really EXCELLENT smoked salmon) and then walked (more a half hour than “across the road”) to the Blue Lagoon,  enormous human made hot spring–indeed very blue–salt water–with silica sand you can rub on your skin. Lots of tourists, but mostly European. Suddenly I thought I understood Icelandic, but Kath pointed out it was Spanish (familiar even if I don’t understand IT). Snack of more smoked salmon. There is NO TIPPING in Iceland.
Right now overlooking vast flat barren stretches of lava, pocketed with gorgeous wildflowers from tiny white bell shaped ones to great clumps of lupine (presumably not native) and brilliant purple ones and yellow composites.
Some seagulls dive bombed us.

The launch of ABQ Writers Co-op

Lynn C. Miller & Lisa Lenard-Cook
are delighted to announce
the launch of ABQ Writers Co-op

June 25, 2010

We’re already offering classes in fiction and memoir writing and holding a monthly critique group, & in October we’ll host our first writing salon. Watch for our first short story contest in November, & the launch of our literary magazine, Bosque, in March 2011. Next summer, we’ll introduce our first writing retreat, & future plans include creating a dedicated space where you’ll be able to write—& meet other writers. Please visit our website, http://www.abqwriterscoop.com, & write to us, lynn@ abqwriterscoop.com & lisa@abqwriterscoop.com, to let us know the kinds of programs you’re seeking to fill your writing and community needs.

We’re tremendously excited by the growing numbers of writers and artists in our area, & look forward to supporting—and drawing increased attention to—the unique creative combustion enlivening Albuquerque and New Mexico. We hope you’ll join us in this exciting new venture. Creating community for New Mexico writers is both our passion & our mission.

Lynn C. Miller http://www.lynncmiller.com
Lisa Lenard-Cook http://www.lisalenardcook.com
ABQ Writers Co-op http://www.abqwriterscoop.com
creating community for New Mexico writers

Retreat with Owl by Jane Vincent Taylor

Retreat with Owl
There are many ways to abandon routines and retreat for writing — formally, accidently, far away or close to home.  It’s a matter of finding empty space and you know how much most of us hate empty space.  Fill those shopping bags, play that music, restock the dwindling pantry. Gosh, I’m hungry.  I better read the New York Times. Is it time for Dancing with the Stars?
I’m telling you this after seven days alone in a lovely woodsy house facing the empty space I wanted in order to make new poems.  Right now, I do not like it. It’s really empty.  Yesterday was the same until the barred owl flew across the deck and into a copse of oak sheltering herself in soft green and mottled light. “I have your back,” I said to her from the screened in porch. She twirled her head and gave me a film-noir look of secret collaboration. Very brown in her barred gown.  Very Bette Davis.
This is the place creativity needs, a theatre of vacancy and potential drama. It’s available to us when we get our writing selves queued up, primed and open. The critic, Peter Brook, refers to it in his book, The Empty Space.  Drama happens not just on a stage, but everywhere when we are in that heightened place of expectation.  One dramatic gesture can set it off. One whoosh of a wing. One glance of intrigue.
Today I wait for my barred beauty to fly back into our shared woods and invite me into her blinking  consciousness. My job is not to strain after her avian nature. It’s just to fill up the blank page with lines that draw us both into perhaps a kind of nightjar of language.  You know what I mean. I want to write a poem that contains the perfect balance of thought and empty space .  It should be a poem big enough for you and me and the natural world to meet. I’m missing you, my friends, my loved ones, for whom I live and write. But I’m gratefully on retreat.  Clouds are darkening.  Now it’s raining and there’s a lot of space between the drops.


Jane Vincent Taylor is a poet who loves collaboration with other writers,
artists, and sometimes owls.  She teaches writing at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM
each year during Creative Arts Week and the Fall Writers Festival.  For more
about her writing life visit janevincenttaylor.blogspot.com

Upcoming Albuquerque Poetry Events

Zachary Kluckman says–

Ok, for those of you who like a little verse in the evening we have two great poetry events for you!

Friday June 25th
“Who the Hell Knows?”
at Black Market Goods
112 Morningside
8 pm
Free admission

This is a Greenwich Vilage style, free form, urban jazz poetry jam with new work by Zachary Kluckman, Katrina Guarascio and Sal Treppiedi (known as Straight Flush for this evening). Joining us for this jam are – Danny the Harp, Phil Arnold (who has jammed with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Tito Puente) as well as Lance Robotson and Blank (aka Robert Stoppel) spinning beats! This will be an amazing evening of poetry and community so please come join us as we get old school with some poetics…..

and as a nice prelude to that event:

Wednesday June 23
“Free Range Poetry”
Page One Books (MOntgomery and Juan Tabo)
7 pm
Free admission

Join us for a night without additives as we share some new poetry with our friends in the community. Sal Treppiedi, Katrina Guarascio and Zachary Kluckman will be sharig new work from their upcoming books and CDs. Please join us for a night of shared language and love. No processed poetry, no high fructose verse,saturated egos….just poetry and fun.

Creative Writing at Santa Fe Community College

Fall creative writing classes at Santa Fe Community College. Memoir and Personal Essay is full–I look forward to meeting you all! There are a very few spaces left in Joan Logghe’s Monday evening poetry class. I have about 8 spots out of 20 open in my on-line fiction class. This is an intro to fiction, but taught using the flash fiction model. We’ll read the SUDDEN FICTION anthologies (American & International) and work with very short forms, from the character sketch to the fable. The class can obviously be taken from anywhere in the world!

Right now resources for creative writing students at SFCC include an ongoing invitation to submit work to The Santa Fe Literary Review (with a high priority read), ability to publish on this blog, and hopefully starting this semester to work with the poetry posts for public art on campus. The fiction class includes a unit on publishing with on-line resources. There is a certificate in creative writing as well as an AA in creative writing now offered on campus. Both include an intensive one-on-one portfolio class as an opportunity to complete a manuscript.
For information on how to register–go to http://www.sfcc.edu/ or call 505 428-1000.

Big Dream Pantoum by Debbi Brody

Big  Dream Pantoum

Walking into a big dream, hands gentled around
a Gouldian finch, dark lavender chin,
every line of color separation pure, no transition.
Drop him in a white wrought iron cage on a table.

A Gouldian finch, dark lavender chin,
becomes a purple bucket on the floor.
Drop him in a white wrought iron cage on a table.
The bird, now a mouse, hangs by his sharp jaw

becomes a purple bucket on the floor,
clings to my index finger. Rasp him into the writhing.
The bird, now a mouse, hangs by his sharp jaw,
scraped into a bucket with a white washed wooden board.

Clings to my index finger, rasped into the writhing.
A rat climbs the panel, hangs from my wrist with serrated teeth
scraped into a bucket with a white washed wooden board.
Black and white striped snakes braid through my hair.

A rat climbs the panel, hangs from my wrist with serrated teeth.
No one helps. Sound familiar? The beast always grows.
Black and white striped snakes braid through my hair.
I tell the dream story standing in our kitchen packing lunch.

No one helps. Sound familiar? The beast always grows.
Drinking coffee, he says, Sounds like you’re feeling things-
I tell the dream story standing in our kitchen packing lunch.
are out of your control. I laugh and say, No kidding Batman.

Drinking coffee, he says, Sounds like you’re feeling things-
Walking into a big dream, hands gentled around
are out of your  control.  I laugh and say, No kidding Batman,
every line of color separation pure, no transition.

3 Questions for John Brandi

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? How do
you understand it, use it, etc.

This question sends me back to my childhood beginnings as a poet and
painter. My parents, neither of whom were artists, gave me paper, pencils,
and plenty of solitude in which to simply sit, imagine and squiggle
imaginary labyrinths. My language was the line, a ceremonial thread
extending from body to page, procreating as it unraveled, bestowing
dimension to the paper. The line was a sonorous filament intimate with the
pronouncement of my dreams. I sang as the line unrolled, and the more I
sang, the more I “saw.” My parents also introduced me to the natural
world: the California coast, the High Sierras, the Mojave Desert. After
our trips, my father would ask me to draw something from the places we
visited; my mother would suggest I write a line to express how I felt in
the place that I drew. When my drawings and “lines of feeling” began to
pile up, they would gather and staple them into pages, ask me to make a
cover and add a title. “There, now you have a book.”

Fifty-five years later I still do what I did then: travel out, feel the
world, return home, and allow the line to unravel into a poem, a picture,
a book. In 1985, after my first fifteen years in New Mexico, That Back
Road In was published, a collection of  64 poems with ten “word maps”
culled from my journals. The word maps harkened back to the sinewy lines
of my childhood drawings. My type-set poems were sinewy, too—each line a
topographic, or typographic, projection of the high desert. I didn’t, and
still don’t, adhere to a flush-left format, my preference being to keep
the poems as close as possible to the way they came into my head, out from
my hand, into my journals.  The flush-left format is clean and readable,
but it doesn’t bear a close relationship with music—the essential drift of
song which poetry celebrates. Nor does it allow me as easily into the
poem, or into the poet, as does a more visually seductive format.

Physical geography is very important to me—geography was my favorite class
in school, and maps were an essential part of growing up. In a sense,
geography begins from within, erupts from the imagination, becomes real as
we walk, disappears when we stop. A trail through the land is a path
through the mind. In my own poetry the shape of a line can have to do with
the terrain of a hike or of a psychological amble into deep solitude; it
can sound the depths and record the musicality of wildly-rambling
consciousness or become an isoseismic graph measuring an emotional abyss.
It can unroll as a calligraphic Chinese scroll, a jagged labyrinth of
automatic writing, or strange telegraphic teletype spelling out metaphors
for a world beyond. It can leap with juxtapositions and record the
sensory, extra-sensory and emotionally expressive realities of an outward
journey: a high-altitude summit, a hop-skip-jump over rushing whitewater,
a surge through warm currents after a deep-water dive, a crawl through the
cosmos of the backyard garden.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human
body? Or between your writing and your body?

Absolutely. The poem is liquid, manufactured in the body, not in the
brain. It doesn’t agree with logic, it is not separate from the soul, it
is a secretion; a cosmopolitan third-eye nerve-ending “seeing” (in the
manner of the ancient rishis). It is blood equation, alchemic fusion,
soma, spittle, light cycled through the flesh to be made word. Thus, not
“created,” but there before creation. Erupted, spewed. As is magma. The
drunken boat of Rimbaud is a poetic evolution of the body’s journey. Pure
secretion, fluid word pictures. As are those of Wang Wei: exaltations,
pulsing mindframes, moody hues—mauve, pewter, apricot—sifting from mind
and mountain, into the body’s garden, through rustling bamboo into elusive
poem-pictures re-conjugating in mid air. Flesh and world as one. Body and
word as song. Energy as eternal delight (Blake).

3. What’s to dislike about being a poet?

Funny question, but a good one. Sort of like asking the farmer what’s to
dislike about the hoe. What I like: I’m out of the money loop, I’m content
with the hardships, it’s interesting to break through the hardscrabble and
look for water (or gold), and it’s okay to stumble (no career loop, thus
nobody watching) while mixing and fusing the alchemic brew. Poetry is the
perfect anecdote for the world of speed and distraction that has gobbled
people’s lives. I enjoy its process: the “not doing,” the pause within
everyday details, the wake-up clonk! that lets me see/feel/absorb the
familiar as if for the very first time.  Even though I can get cranky and
hard on myself during the final stages of honing a poem (elbow grease,
donkey work, re-seeding the furrows that didn’t produce, etc), it’s all
worth the toil. Eventually a garden ripens—profuse with blooming weeds,
unexpected wildflowers, bright tomatoes, eatable greens. Painting is also
a wonderful dance, no mind, all action. Over the years I have been
fortunate to enjoy the patronage of a small circle of collectors, and
this—tacked together with miscellaneous invites to teach, lecture, build a
fence, or create a one-of-a-kind book—has kept the financial rivers
flowing, though just barely in the dry season.

As to the “dislikes,” I’ll tackle what comes to mind randomly:

Because the American mainstream puts art, especially poetry, behind more
profitable and less mysterious tasks, poets often get cornered into the
idea of volunteering their craft, as if the making of poetry were some
sort of spare-time hobby. It is demeaning to hear a school celebrate the
“art saves lives” rap, then turn around and offer you a pittance of pay,
or none at all—not even a gratis book—for coming in to teach, save a life,
save the endangered species of human imagination. A couple years ago a
university asked me to return to read and lecture, but, because of “the
times,” they asked if I would come back for half of what I received the
year before. When your roof leaks, I asked them, do you ask your plumbers
to return and do the work for half of what they were paid the year before?
I wondered if the faculty was used to asking gas station attendants for a
cheaper rate before filling their tanks.  It also occurred to me that,
because of “the times,” poetry might be even more important than it was
the year before!  Poets shouldn’t have to kneel and explain their worth.
Surgeons, attorneys, and pilots don’t. A dedicated craftsperson—at his or
her vocation for decades, accumulating experience, growing a diverse
library as a horticulturalist would a garden of rare plants—is a
professional! When my relatives, who had worked in the auto industry their
entire lives, called on me to write a poetic tribute for my father’s 85th
birthday, they said: “You’re the wordsmith in the family.” And I thought
to myself, I’m honored, somebody really gets it!

Here’s another gripe: the poet-in-the-chair position. The
face-the-blank-page notion of duty that is often associated with poetic
process. Give me the active state! Walking, weeding, hammering the roof,
fitting stones into a path, splashing the brush across paper, splitting
oak for the hearth. Anything but the unnatural position at a desk, staring
at a blank piece of paper, waiting for the poem to come. How about a blank
sheet of sky! Walk out under it, and hundreds of sensations flutter into
the head that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Another dislike: competition in the world of poetry. That strange, and
strangely ongoing, literary scramble that fills the eager-to-get-ahead
with the need to  hobnob for opportunity, profile, recognition, gig
getting, etc., as if poets were business people selling their products, or
worse, selling themselves. Can’t imagine Mirabai, Kabir, Ghalib, Blake,
Basho, Chiyo-ni, Lorca or Dickinson opening their briefcases and flaunting
their résumés.  I once got paid to judge a poetry contest, a little dinero
for teeth repair (which turned out to be less painful than reading the
contest submissions). The poems seemed to be shaped by rivalry, written by
authors standing on tiptoes, painfully aware of the kind of awards-in-mind
“craft” one learns in MFA programs. Each manuscript was over-baked in the
same mold, cupcake look-alikes, taste-alikes. The work would have
benefited if the authors had loosened up, taken chances, left the
superhighway (and its rules) for a zigzag trail. Tearing up the images and
reassembling them with some ragged edges might have helped; or opening a
window to let the breeze rearrange the pages. Mostly, the poems would have
profited if the authors had had some real life experience. A good
non-academic head shake, an impromptu burlesque, a stint as a butcher,
steel worker, farmhand, midwife.

A poet of the 1950’s generation recently reminded me: “we didn’t need
awards, gigs, recompense. We had each other. We just went out and read! We
drank, listened, devoured!” I think of this whenever I encounter clever,
elbows-out poetry opportunists rushing forward with the weight of “where
going, what means.” I’d rather shoulder the tools of the trade, hold out
an empty bowl, see what falls into it. The essence of poetry is dust and
chaff—all that is unfinished, half-formed, charged with its own
energy—that settles on the plate.

John Brandi has been faithful to the craft of poetry, painting, and
journaling for the majority of his life. He is the recipient numerous
awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship,
four Witter Bynner Foundation teaching residencies, and a White Pine Press
World of Voices internship in Buffalo, NY. A former Peace Corps Volunteer
in highland Ecuador, he moved to rural New Mexico in 1971. He is an ardent
traveler, with over 36 books published in the US and abroad. A prolific
visual artist, his paintings and collages are in collections worldwide. In
2008 a wide selection of his art, including hand-colored letterpress
books, glyphs and word maps, were shown at Loka Gallery in Taos. In 2009
he lectured at the Palace of the Governors Museum in Santa Fe, where he
also co-curated the “Jack Kerouac and the Writer’s Life” exhibition. That
same year he gave the keynote address at the Haiku North America
conference in Ottawa, Canada. In 2010 the Bancroft Library at the
University of California, Berkeley, acquired his archives. His most recent
book of longer poems is Facing High Water, from White Pines Press. A
tri-lingual selection of his haiku is forthcoming from a publisher in
India. John lives with his wife, poet Renée Gregorio, in El Rito, New
Mexico, where he plants a garden, sets stone, and continues to teach, as
he always has, apart from the academy, as an itinerant scholar and