Against the Troubadours

XI.

Leixant apart l. estil dels trobadors
qui per escalt trepassen veritat,
e sostrahènt mon voler afectat,
perqué no .m trob, diré, .l que trobe en vos.
Tot mon parlar als que no .us hauran vista
res no hi valdrá, car fé no hi donarán;
é los vehènts qui dins vos no veurán,
en créure mi, llur arma será trista.

L. ull dels hom pech no há tant fosca vista
que vostre cos no jutje per gentil;
no .l coneix tal com lo qui es suptil,
hoc la color mes no sab de la lista;
quant est del cos menys de participar
de l. esperit coneix be lo grosser,
vostre color y .l tall pot be saber
mes ja del gest no porá ben parlar.

Tots som grossers en poder explicar
ço que mereix un bell cos e honest,
jovens getils, ben sabènts, l. han request
e famejants los convench endurar.
Lo votre seny fa çó qu. altre no basta
que sab regir la molta suptilesa;
en fèr tot be s. adorm en vos peresa,
casta ne sòu perque Dèu ne vol casta.

Sols pera vos basta la bona pasta
que Dèu retent per fer singulars dones,
fetes n. ha assats mòlt sabies e bones
mes complimènt dona Teresa .l tasta,
havent en sí tant gran conexement
que res no .l fall que tota no .s conega,
al hom devot sa bellesa encega.
past d’entenents es son enteniment,

Venecians no há en lo regimènt
tan pascefichs com vostre seny regeix
subtilitats que .l entendrens no deix
e del cos bells sens culpa .l movimènt;
tant gran delit tot hom entenènt há
e ocupat se troba en vos entendre,
que lo desig del cos no pot estendre
á leig voler, ans con á mort está.

Lir entre carts, lo meu poder no fá
tant que .us poguès fèr corona nuisible,
merícula vos, car la qui es visible
no .s déu posar llá hon miracle está.

— Ausias March

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Against the Troubadours

Casting off the fashions of those finders who
refined their finery too far in passion’s fire,
and reining in my own too-fond desire,
I’ll tell the truth of what I’ve found in you.
My words are worthless, not to be believed,
to those who haven’t seen you face to face;
and those who see, but cannot see a trace
of what’s within, their own souls will be grieved.

The sinner’s not so blind he can’t perceive
your figure’s grace, your form’s gentility;
he doesn’t have the wise man’s sensitivity:
the colors, yes, he sees—but could he ever feel?
All your body has, the coarse man knoweth well,
except the parts in which your spirit shares:
he knows your hips, your waist, your skin, your hair—
but of your movements, what has he to tell?

We all are coarse in trying to explain
that which loveliness and honesty deserve;
and gentle youths, most learned, long to serve,
but, starving, they endure a lover’s pain.
No other sleights-of-mind could shine as bright,
commanding every subtle clerkly feat,
for idleness, in you, lies fast asleep.
God wills you not a virgin but a wife.

For you alone, the good stuff was enough,
which God’s laid by to make illustrious ladies:
of all those women, lovely though they may be,
only you, Teresa, taste of perfect love;
you have, within you, such intelligence
there’s nothing lacking in your memory or mind;
your beauty and your brilliance make men blind;
your wisdom gives the wise their sustenance.

The law of Venice doesn’t have the frame
with which your understanding orders subtleties,
nor could that city ever hold the keys
to how your body moves with neither guilt nor blame.
Such great delight belongs to every learned man
who occupies himself with learning all you teach
base bodily desires cannot reach
his will—and it’s as though his death’s at hand.

Lily in thorns, my art won’t reach so far
to forge a glorious, unseen crown for you;
for nothing should be shown to public view
where such great miracles and marvels are.

Translator’s Note:

Ausias March’s “Against the Troubadours” is not primarily a love poem but a literary one. The blazon of a woman’s bodily characteristics was a genre of its own, through which the (male) writer could show off his own mastery of rhetoric and poetics for the benefit of (male) readers. If there was a real Teresa, it is a safe bet that this poem was not written for her. I’ve translated it out of literary love for its funny puns.

Medieval vernacular Romance languages are full of false cognates, words whose wealth of interconnected connotations does not translate easily into modern English. It would be easy to translate Ausias March’s first verse as “Leaving aside the style of the troubadours”—but such a rendering would miss the wordplay of trobador as a composer or “finder” of songs, who, troubled (torb) by his overly “fond” desire, wants to write about the beauty he has “found” (trobe) in his lady-love. Significantly, the etymology of the poet or songwriter as a finder makes its own statement against any notion of “originality”—good lines are not created, but stumbled upon.

Some other false cognates include estil, which denotes not just any “style” but a high style full of rhetorical, clerkly embellishments; joves gentils, whose “youth” and “gentility” presuppose that they are courtly, well-born aristocrats; seny, which can mean “intellect” and “common sense” at once; and, of course, miracle, which, for modern readers, has lost most of its psychic force. There is also a joke about the city-state of Venice, whose power was reaching its height during March’s lifetime. In my translation, I’ve tried to give some impression of that fifteenth-century context.

Author: Ausias March (1397-1459) was a poet of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. He is known today as the first poet to write entirely in Catalan (instead of Latin or Occitan). A minor Valencian nobleman, he fought in the wars in Sicily, Naples, and North Africa during the early 1420s, after which he retired from military life and spent his later years as a squire on his own estate.

Translator: Samantha Pious is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of her translations have appeared in Construction, Gertrude, Rowboat, and Doublespeak.

Being Different

 

10609431_10152784527564305_7726241773674406253_nSometimes it is hard to be bicultural. Add to the challenges if you marry someone else that is from a completely different part of the world. Recently my husband and I traveled to Costa Rica and it was difficult to explain to everyone we met where we were from. I can only imagine once we have children how many looks, comments, and questions they’ll get. When I was there I wondered whether I should say I was Salvadorian (even though I never grew up there) because of my parents, or if I should I say I was from San Francisco, because that is where I grew up. And then there is my husband who could pass for Latino. Yet, there is something about him that wouldn’t fool some Latinos, who would instantly know he’s from another continent—he’s really from India. So we just decided that next time someone asks us where we were from we’ll just say planet Earth. The crazy thing is that the more the years pass and both of our families get closer, and we travel, we realize that our common language is love and an open mind.

Since my husband also has an MFA, and is in the creative field, we noticed that differences can actually be stimulating, invigorating, even. Sometimes institutions and narrow-minded families spew fear into the world, which is wrong because they are advocating that being different is a bad thing. I personally feel that being different is actually a good thing for stimulating the mind. In our singularities lies our fuel for both of our creative professions. We bathe in the bliss of our differences and celebrate our commonalities. See, we figure the more similar we are, the more boring it can be for two crafty souls. There are things I don’t know that he can teach me, and there are things he doesn’t know that I can teach him.

As a writer, it’s like an endless flow of creative energy! The brain can be a knowledge-fed machine, and being bicultural definitely feeds the monster with new information constantly. There is your family, and then there is where you grew up, and then there is your new family. Each place, each person contains so many stories, so many experiences and each place contains so much history. For a writer that’s got to be really cool! The aspects are endless.

And so my writer friends, I will leave you with a beautiful excerpt I read from Elite Daily on what smart people do:

It’s very easy to close our minds off from a learning experience due to the nature of the person delivering the material. However, an alternate perspective from an unfamiliar source can be a lot more interesting than annoying if you get past the natural urge to judge. Smart people are open minded.

They appreciate the value of other people’s opinions and do not let what they don’t know about a certain person hinder their ability to be thought provoking or amusing at the least. Smart people want every sort of interaction to be a learning experience, which is why they focus on the topic being discussed and its relationship with the entire outside world, not just with the person they are discussing it with.1

Excerpt from: http://elitedaily.com/money/entrepreneurship/5-smart-people-2/

The Sense of Smell

photo-14As a writer we are constantly looking for ways to describe things. We are always consumed with the inevitable questions of how phrases sound, if sentences flow, if we are getting to the point. Always trying to get good sentence that will get our readers intrigued, but there is the power of the senses. One of the best lessons I have learned from the MFA program at Antioch University LA came from Nalo Hopkinson, who said, “Don’t just describe things: make your reader feel as they are eating, living, breathing this life you are telling them about.”

As a writer I will admit that sometimes I overuse my sense of touch and sight. Always saying things such as “and it felt cold and looked metallic.” While sentences such as these are needed and necessary, we must not forget our other three senses.

This past month in my mentor group, one of the discussion questions that came up had to do with our senses. We had just finished reading The Golden Compass, and my classmate asked how Pullman had been able to draw us into his world-building through the senses. Of course I said something like “The daemon she carried with her all the time,” (you have to read it to know what a daemon is) but she responded by saying that for her it was the sense of smell. This made me think a lot about how Pullman had indeed accomplished such a description of scenes that were essential to the story, but not by describing or telling us how something felt to the touch, since it was not necessary. He did it with his nose, because we already know what a fish frying looks like, even tastes like, so there’s no need to describe how it looked or tasted. We already know what a fire looks like and so there’s need to describe it, but to remember the smell of it. Ah, now that instantly takes us to a place of comfort and warmth when we see warm fires, frying fish, families, the smell of smokeleaf. He guides our imagination in a very elegant way, and the rest is up to our creativity.

As I write this from my vacation spot, my sense of smell is rudely awakened in a good way. When I step off the plane into a hot tropical country, such as Costa Rica, I remember my nose. The wet earth, the cool mist on top of a mountain, the humidity that you can only guess brings out the smell in everything from the flowers to the rancid fruit on the ground. And the ocean? Well, for that, my writer friends, I suggest you take a little trip to the ocean and blindfold yourself for a while. Sit there and don’t think, just feel and smell.

When the Tide Sings Deep

Jeju island, South Korea

1

1974

Dawn calls the haenyo. They return to the shore, the soles
of their feet worn smooth. They listen for the ripples of pearls
and urchins, sing the sun from darkness. Soon-hee swings
a net over her shoulder, her fingers entwined in its deep sea stories.
The hand-me-down buoy, a taewak, rests on her back. Soon-hee
walks toward the sea, swims into the chop of icy waves, inhales
the wrinkled sky, dives into the ocean’s inky womb.

2

Mi-sook watches the haenyo. When her mother is nothing more
than a black dot, a speck of pepper sprinkled over endless blue,
Mi-sook forgets the sea. It is not yet hers to know. She gathers
half-moon shells, dribbles wet sand through her fingers, watches
her footprints disappear into white foam, waits for her moon,
knows her time to dive will come.

3

Soon-hee slips into silence, plunges 62 feet below the surf.
Her goggled eyes search the murky depths.
She does not think about sharks.
With salt-cracked hands, she plunders the ocean floor, collects
abalone and octopi, sea snails, and conch. Inside minutes that pass
like hours, even trained lungs flame. Soon-hee bursts
into daylight, gasping. Sumbisori—the hiss of sea women returning.

4

1984

Soon-hee sells her treasures at market, feeds her family, sends
her daughter to college. She does not need a husband to survive.
The men of Jeju need the haenyo. Wives, mothers, sea women, providers.
But abalone buys books and new ideas. Little girls do not learn the language
of the matriarchal mermaids. They trade tradition for college degrees,
wet suits for business suits. A new moon pulls women to shore.
Soon-hee’s daughter forgets the sea. She drives a Hyundai.

5

2014

Honeymooners flock to Jeju, Hawaii of Korea, Western tourists
charter buses to the Haenyo Museum. Fifty years ago,
thousands of sea women ruled this island,
gave birth to daughters they prized
in a country of prized sons. Only 5,000 haenyo remain,
kindred grandmothers, last of all Korean divers.
The tour guide introduces them. They sing
for tips. Several dive for the crowds.
Soon-hee emerges with a sea cucumber.
The audience applauds, snaps cell phone shots.

Molly Middleton MeyerMolly Middleton Meyer is the founder of Dallas-based Mind’s Eye Poetry. She works with dementia patients using a poetry facilitation process that not only stimulates creativity, but also empowers and dignifies those for whom so much is being lost. Her poetry has been featured in Disorder: Mental Illness and its Affects (Red Dashboard Press), The Merrimack Review, Words Dance Magazine, Postcard Poems and Prose, The Rainbow Journal, Mindset Poetry, and HerKind. Middleton Meyer received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in June of 2014. For more information on Mind’s Eye Poetry, visit www.mindseyepoetry.com.

Spring Will No Longer Be Silent

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Michael Brown died on my birthday.∗

No peace.

No justice.

 

 

 

We have been here before:

 

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Huckleberry Finn

by

Mark Twain

 

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Native Son

By

Richard Wright

 

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To Kill A Mockingbird

By

Harper Lee

 

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Beloved

By

Toni Morrison

 

 

And…

Now What?

To what do we turn today to make sense of what’s going on? I used to be one of those Luddites who thought that if it wasn’t written down on paper, then it wasn’t revolutionary, that it wouldn’t stand the test of time. The aforementioned books are all revolutionary, they have all advanced the conversation about race in America, and they have all been banned for it (which we have already talked about).

However…

I think we need to recognize that the conversation has moved online and just Like Twain, Lee, or Morrison, we have no idea what is going to stand the test of time, or what is going to resonate through history. I have this crazy conclusion that social media has turned into the most immediate permanent art we have to describe what is going on in our world.

Because…

We witnessed the Arab Spring.

We saw what the internet is now capable of:

And few people saw that coming.

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Revolution

 

 

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While the revolution will not be televised, it will be on Twitter and Facebook.

 In some ways, the world and all its peoples are writing the biggest book ever on what it looks like to live in a pluralistic society. The next great novel is the archives of Twitter and Facebook. I don’t think I ever fully grasped just how permanent that is going to be.

Twitter can not be stopped:

#IfTheyGunnedMeDown

 

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So far, hundreds of people have done a Stitchpic of two photo options the media could use if they, too, were gunned down. This hashtag has only been around (as I write this) less than a day and 433 people have submitted pics, but they have been retweeted thousands of times. It is only getting bigger.

After Trayvon Martin, a guy named Bob Seay said this about the “Internet Phenomenon” of the “I am Trayvon Martin” hashtag. What is interesting to look at is that while he rejects the idea of a hashtag that does not describe him personally, his Facebook post, I would go so far to call it his piece of art, went on to be liked 126,483 times and it was ultimately shared 54,000 times. His rejection went viral. And that is one white guy saying what happened was not OK.

Trayvon Martin

Michael Brown’s death reminds me that there is great art out there about this exact problem we are having today. In these times, we need to turn to that art and listen to the conversation that we have been trying to have in this country. His death also reminds me that what is happening in Ferguson is my problem, too. Michael and I are forever linked in my mind. Every year that I get older, he will always be 18 and that is not OK.

Roxane Gay, over at The Guardian had this to say about what is happening in Ferguson. Her thesis was simple, that it is time for more than just words. Roxane Gay said this near the end of the article:

“Our good intentions and social networks won’t change the situation. Our pithy comments about how we are now,  finally, like the rest of the world won’t change the situation.”

I would beg to differ on some of her argument. I think that words have weight, I think they have a critical mass, and we have seen what happens when the threshold is reached in the rest of the world. I think it is through this new social media that we can try and change our system of elections, something that would go a long way to creating change.

We also need to remember that our police are a reflection of us as we elect our sheriffs and vote on the allotment of money that goes into militarizing our police. They need to be included in the conversation, and not excluded by acts of vilification, because change won’t come from that.

 

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And, we need to remember mothers because we all have them and they bear the brunt of a lost child. This is Mike’s mother.

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I just don’t think he would have liked it if the revolution was violent.

 

Martin Luther King Jr.

And we shouldn’t let him down. I mean, can you imagine what Martin Luther King Jr. could have done on Twitter?

 

 

∗ Michael Brown died August 9th and my birthday is the 10th, turns out I am just bad at social media.

The Seduction of the Blog

This one’s going to start out with some family folklore. Bear with me.

When I was a wee little one, so the story goes, I sat in my crib with a secret smile but nary a hint to my parents of a new talent I was budding. Once left alone, door shut, no adults around to observe, I worked on my latest and greatest feat (drum roll): standing.

(Impressive, I know.)

http://www.onekind.org/uploads/a-z/az_giraffe1.jpg

http://www.onekind.org/uploads/a-z/az_giraffe1.jpg

My folks in those days were young, first-time parents. Perhaps later, once my little brother came along, when schedules got tight with multiple jobs, my school, his teething, when the marriage began to fray in postpartum depression and thinner wallets, frozen winter pipes and, later, spring thaw ceiling leaks—perhaps then they were too busy for surreptitious observations.

But in that first year of new parenthood, my folks would put their fingers to their lips and tip-toe to the doorway of my room, sneaking peeks at baby-me through the cracked door. If I suspected an audience, I feigned interest in toys or toes. Once my observers disappeared, I’d pull on the crib rail, stretch my legs, and rise to stand. Parents back? Oopsie daisy, back on my bottom. I preferred to hone my talent in private.

I’ve mastered standing (you’ll be happy to know), but over the years, essentially not much changed. I close the door when I change my clothes; I do not sing in the shower unless the house is empty; I do not dare send out a piece of writing until it has been pressed through the ringer, the type is dried, the wrinkles ironed, the seams darned.

Enter the blogosphere.

image from: mustafahacalaki/Getty

image from: mustafahacalaki/Getty

Blogging is immediate, fast, furious. Unlike a laborious five-year tome, the quickness means our words can be pertinent to current trends without delay or restraint from publishing industry gatekeepers. A platform to stand on and a microphone to hold? Oh yes, for us writers, blogging is seductive.

But, I am sure you can relate: so many of us writers are introverts. Perhaps also a tad bit perfectionist. I am the twelve-month first-draft kinda gal. I weigh each phrase, shift punctuation, and hide my pages from anyone but my mentor. In the world of performance, I’m a fan of rehearsals. Improv? Not so much. The nature of blogging is in direct opposition to a ruminative nature.

And yet, I am here blogging, and perhaps you relate to this also: it’s the tension of the opposites. There’s the way we do things normally, and our desire to grow beyond those bounds. There’s something—isn’t there?—about stretching out of a comfort zone.

image from: http://38.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mbfmg8sZ2D1rg1280o1_1280.jpg

image from: http://38.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mbfmg8sZ2D1rg1280o1_1280.jpg

Despite myself, in the years since my first Blogger account, through Tumblr, WordPress,Weebly, and Lunch Ticket, I’ve grown affectionate towards blogging. Thoughts quicken by the effort of it. In brainstorming topics, the creativity gears are oiled. Words come faster, and not just on the page. The mind sharpens.

Blogging is the opposite of perfecting a five-year novel in private. Blogging is typed and pushed live. Hello, world! There is no conservative safety here as with the single-reader letter, so blogging infuses the writer with deeper courage—perhaps the deepest courage there is, which is to speak up, speak out. If standing in a crib beyond the watchful eyes of others is the way I have always preferred to master my arts, blogging is the practice of forced growth, embracing imperfections, releasing control. Flaws and all.

Perhaps most powerful of all, though, blogging breaks the traditional one-way narrative barrier: readers also have a platform and a mic. Sometimes the comment threads are meager, but other times they light up with an electricity of their own. Such a lonely endeavor, writing. The courage and connectivity of blogging fortifies our literary community. Blogging opens the one-way street of writing to two-way traffic.

image from: http://www.edudemic.com/reasons-you-should-start-blogging/

image from: http://www.edudemic.com/reasons-you-should-start-blogging/

So: writers, readers, let’s connect. Do you have a blog? We want to read it. Share your link in a comment below.

Rey Armenteros, Time Traveler, 2012. Acrylic on panel, 14 x 11 in.

Turning Memories Into Cards

In painting my memories, I turn them into fortune-telling cards—my own deck of cards, for my own type of reading…

A State of Mind: Embracing the Process of Essay Writing

Last week I traveled from Los Angeles to Montana, and while I peered out the window watching the landscape change from state to state, I realized the journey was much like writing an essay.

When I begin a new essay, my mind is a jumble. Things are moving this way and that way. I head towards something, but I can easily exit. I have a destination, but in the beginning, I can’t even find the starting position. It’s the same with the Southern California freeway systems. They head toward every direction. There are on-ramps, off-ramps, slow downs, and accidents. When the freeway is finally moving, I feel as if you might make it to my destination.

As the traffic in my mind clears, I begin to see the road which is flat in the first draft, but it is moving forward and that’s what’s important. I drive through the barren desert but again, I’m still headed towards something. By the time I leave California my first draft is finished. I read it, and realize now I can shape it into something literary. This is the fun part. I’m now in Las Vegas, Nevada—it’s play time!

The second draft is where I do most of my editing. It is rough in the beginning and similar to the landscape of my next state, Arizona. There are rocky areas yet I can see their beauty unfold. I’ll change my verbs and make them more interesting. I’ll move paragraphs around and direct my readers to my main idea. And as I keep driving forward, I get closer and closer to my destination. At the end of the second draft I am ready to have someone look at it; a mentor, a colleague, or editor can now see what I can’t see.

When I leave the desert geography of Southern California, colors surface in Arizona, and Utah. New shades of red, orange, and pink give way. When writing, this is what I get from having my work viewed through another set of eyes; my eyes are now open to see new colors.

Idaho is where the life of the essay begins its labor towards birth. Idaho offers some of the most challenging landscapes in America: numerous mountain ranges, canyons, and forests. Here I climb. Here I make my way through the terrain and trees. When I come through in Montana, the essay is born. Montana means mountain in Spanish. I have climbed the mountain. The essay is complete. I have scaled its terrain. The essay is now ready to bear witness, after moving from state to state. It’s a process, but the process is worth waiting for, so embrace it fully, it works.