writes, after visiting Sharh-i-Zindar, Gur Emir, the Registan (at the heart of the ancient city of Samarkand), and Bibi-Khanym Mausoleum in Uzbekistan, where the tour began.
“The aim of these reading tours is two-fold,” says writer Christopher Merrill, who also directs the IWP. “We want American writers to discover the culture and literature of these countries, and to encourage interaction and collaboration.”
IWP reading tours, which take place every year in the spring, are designed to introduce American writers to a country or region with a relatively sparse history of literary liaisons with the United States.blog. “In many parts of the world blindness is still imagined to be caused by spiritual forces or worse, is thought to be a product of sorcery. As time goes by and my travels accrue I see the solution—the response—has to do with lingo. You can't be put in a closet if you are singing.”four writers to the IWP’s fall residency program since 2004. The most recent is poet, translator, and journalist Alina Dadaeva who spent ten weeks in the United States as an IWP resident in 2012, who, along with and ’04 resident Aazam Abidov, recently caught up with the group.
Check back here for updates on the group’s travels and visit IWP on Facebook for more photos of the tour.
A guest post by Bina Shah.
Come, come, whoever you are.
Worshipper, wanderer, lover of leaving, it doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
One of the best parts of being a writer is that I sometimes get to travel for work. It's not the kind of travel of businesspeople and bankers, or politicians or doctors, but the kind of travel that writers do: in caravans of joy, to visit faraway places, to be inspired by that travel and the discussions, conversations, and friendships that take place in that space and time.
I am no expert on Rumi. I've long avoided delving into his work, perhaps wary of the extreme sentimentality and commercialism that 20th century charlatans have introduced into his legacy. But I was forced to think long and deep about who Rumi is to me: the best metaphor I could find to understand him is that Rumi is a mirror: we look into his work to see ourselves.
Morden bodam, zindeh shodam
Geryeh bodam, khaneh shodam
(I was dead, then I came to life/ I was sorrow, then I became joy)
There was much laughter, some wine, lots of prayers, and so much poetry. I who am no poet, but a prose writer, sat enthralled while listening to my colleagues talk about rhyme, rhythm, meter, the merit of some words over others. I learned that poetry, which has sometimes eluded me, is nothing less than a mystical code that you could spend your whole life learning to write, or learning to decipher. And I wrote these lines while I was on the road with them, listening to their talk:
Poets to me are holy people
Their faces glow, their heads are expansive and enlarged
They have auras and halos around them
Like the angels in the paintings of Michelangelo
I stayed in a cave hotel, Serinn House, which had been carved out of cave rock. We visited Derinkuyu City, an eight-story underground city where early Christians hid from Roman armies in 35 meters of labyrinthian rooms and tunnels set with booby traps. We went to the Gorime Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was a huge religious complex with a monastery, nunnery, and churches with colorful and mystical religious frescoes etched into the walls. And we took a walk in a "Fairy Chimney Forest", where I sat and had Turkish tea and a friendly Turkish man told me he recognized the Pakistani clothing my Afghan colleague was wearing.
On our last day, as we drove to the airport in the early morning, we saw hundreds of hot air balloons up in the sky, exploring the lunar landscape, like alien life forms. Nothing could better encapsulate the experience of being in Cappadocia, or indeed on that entire trip, than the joy of uplift and elevation and being able to defy gravity underneath the bright hues of a globe-shaped multiverse. As a Muslim, worshipping at the shrines of the enlightened beings, I received affirmation and confirmation of my beliefs, and understood the connection across borders, generations, and centuries of those of us on the Path. As a writer, I made friendships with fantastic poets and scholars, learned at their feet, danced and sang with them in bliss and celebration. As a human, I saw places I never thought I'd be able to go.
May we all be blessed in such ways of seeking!
On Going Home is the name we've given to a short series of essays by our fall residents. We commissioned the pieces because we wanted to keep in touch and were curious about what the process of returning home was like for authors who'd spent nearly 3 months in the U.S. writing, researching, traveling, and interacting with Americans. We also asked the authors to send us a photograph that represented "home" in some fundamental way. Our second installment comes from poet and blogger Pandora, whose transition home coincided with a larger transition currently budding in Burma/Myanmar.
It is no longer the delightful rays of light through the window that start my day. It is the vibration of the water pump that serves as my wake-up alarm. When I open my eyes, the walls, the ceiling, the curtains, the wardrobe, the washing machine at the corner of the room and most evidently, a mosquito net covering me and my hubby sleeping next to me…. all these confirm that I am home.
I spent almost three months in Iowa City and other cities in America. What is specific about Iowa City, to me, is “tranquility” though the same might not necessarily be true in all parts of America. Most days I encountered in the fall season were cool enough to create a fresh atmosphere and warm enough to keep an Asian visitor like me comfortable. Most Iowans use their own legs to get around town yet they don’t look tired. They seem relaxed yet active. They don’t have to be in a hurry yet still are on time. I lost a few kilos walking around town during my residency. The changing colors of beautiful leaves enchanted me, being a person who has never experienced a four-season country. New Orleans’ crazy nights raised my spirits. Art museums were my favorite places to visit in Chicago, Washington DC, and New York.
Back in Yangon, I miss the opportunity to walk naturally from place to place. I find myself in a vehicle most of the time but I usually have to be in a rush. The increasing import of cars is making driving inconvenient, even for those who own cars, not to mention those who take public transport. Going downtown during the daytime is a sweaty journey in heavy traffic. I miss the breeze blowing across the bridge over the Iowa River. Nevertheless, what is a relief to me is the momentum of the “transition” in my country. Finally we’re starting to see a faint light at the other end of the tunnel.
I arrived back home from the States in mid-November last year, which is considered the cold season in my country. Hence, after witnessing the prettiest fall in the States, excepting Sandy hurricane, I was back home to enjoy the best season in my country. For most IWP writers, the day after they landed might have been hectic, with piles of tasks on their desks. I am fortunate enough to still be on a long leave from my job in Singapore (since late 2011) in order to enjoy the sense of home and plan for my family. Fortunately again, the timing also coincides with significant changes in my country, the so-called transition period.
Transition brings us a more open outlook of the world toward a closed country. We are receiving global attention to literature and culture along with political changes. After the gradual easing of censorship to some extent, literary and artistic events can be held without needing to pass through a strict process, unlike in previous times. Among them are the Blue Wind Multimedia International Art Festival, the Irrawaddy International Literary Festival, and several other art exhibitions and literary events.
The voice of the people is also heard louder in the transition although whether that voice can carry the expected changes is another story. Such a voice is also reflected in literary and artistic work. Messages are clearer and styles are more direct as compared to the past, when we had to be very cautious about each and every word we expressed. Applause for such writings is also heard from the audience. Some poets express their excitement at the shifting trends in poetics and at witnessing the new challenges of writing in the process of openness.
I remember the students I met in Iowa City, Des Moines, Spirit Lake and News Orleans. I was so envious that regardless of their ages, from primary school to seniors in college, they had opportunities to learn about contemporary international literature and hear updates from international writers. Such opportunities might not come quickly to Myanmar, but I was so glad when an IWP team visited universities in Yangon and gave lectures this year [poets Christopher Merrill, Robert Hass, and Brenda Hillman, and fiction writer Zuwena Packer visited Burma/Myanmar on an IWP reading tour January 11 - 17, 2013]. I hope that this will pave the way for future long term collaborations in creative writing between universities in the States and Myanmar.
Transition is not a perfect process. Despite some improvements, we are still hearing the ugly roar of civil war in the north and the noise of ethnic conflicts in the western part of the country. Farmers are still struggling for their land rights against big industrial projects. Factory workers are fighting for a better quality of work-life. We hope that democracy, still in its infancy, is not overwhelmed by the feeble educational system and the fundamental inequalities that have existed since the time of the tough ruling regime. Don’t these poor, long-suffering people deserve a pleasant future ahead?
Now, many streets all over the country are decorated with yellowish Ngu and reddish Sein Pan: the local seasonal flowers. People are waiting for Padauk, the national flower, which is supposed to blossom only once in a year right at the time of the Water Festival. The Water Festival is also called “Thingyan”, which comes from a Pali word meaning “transition”. During the “transition”, people wish for bad deeds to be cleansed by cool water and replaced with a genuinely clean body and mind in order to welcome a better New Year. Despite some still unclean dirt, I believe that the brighter and cleaner days are on their way, seen or unseen.
Maybe it’s also the time when the IWP is preparing for the upcoming fall residency. Perhaps the sweet memories of IWP’s fall 2012 residents will be replaced with those of the new batch soon. But I believe that my little footprints will remain indelible in Iowa City, whether visible or invisible.
For more from Pandora, watch her On the Map interview.
Last Friday, 17 poets and writers from the U.S., Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran arrived in Konya, in central Turkey, to participate in The Same Gate, a six-day conference centered around the life and work of celebrated poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi. Beirut-based documentary filmmaker Nigol Bezjian is recording the encounter, organized by the International Writing Program (IWP), which includes discussions, collaborative writing sessions, and visits to museums, shrines, and cultural sites. The conference culminates in a collaborative book of ghazals (a poetic form employed by Rumi), prose reflections, and translations composed by participants as a homage to the value and importance of international creative exchange.
A CENTRAL POET ACROSS CONTINENTS
The Same Gate is organized around 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a central poet in Afghan, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish literature and also the bestselling poet in America. “All countries claim Rumi,” says IWP director Christopher Merrill, who is travelling with the group; “his life and poetry provide fertile ground for collaboration and exchange.” While in Turkey, participants are meeting with Esin Celebi Bayru, Rumi's great granddaughter (21 generations removed), visiting the Rumi Shrine and the shrine of his mentor, Shams e Tabris in Konya, traveling to the southern town of Karaman, exploring a village where Rumi once lived with his family, and visiting the tomb of Rumi’s mother, among other activities.
FOSTERING CLOSER RELATIONS BETWEEN AMERICAN AND IRANIAN POETS
The product of more than two years of planning, The Same Gate is also designed to foster greater understanding between Iranian and American poets (MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Richard Kenney and National Book Award winner Marilyn Hacker are among the U.S. participants), building upon the memorandum of understanding signed by the presidents of the University of Iowa and the University of Tehran to increase collaboration between the two institutions. With Rumi’s poetry as common ground, the project bring poets together to think and talk about poetry and to produce innovative new collaborative work, nearly 800 years after Rumi composed the ghazal that gave The Same Gate its name.
This week, the International Writing Program (IWP) adds Arabic, Polish, and the first-ever Malay translation of Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Song of Myself” to the 9-language WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery. The gallery, which presents one section of the 52-section poem each week, along with an audio recording, foreword, afterword, and discussion question, already includes Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian, as well as the first-ever translation into Persian.
“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Whitman wrote; by adding Arabic, Polish, and Malay (bringing the total language count to 12), WhitmanWeb encourages a multitude of new readers to discover the poem and join the conversation. The gallery, currently in its 26th week, will publish the three new translations beginning from section 1 of the poem, with the 52 weekly installments to run from now through May 2014.
A WEALTH OF RESOURCES
WhitmanWeb combines the scholarly resources and expertise of the Walt Whitman Archive with IWP’s international network of poets and translators. University of Iowa professor Ed Folsom, one of the world’s premier Whitman scholars and co-director of the Archive, collaborates with WhitmanWeb translators working to produce first-ever translations (like the Persian). Folsom also writes the weekly forewords to each new section of the poem, replete with analysis, commentary, and even trivia. There’s a cliff in Canada called “Old Walt” where the final three lines of section 20 of “Song of Myself” are carved in stone in three-foot-high letters—who knew?
2 RADICALLY DIFFERENT ARABIC TRANSLATIONS FROM IRAQ AND SYRIA
The Arabic page of WhitmanWeb actually includes two translations: a 1976 version by Iraqi poet Saadi Yusef tracked down by IWP alumnus Soheil Najm (who offers his opinion on it, including some of Yusef’s questionable changes and omissions in a short essay in the “Resources” section of WhitmanWeb) and a 2005 translation by Abed Ismael, a professor of Modern American Poetry at the University of Damascus, in Syria. The IWP is digitizing the Yusef translation for the first time—no easy task, since the Arabic text has to be transcribed before it can be uploaded to the gallery. Presenting the two Arabic versions side-by-side allows Arabic-speaking readers and scholars to compare and contrast the decisions made by the translators, as Nadia Fayidh, a professor of English and American poetry at the University of Mustaserya in Baghdad (Iraq) does in her short essay in the WhitmanWeb “Resources” section. Prof. Fayidh also translates the weekly comments into Arabic (made possible by funding from the Cultural Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad), and is the voice of the audio recordings of the Yussef translation.
FIRST-EVER MALAY TRANSLATION
IWP alumnus Eddin Khoo is translating a new section of the poem into Malay each week, the first time anyone has attempted to make “Song on Myself” available to Malay readers. (Malay is spoken by more than 200 million people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Borneo).
DIGITIZING THE POLISH, LINE BY LINE
While visiting the University of Iowa from Poland, Dr. Marta Skwara, an Americanist at the University of Sczecin, mentioned a Polish translation of “Song of Myself” to WhitmanWeb collaborator Ed Folsom. When she returned home, she tracked it down and has worked to digitize it, retyping all 52 sections so that they can be uploaded to the gallery, proving that, for scholars and admirers of Whitman, WhitmanWeb is a labor of love.
“Translators have been approaching us since we launched WhitmanWeb last October,” says IWP editor Nataša Ďurovičová, who oversees the design and coordination of the gallery. “They let us know about other existing translations of the poem and propose new projects.”
IWP hopes to also translate the forewords, afterwards, and discussion questions for each section, but, with limited funding, only the Persian, Russian, and Arabic tabs include translations of these rich materials. “We would love to have these commentaries in the other languages as well,” says Ďurovičová. “Especially Chinese. That’s the language in which the conceptual distance is the greatest, so having these resources translated could really help the conversation.”
Individuals interested in contributing to the project should contact Nataša Ďurovičová, natasa-durovicova[at]uiowa.edu.
WhitmanWeb will also serve as the virtual “textbook” for the IWP’s inaugural free online lecture series, which will invite anyone with an internet connection to engage in discussion led by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and IWP Director Christopher Merrill. “Like” WhitmanWeb on Facebook to stay up to date on this and other news.
Once you’ve written the first draft of a poem, what happens next? Find out by applying for the International Writing Program (IWP)’s upcoming Poetry Masterclass, one of two free 7-week virtual poetry seminars to be taught online through IWP Distance Learning this summer.
Poet and filmmaker Nick Twemlow will lead the class, which will explore radical revision from Walt Whitman’s obsessive reconsiderations of Leaves of Grass to Elizabeth Bishop’s drafts of “One Art” as well as alternative editing strategies culled from the likes of Frank O’Hara, Robert Hass, Lyn Hejinian, and Srikanth Reddy.
“Each drafting of a piece is an opportunity to rethink its destination,” says Twemlow, an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate whose poetry collection Palm Trees received the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Poets participating in the masterclass will forego mere tinkering and push their poems into new territory. “We will embrace all kinds of revision exercises,” says Twemlow, who in addition to his work as an editor for The Iowa Review and Canarium Books, is also an accomplished filmmaker. The revision techniques explored will include everything from the investigation of outtakes and omissions to formal challenges, sonic dares, and other uppings of the poetic ante.
The masterclass is designed for poets with a significant publication history from nationally recognized small presses or magazines, and/or who have published at least one collection of poems. The course is taught entirely online, so anyone with a reliable internet connection is encouraged to apply. Fifteen writers will be selected to participate from the U.S. and abroad. So far, the IWP has received applications from these countries:
More information about the course and instructions for submitting your application are available here. Application materials, including a resume, statement of purpose, and a writing sample (5 pages of poems maximum) should be submitted via email to email@example.com by May 8, 2012
“Writers in Burma have to find a way to penetrate censorship; we have to be more innovative in terms of techniques, style, technology…more creative” –Pandora (Burma/Myanmar)
This month, the International Writing Program (IWP) released the 2012 edition of "On the Map," a series of video interviews recorded with international writers in Iowa City last fall to participate in the IWP's 2012 fall residency. The series, made possible by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, includes interviews with 14 writers discussing everything from their favorite books to the state of current affairs in their home countries. The interviews, ranging from 5 to 30 minutes in length, offer a frank and intimate glimpse into the creative lives of these authors as well as a valuable portal into the countries they hail from and what it means to be a writer there.
Certain universalities emerge from the interviews, among them, the personal satisfaction the writers derive from their writing. “Being a writer, it gives many gifts,” says Genevieve Asenjo (Philippines).
“I’m a civil engineer, but writing gives me things that engineering couldn’t,” observes Taleb Alrefai (Kuwait). “It lets me be very close to people, lets me enter their houses, enter their hearts.”
“[Writing is] a passport,” echoes Rodrigo Garcia Lopes (Brazil), “[offering access to] new experiences and new insights into human life.”
But in talking about writing, stark differences in political realities also surface. When asked about the happiest moment in the writing process: Alina Dadaeva (Uzbekistan) muses: “the beginning, when you try to go through the fog using only your senses.”
“When I write the last sentence of my novel” quips Yaghoub Yadali (Iran), in answer to the same question, “and the pain of writing ends.” He pauses for a moment: “Another happy moment is when I hear that my novel has been approved for publication by the government,” he adds.
Yadali is not the only writer to have faced more than a bad review. Nay Phone Latt (Burma/Myanmar) spent 4 years in jail for his activities as a blogger; he read 20-30 books a month and wrote a collection of short stories while in prison. “No matter where you are, what you are doing there is more important,” Latt says.
Many of the authors broach the question of censorship in their interviews. Government intrusion “restrains the creative spirit of writers” sums up Alisa Ganieva (Russia), whose native Dagestan has been mired by political and religious tensions.
Still, the need to write subsists. "When I read something beautiful in Russian, English, Arabic, or Kurdish, I want people to know," says Gulala Nouri (Iraq), who, like many if the writers profiled in On the Map, is also a translator. “Being a writer or a poet is a destiny,” says Luis Bravo (Uruguay) fondly. “I don't think it's a job."
Watch the full interview with Iranian writer and filmmaker Yaghoub Yadali below.
For more videos in the On the Map series, including interviews with Khaled Alberry (Egypt), TJ Dema (Botswana), Bilal Tanweer (Pakistan), and Mohib Zegham (Afghanistan) visit IWP’s Shambaugh House YouTube channel.
“The purpose of poetry is to remind us / how difficult it is to remain just one person, / for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, / and invisible guests come in and out at will.” – Czeslaw Milosz, “Ars Poetica”
From now until May 8, the International Writing Program (University of Iowa) is accepting applications for an Advanced Poetry Seminar, one of two virtual poetry seminars to be taught online through IWP Distance Learning this summer. Fifteen poets will be selected to participate in the Advanced Poetry Seminar, which will “meet” once a week for 7 weeks, from May 20 to July 1, 2013. The course, taught online, is free.
“The seminar is a wonderful opportunity for poets,” says Distance Learning Coordinator Rebecca Boyle. “Not only will participants receive feedback from an accomplished young poet [instructor Micah Bateman]…they’ll also have a chance to interact with other participants from rich and diverse literary traditions from around the world.”
The seminar will focus on modern and contemporary poetry, including works by Inger Christensen, Jorie Graham, Tomas Tranströmer, Simon Armitage, Wisława Szymborska, James Dickey, and Lucille Clifton, but will also feature more classical works by authors such as Sappho, Rumi, Bashō, Dickinson, and others. Participants will complete weekly writing prompts and receive written feedback to mark their progress.
Instructor Micah Bateman is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s Lyric Poetry Award. His work appears in the Boston Review, Cutbank, Denver Quarterly, New York Quarterly, and Verse, among other publications. He has taught poetry and literature at the University of Iowa, where he was the Postgraduate Provost’s Fellow in Poetry. He is also the editor of PetriPress.org, an online poetry journal.
More information about the course and instructions for submitting your application are available here. The deadline is May 8, 2013.
When Distance Learning at the International Writing Program (University of Iowa) announced its first Virtual Poetry Seminar this winter, the interest from poets around the world was overwhelming. We received over 150 applications from 28 countries:
Ultimately, 15 poets representing 8 countries were selected to take part. With so many talented poets interested in participating, IWP has designed 2 new Virtual Poetry Seminars. *Poets from Africa and South America are particularly encouraged to apply.
What kind of seminars are they?
The free 7-week Virtual Poetry Seminars include an Advanced Poetry Seminar taught by poet Micah Bateman, and a Poetry Masterclass taught by poet Nick Twemlow. The instructors will lead weekly online sessions and offer students regular feedback on their writing. 15 poets will be selected to participate in each course. [Work will not be graded, and is not eligible for University of Iowa credit.]
Which seminar should I apply for?
The Advanced Poetry Seminar is designed for advanced writers with an active commitment to reading poetry and refining their craft, although no previous experience is required. Unpublished poets and applicants with a limited publication history are welcome to apply. The Poetry Masterclass is for writers with a publication history in nationally recognized small presses or magazines. The Masterclass is ideal for poets with at least one published collection.
What kind of technology do I need?
Since both courses are offered entirely online, anyone with a reliable internet connection is encouraged to apply, regardless of where you live. A headset may be helpful when participating in online discussions, but is not required.
When can I start?
The courses will meet once a week from May 20th through July 1st, 2013 at a time to be mutually agreed upon by participants, who will span many time zones.
How do I apply?
Submit a resume, a statement of purpose, and a writing sample (in English, no more than 5 pages of poems) to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submitting an application is May 8, 2013. Questions? Email them to email@example.com. For more information about IWP Distance Learning, see our December 2012 blog interview with distance learning coordinator Rebecca Boyle.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a short series of essays commissioned from writers who participated in the 2012 fall residency. We began the series, “On Going Home,” last year as a way to keep in touch and get a glimpse of what the process of returning home was like for authors who'd spent nearly three months in the U.S. writing, researching, travelling, and interacting with Americans. We asked the authors to include a photograph that represented "home" in some fundamental way. This year’s first installment comes from Genevieve L. Asenjo, a fiction writer, poet, and translator who lives in Manila, in the Philippines; the photograph is the view from the terrace of the author's condo.
America was an introduction to vastness. I returned to my one-bedroom condominium unit in Manila last November feeling suffocated. I wondered how to best fit and display those shipped boxes of books from Prairie Lights, The Haunted Bookshop, Faulkner, The Strand on my already cramped shelves.
Space! This is one thing that awed me about America. Its big open skies and long stretch of land brought me not to seas and beaches comparable to the Philippines but to equally amazing bodies of water: Lake MacBride, The Mississippi River, Barataria Swamps and Wetlands. The 4-hour ride from Iowa City to Chicago was considered near; I relished the 9-hour road trip to Michigan State University the last week of October with two Filipino-American graduate students for a Philippine Studies Conference. And oh, how I wanted to dance either in my long skirt or peasant dress in the middle of cornfields and prairies in that autumn breeze and burst of colors! The closest thing I got, of course, was a portrait by Tom Langdon shot inside the Iowa House Hotel on an October afternoon.
By then, the autumn chill made me fret for home, or somewhere Southwest. I consoled myself that I still needed to see my ‘first real snow.’ A fellow writer with a good view of the Iowa River promised to summon me on the first instance of flurry. No luck, even to the moment the airport-bound limousine collected us from the Broadway-street hotel of our post-Sandy New York trip. Could the regret and relief in my sighs be assuaged by the Kronos Quartet that astonished us all at The Englert Theatre when news of a snowstorm all over the Midwest reached me last December by smartphone in the sunny comfort of my parents’ farm? The farm is on an island in the heart of the archipelago, an hour by plane from Manila and 2-hour land ride boasting an Instagram-worthy seascape. I thought of Scarlet O’Hara’s Tara and Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead. I stayed there throughout Christmas with a heightened valuation of things rural and agricultural as they have become synonymous to slow, organic, well-being. There’s nothing romantic about Philippine poverty; I deeply appreciated the farm trips to Erem Acreage and Solstead. It affirmed for me the possibility of a writing life nourished by my own share of land in a community capable of growing its own produce. And you bet, it become closer and nearer to any point I could find myself using Google maps.
But coming home was really about hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and all-time favorite Filipino dishes like sinigang, adobo, lechon. Never mind rice, I had it from the New Pioneer Co-op. My hunger and sadness in Iowa rested on pizza, bagels, microwave meals, paper cups and plastic utensils yet I was glad to be introduced to the Cajun and Creole cuisine of New Orleans.
“How was Iowa? How much have you written?” Friends asked. To the young ones, I told them about meeting Hualing Nieh Engle in person and giggled with them about Paul’s line for her, “In terrible haste, in full love,” as she told us in the documentary One Tree Three Lives. To colleagues, of how witty Elaine Showalter was, and to many other fellow writers, the thought after listening to Junot Diaz: that we should be writing about our Filipino doctors and nurses and seafarers, so maybe our writing in English will also be read, primarily, by our countrymen and women in diaspora.
More than newly-acquired books, Facebook updates on meaningful moments and photos of places traveled to, collaboration with New York Battery Dance Company, friendship with the staff and fellow international writers, some of whom I introduced in an elective course titled Contemporary World Fiction when I resumed teaching last January, the International Writing Program (IWP) gifted me with empathy for America and the Americans. The rodeo trip, barn dance with the seniors, and farm visits unveiled to me the rural side of America; “the other side,” maybe even “the real America” beyond Hollywood and foreign policy. Engagements toward the reelection of Barack Obama attuned me to America’s share of miseries and burdens. It was made believable by sights of many homeless people in parks and streets, stories of unemployment and that of veterans and families of American troops, and the tug of tax and tipping.
Every time I go out to my terrace and am confronted by a dense cityscape, my mind zooms out and settles in a vast void. A horizon. There, a lingering – the delight I knew well, for instance, when I read Clarice Lispector for the first time, in translation, from the University of Iowa Library, or when I rediscovered Robert Hass, skipping a grocery trip with Mary. Here, I hunger for more words like I desire an oyster. Clear, simple words for those intimate gestures of the mind and heart one keeps in different time zones, thousands of miles above sea level. At times I am startled, as if a squirrel passed by. Mostly, I feel light; glad to have walked Iowa’s ground and made peace with history.