Deborah S. Pease (1943-2014)

Memo August 18, 2014

Deborah Pease was a dear friend, devoted reader, and founding benefactor of A Public Space. She was the author of the novel Real Life (W. W. Norton), and several books of poems, collected in Another Ghost in the Doorway (Moyer Bell). Her poems also appeared in AGNI, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Parnassus, and other journals; as well as in the chapbook The Crows at Appleton (Monogram Editions) and Opposed to Indifference: Poems of Memory and Conscience (Haybarn Press).

A phone call nine years ago about starting this magazine expanded over time into long conversations about everything from the size of a footnote to a favorite sentence in the magazine. Packages, addressed in her elegant handwriting, arrived often on Dean Street, with a novel by Niccolò Tucci, a catalog from the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, news of the Poets House Showcase—for her one of the truest ways to value art was to share it. With that in mind, and as a way to remember her, here is a small selection of her work:

All the Observable Grace

It is difficult
Amid so much disturbance
To step lightly into the narrow boat,
To let the current carry it
Into the wide, slow-moving river.
Difficult to embark on the indeterminate journey.
Difficult not to find defeat in hostile terrain,
Easy to lose all sense
Of the river’s promise,
Easy to forget how the sun contends with shade
In ever-extending clemencies as day begins.
It is difficult to reach the shore
From arid plains, difficult to imagine
The ease of drifting.
Life begins
On the sloping river bank.
Minnows wheel in the shallows.
Trees on either side blend their reflections.
Light appears to emanate from underneath.
Birds are apprehended by their calls,
By the peace they call into being.
Only otherness
Allows the tentative step
Into the narrow boat, impels a casting off
Of customary gravity.
Coolness washes the face in sun-measured warmth.
A cleanliness is laid upon habitual usage.
Aquatic creatures plow delicate wakes
Criss-crossing all that was known
And is known again.
It is difficult not to wish
To live this way forever
In all the observable grace.
Day changes
In the manner of a face becoming old.
Night nears.
A log juts
Pronged with antlers.
Ahead lie clouds and islands, glazed tributaries,
A wideness, river-lakes, washes of blue,
Pale-hued supplicants.
Waters reclaiming the earth.
[Read more]

On Translating Du Fu

Memo Aaron Crippen November 4, 2013

Aaron Crippen's translations of Du Fu's poems appeared in Issue 17.

For a poet, there must be no greater pleasure than reading classical Chinese. For a translator, there may be no greater challenge than translating it. For Chinese writing is unique, with its pictographic roots. Fundamentally, its words do not denote sounds, as in alphabetic languages, but objects—such as 日, the sun—or combinations of objects to express ideas—such as 明, the sun and crescent moon together, meaning “bright” or “clear.” Its curves have been straightened and standardized, but in 日 we still recognize what was once a circle, like the sun, with a dot at its center.

Listen to This

Memo Tania James October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on May 18, 2012.

When I moved into my current flat in Jangpura Extension, New Delhi, my landlady told me that her father-in-law had designed the neighborhood as a settlement for refugees from Pakistan, after Partition. I asked her who and what had been here before the 1950s. Her answer, more than once, was, “Nothing.”

Kerstin Ekman for the Nobel

Memo Dorthe Nors October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on November 3, 2011.

Recently, I was asked by literary friends in the United States whom we Danes were hoping might win the Nobel Prize in Literature. I had no real idea of any consensus, but as happens every year a large number of male culture scribes over the age of sixty seemed to think it should be given to Bob Dylan. Which always makes me wonder why, if the prize really should go to a troubadour, no one ever talks about Leonard Cohen, but that’s just my own personal aside.

Reading Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones

Memo October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on October 18, 2011.

A recent review of Salvage the Bones considers the novel in the context of a Salon essay about Modern Steinbecks. These novels, the reviewer suggests, “play into the exoticization of lives unlike those of readers who are inclined to pick up literary fiction.”

Salvage the Bones, like her stories “Cattle Haul” (APS 5) and “Barefoot” (APS 14), is set in rural Mississippi (the state with the greatest percentage of poor people in the nation, and one of the top ten in terms of income inequality). It takes place in the days before Hurricane Katrina. The narrator, Esch, fifteen and pregnant, lives with her three brothers and father in a clearing in the woods they call the Pit.

Chaos Manor

Memo Sam Stephenson October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on September 13, 2011.

821 Sixth Avenue was a hub for jazz musicians from 1954-1965, and many big names in New York found themselves there. The photographer W. Eugene Smith moved into the building in 1957 and eventually wired the place, intent on recording as much of the rehearsals, jam sessions, conversations, and daily life in the loft as possible. The result, though vast (40,000 photographs and 4,500 hours of audio recordings), accounted for a sliver of what was going on culturally, artistically, and politically in the city during the time. Explore a selection of significant spots on the map below.*

Excavating a Life: Part II

Memo Sam Stephenson October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on September 13, 2011.

RK: Eugene Smith, your subject, was known to be an eccentric man. After so many years of researching Smith, what new insights did you learn about him during your time in Japan?

SS: There are a couple of things that come to mind. One is the fondness expressed for Smith, the really moving expressions that people made about him. Several of our interview subjects cried when talking about him.

Excavating a Life: Part I

Memo Sam Stephenson October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on September 12, 2011.

Levon's saxophone from the third floor window reverberates up and down Bergen Street without amplification and the image of him through the window is impressive. The images are projected onto fabric hanging from the ceiling inside Invisible Dog's windows. With the figures moving between the projector and the fabric, it’s not unlike Smith's portrait of 821 Sixth Avenue with the silhouette cutouts. Pedestrians were stopped by curiosity and looked up at the building. A few lingered. A few people across the street closed their windows. When you add MLK giving a speech, Mr. Magoo commercials, Cuban Missile news, the drip of water, the typewriter typing, not to mention imagery...

What is it like to immerse oneself in another person's life?

Dead Darlings

Memo Antoine Wilson October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on August 18, 2011. In which our favorite writers share precious little bits that didn’t quite fit.

I'm probably not the only writer in the world who, prior to killing his darlings, tortures them. For months, they bounce in and out of a CUTS folder, which works like a self-storage unit, holding things until I can admit they belong in the trash. And not because they are trash, intrinsically, but because the project simply refuses to contain them.

Playing House

Memo Leslie Jamison October 1, 2013

This article originally appeared on June 28, 2011.

During my second year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I lived at 715 Iowa Avenue, Iowa City, Iowa. In case my friends on the coasts didn’t get it, my address had to say it three times: I’m in the middle.

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