Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bang, Brady, and Stonecipher in Berlin

There are several English-language bookstores in Berlin, and a few of them host occasional readings by visiting or resident writers whose works or translations are published in English. I am fortunate to live within walking distance of Saint George's English Book Shop, in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.

Andrea Brady
On Thursday, March 26, Saint George’s hosted a reading by three poets – Mary Jo Bang, Andrea Brady, and Donna Stonecipher. While I've seen Donna read in Berlin on previous occasions (and had the pleasure of being 'on the same bill' as her in January at Saint George's), I had never seen Mary Jo, nor Andrea, read from their work.

The store was packed when I arrived, so I snatched up one of the last remaining free seats. By the time the reading started, it was standing room only. Shane Anderson, an American writer and translator living in Berlin, organized the event and introduced the readers.

Andrea Brady started the evening by reading selections from several of her books, including her chapbook Dompteuse (BookThug, 2014), which is a sequence of poems in response to the photomontages of Hannah Höch. She ended her reading with sections from her book Mutability: Scripts for Infancy (Seagull Books, 2012), a collection of poetry and prose on the early years of motherhood. She teaches at the Queen Mary University of London and is the director of the Archive of the Now, an online repository of contemporary poets reading their work.

from Mutability

Your dark eyes fix the borders of light and shadow, mesmerized in a sticky fixation on contrasts, the first resolution you'll learn to make. It isn't devotion, fascination or dependency but a kind of regard which honours, the curve of chin into hair, seams. Generally you don't complain, even when we lift you from the bath, whitening your hand when you shake with primitive tremors: to make anything worse for you is only forgivable if we can wrap you up in adult fortitude after, singing to warm you.

Mary Jo Bang
The second reader of the evening was Mary Jo Bang, who read poems from her new collection, The Last Two Seconds (Graywolf, 2015). Mary Jo teaches at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, and is temporarily living in Berlin on a fellowship from the American Academy of Berlin. She is the author of six previous books of poetry, including Elegy (Graywolf, 2009), winner of
the National Book Critics Circle Award.

from The Last Two Seconds

The Earthquake She Slept Through (excerpt)

                        She slept through the earthquake in Spain.
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace

under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach rested
on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead
antennae announced the future by pointing to the silver mouth

that would later gulp the water she washed her face with.
Who wouldn't have wished for the quick return
of last night’s sleep?...

The final reader of the evening was Donna Stonecipher, who read from her new collection Model City (Shearsman Books, 2015). Donna is the author of three previous books of poetry, including The Cosmopolitan (Coffee House Press, 2008), winner of the National Poetry Series. Donna lives in Berlin and teaches poetry workshops through The Reader Berlin.

from Model City

Model City [50] (excerpt)
Donna Stonecipher

It was like walking past a building that had been built by one regime and then used by three regimes in succession, and thinking about the idea of ownership, of a building as an exoskeleton of a regime.


It was like thinking about the building that you call home as an exoskeleton you do not in any sense own, unlike a snail's exoskeleton; about the ownership of attachment, the attachment to ownership.


It was like remembering pulling empty snail-shells from wildflower leaves one summer, and remembering that even snails don't own their own homes, that one doesn't even own one's own skeleton.

Because there are not a lot of readings in the city by English-language writers, it felt very decadent to me to be able to buy three new books in one night! They will escort me into National Poetry Month (April!) quite nicely.

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