Monday, December 12, 2016

The (Writing) Year in Review!

Last year, I discovered a piece by the writer Alexander Chee from 2014 in which he summed up his year in writing. A year in review, as it were, and I thought, oh I want to do that!

I'd never before written a post summing up the year. You manage what you measure, right? Well, for a long time, I didn’t want to know what I wasn’t achieving. 

Now I do.

So I took a look at the year Chee had written up -- it was quite a year; you can read about it here (he was an Amtrak writer-in-residence -- after he thought up the idea himself! -- and finished a novel, etc) -- and for some crazy idea, I wasn't discouraged. As I said last year, this ain't no Alexander Chee year (this year or last year). But there's no question that as a writer, I'm not where I was a year ago or two years ago. A mere five years ago, I wasn't even writing every day outside my job as a journalist.

And besides, taking stock of the year that's about to end isn't an exercise in comparing yourself with someone else. That won't work. And it isn't the point, is it?

So here are a few things that happened in my work life this year:

I had an essay published by, wait for it, The New York Times! Yes, the paper I read every morning religiously and which serves more or less as a personal bible (oddly enough, given my family's solid Catholic pedigree, it's the document even my parents quote the most often). Best of all, it was about Leo's words! You can read the essay about recording Leo for The New York Times here.

(I also published a news story about models with Down syndrome -- my first bylined news article in The New York Times, the paper I grew up reading -- ooh tingles).

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

From the Archives: Puglia in Tavola

I'm an inveterate book lover -- you probably are, too -- and I'm a sucker basically for all books, especially if they come with a simple but soulful packaging.

That means, even cook books, despite my well-known aversion to cooking (as I like to say -- to myself and now to you -- I have a man to do those things).

I think I only want to write this post because I've fallen in love with the cover of this book. Perhaps you can judge a book by its cover!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

From the Archives: Time for the Panettone

I've always thought about panettone at this time of the year, even back before you could find the little Italian Christmas loaves everywhere in America. And I'm reposting this essay -- about the ritual of going to buy a panettone in Florence -- from a few years back:

I opened the panettone.

I wasn't going to. I bought it last week at the Whole Foods store on Ponce in Atlanta with the idea of bringing it somewhere as a special treat.

But then I thought, well, I would like a special treat. Right here, right now.

So I opened it, and still mulling over a long-awaited email I had received from a British friend this morning, I had a flashback to the days when I lived in Florence and I would buy a panettone to bring for Christmas dinner.

(Yes, a flashback to Florence -- what do you expect? Chalk it up to my living in Florence just after college. I think those early years of adulthood, no matter where you spend them, remain disproportionately impressed upon the brain, perhaps because it's then that we launch our own independent lives, with their own rhythms and routines, separate from Mommy and Daddy).

Specifically, I remembered going to order a homemade, artigianale panettone from a bakery on Borgo San Iacopo to bring to my British friend's family in Luxembourg.

They had invited me to spend Christmas with them that first year that I lived in Florence, and as I counted down the days until I boarded the overnight train from Santa Maria Novella station, I made the rounds of neighborhood stores to pick up treats and gifts.

I remember walking over to the bakery along the narrow, cobblestone streets on the other side of the Arno from the Duomo, and pausing a moment in front of the glass storefront.

You know the type -- either from movies or real-life.

It had a large front window through which you could see a display case full of Christmas delicacies and everyday pastries, I believe the baker had stuck his head out of the kitchen for a moment to share a laugh with the girl behind the counter, and condensation had formed on the window from the heat of the kitchen.

There was a clutch of older women, in their quilted jackets, identical grey, knee-length wool skirts, and sensible brown leather shoes, issuing with authoritative tones and gestures specific instructions about the items they wanted.

I felt simultaneously integrated and assimilated, fully in the stream of Italian life as I waited to place my order, and forever locked out -- I would never be like one of those women.

It all seemed so evocative of city or village life: the neighborhood bakery. Ever since, I've always wanted to live in neighborhoods that are anchored by a bakery, but alas it's not so easy in America.

And while I was cutting myself a piece of panettone this morning, I wondered why that chore had remained lodged deep inside my mind. Living in Italy, one would not find it unusual to buy a panettone.

But I think the idea of rushing around town, preparing for Christmas, crossing chores off your list -- it all constitutes such a fundamental activity that it almost seems like a scene out of Dickens.

Going to the neighborhood bakery and ordering a Christmas treat is as far as you can get from the suburban shopping mall or car traffic or the incessant intertwining of romance with the birth of Jesus (doesn't that seem a bit odd?).

And it was enough just to breathe in the scent of the panettone this morning to unearth this memory.

Now if you buy a panettone this Christmas, you won't remember the same thing, but you'll have the same sensation of enjoying a seasonal treat. And Lord knows, nothing is more Italian than eating a particular dish at a specific time of year -- and then not again until next year.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leo Journal: "Dreaming about dreams"

Lost entry from the Leo journal:

Sept 23, 2016

My little genius bounds up the stairs at 7 a.m. yesterday, and while Mike steps into the shower, Leo and I cuddle on the bed, which spurs him to say: 

“I dreamed about dreams. What did you dream about?”

This one little sentence, for me, tells a long story. A beautiful and complex story. Not only is Leo smart enough to talk about dreams, and to either recognize the themes of his dreams or realize it’s tricky to suggest one could dream about dreams, but he’s also learned to ask other people their opinions. 

He wants to dialogue with others. He doesn’t simply want to talk about himself. 


Monday, November 21, 2016

The Reader's Lament

I’m in heaven and I’m in hell. And it’s a very specific form of heaven and hell.

What I mean is, my partner has just returned from Italy and he’s come back loaded down with every periodical known to man, specifically to Italian man (everyone but Nuovi Argomenti, that is, the one I asked for. Pazienza, he’s not a writer. He’s just an engineer.)

For someone who is a writer and an aspiring Italian translator such as myself, the bounty is Christmas-morning worthy. 

I now have the joy of looking forward to reading the Saturday editions of Il Corriere della Sera (with the culture section, yes!) and La Repubblica, plus a special edition of Bell’Italia (the most beautiful magazine I've ever seen, as I never tire to say) and a copy of Io Donna.

But mind you, a few weeks ago, I'd returned from ALTA (the American Literary Translators Association conference) where I snapped up a book of poetry by Eduardo Chirinos, a Patrick Modiano book and a literary travelogue of Mexico.

All of these reading materials arrived on top of reading I was already doing, including The Best American Short Stories of the last 100 years and E' Tutto Vita, a mass-market fiction book by the well-known Italian author (and TV personality!), Fabio Volo.

So what am I getting at?

Well, I want to dive right into the periodicals. I’m translating a book right now that is full of slang and I know that the magazines and newspapers will help me place certain expressions in the current moment of Italian popular culture.

It’s also just fun. Like an archeological dig for someone obsessed with the Italian language. I enjoy even reading captions of the articles on applying makeup and styling one’s hair (topics I normally have no interest in). Why? Because I love the otherness of Italy. I love the way they say “classe 1980” to indicate someone was born in 1980. In the class of 1980.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I have a lot of other reading to do. A lot. Like anyone who wants to translate, I’m constantly reading new Italian novels and perusing Web sites and lit mags for info on up and coming short story writers. (Finally finished Nadia Terranova's Gli Anni al Contrario).

I also have reading to do as an adjunct college professor. (I've assigned "Nickel And Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich to my Freshman composition students).

In other words, how does one balance all the reading one needs to do to remain in touch with his/her culture of obsession? (Or just one's intellectual obsession).

Does anyone have strategies to share? One that I often fail to adopt is to bring a book everywhere with me. I'd love to hear other ideas.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Final projects for 2016 -- how's it looking?

One way to consider the end of the year is to think about holiday parties and shopping.

But writers (and other creative people) have to also think about what they can finish (and possibly submit) in the final weeks of the year.

Yes, now's the time to think about this!

Take a look at your goals for the year. How are you doing? You don't need to grade too hard -- things change. Look at me.

My original goals for the year were:

*Publish a work of fiction somewhere (Ha ha!!!! Did not happen)
*Establish a regular exercise routine (not so much)
*Get a byline in a major national magazine (Still working on that one)

Then halfway through the year, I invented some other goals -- really I suppose replacement goals. And I'm doing pretty good on that front:

*Begin translating in earnest (I submitted my first translation to a literary magazine so I will check this one off)

*Find a regular editing gig (I'm now a contract editor, working part-time, at CNN so I will also check this off)

*Blog regularly for a literary magazine (I've developed a good relationship with Asymptote Journal, a wonderful online literary mag that celebrates writing in translation and world literature -- so that gets crossed off, too! Woot!)

But there's still more work to be done. Here's what I hope to do before Dec. 31, 2016:

*Finish translating the first half of an Italian novel I've been working on this year

*Submit something to a literary magazine before the end of the year -- in my case, probably a story from my Bennington thesis

*Finish the short autobiographical essay for a reach publication (reach!)

*Capitalize on the success of my New York Times essay by submitting another essay about parenting (possibly to the Washington Post)

I would love to hear from others (writers but also other creatives) about how you're mapping out the final leg of the year.

Buon lavoro, as they say in Italian!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Leo: “Do you have my number?”

From the Leo journal: 

May 14, 2016
From the backseat of the car, I hear, “Mommy I’m calling you!” 

I turn to look at him and I see he’s posed his hand against the side of his head as if holding a phone. We then proceed to have a pretend phone conversation. Swoon.

May 21, 2016
Leo says I should call him. Then he asks, “Do you have my number?”

(Editorial note: Oh I got your number all right, pal, as my mother might say)

When I “call” him as I stand a foot from him, he says, mimicking responses he’s heard me say, “Who’s calling?” 

When I ask him what he’s doing, he says, “Good.”


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

My 'Italian' Christmas -- it never gets old

I will always get a thrill from seeing a mass of Italian magazines, newspapers, coffee containers, biscotti packages and other sundry items from Il Bel Paese -- especially if it's all for me!

In fact, this phenomenon of Christmas in October (or July or March) is the basis for an essay I wrote for Catapult that you can find here.

Basic summary: Mike has just returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy and now he's hauling back treats for not one Italophile, but two (hard not to love Italian things when your name is Leonardo).

I'm in magazine heaven, biscotti heaven, southern Italian coffee heaven, etc. And I have a new t-shirt! Not as good as Mike's, though, which actually features a shark plane dropping cannoli out of its cargo hold. Ahhh....Sicily!

This is really the only kind of shopping I love.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Aubade by Phillip Larkin

Here's what my "English 101" students at Clayton State University will be reading this week:


Related Poem Content Details

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Read the rest of the poem here at The Poetry Foundation's Web site.

We've also read "Now" by Denis Johnson and "What the Living Do" by Marie Howe. 

Poetry rocks!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Here's your Italian itinerary (prego!)

Once a year, at least, someone hits me up for recommendations in Italy. Oh I'm going to Italy. What should I do? Where should I go? (said breathlessly, of course) And it makes sense.

I live and breathe Italy! Even after all of these years back, stateside.

Often the questions are the same so I figured it might be worth setting down some basic suggestions.

(For something similar on Florence, you can go here).

Given the topic and potential permutations of a trip to Italy, this post is scandalously brief and glossing over all kinds of amazing Italian cities and destinations. Also: light on detail about the specific cities and regions I recommend but I figure this can be your starting point. I'll always be happy to add info later if the same question keeps coming up!

Skip down to the bottom for the real skinny but in the meantime here are the answers to "the usual suspects" for Italy trip-planning purposes:

What to do in Florence

Is it enough to say walk around and marvel? Probably not. I'll assume you're going to hit all the biggies (the Uffizi, for example, the shops on Via Tornabuoni, the glory of Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica) and suggest you also roam around the Oltrarno section.

You'll find other ideas in my quick-hit guide to Florence.

Tuscan countryside excursion?

I usually suggest Lucca because of all the cities in Tuscany, it is truly unique. It's a walled city, for Chrissakes! There is a piazza that is a perfect oval. And a Medieval tower topped by a tree.

Obviously, Siena (where I spent a semester, studying abroad) is gorgeous as is Volterra. But honestly that's just scratching the surface. There are all kinds of other delightful little cities and no I don't mean San Gimignano.

When in Rome

I personally think you can do just about anything in Rome and you will quickly understand why it is the Eternal City. Just walk around Piazza Navona or Campi dei Fiori. Look up. Eat (especially in Trastevere or Testaccio). Drink. Spend an ungodly sum at the store with the Vespa gear (ahem).

Or better yet, here's my specific advice: Stand in front of the Pantheon, then go in. You could easily fly back home after that. Leave it to the Romans to know the only way to top (literally and figuratively) a gorgeous building with a cupola is to insert a window on the sky.

Seriously, Rome seems to lend itself to any kind of trip. I spent a mere 24 hours in Rome last year and was so thoroughly enchanted, I can't stop thinking about the visit. Needless to say, three days in Rome would be great, as would a week.

More information on Rome here.

What about Venice?

Yeah, what about it? Okay so I am not an expert on Venice or even a frequent visitor. I believe I've been there twice. It's stunning because it's unique but overrun. And I don't mean overrun and hence I judge it and everyone who goes there. I mean overrun, as in, you might not enjoy it that much because it is a tiny city thoroughly overwhelmed by tourism.

That said, the streets are made of WATER. Hard to beat that as a concept. Also the Peggy Guggenheim Museum is quite interesting. Plus if you go, you can read John Berendt's City of Falling Angels as trip prep.

Wildcard (BOLOGNA)

Maybe try Bologna. It's a small, centrally-located city with gorgeous porticos on just about every building. Oh and the food is insanely good. About an hour by train from Florence so you could easily make it a nice day trip. It's in Emilia-Romagna, the so-called "bread basket" of Italy. And you'll be eating a lot of bread there. And pasta.

Wildcard #2 (MILAN)

Milan is an amazing city, and one often overlooked by Americans (although more and more are making it part of itineraries). It's amazing how, you ask? The food, the architecture, the fashion, the ART.

In fact, my favorite Italian painting (Rissa in Galleria by Umberto Boccioni) hangs in Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera museum (there's also another great painting, ahem -- Da Vinci's The Last Supper. But good luck getting a ticket!).

Other absolutely breath-taking places to visit: the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which is near the Duomo (stunning) and La Scala. The area called the Navigli is chock full of cool restaurants and bars, which are canal-side. Have a glass of Oltrepo Pavese for me!

Le Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Le Cinque Terre/Italian Riviera, although I only visited once and it was years ago. The five little cliffside towns are overrun with tourists but also stunning. This description applies to Vernazza, in particular -- the most picturesque of the five villages. You may want to make your base another town in the region -- like Lerici or Portovenere -- but either way, nothing beats traveling by train to these tiny towns, watching the Mediterranean streak by from the train windows as you traverse vertiginous tunnels that seem perched on the side of the cliff and ready to tumble into the sea...and then hiking around the region (also grab a pesto pizza and a bottle of Schiaccetra').

My real advice?

Head down to Southern Italy. The food is so good you will wonder why you didn't come sooner. Most incredible region I've visited. In particular I would suggest Puglia. You can divide the province into three parts, choosing one to visit or as I did, sampling all three: the Salento peninsula, the Gargano promontory, and the area around Taranto. Oh and take along Italy's version of the Michelin guide (the Gambero Rosso) -- you'd be surprised how many entries show up for places like Bari (but you won't be spending a lot because everything is cheaper down South).

In the Salento peninsula, you'll find two types of beaches: spiaggie rocciose and spiaggie sabbiose (rocky vs. sandy beaches), you may eat horse (I did), you'll drink the local wine (the only wines I drink now, including primitivo and negroamaro) and you'll never miss Tuscany's tourists.

Click here for where to eat in Trani, and what to do and eat in Lecce, -- a regional capital that is sometimes called the Florence of the South.

Hit me up with questions in the comments or on Facebook (where I'll be posting this).

Oh and buon viaggio!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From the archives: "Do polar bears fly?"

In  light of the kind reception to my New York Times essay about recording audio snippets of Leo, I'm re-posting excerpts from what I call the "Leo Journal." This installment is intermixed with my normal "bits" journal, a diary of ideas and observations. Here it is:

November 2016
I only have to hear "eleventeen" once for it to instantly become my favorite number.

The best number that has never existed.

I've written about this topic before (notably here and here). And even if you love me, you may be blanching right now from boredom and pity (for me).

But, oh God, it is so awesome!

Is it the writer's equivalent of someone learning to walk? Run?

When Leo says "eleventeen," I don't correct him. (Probably not something I should admit.)

It's just so cute. Eight, nine, ten, eleventeen.

I do the same thing when he says "fi-ruh" (for the word fire). Ditto: lello, and hangerburger (to go with your hotdog).

It's the greatest blooper reel ever created, as far as I am concerned.

And besides, why correct him when he says, "I want to swing very higher"?

Swinging "very higher" sounds like something I'd like to do, too.

March 17, 2016
From one of Leo's children's books: "Where do the months and years go when they're gone?"

April 15, 2016
6:33 a.m.
I have to think Atlanta is some kind of bird sanctuary. I’ve never heard so much birdsong or such loud tweets anywhere else. My God! Lots of red-feathered cardinals – the only bird I know to recognize.
It gets light so early these days. Which means SOMEONE wakes up early. Cutting severely into Mommy’s writing time. I put these words down to give a sense of my life, not really to complain. It’s the change of the seasons wrought into a specific detail: Here’s what early spring means to me…abbreviated writing sessions, and also one of the few times of the year when the morning darkness dissipates quickly here. 

Atlanta, city of darkness. Lately I’ve been tweeting that it’s a city of murals. And it really is. It’s one of the few distinguishing characteristics. I guess thanks in part to Living Walls. And maybe also the specific geography of Atlanta: lots of train tunnels. The Living Walls in Cabbagetown, after all, are along the train wall that leads to Krog Street Tunnel.
I hear a voice outside – which turns out to be cat – and I look over my shoulder to see the pinkening sky through the transom window. This image = my life in Atlanta. My early morning writing life in Atlanta. The pinkening sky, glimpsed briefly through the transom window.

April 26, 2016
Leo: “My head is so full of questions.”

He asks a fairly mundane question, and then says, “My other question is: do polar bears fly?”

No, but nice try.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Where you can find Jeanne's writing

I'm not always sure who visits my blog and for what purpose but in light of the wonderful well wishes I received for my New York Times' essay (see link below), I'll take a chance that a few new faces are headed this way.

And in case you'd like to read something else of mine of that's been published recently, here are some handy links:

An essay about recording Leo for The New York Times

An essay about the sometimes painful nostalgia I feel for Italy (for Catapult)

An article about ten Italian novels I'd love to see translated into English for Literary Hub

Is Italian Literature Having Its Moment? (online at Asymptote, a journal about lit in translation)

An essay about how much this particular mother loves working (in an essay collection published this year called So Glad They Told Me)

And one recent journalism clip for a story for CNN:

Hollywood's Struggle to deal with AIDS in the 1980s (CNN)

Recording Leo for The New York Times

Every word in the title of this post fills me with joy.

Recording -- yay! Leo -- yay! For, the, wait for it...New York Times?!

Yes, you can hear the sweet strains of my little Leo's voice on The New York Times' site. A sample "interview" accompanies an essay I wrote about one of my little passions -- recording audio of how Leo talks and his language development, in an effort to, as I write, "capture the linguistic shooting star of early speech."

You can read the piece here.

Contact me if you want to interview my little 'lello'-loving audio superstar!

Friday, September 23, 2016

So Glad They Told Me -- My essay's in it!

I'm really excited to have a piece included in a new collection of essays published by the HerStories Project Press. It's called "So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real about Motherhood."

The book, which you can order here, contains 60 essays by writers who are also mothers and who have all written about a very useful piece of advice another mother shared -- often at a moment of crisis. At a moment where motherhood seemed overwhelming or, in my case, where impending motherhood was such an unknowable landscape that I was tempted to make all kinds of decisions I would have later regretted.

In my case the "they" is my sister, Trish, who wisely counseled that I may not want to make any decisions about working while raising my son until my son actually arrived. I think she must have intuited something I learned later: I like working. The work that I do is so intrinsically part of my personality and contributes so decisively to my well-being that it's not a negotiable. It's a necessity.

My thanks to the editors of the HerStories Project Press for publishing my essay. Here's a quick excerpt:

I was humbled and amazed by the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. I was also overwhelmed by the demands of being a first-time mom.

My maternity leave days, in the full heat of an Atlanta summer, were often just a series of failed, desperate attempts to coax a nap out of my infant son, Leo. I’d embark on long walks in the stroller in the hopes of inducing sleep. Or I’d walk him around his room for what felt like forever.

I even consulted a sleep specialist. I knew establishing solid sleep routines would be key for his development. But I also needed time alone to think, to be me, to use my brain in different ways. I quickly found most days I longed for any kind of a break. When my partner came home from work some nights, I would go swim laps in our neighborhood pool, and then drive around the park, practically in a trance, as I blasted a Bruce Springsteen song about desperate love.

In other words, I was beginning to realize I could bear being away from my child.

When I returned to my job months later, I remembered I liked work, and I liked interviewing people, and considering proposal ideas, and synthesizing large amounts of information into digestible stories for my audience. I liked having a specialty. I liked living in the world of ideas.

In short, after three months of doing no work, of barely looking at my work email, and avoiding news updates about anything I might have covered, I realized I’m not someone who could stay at home. I’m not someone who can be fulfilled without working for pay. And a big part of being me consists of writing, ruminating, and reflecting—on something other than diaper rash.

It was as if my personality was suddenly, instantly crystallized—for me. One of those moments where all you can do is slap yourself on the forehead, and go, “Duh.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

Leo flipping through an Italian dictionary

A moment that had to be captured! Leo looking at an Italian dictionary I had left out in our kitchen
to help me with a translation I am working on.

(Next time maybe I'll let him flip through my Ragazzini-Zanichelli dictionary -- the special one).

He doesn't need to learn Italian or love foreign languages the way I do but I hope he loves words. Or I should say, I hope he'll always love words. Because he definitely loves them now.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tonight in Atlanta! "MIA MADRE" - A film by Nanni Moretti

I don't go to the movies often -- I certainly don't go see Italian films often -- peccato! But tonight I'm going to see Nanni Moretti's latest film -- grande! The babysitter is booked and stasera, ladies and gentlemen, si va al cinema.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pianos for Peace -- Atlanta edition

Pianos for Peace -- I don't know who you are, I don't know where you're based and I don't need to know. I only know Leo and I were wandering around Piedmont Park one warm summer afternoon recently and we stumbled upon this lovely red piano. We had no agenda that day and were looking for an adventure. For 15 minutes or so, Little Red Piano, you provided it.

Because not only did we sit down and try to play ourselves, we managed to entice others to try their hand at tinkling the ivories, as they say. People were intrigued, like us (can we really just sit down and play this piano? Um, yep, it would appear to be the case!). And taking chance, I prevailed upon a few good sports to see if they could remember their childhood piano lessons.

The man in the picture remembered something -- I think if he'd had more time, he would have remembered all kinds of songs. He was a bit shy, perhaps the way we all are when we remember a past love or a past hobby or some activity we gave up, which now seems lost to time, seemingly with no way to ever recover it.

I think there IS a way to recover it, in this case. Perhaps Pianos for Peace can help. I've since seen another piano that is part of the initiative, stationed under the Freedom Parkway overpass on the Beltline.

Hey Atlanta, if you're not already bothering fellow citizens with your recollection of "Chopsticks," get to it. This one is near the pool in Piedmont Park!

P.S. -- According to the link, the pianos will be around Atlanta until Sept. 18.

Reading poetry on the porch

Diary entry for Aug 7, 2016
Forgotten moments of pure joy: We arrive home one afternoon, Leo and I, to find a plastic bag twisted around the handle of the front door. 

It’s a slew of Poetry magazine issues from our 84-year-old neighbor, Art, the former chemist. Something Leo has become accustomed to seeing (Old issues of The New Yorker make up my part of the exchange with Art). 

So many issues (bound, as they are, like little books) that it appears to be a bounty we must explore immediately. And perhaps one member of the team is particularly snoozy and so we sit on the porch, he and I doubled up in one chair, reading poems from Poetry magazine, as we wait for Daddy to come home from work. 

And he sits so happily, so quietly, absorbing words of modern poetry, while I sit so happily, absorbing a scene of uncommon purity and joy, in my favorite spot in the house, feeling the press of his warm skin against mine, hearing the string of verse spooling out of my mouth and into his ears, and please God, into his conscience, into the part of his brain that forms his being.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

It feels a bit like grief (poem - “Summer’s Wake”)

It feels a bit like grief
The first warnings of fall
The sudden chill in the morning air when until yesterday,
There was nothing but heavy, humid, hot air mugging my every breath

I open the door to the front porch and something like a breeze comes toward me
I may even need a sweater, I think distractedly
The crickets are humming
Where have they been?
Hiding until this moment, this moment where the world signals
It will soon be coming to an end
(A fact forgotten while the days were frittered away)
Something else will begin, something equally wonderful
But what of it?
What we have, what we’ve failed to properly exploit
Is dissolving, vanishing, slipping away

What we’ve failed to properly exploit
That’s the source of the nagging feeling as
I follow the breeze's path across the porch, and across my body
The easy way I settle into the wicker chair
With the front door flung open, then left open
And the sudden desire to live my whole life on the porch
(My refuge, but one that goes on an uncanny hiatus during the summer months)
It’s a thought unfathomable just a few short days ago
It’s been so long
So long since that heavy, humid, hot air’s been molesting me

Not that I truly minded
I’ve learned to love the heat, the few moments ventured each day out of our precious AC
Like some last vital untamed element, savage and unapologetic
I’ve come to consider the heat summer’s blanket, 
Its birth mark
Its guarantee that every submersion in water will be a divine communion
A sign, perhaps, that I’ve assimilated
Into that other country, the South
Atlanta, my adult home

But that’s no consolation now that the chill is there every morning when I open the front door
To search for morning glories and the morning paper
Also of no help: Full knowledge of fall's thrilling rhythms
Not yet anyway
Childhood’s delineation of summer as fun and fall as funeral
Has me weeping silently into the breeze

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Omran Daqueesh -- my little reminder

I’ve saved the front page of The New York Times from yesterday where there’s a photo of a Syrian boy whose silent, dust-covered face has captivated the world (the photo that accompanies this video above in the online version of the story). He captivated the world -- including me. But for how long? He was recovered from the rubble of his apartment building, which was struck by missiles during the endless civil war in his country. And I guess he was in shock so his quiet patience might be quite understandable, but the photo and the short video the entire world has seen are capable of stopping your heart. Quite literally – no hyperbole. 

I’ve saved it – just as I saved the photo of the poor Syrian boy who drowned during a crossing with other refugees and washed up on a Turkish beach, lifeless – in the hopes it can inspire me on at least two different levels. First: this is happening, people are suffering and what are you doing about it, Jeanne? You’re not even reporting on it – the very least you could do, that is your skill, if so much can be said of what you know of journalism. That's the first level. 

Second level: I don’t know how to put it, it seems to jar me awake from my daily parenting slumber – something along the lines of thinking that no matter what Leo does, he is an absolute GIFT from GOD that I must cherish every day every day every day. Because to imagine that he could ever have to experience something like this – and to know we are lucky enough that he probably won’t – well, it’s a reminder that we never have hard times. He never does anything that we can’t fix. A day in which he refuses to eat spinach and won’t touch regular milk and doesn’t want to have “quiet time,” well, a day like that, to use the cliché again, is a gift from God. 

The mother of this little Syrian boy would quite literally give her right arm to have a day like that.

Funny thing, I’ve taped the front page of the Times up on the bedroom wall to the right of this bookshelf I use as a desk/computer stand. I think it’s fairly hidden, you wouldn’t really see the folded paper taped up unless you were standing at the computer – something Mike never does. And that’s an important detail because I'd taped up the photo of the lifeless boy’s body lying on the beach in Turkey and he asked me to take it down. I taped it up for the same reason – WAKE UP JEANNE this is happening, you are so lucky, so lucky to have this boy, your little Leo – all very noble, I suppose, but the image was too much for Mike. 

I don’t blame him; I cherish his reaction in some ways. He cannot countenance all the bad that’s sewn into everyday life on Earth. We humans. For shame. And yet my God I, *I*, need a reminder. Because we will all go on, we will all go about our business and this little boy will be forgotten. But his little face (he looks to be about 4 years old – you-know-who’s-age) – and the unspoken sadness written upon it, his little plaintive stare, are so stunningly sad, the tragedy so stunningly unnecessary, that I need to remember. Give me the strength and the resolve, someone, to remember and to do something about it.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

"My other question is: do polar bears fly?"

I've been publishing excerpts here on the blog of my "Bits" journal, to appropriate the expression, again, from poet and FSU writing professor David Kirby. Here's another excerpt below. It's just a collection of notebooks and computer files where I record everyday thoughts, inspirations, ideas for stories, etc. This one draws heavily from a 'sub-journal' -- the Leo Diary.
April 30, 2016
6:33 a.m.
I have to think Atlanta is some kind of bird sanctuary. I’ve never heard so much birdsong or such loud tweets anywhere else. My God! Lots of red-feathered cardinals – the only bird I know to recognize.
It gets light so early these days. Which means SOMEONE wakes up early. Cutting severely into Mommy’s writing time. I put these words down to give a sense of my life, not really to complain. It’s the change of the seasons wrought into a specific detail: Here’s what early spring means to me…abbreviated writing sessions, and also one of the few times of the year when the morning darkness dissipates quickly here. 

Atlanta, city of darkness. Lately I’ve been tweeting that it’s a city of murals. And it really is. It’s one of the few distinguishing characteristics. I guess thanks in part to Living Walls. And maybe also the specific geography of Atlanta: lots of train tunnels. The Living Walls in Cabbagetown, after all, are along the train wall that leads to Krog Street Tunnel.
I hear a voice outside – which turns out to be cat – and I look over my shoulder to see the pinkening sky through the transom window. This image = my life in Atlanta. My early morning writing life in Atlanta. The pinkening sky, glimpsed briefly through the transom window.

April 27, 2016
The lyrics and the music to the song “Graceland” replay in my mind. ‘My traveling companion is 9 years old. She’s the child of my first marriage…. I have reason to believe we’ll both be received in Graceland….Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee…we’re going to Graceland.”

Songs of redemption.

April 26, 2016
Leo: “My head is so full of questions.”

He asks a fairly mundane question, and then says, “My other question is: do polar bears fly?”

No, but nice try.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A review of Mingarelli's "A Meal in Winter"

I've begun reviewing books and of course I have a special desire to review fiction in translation. In this case, the book in question was originally written in French, not Italian, but no matter. It 's stunning.

Here's an excerpt of the review for Cleaver magazine. To read the rest, click the link below.

by Hubert Mingarelli
translated by Sam Taylor
The New Press, 138 pages
reviewed by Jeanne Bonner
A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a subtle book that quietly but methodically stalks the reader’s sympathies. It does so through a beautiful, spare prose style that begins with the first line: “They had rung the iron gong outside, and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.” This is lovely writing (deftly rendered from the French by translator Sam Taylor, himself a novelist)—yet a bit ominous, like something that can’t be escaped. Later, setting the scene for the winter’s walk that takes up much of the first part of the narrative, he writes: “A pale sun hung in the sky, as distant and useless, it seemed to us, as a coin trapped under thick ice.” Trapped. What is trapped? Or who?
Read the rest of the review here. Then please read the book!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Women in Translation? Here's your book list!

August is Women in Translation Month; a month when, if you felt so inclined, you could curl up with a wonderful book by a foreign authoress translated into English by a wonderful translator and have yourself a time.

And in honor of the designation, some translation-loving folks, including Katy Derbyshire and Susan Bernofsky, have compiled a list of books written by women from around the world (the non-native English-speaking world) and translated into English. For my part, I contributed the absolutely unneeded suggestion of adding Elena Ferrante to the pile (as if).

The list only goes so far as works published since 2010 but whoa! Look at this smorgasbord! You could curl up for two or three years with this list.

Books written by women and translated into English, published since 2010

In alphabetical order by author

HIGH TIDE, Inga Ābele (Open Letter Books)
THE NUN, Simonella Agnello Hornby (Europa Editions)
FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON, Milena Agus (Europa Editions)
SECOND-HAND TIME, Svetlana Alexievich (Fitzcarraldo)
ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, Naja Marie Aidt (Open Letter Books)
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, Miral al-Tahawy (American University in Cairo Press)
CHERNOBYL PRAYER, Svetlana Alexievich (Penguin Modern Classics)
WILLFUL DISREGARD, Lena Andersson (Other Press)
WOMAN OF TANTOURA, Radwa Ashour (American University in Cairo Press)
SPECTRES, Radwa Ashour (Arabia Books)
ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE DAYS, Michèle Audin (Deep Vellum)
THE QUEUE, Basma Abdel Aziz (Melville House)
PANTY, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (Tilted Axis Press)
OH, SALAAM! Najwa Barakat (Interlink Books)
THE LIFE OF ELVES, Muriel Barbery (Gallic Books)
THE COUNTRY UNDER MY SKIN, Gioconda Belli (Bloomsbury)
SWALLOW SUMMER, Larissa Boehning (Comma Press)
THE OTHER WOMAN, Therese Bohman (Other Press)
BEFORE, Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum)
TEXAS: THE GREAT THEFT, Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum)
BABA DUNJA’S LAST LOVE, Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions)
THE SECRET WAYS OF PERFUME, Cristina Caboni (Transworld)
THE LAST LOVER, Can Xue (Yale University Press)
MR DARWIN’S GARDENER, Kristina Carlson (Peirene Press)
THE FIRST WIFE, Paulina Chiziane (out August 9, Archipelago Press)
ALWAYS COCO-COLA, Alexandra Chrietieh (Interlink Books)
HOME, Leila S. Chudori (Deep Vellum)
THE ISLAND OF LOST TRUTH, Flavia Company (Europa Editions)