Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Look to the Poets

“A poet’s work . . . to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.” -Salman Rushdie

Poets have walked among us since time immemorial. They are the artists who paint the world with syllables instead of colors, who pluck from the mundanity of daily life those details that capture the moment, capture the heart, capture the scene. A poet can, with just a few carefully crafted lines, reveal the world in a square inch space.

Christine Kitano is a writer who lives and works in Ithaca, New York. At the moment she is drafting new work. Since the publication of her book she has been searching for her next project and is perhaps beginning to zero in on some things. Kitano has begun to internalize the very rural setting in which she lives and experience what it is like to feel like an outsider in your own region.

The long, dark winters of Ithaca can be difficult and dreary. “It seems like forever when you’re in the middle of it,” Kitano says. But this lengthy gloom fosters a stronger appreciation for the arrival of spring.

Her book Sky Country was written while she lived in Texas. The title refers to a Korean word that literally translates to “sky country” but connotes the concept of heaven.

During graduate school in Texas, Kitano says she became acutely aware of her gender in a way she hadn’t before. Surrounded by mostly married women with children she began to examine her own situation and she wasn’t sure how to react. Through her poems she began taking on the roles of various women characters whose lives are on different courses than her own. She examined what happens when women step outside the role that is expected of them.

Her teaching career at the college level began when she was a 22 year old grad student. Kitano was faced with the reality that she didn’t “look like” a professor. Rather, she looked like the undergraduates she was meant to be teaching. This was compounded by gender, a notoriously difficult road to navigate in academia.

Kitano is in a tenure track position now, taking on a tremendous amount of responsibility. While gender and identity do play into some of the issues she faces, the awareness of this is enormously helpful as she moves forward.

During World War II, Kitano’s father and his family were incarcerated during the U.S. internment of Japanese citizens. This has been a theme in her work, though she fictionalizes her characters to some extent.

Although Kitano often publishes poetry, her early drafts often emerge as prose. During the editing process, she begins to put the words into lines. She believes that she is working toward another book of poems but likely a book of prose as well.

To hear Christine Kitano read some of her work, listen to the complete interview.

Hadara Bar-Nadav is a poet currently working on several manuscripts though one seems to be coming together more than the others. That particular manuscript examines her mother’s family, many of whom were killed in the Holocaust. She uses this as way to contextualize how Jews have been portrayed in media, film and literature as well as historical narratives that are in many cases lost or fragmented. A former medical editor, Bar-Nadav is also investigating the medical experiments done on Holocaust victims and the statements by those who perpetrated these crimes. She uses the texts from these statements to form poems.

The material Bar-Nadav uses for this manuscript is incredibly difficult and dark. At one point during her research and writing she had to take a break as the material began to intrude on her psychological well-being. She says that often it isn’t until after she has assembled a poem that the language and implications truly hit her.

The Trump presidency, Islamophobia, the rise of the Alt Right and many other disturbing trends in the present day are what drew her to this project in the first place.

Her current working title for the manuscript is The New Death Style, a title that nods to the content and to the things people are capable of doing to one another.

To hear more from Hadara Bar-Nadav, including how she manages reading through testimony from the Nuremberg Trials and live readings of some of her poems, listen to the complete interview.

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Look to the poets. They are the ones who know the world in a way that many of us will never think of seeing.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Christine Kitano is reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, a book she also teaches to her undergraduate classes. Hadara Bar-Nadav’s book The New Nudity, as well as other titles by the author, are available now.


Mustarinda is a residency program for artists and writers located in Hyrynsalmi (Kainuu province, Finland). Residencies run for one or two months during spring and fall. What is interesting about the Mustarinda Association is…well, I’ll let them explain in their own words:

The Mustarinda Association reaches towards a post-fossil culture by combining scientific knowledge and experiential artistic activity and aims to continually reduce its carbon footprint and that of those associated with it. In keeping with this, through the AIR Open Call 2019 we are attempting to promote other forms of transport than air travel. To support this ideal we are offering a few slow travel support grants for those applicants willing to use alternative means of transport.

For more details and to apply for this residency, visit the website.


Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.

Sponsor: Whitney Museum of American Art – David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night. Jul 13–Sep 30, 2018. Beginning in the late 1970s, David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) created a body of work that spanned photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, writing, and activism.



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