Feb 262011

Tomb near Chong-Alai, Kyrgyzstan

Here’s a delightful essay, a character study, a study in cross-cultural (mis)communication, and a travel story by Renee Giovarelli. Some of you may have read her “What it’s like living here” piece published earlier on NC, also set in Kyrgyzstan, where Renee often travels for her work. Renee travels the world for an NGO involved in reforming land and property rights. But she also writes urgent, passionate essays about the places she visits. Her essay “The Bad Malaria Shot,” which she presented at her graduate reading in the summer, was a finalist for the Wasafiri 2010 New Writing Prize.


The Real McCoy

By Renee Giovarelli

When I arrived in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan at that time, and three hours by car from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, my final destination, Sergei Sergeivich Kuzmin stood pressed against the glass window watching me come into customs.   Hundreds of people, also searching the deplaning passengers for the first signs that their loved ones had arrived safely, stood behind him.  He was a master at pushing himself and me to the front of any crowd.  Seeing him, I relaxed.


Sergei had been flying into Central Asia from Moscow to interpret for me for five years, ever since I first started working in Kyrgyzstan, which he called Kyrgyzia, the name of the territory when it was part of the Soviet Union and not an independent country.  Broad and short with a large belly and a Charlie Brown head, he brushed his thinning white hair straight back so that his forehead and bushy eyebrows were prominently featured, as was his sizable nose and enormous smile.  Over the past five years, Sergei and I had established a routine, which seldom varied.  Actually, Sergei established the routine and I complied.  I let Sergei guide me around and take charge of everything on my first trip to Kyrgyzstan, the first country stamped in my passport, and it had been impossible to wrestle any control back since.

But this was going to be our last trip–I had to fire him.

It used to be that every country in the former Soviet Union smelled the same when you stepped off the plane—a faint odor of sewage mixed with cooked cabbage and chilled sweat, and clothes that had been worn for several days but don’t exactly smell yet of body odor, burning leaves and dried cow dung.  For me, the differentiation of the Soviet republics was first signaled by the change in smells in the air at night.

On this, my fifteenth trip, it was cool at three in the morning but would soon be hot enough for a sleeveless silk blouse.  I filed out of the plane behind the oil men and World Bank consultants, in front of the missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers–not fitting in with either crowd. I wasn’t a middle-aged male in a white shirt and not an eager, young zealot with a backpack either, but somewhere between the two and slightly disdainful of both.

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Feb 222011

In 1924 the original ms. of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, with Ezra Pound’s handwritten editorial comments, mysteriously disappeared and did not resurface until 1968. Most of the facts of what happened to the ms. are now known. But here, for the first time, Patrick J. Keane pulls the story together with personal information gleaned from Eliot’s widow that sheds a poignant light on the story of the ms. and Ezra Pound’s last years. Part-literary detective story, part-memoir, part-homage to a glittering past, “Convergences” is a brilliant and highly entertaining excursus on the vagaries of fate and literary genius. Pat Keane is a prolific scholar and a gifted raconteur. Don’t miss his sidelight on Northrop Frye, the story of the beautiful Rosamund and the mischievous trick Pat plays on a nuisance colleague named ______.


Patrick J. Keane is Professor Emeritus of Le Moyne College. Though he has written on a wide range of topics, his areas of special interest have been 19th and 20th-century poetry in the Romantic tradition; Irish literature and history; the interactions of literature with philosophic, religious, and political thinking; the impact of Nietzsche on certain 20th century writers; and, most recently, Transatlantic studies, exploring the influence of German Idealist philosophy and British Romanticism on American writers. His books include William Butler Yeats: Contemporary Studies in Literature (1973), A Wild Civility: Interactions in the Poetry and Thought of Robert Graves (1980), Yeats’s Interactions with Tradition (1987), Terrible Beauty: Yeats, Joyce, Ireland and the Myth of the Devouring Female (1988), Coleridge’s Submerged Politics (1994), Emerson, Romanticism, and Intuitive Reason: The Transatlantic “Light of All Our Day” (2003), and Emily Dickinson’s Approving God: Divine Design and the Problem of Suffering (2007). He is currently trying to puzzle out the pervasive presence of Wordsworth in almost everything he writes, and recording personal and literary reminiscences, one part of which is “Convergences: Memories Related to The Waste Land Manuscript.”


Convergences: Memories Involving The Waste Land Manuscript

By Patrick J. Keane


Because of an odd convergence of circumstances, I have, on several brief occasions, been privy to “inside” information regarding modern literature’s most notorious “missing manuscript.” I refer to the sheaf of papers—T. S. Eliot’s original drafts, edited by Ezra Pound—revealing the genesis of The Waste Land, the single most famous poem of the twentieth century. Perhaps, before memory fades altogether, I should record, not for posterity but for a few friends, the various contexts of my personal relationship, however indirect and peripheral, to that celebrated “missing manuscript.”

The “manuscript” consists of a packet of handwritten and typed pages, drafted by Eliot and sculpted by his friend, who found the shape the poem had been struggling for, and then pronounced it “the justification of our modern experiment.” Pound had from the outset recognized in the pages he had been given an embryonic work of genius—though, even at the 434 lines to which he reduced it, he still thought it, in terms of its density of allusion and demands on the reader, “the longest poem in the English langwidge.”

The poem, pruned by Pound but still uniquely Eliot’s, was published in that annus mirabilis of modernism, 1922, the year which also saw the appearance of Joyce’s Ulysses and Rilke’s Duino Elegies. A week after it was first printed—in mid-October, in both the Criterion and the Dial—the original manuscript and related papers were sent by Eliot as a gift to John Quinn, the wealthy New York attorney, collector, and patron of, among other modernist writers, Eliot, Pound, Joyce, and W. B. Yeats. He thought the manuscript “worth preserving in its present form solely,” Eliot wrote Quinn, for the evidence it offered of “the difference” Pound’s criticism had made to the poem. John Quinn died in 1924, and the manuscript, unmentioned in his will, was long presumed to be lost. Like countless others over the years, Eliot himself always wondered what had become of it. Its location, its very existence, was still a mystery when the poet died, in January 1965.

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Feb 212011

Have you heard of the “Environmental Solutions Agency?” Newt Gingrich introduced this idea in a speech back on January 25, 2011, as something that would replace the Environmental Protection Agency and be “first of all, limited.”  Then, about a month later, a couple of U.S. House committees set hearings on the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” which would strip the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.   Also in January, western Congressmen introduced a bill to remove the wolf from the endangered species list.  It passed: the first time that legislation, rather than science, has determined a species’ inclusion or exclusion.

In all this, there are two items of literary merit. First, look at the words they use: “Environmental Solutions Agency” and “Energy Tax Prevention Act.”  Verbal backflips, if you ask me.  And the wolf bill, in a way, proves the power of the sentence: the bill has only one sentence, which puts an entire species at risk.  When the Endangered Species Act (ESA) came into effect in 1973, it was partly because of the wolf.  At that time, there were only 300 left in the entire nation.

The ESA can also be credited, in large part, to writers (there’s the second literary reason, if you’re keeping track—and the more important one).  In 1959, Peter Matthiessen published Wildlife in America, essentially a call for protection of endangered species.  Three years later, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring became a best seller.  Concurrent to these works, Joseph Wood Krutch, Loren Eiseley, and Aldo Leopold were putting out nature writing that pushed a nascent environmental movement forward.

These writers were different than their predecessors, like Thoreau and Muir, who wrote in many ways as conqueror naturalists.  This earlier wave of writers wanted to understand nature on a technical level, strove to set certain bits of it aside for posterity, and always looked at it from a place slightly above and to the side.  Humans, they said, should protect and love nature, but not probably become a part of it (remember, Thoreau regularly went into town to dine with friends while living hermit-style at Walden, and ultimately gave up early on the experiment).

The mid-century writers, on the other hand, saw humans as part of nature.  They sought the passion and emotion that nature brings through personal immersion in it.  They spurred another round of legislation and regulation, this time not centered on large chunks of land set aside as preserves (like the National Parks), but on everyday nature: the air, the water, the plants and animals around us.

The late 60s were a time of upheaval in many arenas, and the environment was no different.  Between 1968 and 1971, the world saw seminal works produced by Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Loren Eiseley, John Hay, and two by Edward Hoagland.  Between 1970 and 1973, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Policy Act (which created the EPA), the Clean Water Act, and the ESA.  Coincidence?

So, because so many of these environmental advances are under attack right now (and because the perhaps ironically named Newt is trying to redefine the EPA), I thought it might be interesting to look back on that mid-century eco-literary boom.

Included here are life and work profiles of six of these masters: Carson, Krutch, Eiseley, Abbey, Berry, and Hoagland.  I am sure there are other favorites (Peter Matthiessen? Gary Snyder? John Hay?), but let me rule out a few that might be assumed to be part of this group.  Everyone on this list was born between 1893 and 1934 and reached the peak of their writing between the 50s and 70s.  They all experienced the Great Depression in some form, and all saw most of this environmental legislation passed (except Carson, who died rather prematurely in 1964).  Aldo Leopold was too early, Barry Lopez and Annie Dillard too late.  The last two are omitted simply because they probably didn’t affect this particular wave of environmentalism; they were affected BY it.

This group of writers took a diverse approach to the environment. From Eiseley’s mysticism and anthropology to Abbey’s radicalism to Krutch’s childlike curiosity, they manage to touch nearly every taste and temperament. They have certainly touched me, so on the following pages you will see both an analytical as well as a personal journey. This is the origin of today’s “green” thinking, and we are about 50 years farther along (Silent Spring, in fact, turns 50 in 2012). I think its time for another reading.

Proceed to the first essay,  on Loren Eiseley, or return to the Table of Contents.

–Adam Regn Arvidson

Feb 212011

A Letter from Italy,

by Natalia Sarkissian

With Jo

Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti-Santo Stefano entrance

My friend Jo’s husband, Francesco Allegretto, has done the photography in the exhibition catalog for a show in Venice, Lino Tagliapietra: Da Murano allo Studio Glass. Opere 1954- 2011. (Showing from February 19-May 22.)


They invite me to the opening. Since I’m not usually invited to show openings in Venice by insiders—Jo and Francesco live in Venice and are part of the art scene—I hop on the early morning express train from Milan and go, Numero Cinq press tags clicking around my neck.

Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Canal Grande facade

Four hours later, after a train ride, a vaporetto ride and a jaunt through town (I quit the ferry at the wrong stop), when I get to the Cavalli-Franchetti palace where Mr. Tagliapietra’s glass is exhibited, I point to my credentials. Nevertheless, the receptionist looks skeptical. I call Jo; Jo leads me into the luxurious rooms of the fifteenth-century palazzo that has been refurbished and renovated in the intervening centuries, stopping here and there, showing me the beautiful pieces she loves.

Near a sumptuous blue piece she stops. “There he is,” she says, pointing.

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