Fish are feeding near the edge of the lagoon, biting and pecking at something in the water. The sun is making a slow descent to the left of me. I have written all day and came to this chair to met some of my colleagues. I hear my name called from behind me. Lauri and Tiziana are on the balcony, calling. "We got caught up in this translation thing. Sorry. Want to come up? Or shall we see you at dinner?"
I stayed by the water, dipped in and exercised a little. In my quiet I meditated on a topic that bothers me at all these international writers residences: How can there be so many exciting writers in the world and I have never read them, let alone, met them? All of my colleagues here: Tiziana Colusso, Seni Seneviratne, Lauri Kubuitsile, and Kevan Manwaring have loads of publications, have performed around the world, and have enormous reputations. Three of them write in English and yet never crossed my radar.
"What's up with that?" (inside joke with the writers)
I realize that my interest in books is limited somewhat by what I teach and the communities I travel in, but truth be told, where would I have found them? Where would i be able to come across Seni's touching c.d., Lauri's novels? a translation of Tiziana's poetry In this global connected up, skyping, emailing, tweeting world why isn't there more "bleed" into the borders of US bookstores? Or into the recommendation pages of those huge on-line book catalog?
I understand market demands, the issues with translation, the costliness of importing something as unprofitable as books. But really, could we replace some overseas trinket with a useful product, like an Italian poem? This is not a new problem and I don't know if it's specifically in the U.S. either. But each time I meet up in a global arena, I am shocked (newly, everytime) by the lack of exposure i have to world writers and to translated writers. Add to that, the writers who are never translated to English.
Unless I had came here, I would have never read: silenzio degli innocenti/tra duellanti indecenti (Tiziana)
or Despair lands like a bloated pigeon on the acacia tree/drags down delicate branches, scatters the leaves;... (Seni)
or Altering our colours/ until we become/indistinguishable/from the background./Absorbed/into the night.//Extinguished. (Kevan)
or: Once that door is opened, all of those maybe mothers, those ones in the cool shade with the sound of the flowing river in the background, they will vanish, never to be conjured up again, and only the mother that is hers alone; the one made of blood and bones and mistakes and pain, will be the one for her. She doesn't want that. She wants the folded memory mother in her heart pocket. (Lauri)
I suddenly feel my life is bereft of inspiration and power. That I've become too practical in my selections and not willing to investigate the unlit corners of the on line book shops. I must flash a light to the top shelves, see what is not being illuminated by the established companies.
But then i think of one particular book case at home, full of unread books. Friends who just released new ones, books i couldn't resist at Walden Books or the Laurel Book Store, books I need to read for my classes.
In the meantime I need to write.
Maybe these residencies for me are the only solution. To meet the writers one by one. To meet not only their writing but to make a connection. Watch them at the table converse and laugh. Witness their collaborations, disagreements, moments of silence.
I need to read the world. But obviously I can't. So i make my little pilgrimages to a beautiful place here and there. Where the sun not only sets on the Red Sea, where the fish-quiet night begins to creep around my shoulders, but where in a room, a writer from UK/South Africa, Botswana and Italy exchange words, practice each other's on their tongues and return home speaking a new language.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports