Kjære Di,

You mentioned the church bells in Genova and the calls to prayer in Istanbul. When I think about these kinds of things in my own life – the church bells in Stavanger, the live singing coming from the minarets in Skopje when I was there for a conference – I think about the necessary silence that surrounds them. Lying on the floor of a rented room in Skopje, I heard the singing long before dawn: the song was strange and comforting simultaneously. In Stavanger, those 12 years in the house near the church, the bells were like a grown-up call to recess: Sunday.

sheepOut here in Jæren, I don’t hear the church bells. But it is quiet, and the sparrows’ chatter outside the window punctuates the silence in the same way. With the same reverence. And on weekend hikes, there is the ubiquitous clanging of sheep bells. A somewhat strange, irregular music, but comforting, too. Like a lifeline into the wild. Did I tell you that every hike we have been on this fall has had us stumbling upon sheep skeletons?

Perhaps we are both drawn to seek the foreign as a way to recapture wonder and awe?

You wrote, “Mostly it’s not human nature to leap when you are safe.  Mostly.”  Maybe there is something wrong with us? The restlessness.  I guess in my case it has to do with a mistrust of the sense of safety.

And then there is the fact that I love nesting, but hate being nested. Being busy, being occupied with the ordering of things gives me an illusion of control. Once that flurry of activity is over, the illusion is broken. I feel vulnerable.

I think that is why, content as a I am in so many ways, I have flashes of envy when you share your experiences of arranging your new life. I want to move house again. Which is absurd. Instead: yesterday I decided on a new bookshelf for the living room. So you see, I need a healthy adventure soon.

E. and I were in the east part of Stavanger Friday night to see a production at the arts center. They are renovating the whole section of town. I guess the proper way to describe it is to say there is a gentrification of the old working class neighborhood. Posh little cafés, and gyms with big windows so everyone can watch the people on the treadmills – or the people on the treadmills can be watched. I’m not sure what the thought was behind that design, to be honest.

The old arts center has had a facelift, though its still appropriately whatever-the-current-hipster-term-for-“shabby chic” is, if shabby chic is already passé – I don’t even care to keep up these days. Hipster is probably passé by now. At any rate, sleek apartment buildings have sprung up all along the water. Grassy parks that look in reality just as they did in the drawings in advertisements before they were built.

What is taking me by surprise is that I have absolutely no interest in any of it. I would rather explore the rocky beaches out by the lighthouse south of here. I’d rather roam the lived-in spaces in East London on a weekend. Feed the pelicans. I would rather spend time where things aren’t carefully designed not to match in just the right way – maybe go seek out on of your beloved bazaars in Istanbul. Things that are not preplanned. Places that grow organically, as chaotic as humans are. What is the point of moving into or even through something that is already in perfect order? How gawd-awful boring.

And distancing: the place would never be mine. And I would never fit in well.

I guess that brings us back to belonging and not really belonging. The safety of the familiar, on the periphery? I don’t know, that seems paradoxical. It’s the wildebeest on the periphery who get eaten, isn’t it?

So tell me more about these doubting Genovese.  They aren’t eating you alive, are they?

Much love,

XO Ren

Di’s Reply

This is one of a series of public letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.

If the topic of This Choice interests you, I would welcome your contribution (*provided it meets the following guidelines).

To avoid misunderstandings, please read the manifesto on the website before submitting.

A little reminder about the concept for the podcast project: I‘m curious as to how the process of writing poetry affects poets’ daily lives. How it affects the choices we make, that – in turn -shape our lives. I live far away from other English-writing poets, and I began this project as a way for me to sit down over a glass of wine, or cup of coffee, and chat with poets I admire – and to learn from them.

Even if Skype is the only way to do it.

This is about conversation, not promotion.

The form for Xtra Voices is a 15-minute podcast that includes three poets independently telling a story about how poetry has affected their lives. On the website, I will include photos, bios, links and a very brief 3-question, written Q. & A. based on each poet’s story. (If a poet wishes to write long responses, I will gladly link to their own platform.)

A submission must meet these criteria:

  • MAX. 5-minute audio file (3-4 minutes is ideal)
  • Introduce yourself by name, and tell a story that illustrates how poetry made adifference in your life.
  • No more than 1 minute of the story may be a quote from one of your own poems.
  • End the audio with your name and your website address (if applicable). At the end of each podcast, I will remind listeners to go to ThisChoicePodcast.com to find links to the poets’ work and websites: Do not provide a summary of your bio on the audio tape.

    Please respect the purpose of this project and do not consider this primarily a place to promote your own work. And please note the difference between a story (i.e. anecdote), an ars poetica, or a monologue about “What Poetry Means to Me.” I will not publish audio files that stray from the spirit of This Choice.

Please send submissions to renkat (at) mac (dot) com. Subject line: This Choice.
I look forward to hearing form you.