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Penn Station

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He must be about eighty years old,

A kind face, who seems glad for the warmth

Of the crowded corridors filled with smells

Of food, luggage, and wafts of strong perfume.




He sits at the next table holding a garbage bag,

Takes out a box at a time, a wrap at a time,

Licks the crumbs, and makes a pile of paper

Next to his right hand. Some seaweed, a bite




Of rice fallen from a sushi, a piece of noodle.

No one minds him, they look at their boxes

Filled with raw fish and ginger, check their phones,

The music from the restaurant plays on.




He smells like garbage. His eyes are warm

And resigned, but the crumbs make a meagre meal,

So, when he finishes going through the wraps,

He starts all over from the stack of empty boxes,




As if opening them again and again

Will make the food appear, the way we replay

A memory hoping the rehearsal will

Divine a treasured moment, and bring it back.




When he is convinced nothing is left, he carries the stack

To the large bin that had been just emptied. 

He takes a napkin from the supply station, returns

To his place at the table, and wipes it clean.











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Writing Toward Wholeness by Susan Tiberghien

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Writing Toward Wholeness: Lessons Inspired by C.G. Jung

by Susan M. Tiberghien

Chiron Publications, Asheville, North Carolina, 2018

ISBN: 978 1 63051 454 9

Reviewed by Carmen Bugan

Susan Tiberghien is an American writer who has made Europe her home for the past 60 years. She has written five memoirs in which she teaches the craft of writing in large part through Jungian philosophy: all of her books have received high praise, especially her signature memoir, Looking for Gold: A Year in Jungian Analysis. Her passion for creating communities of writers has led her to found the Geneva Writers’ Group in 1993, a gathering of nearly 250 international poets, novelists, journalists, biographers and memoirists, which has become a literary hub, and where she regularly teaches workshops. A sought-after speaker and instructor, Tiberghien lectures and teaches widely in Europe and the United States at C.G. Jung Institutes, the International Women’s Writing Guild, and at writers’ centers and conferences.

Tiberghien’s writing flourishes at the intersection of spirituality, arts, psychology, social justice, and common sense earned by raising a large family while living in several countries. Writing Toward Wholeness, her most recent writing memoir, showcases her experience teaching, writing, and researching the works of Carl Jung for the past 30 years, setting her as one of the prominent Jung scholars and an inspiring teacher. This is a book that enriches both the new and the experienced writer, for it opens original ways of reading Jung’s works and benefiting from them creatively. Writers who are not readers of Jung but who are looking for both practical and inspiring exercises, will find in these pages a treasure of writing prompts, exercises, and a stimulating bibliography that allow them to explore the craft of writing through the works of various spiritual figures and notable writers: from Gilgamesh to St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, all the way to contemporary writers such as Joseph Brodsky and Orhan Pamuk. The series of lessons–on how to write about the soul, how to use Eastern philosophy to talk about the concept of clarity in writing, how to use the metaphor of alchemy in thinking about the writing process—offers a strong framework that is useful to the teachers of creative writing as well, making it a great manual on writing as a holistic activity.

The unifying principle of Writing Toward Wholeness is the exploration of wholeness: first by looking at how others understood it through the ages, and then guiding the writer through a series of examples and writing prompts that turn the questioning to the self.  For example, she asks: “What does wholeness mean to you? What image of wholeness comes to you? A hazelnut? An oak tree? A child’s face?  Describe it in a few lines.” (p. 192) As with the writing exercises which she has crafted in each of the eight chapters, this is both simple and profound. There is elegance in the language by which we are invited to think: a child’s face, a hazelnut, all images that suggest calmness, gentleness, peace. She creates a safe world of imagination. Her writing prompts are not simply directions: they are openings one can trust, and this is rare to find even in experienced teachers.

Tiberghien’s ability to pose the big questions of the soul, to encourage us to listen to our inner selves, to search for our writing voice in our dreams, her belief that we can write ourselves from darkness into the light, from fog into clarity, is what makes this book so resourceful. “When the soul wishes to experience something”, she says quoting Master Eckhart, “she throws out an image of the experience before her and enters into her own image” p.23; in other words, in the act of writing, one enters the experience he or she imagines, approaching thus wholeness. Every person reading the book will take something slightly different from it, whether from a practical or a spiritual point of view, and I suspect that everyone exploring the lessons will experience the sense of joy and the rewards of language.

Toscanelli’s Ray by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi

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Toscanelli’s Ray by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi

Cadmus Editions, 2013 USD 16.95

Paper, ISBN 978-0932274748

Reviewed by Carmen Bugan

Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, an American writer who has lived in Parma, Italy for nearly forty years, is something of an underground secret. Her memoir Mother Tongue: an American Life in Italy is being reissued by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is a classic among conoscenti. The poet, translator, and memoirist has a depth of knowledge and an original cross-cultural perspective that puts her in a category all her own. Her novel, Toscanelli’s Ray, a prescient, heart-rending book, set in Florence in 1994, anticipates the reality of Europe today. Her characters, an Italian scientist, an American sand therapist, a Florentine peasant, Nigerian and Eastern European prostitutes show us the utterly strange world we live in, where different and disconnected realities exist side by side. Inside each character’s mind as he or she makes decisions that feel unexpected until they occur, the reader encounters lives that seem utterly tangible and real.

The novel spans fifteen hours, beginning in the night before the ceremony for the summer solstice, when the 15th century astronomer Paolo Toscanelli will be commemorated for a measurement once intended to help the Church find a universal date for Easter. The ray, which strikes the meridian in Santa Maria del Fiori quite respectably within modern calculations, announces time that is equal for each of these conflicted lives. Perhaps not coincidentally, the year in which the book is set is that in which Silvio Berlusconi comes to power. The city is a gritty, busy, corrupt one, where all are implicated: the American is breaking rules by excavating an Etruscan tomb, the Italian professor is having an affair with his research assistant, the Nigerian is struggling to sort out her life and that of her daughter.

Midway through Toscanelli’s Ray, Irene, a gypsy prostitute knocks on the door of a convent in Florence and leaves her friend’s daughter, little Farina—Flour— to the good will of the nuns. Farina is not yet four but has, miraculously, taught herself to read and write. The gypsy, who abandons Farina to more capable citizens, believes the girl is destined for something larger than a life on the streets; she dreams the child will outstrip the social condition of her birth, and the shame of her Nigerian mother who had been falsely promised a better life in a rich and beautiful Italy. Startled and terrified by her otherness and their responsibilities, the nuns can only think of baptizing her, where unwittingly they turn her into an object of curiosity and debate, ignoring her very soul. Sister Gertrude, who is assigned to Farina, leaves her alone while preparing her bath and Farina, who is desperate, writes words that she knows across the pristine walls. ”Wolf” is one of them. Sister Gertrude, who is startled by the child’s independence, but mostly by her ability to communicate, comments to herself:

“Imagine that secret of writing, real writing, across the walls. It was like discovering a prehistoric tomb. The sisters weighing up the future of the little girl—police or no police—to baptize or not as if the plague would snatch her before the afternoon—they were overlooking the child herself. Whether or not she needed a Christian name. How dare they worry about such things when the young concentrated face already possessed hands that knew how to write.” p. 203

Farina’s writing, seen through the metaphor of the prehistoric tomb, is oracular: she is born of cruelty and is filled with love, she cannot be categorized, she is to be interpreted perhaps as the ancient desire of the soul to sing itself out into life.

The essence of Wilde-Menozzi’s mesmerizing novel lies in her ability to look at our common humanity from deep inside the minds of utterly realistic, tangible characters, who take us into their experiences with enviable naturalness, only to leave us there, startled and utterly involved. After reading this book, one is tempted to look for Farina on the steps of the convent, or expect to run into Maria Grazia, blossomed into her pregnancy, on her bike near the University, or peer over stony walls to search for Susan with her hands in the sand, each harboring both despair and strength. This is a beautiful and disturbing book that brings Florence down from the art history books into the heat and sweat and the hopes of its current inhabitants who live in the shadow of the timeless statues and churches that hold the city’s old glory.

Writing in Turbulent Times

DeRoy lecture

The other four lectures which are part of the course on Poetry and the Language of Oppression, and which are open to the public are:

https://events.umich.edu/event/54814

https://events.umich.edu/event/54817

https://events.umich.edu/event/54812

https://events.umich.edu/event/54824

And, of course, a Poetry Reading with old friends, to celebrate being here at Michigan: https://events.umich.edu/event/55368

A bit of Dante…

Last month I visited Gradara, the castle where the story of Paolo and Francesca took place, and this put me in the mind of Dante.  Here are a few of my favorite verses from Paradiso, Canto XVII, lines 54-60:

 

Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta

piu caramente; e questo e quello strale

che l’arco de lo essilio pria saetta.

Tu proverai si come sa di sale

lo pane altrui, e come e duro calle

lo scendere e’l salir per l’altrui scale.

 

My own translation reads:

 

You will leave everything you hold

dearest; this is what the bow

of exile will shoot first.

You will taste the salt of another’s bread

and learn the difficulty of your path as

you descend and mount another’s stairs.