Sunday, January 24, 2010

Memoirs of a Poet

Poets' Quarterly features an interview with poet and author Jane Satterfield. Jane and I went to high school together at Prospect Hall in Frederick, MD. I remember especially our French III class which consisted of five girls, including Jane and myself. Our teacher was lovely Mrs. Kincaid. We were pretty much allowed to discuss anything we wanted as long as we conversed in French. It was one of the most enjoyable classes I ever had. About once a month we would have what we called a "Gourmand Day" in which we would have French cheese, bread and sparkling grape juice. Some of us later went to France together; I remember crying my first few hours in France when real French people did not seem to understand what I was trying to say, until I found out that such experiences were par for the course.

I thought what Jane has to say in the interview about poetry and writing might be of interest to some of the aspiring writers who stumble upon Tea at Trianon. It certainly was helpful to this aspiring writer, especially since Jane's newest book is a memoir based upon family heritage. To quote:
Place is crucial--there's the visible reality a writer seeks to honor and the less visible histories that inform and shape both place and inhabitants. Place is the source of our remembering, the site of our witness. As a person with "transatlantic" roots, I've often felt pulled between multiple places and definitions of home. It's easy to think that this is simply a "new world" condition, but it isn't. At the end of the book's title essay, I reflect on a colleague's well-meaning statement: if you've lived in America your whole life, isn't the "exile" metaphor contrived, little more than a "romanticized longing" that should be put aside? Marina Tsvetaeva wrote that "One's homeland is not a geographical convention, but an insistence of memory and blood." In some ways, the book's a meditation on that observation.


Julygirl said...

A refreshing interview. Keep up the good work Jane.

I agree that home is more a state of mind than a geographical location, but in the area where I now live, families have been here for several hundred years and for them there is no place like home. Also in my mother's case, her heart and soul were always adrift because of having to leave her homeland.

R J said...

Very interesting material, both about the sense of place, and about the pleasures as well as the difficulties involved with a foreign language. I don't know Jane Satterfield's work, but I should like to repair this omission.

As my organ teacher (who is - like her husband - perfectly bilingual in English and German) once put it, when discussing European schooling: "If a kid can speak three languages his 'self-esteem' will take care of itself."

elena maria vidal said...

I understand how your mother feels, Julygirl.

How true, Rob. I have not yet read Jane's book myself but would like to soon.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Before I click the links and read your friend Jane, I can relate to this meeting:

a) meeting old classmates

b) in my case I might be the only writer, otherwise I have not met other writer as yet (I know one at same boarding home but differnet class went on to write articles about environment, probably in malthusian vein)

c) the class of French being only five and only girls - obviously my own French classes were not only girls, but German is bigger and more popular with boys in Sweden (I already knew it, when I had to take a third foreign language after Engl and Fr I read one German book, talked about it with teacher and got best grade with free hours for rest of - is "secondary highschool" what Fr call lycée and Gm/Sw Gymansium?)

Now, having said this, I will read your friend!

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"place is crucial"

so true

I am in comments to turned off older blog writing the day by day account of my pilgrimage in 2004. Since I was in different places every day, it is nearly possible.

Making a day by day account of what happened in a work place I was in for one month had become impossible even as I ended it (I had not kept diaries) since there the place was the same.