Friday, February 24, 2012

On newspaper goodbyes – and the persistence of poetry

I’ve said goodbye at numerous newspapers in my lifetime, each as distinct from one another as it is possible to be. After almost nine years, I’m leaving the Catholic Standard & Times and today was my last day. It has been an extraordinary learning experience (and, no, I don’t mean just learning to spell baldacchino, or to tell the difference between a zucchetto and a biretta).

There has been tumult and laughter; hundreds of column inches to pare away and last-minute must-run standalones; adrenaline-pumping breaking stories; and enduring friendships forged over coffee and page proofs.

Pretty much as in every newsroom.

Except, this one has had poetry.

I was surprised the first time I realized CS &T and Phaith columnist-chemist-theologian (how's that for a trifecta?) Michelle Francl-Donnay followed the links in this blog and read my poems online. I was even more surprised to find out not only did she like the work, she made her chemistry classes at Bryn Mawr actually read all manner of contemporary poetry.

Yesterday, she showed up with a book of Jane Hirshfield poetry for my goodbye. “The Supple Deer,” she told me, has a line that reminds her of the work (the gristle and grace) of editing: To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

Then this morning, Matthew Gambino, the director of the CS&T and Phaith magazine, surprised me with three books of poetry, among them Billy Collins’ Nine Horses, and Red Bird by Mary Oliver. I opened both at random and marveled at the way the stanzas fitted themselves to the circumstance in which I was reading them.

The third volume of poetry (Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art) I didn’t have to open at random, because Matt had already singled out a passage for me to read:

If you would be a poet, write living
newspapers. Be a reporter from
outer space, filing dispatches
to some supreme managing editor who
believes in full disclosure and has a
low tolerance for bullshit.

I love it.

It seems to me that newsrooms must have, at their heart, poetry. And the stories conveyed – word by word, line to line, in clipped cadences – are the same ones we chase in art and in prayer.

I’m looking forward to the distinct cadences and metric of the Spanish-language newsroom I’ll be joining next week.

I trust there'll be poetry, so I'll sign off with these lines from Neruda's poem "I'm explaining a few things" (translation is mine):

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
And the poppy-covered metaphysics?
And the rain that sometimes beats down
words, filling them
with openings and birds?
I'll tell you the news….

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In la lucha

 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...

1 day left before you can get Fat Girl in a Strange Land (with my story "La Gorda and the City of Silver") from and I've decided to set up my own little giveaway here. Participate and you'll be entered into the raffle to receive one of my copies of the anthology.

Okay, here's the catch. You have to do three things and post a comment here so I know to enter you in the raffle.

1) A teeny, tiny bit of research. La Gorda's father was inspired by a real person, a Guatemalan filmmaker who started out filming episodic lucha libre movies that showed before feature films in some Guatemalan movie theaters. His first full-length film featured one of his luchadores and a child from outer space. What's his name?

2) A nod toward those living en la lucha. Femicide rates in places like Guatemala and Honduras are extraordinarily high. I follow Vivas Guatemala@vivasgt and Campo Algodonero@femicidios, in addition to a number of independent Guatemalan women journalists, on Twitter who are serious about drawing attention to the issue. Of course, femicide isn't only a problem in Central America, so go on the net, read something about it (UNICEF issues reports and alerts about femicide rates, for example) and then just let me know here you did - no proof required. I trust you.

3) Insight into who you really are. If you were part of Lucha Libre team, what would your luchador/a name be?

That's it. I'll give you all a week or so before I pick the winner.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Eros and Psyche - A Valentine's Day poem

He lets the soul want him.
He lets the soul love him.
And when she seeks to see
what she can no longer live without,
he sends her away from him. 
With nothing but prayer and desire
for him to light her way.  
Teresa of Avila craving ecstasy knew this.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pleas falling into the great
silence God had become, knew this.
Psyche, chasing after her lower-case god
through the dark underworld and back, 
knew this.

The butterfly wings our souls wear
are emblems of dream and despair.
Will they lift? 
Can they carry us
high enough to pierce
the heavens? 
My hand is outstretched,
as you knew it would be.
If you wanted me
blind and searching
then you have me
just so.
it’s yours.
The thin skin
that contains
the soul,
and everything

©2009 Sabrina Vourvoulias

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Textually speaking

At college - a rare break from the editing dungeon.
Once upon a time, but not so long ago that the ancients have forgotten it ...

I wanted to grow up to do two things - one of them was make films.

Well, I didn't get very far with that dream.


I write. And I write thinking as if I was making a film.

Sometimes I have a soundtrack running through my head while I write (often I dance while I write, but that's a different post). Visuals pop up ready-made to the unfolding story with some regularity; some even prompt a story.

And because the filmmaker instinct is only suppressed by circumstance, not temperament, every so often I'm tempted to put all of it together.

No, I'm not making a film. (Too many writing projects already in the works and needing attention.) But I've given myself a low-impact, virtual sop - if you click on the new tab at the top of the page titled "Meta Hyper Prompt" you will see some visuals and a couple of songs paired with short stories of mine. They belong to the process of writing rather than to the story itself, but they satisfy that pesky itch to work with more than one type of "text."

I always was all about monkeying with the form of things ... and making do with the materials at hand.

Hmmm, about the photo .... I was probably in middle of a conversation about film. You can tell by my expression. I was so earnest and serious in those days - particularly about splicing little pieces of acetate together. But, good God, couldn't I have done something with that hair?!?!?