Rymkiewicz is fighting a battle on two fronts. On the one hand, he resorts to what you call a “documentary” style in order, like a historian, to establish the objective reality of what once happened, while he will switch to “personal recollections of childhood” to make of his account an eyewitness testimony, not merely a thoroughly researched historical account.
I’ve always preferred The Odyssey to The Iliad—preferring adventurous peace to adventurous war. But when I heard good things about Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Iliad, I decided to buy it. I wasn’t sorry. I’d say that Wilson’s translation is a perfect balance between common speech and the grandness appropriate for this story of great heroes.
Two weeks after the dramatic July 4, 1976, rescue of hostages—Israeli as well as non-Israeli Jews—from Entebbe International Airport, I learned my first word of modern Hebrew: savlanut. Along with seventy other volunteers, I was in a chapel across from the JFK terminal where our El Al flight would depart for Israel in a few hours. Savlanut, that’s the most important word, said Nurit, the director of Sherut La’am, told us.
Among the books I brought to read while on retreat was Marilynn Richtarik’s Getting to Good Friday: Literature and the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, which examines Irish writers who commented on and sought to strengthen peace efforts through poetry, fiction, and drama. Richtarik considers several influential works that treat violence in Northern Ireland obliquely, finding a deeper truth than the sum of daily news reports by telling things “slant.”
I’ve just had a poem produced by, then canceled by, ongoing scholarship. Perhaps. We’ll see what happens next. I wrote “Cathedral” this year in response to a television documentary produced, in part, by The National Geographic Society that told the story of a remarkable discovery: a human burial found deep in a cave that involved tools and symbolic markings 300,000 years before such cultural features were thought to have emerged.
Carolyn Forché is now a celebrated American poet. But she was far from that on the day in the late 1970s when a car pulled up outside the remote California beach house that she was renting. The driver idled the engine, then finally turned it off. At that, Forché, alone in the house and busily typing, noticed the sudden silence and became apprehensive. In her gripping memoir What You Have Heard is True, she narrates what happened next.
I was reminded of Bao Ninh’s impossible prose style recently. I was sent a book by a person named Cab Tran, who co-translated and edited a new collection by Boa Ninh. It is called Hanoi at Midnight. In the book, Ninh is still thinking about the past. The War still haunts him. But war is also always more than war with Bao Ninh.