Harryette Mullen to Take Part in Stockholm’s World Poetry Day

Harryette Mullen
The award-winning poet Harryette Mullen, author of UC Press’s Sleeping with the Dictionary, among many other books, will take part in Stockholm’s World Poetry Day 2011 on March 21.

The program, themed “Migrations,” will explore topics of escape, exile, and mobility, both in a geographical sense and a linguistic one. Mullen will be joined by poets Naima Chahboun, Hanna Hallgren, Ann Hallstrom, Jila Mossaed, Khashayar Naderehvandi, Caterina Pascual Söderbaum, Marie Berg Silke, David Vikgren, and Ghayath Almadhoun.

World Poetry Day was established in 1999 by UNESCO to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression, offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard, return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, and restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts.

Mullen’s current project is Tanka Diary, a series of short lyric poems in the Japanese form. She has generously agreed to let UC Press publish selections from her work on our blog.

Selections from Tanka Diary (work in progress)
Harryette Mullen

Hiking up Topanga Canyon trail,
we spoke of bobcats, coyotes, and rattlesnakes—
but only harmless lizards crossed our path.

My visitor from Nebraska buys
a sack of assorted seashells at a souvenir shop,
then scatters them along the beach.

Don’t need picket fences, brick wall,
or razor wire. Our home’s protected by
prickly pear cactus and thorny bougainvillea.

Native or not, you’re welcome in our gardens.
Lavender’s dress is not so vibrant as your
green trousers and purple velour sleeves.

Instead of scanning newspaper headlines,
I spend the morning reading names
of flowers and trees in the botanical garden.

Flowers of evergreen tree called bottlebrush,
not stiff bristles but velvety filaments,
leave fingers brushed with yellow pollen.

As guests are arriving I see in a corner
of the ceiling the spider’s tidy web
that mocks my attempt at housekeeping.

We’d planned to hike to the top of the trail
for a breathtaking view of Pacific,
but turned back down at the sight of a rattler.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to the editors of Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day Series, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Denver Quarterly, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, and Stone Canoe where these poems appeared previously.

To commemorate the World Poetry Day event, Swedish poet John Swedenmark has translated Mullen’s tanka poems on his blog. Below are a few selections. To see the full translation, visit John Swedenmark’s blog.

Ett kättingstaket och en låst grind som skyddar
stadsparken. En flyktig doftslinga av kaprifol
lyckas ta sig ut och fresta förbipasserande.

Barfota vid havets bård av mörk, våt sand,
fram mot de fradgande vågorna och bort igen,
småfåglar snappar efter osynliga insekter.

Förr i tiden, köttet ramlade av benen, djur
puttrade i en buljong eller ragu av urslem,
och bland dem skelettet av en ulltottsmammut.

Jakarandablommor i lila, imponerande
uppe på grenarna. Men under fötterna en klibbig
gegga där de har rasat ner på trottoaren.