Monday, April 23, 2007

Terri Witek

Terri Witek holds the Art & Melissa Sullivan Chair in Creative Writing at Stetson University.

Last week, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I am at that most exciting of moments for a reader — the breathing out between books. During this time I dip into old favorites: Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text and Mark Strand’s The Weather of Words. I also finger thrift store finds: a 1936 edition of the stenographer’s bible Gregg Shorthand with its now mysterious symbols and a great 1961 book, The Synonym Finder (by J.I. Rodale and Staff), which reminds us that “fib” was once both “bosh” and “moonshine.” I read online about the habits of the cedar waxwings who, for the last week, have been swooping into our loquat trees late in the afternoon.

But these are delaying tactics. For the last year I have been reading with Brazilian new media artist Cyriaco Lopes, whose works are often site-specific and almost always participatory. This collaborative reading began quite casually — we both read Dracula at about the same time and began to talk about its weird and wonderful status as separate first person journal entries. We moved on to A Hora da Estrela by Clarice Lispector — I spoke Portuguese for one year in high school as an AFS student, and this book brought both the language and my benighted 17 year old self back into my head with such force I could hardly talk about it rationally. At some point we went into the For Sale room in our university library and each chose a book for the other to use somehow — I gave him Darwin’s account of his voyage to Brasil, he gave me a book of astrological charts. And at another point we read one of the greatest books I have ever encountered in any language: Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis. The 19th century Portuguese was so hard I read it both Portuguese and English — a double reading which turned out to have something to do with the narrator’s deep game. This suggested Henry James: we read What Maisie Knew and have just finished the first book Cyriaco ever read in English, The Aspern Papers. The week between the James books I brought in Elizabeth Bishop’s great poem, “Crusoe in England.”

It is very interesting to have two hands (two languages, two genders, two ages, two Americas) ranging over the book shelf. What’s next? Dracula argues that a woman narrator will get the next bite…
Terri Witek's books include The Carnal World (2006), Fools and Crows (2003), Courting Couples (winner of the Center for Book Arts Prize 2000), and Robert Lowell and Life Studies: Revising the Self (University of Missouri Press, 1993).

Her poems have been published in The New Republic, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, Shenandoah, The Ohio Review, Slate, and other venues, and her articles have appeared in American Literature and Shenandoah.

Read, or listen to her read, her poem, "Civil Twilight," in Slate.

--Marshal Zeringue