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Aliki Barnstone | Tiferet Talk Interview with Donna Baier Stein

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Please join Tiferet Journal on 08/12/14 at 7 PM EST for a conversation with award-winning poet, editor, translator, and critic Aliki Barnstone.

Aliki Barnstone's books of poetry include the National Book Critics Circle Notable Book Madly in Love (Carnegie-Mellon, 1997), Blue Earth (Iris, 2004), Wild With It (Sheep Meadow, 2002), Windows in Providence (Curbstone, 1981) and Bright Body (White Pine Press, 2011). Other publications include The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy (W.W. Norton, 2006) and Changing Rapture: Emily Dickinson's Poetic Development (University Press of New England, 2007)). Barnstone received two Pulitzer Prize nominations. In addition, she edited A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now (Schocken), The Calvanist Roots of the Modern Era (University Press of New England), Voices of Light: Spiritual and Visionary Poetry by Women from Ancient Sumeria to Now (Shambhala).

Aliki was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Greece in 2006. Her poems and translations have appeared in publications such as The American Poetry ReviewThe Georgia ReviewNew LettersPleiadesPrairie SchoonerThe Southern ReviewTriQuarterly, and Virginia Quarterly Review.

To learn more about Aliki Barnstone please visit: http://alikibarnstone.com/. And to purchase her books: http://bit.ly/1vb0RQq.


Producer: RJ Jeffreys

Co-Producer: Udo Hintz



0:00 Donna Baeir Stein

Please join me Donna Baeir Stein in welcoming in tonight's very special Tiferet Talk Show guest award winning poet, editor, translator and critic Aliki Barnstone. Aliki is a brilliant, sensitive and prolific author and creative writing professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Her work has received two Pulitzer Prize nominations and recognition from the National Book Critic circle. She has published seven books of poetry including Bright Body, Blue Earth, Wild With It, Madly In Love, Windows and Providence, The Real Tin Flower and Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak, new and selected poems. Other publications include Changing Rupture, Emily Dickinson's poetic development from the University Press of New England and the Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy, a new translation from Norton. In addition, Aliki edited Book of Women poets from Antiquity to Now, The Calvinist Roots of the Modern Era and Voices of Light: Spiritual and Visionary Poetry by Women Around the World from Ancient Sumeria To Now. Aliki's poems and translations have appeared in numerous publications including the American Poetry Review, the Georgia Review, new letters, tri-quarterly review and many others. It is truly an honor to welcome this impressively mulit-talented author Aliki Barnstone. Aliki hi!

1:59 Aliki Barnstone


2:00 Donna Baeir Stein

I wanna thank you so much for sharing your time with us this evening.

2:03 Aliki Barnstone

Oh, it's my pleasure.

2:05 Donna Baeir Stein

I have so enjoyed reading some of your books and poems, they have been perfect in these difficult days with talents in the world and they're just been beautiful, Caroline Kaisser noted your radiant intelligence and I think it's just a perfect description of your talents. I'd like to start out talk tonight if you would by telling our listeners a bit about the fertile landscape in which such radiant intelligence took root that your childhood that came before your very impressive career.

2:45 Aliki Barnstone

Well, my father is a poet, translator, critic and editor and every summer -- and my mother is a painter and every summer we used to go to Vermont and we are 20 minutes away from Rushton and her daughters and we used to __ play together the poacher game so from the very youngest person to the oldest person everybody was writing together and reading out loud and my mother would not allow any television or phone so we were in this isolated place in Vermont which is actually I just visited, it is just kind of the same. I mean, there's been few houses so we used our imaginations and played in the field and drew and read and wrote and as a result of those summers in Vermont I can never be bored because my mind can always take me some place interesting (laughter) even if it is awful circumstances.

3:58 Donna Baeir Stein

That's wonderful. That's such a gift and I know your book Madly in Love begins with a poem in which a man goes to visit Rushton, correct?

4:23 Aliki Barnstone

Yes (laughter) yeah. That is one of the legendary stories of this man, I guess a boyfriend of my mom was __4:31__ in the poem he breaks into her house holding his -- naked and lies down on the floor (laughter) and screams and then he walks over the bend and grab his underwear and knocks on her door which is a very long walk from her place to our place but anyway I say that I don't like to admit that things in poems are really happened, you know literally happened but that one really did happen (laughter).

5:14 Donna Baeir Stein

Aha, aha and I'm not sure if you mentioned your dad's name but I just pictured him as Willis Barnstone and you also have a poet brother Tony Barnstone...

5:26 Aliki Barnstone

Well, that's correct.

5:28 Donna Baeir Stein

Another brother who is a sculptor. Is that correct?

5:30 Aliki Barnstone

My other brother Robert is a sculptor and architect and he was in Australia and my mom is a painter, marvelous painter. So I was raised, well I don't wanna make it sound like it was heaven because it certainly wasn't but it certainly was in many ways and my parents their __5:57__ that everyone has always encouraged us and in the end I think being encouraged having people that have faith in you makes up for other things.

6:13 Donna Baeir Stein

Yes, so true. And so your first book you published is when you were 12, I believe with McMillan. How did that come about and how did you feel when you held that book in your hands?

6:32 Aliki Barnstone

I don't remember holding the book in my hands if you're kind of interested in __6:37__ because I remember holding a lot of my other books in my hands when they first arrived. My dad tells a story that I was more concerned with the fact that my father was buying my brother a bicycle (laughter).

6:54 Donna Baeir Stein

Right (laughter).

6:58 Aliki Barnstone

But it came about because my father took my manuscript to New York and gave it to a publisher McMillan and the editor was __7:13__ and said "Willis we should give up" or something like that (laughter). I feel like comfortable bragging on myself and so they published it and then Anne Saxton wrote the introduction. I never -

7:30 Donna Baeir Stein

Wonderful! I was going to ask you had not met her?

7:32 Aliki Barnstone

I never met her, no.

7:35 Donna Baeir Stein

So the radiant intelligence showed through at a very age. That's wonderful.

7:43 Aliki Barnstone

I think that most children begin like that.

7:50 Donna Baeir Stein

And as long as you are.

7:53 Aliki Barnstone

I think, I mean I don't wanna diminish my own, I don't believe in, you know, that some people are you know way above other people. I don't wanna diminish my gift because it is a gift but I think everyone has gifts and one of sorrows in this world is that so many children are not encouraged and with horrifying conditions and that even here where everyone should have great education beginning from preschool alone they don't.

8:31 Donna Baeir Stein


8:32 Aliki Barnstone

That spirit of exploration which can take you so far no matter what your interest is, is squashed.

8:44 Donna Baeir Stein

Yes and that's a tragedy.

8:48 Aliki Barnstone


8:54 Donna Baeir Stein

And that actually leads me into another question that I had put together for you in the __9:01__ Madly in Love Robert Pinsky writes pleasure, wonder, anger and moral passion are here and in the post of yours that I have seen on Facebook, your moral passion is evidenced daily and whether it's moral outrage or sorrow at events that are taking place around the world this is obviously a really important part of your life in addition to your writing. There is another from your poem Psychology; I could scream my fury and tell the sky thundered which I love and I'm wondering how you see either the active writing or the active reading in written as sitting into or even ameliorating the suffering that does exist in the world.

9:58 Aliki Barnstone

In every oppressive regime, the artists are the one who are the first to go. Be silence, put in jail, executed, have to go into exile and so on and so I think that the act of writing and the act of making art allows people to enter around in which the purest of humanity, psyche and aspirations is present, experienced and I think that is very dangerous thing. That is the reason why there was a cry to teach the slave to read for example. So I don't feel that I can change the world but I feel like I can do my little part. When Pete Seeger died it was totally devastating to me (laughter) and he said that "it's not going to be you know big actions". It is gonna be of millions of small actions that he had an image of teeter totter where there is a basket full of stones, big heavy stones and then on the other end is a basket with where the sand where people keep on putting __11:45__ fulls of sand into the basket and eventually the basket is heavier than those pink stones.

11:56 Donna Baeir Stein

Uhm, uhm and it won't be written each, post that written is something that helps that weight.

11:59 Aliki Barnstone

And everybody joins together, I mean this book is such a strange. I don't -- the rest of the social media leaves me, Oh, I can't do all of it. I just not -- I can't learn it all, like twitter occasionally but I don't get it. I don't understand how to do it but I think that it's fascinating the ways in which people can connect and get upset too and have to dropped out of it all for a while and on the one hand I think there is such a kind of the warm all the time of information and, you know, silly, wonderful pet videos and you know people whose postings are so horrifying that I can't, I can't -- I have to block them.

13:11 Donna Baeir Stein


13:12 Aliki Barnstone

You know but at the same time I think that there's great possibility in all of us having the potential all over the world to be connected at the same time.

13:26 Donna Baeir Stein

Yes. I agree. Yup.

13:28 Aliki Barnstone

And I don't think that we have yet comprehended what this revolution has done to our __13:39__psyches and it is a revolution. I mean I can't write anymore without the internet because I'm constantly looking things up. Looking up definitions of words. Looking up etymology. Looking up history. My next book is tentatively entitled because every time I have a book I changed the title a few times(laughter), Oikos which means house in Greek. It is also the root word of ecology ecumenical and so on economy and so I didn't have much of a Science background because I went to __14:26__ I could take whatever I wanted and I wasn't very interested in Science at that time. __14:31__but now I'm really interested in and so I wanna learn about fireflies. I wanna learn about heat (laughter) global warming. I wanna learn about whales and there it is!

14:48 Donna Baeir Stein

That's all it is.

14:51 Aliki Barnstone

That access. That unstoppable access is really I think allows us such tremendous possibility and also just too much and...

15:07 Donna Baeir Stein

Really overwhelmed.

15:08 Aliki Barnstone

And stupidity and I think that one of the things -- there is a film that I'm gonna show in my women's studies course called Misrepresentation which is about the way that goes on women are represented in the media and one of the points they make is that women and girls are -- the way that people learn about women and girls and sex and so on in at such a young age and so completely unmonitored, unregulated. There is no way to keep the stuff from people and that there is a whole lot of distortion that goes on and then again I don't think that we figured out...

16:02 Donna Baeir Stein


16:04 Aliki Barnstone

What this means and how we will contend with this.

16:10 Donna Baeir Stein

Yeah and a lot of what they see is filtered through patriarchal culture, you know (laughter) this is a problem.

16:21 Aliki Barnstone


16:22 Donna Baeir Stein

I'd love to have you read one of your poems as well so we don't get -- we could talk about Facebook forever (laughter).I'd love to have you read one of your poems as well so we don't get -- we could talk about Facebook forever (laughter).

16:29 Aliki Barnstone

I know you want to talk about (crosstalk) I have written about the media in some of my poems and this poem that we agreed that I would read does refer to the media and that I will read it, it is called You Pray to Rain Falling in the Desert. You pray to rain falling in the desert because it is a Sunday where the sky is blue nearly every day and you might forget to be sad. Because you don't sing with a choir, except the quiet rain intoning on the backyard patio -- and the raindrops outside are not the human voices you must listen to. Because in March rains wake up desert flowers and the globe mallow blooms everywhere -- burning bushes in the Valley of Fire and vacant lots waiting for gas stations. You will see their orange blossoms flaring through your windshield, and no voice will say I am. Because the rain will swell Lake Mead with our water for drinking and bathtubs and gardens full of thirsty grass, roses, and oleander. Because fatal bacteria will die in treatment plants. Because there are no mosquitoes here, no malaria. Because the Children's Hospital is stocked with medicine. Because the rain will wash away the dust and misery and channel the toxins from spent bombs into groundwater. Because daughter wanted to walk instead of drive and she spun in her orange dress, pointed her pink-sneakered foot, because rain on the desert is a multitude of tender hands applauding new life. It is the eve of war and you don't believe the broadcast on radio and on television: I will rid you out of their bondage and I will redeem you with stretched out arm, and with great judgments. Because the rain keeps you inward, attending to the outward hiss of traffic on boulevards. Because the rain is unclear, a vast gray erasing demarcation. Because the rain makes you feel tired of the word, because tired of causes becoming effects, tired of causes, tired of tired reasons.

19:27 Donna Baeir Stein

Beautiful. Beautiful poem.

19:29 Aliki Barnstone

Thank you.

19:30 Donna Baeir Stein

In that poem and in other poems there is such wonderful tightrope walk between light and dark at least what I see that it's kind of a very grounded and realistic optimism. It is not saying everything wonderful because there are -- it is the eve of war etc. and there are problems in life and yet there's this orange sneakered foot and your daughter and it's (laughter) beautiful, beautiful visual _20:15_light that comes through in so many of you r poems. Would you agree with that?

20:20 Aliki Barnstone

Yeah. I mean I've written about the holocaust. I have written about a lot of things that are horrifying but I don't think that describing the horror in graphic ways which is one of the things that has kind of driven me crazy but that one of the stuff that's have been out there in the media recently is that I was - had a full __20:59__in Greece and I was writing a sequence of poems about an imaginary -- in the voice of an imaginary poet who survives the holocaust which is a __21:09__. So there's a lot of stuff going on and at the same time that I was in Greece doing this research and writing these poems, the Greek government finally decided to put a few sentences about the holocaust in Greece in the history books and so they had a conference which I attended and there were people who are training the teachers and people like me how to teach the holocaust and one of the most memorable thing was a women who from __21:48__who said "don't show files of dead bodies, show pictures of people alive and teach the deaths through the life and the life through the death because people can't wait to something that has lost that is the person who has the promising and I think it leaves it to objectification besides which why bother to live if it's all bad (laughter).

22:27 Donna Baeir Stein


22:28 Aliki Barnstone

The reason that it matters is because everyone is beautiful and wonderful and I really do believe that. I believe this even the worse of people they have something inside them that can be redeemed and I know that that's a very (laughter)

22:50 Donna Baeir Stein

I agree.

22:51 Aliki Barnstone

And they may have become horrible because of warping and childhood etc. all kinds of things can warp the natural goodness of people...

23:03 Donna Baeir Stein


23:04 Aliki Barnstone

and power and money and greed and all of that but again I would turn to the kind of small things that we do that matter having a garden that attracts butterflies and bees (laughter) for example or being a teacher, you know small things just some kind of kindness so I think that that's what comes to in my poems, in this particular poem. I mean at least I hope so in this particular poem.

23:45 Donna Baeir Stein


23:46 Aliki Barnstone

In this particular poem. I was living in Las Vegas at that time and what that be in that place being in the desert when there was about to be another war in the desert allowed me to be in two places at once and just speaks of both places at once and the interesting thing about the spent bombs going into the water, the groundwater is that you know there were those atomic picnic where people would go up to Mt. Charleston and then watch the atomic bombs go up so there are spent bombs in the Las Vegas Area and one of the things that people don't talk about bombings is that, it is an environmental catastrophe in addition which has long-term effect on the people who lived on that land, who survived on that land, who has a long term effect on their health and wellbeing which matters (laughter).

24:52 Donna Baeir Stein

Yes of course, yeah. And I note you mentioned plans in your garden, the trapped bees and I know we have one more poem that you are going to read tonight that has a mention of bees (laughter) which is important to the continuation of the world.

25:12 Aliki Barnstone


25:13 Donna Baeir Stein

But before we get to that I had a question, I know that you edited Voices of Light: Spiritual and Visionary Poems by Women from Ancient Sumeria to Now.

25:22 Donna Baeir Stein

And my question was, what did you look for in the poems that you were selecting? What, and this, I think ties in to what you are just saying about doing small act of kindness or not having the dark overpower the light. What did you want the poems that you picked for that anthology to achieve? Or I guess that is the question. Or another question, how would you define poetry that is spiritual? What would that mean to you?

25:22 Aliki Barnstone


25:29 Aliki Barnstone

Well in the introduction I say that the spiritual is defined by a quest for union or union and that is can be very broadly defined. Many of the metaphysical poets and the religious poets, devotional poets have very erratic poems which are devotions to God and then there are or of god-head or the universe. And so I look for poems that I thought expressed, because the book goes from Ancient Sumeria to now so there are a lot of cultures and lot of languages but I looked for poetry, well first of all good and second of all transporting in some way. I do not if that answers the question.

27:07 Donna Baeir Stein

Well let us hear the poem A Laugh with the Bees. I would love for you to share that with our listeners too.

27:18 Aliki Barnstone

I think this might be the first poem in the next book but it might be the last poem and the next book or it might in the middle book. For now it is the first Alas, All the days since the Autumn equinox, I have been unable to get the word alas out of my mind. Alas, swirled on maple leaves burnished by rain. Alas--too pretty to be sad though it signifies sadly. Alas, the birds alight too briefly before their southern leave. Alas, the lawn, monochrome emblem of the love of money, a single conforming species, its rank's blades held aloft, poison-tipped. Lethal, alas, to all insects (except the few pests targeted) lethal to little helpers and progenitors. Alas, too many mistake for weeds and eradicate our wild violets and clover. I like the violet's heart-shaped leaves in my salad, shining with beads of oil. I like to think the soil likes the clover to fix its nitrogen and the clover likes to be the grass, Walt Whitman loves, inviting us to loaf and hum among wildflowers whose names recall daughters, home and, harvest--pincushion, bachelor's button, and Queen Anne's lace, golden rod, cosmos, and prairie aster, sweet alyssum, yarrow, and autumn joy--where bees intoxicated by nectar, not toxins, live to be our promiscuous pollinators.

29:21 Donna Baeir Stein

Beautiful, beautiful. Thank you so much. I am glad Aliki that you are sharing your many kindnesses and your concern for the world and your talent for writing with the world. I truly am.

29:37 Aliki Barnstone

Thank you.

29:39 Donna Baeir Stein

Do you know when your next book will be out?

29:40 Aliki Barnstone

No I don't know when it will be out. I would not imagine it would be out until at the earliest 2016. I am just putting it together right now. In fact my bed is spread with poems but I am hopeful that it will be out in the next couple of years.

30:13 Donna Baeir Stein

And we have listed your other many publications on the Blog Talk Radio Site and on the Tiferet Journal Site, would you also like direct people to your own website? So they can find out more about you and read more of your work, your visual art as well.

30:34 Aliki Barnstone

My website is alikibarnstone.com it is a little out of date but there is still quite a lot on it and then I also have alikibarnstone.blogspot.com which is my blog which I occasionally post on and yeah.

30:55 Donna Baeir Stein

Well you are very (crosstalk) and it is wonderful the way you switch between genres with such skill as well. Thank you, thank you Aliki and again apologies for the technological snufu at the beginning here but I have so enjoyed talking to you I feel like we could talk. You have done so much we could talk much longer than 30 minutes but. Thank you.

31:22 Aliki Barnstone

Thank you.

31:23 Donna Baeir Stein

For this time tonight.

31:26 Aliki Barnstone

Thank you so much.

31:27 Donna Baeir Stein

Alright thank you Aliki. Take care. Bye, bye.

31:30 Aliki Barnstone


31:33 Donna Baeir Stein

I hope you have enjoyed tonight's Tiferet talk. The show will be archived and available for later listening on our website at www.tiferetjournal.com. You are invited to join our global community of writers there and to subscribe to our literary magazine Tiferet Journal. You can enjoy a generous 40% off Summer discount if you subscribe by August 31st. Please join us at Tiferet Talk next month when we interview author of Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman and his co-author-daughter, Sierra Millman-Prasada on Wednesday, September 24th at 7 p.m. Eastern standard time. In the meantime, all of us at Tiferet wish you and the world, a meaningful and creative peace. May we all embody Tiferet in our lives, a loving heart, wise compassion and an expansive reconciliation of opposites.