Home: Where the Art Is

A huge Danke Schon across the ocean to the eminently kind Klaus and Kathrin Entenmann, my hosts in Esslingen, Germany, who flew me there this weekend to read my poems to the visitors of the art exhibit entitled “Heimat,” a two-day event in their beautiful home. I also carried with me the work of my wife, Denise Whitebread Fanning, who exhibited some of the pieces from her ongoing “Homeland Security” series. Denise’s work was very well received by visitors to the show.

It was a whirlwind weekend, and only the second time, including Canada, that I’ve read my poems on foreign soil, and the first time to an audience for whom English is not their native language. It was a thrill to read with Eva Christina Zeller, a prominent local poet. Eva and I both built our reading around the theme of “Heimat”–a word that is closely related to the idea of home, but which, among many, does not translate literally into English. Among recent poems related to the theme of ‘home,’ I read two new sonnets, entitled “House of Childhood” and “House of Dust” that I wrote specifically for the event. Eva and I read for large, attentive and appreciative audiences on Saturday evening and again on Sunday morning. Beyond the thrill of the readings and the many fine conversations I had with German artists, poets, art-critics and art-lovers was the treasure of seeing my own poem carved into a traditional German beer table/benches. Local sculptor Matthias Kunisch painstakingly and precisely carved the first several lines of my poem “Failed Existentialist in a Field of Fireflies” in a gorgeous font onto the beer table. As I told my German friends, two of my great loves are poetry and beer, and to see those two loves come together: well, there are no words. Following my second reading, Matthias stood up and addressed me before the audience, thanking me for reading in Germany, and for sharing my poems about the losses of my brother and sister. He said that he was so moved by these elegies that he returned to his studio and swept up the wood shavings of my poem, which took him several hours to carve. He handed me these wooden remains in a small glass jar to take home with me. As I told him, that jar containing the remains of one of my poems will remain on my writing desk until the end of my life. As will my memories of this amazing weekend. A huge thank you also to Matthias, Eva, and Bernard for taking me to Tubingen to see the former home and tower of Friedrich Holderlin, and for Matthias and Kathrin for giving me a tour of beautiful old town Esslingen. I hope to return someday, but until then, I’ve been nourished by many strangers who spoke so kindly about my work, some of whom said they could feel the emotion of my poems beyond the limits of language. To have been told several times by non-native English speakers that the music of my language, even beyond its meaning, was perfectly translated: that was the highest compliment I’ve yet received about my poetry.

It is indescribable, the feeling of this weekend, to have crossed an ocean by plane and by poetry. It is truly one of the highlights of my writing life thus far, and to this I owe innumerable thanks to Klaus and Kathrin Entenmann, our truly superb friends of art and literature, who we miss so greatly in Detroit/Michigan. My “Heimat” expanded this weekend and it includes every place and person with whom I just spent time these recent days.