Thursday, February 4, 2016

Walking: Not a Nun's Diary - Concetta Principe (DC Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Walking: Not a Nun's Diary.  Concetta Principe.  DC Books.  Montreal, Quebec.  2013.

Compelling.  Heart wrenching.  Concetta Principe's Walking: Not a Nun's Diary grabbed me and would not let me go.  Today's book of poetry would tell you that grace under pressure is where the hardest gems are formed.

Principe is a flaneur in the Michael Herr fashion and these poems are like punches to the stomach, little bombs that you can't avoid, arrows straight to the heart.

Hands 19

Carlos' best friend is a Jewish woman who sneaks from her
home to visit him. He hates all Jews who are not his best
friend, and waits for the final Judgement when the evil that
they have done will smite them down. Moshe has a theory
that the Arabs all age too fast: it is genetic. He smiles at
them, but that's all I've seen him do. The woman who lives
in Berlin refuses to look into the kitchen of the cheapest
kosher hotel in town. And there are Born Agains who
claim their Jewish roots in order to have the right to sit and
wait for the Second Coming. He is due soon. They identify
with the Orthodox Jews who keep to themselves.

and where is God?

ah, yes
those maps are precious

even if you do get one
by accident or manipulation

you must acquire the art
of reading what is not there


Got to the end of my first read of Walking: Not a Nun's Diary and was reading Concetta Principe's "Notes" and "Thanks" and lo and behold -- the first person she thanks is Luba Szkambara.  Luba is a lady, a lawyer, a legend.  Luba and I have been dearest friends for over thirty years.  She is one of TBOP's biggest fans and supporters, Luba reposts almost every TBOP blog/review, bless her cotton socks.

Today's book of poetry is not surprised to hear that Luba had an eye on this poetry.  Luba knows her stuff and likes it strong.

Concetta Principe isn't timid about walking into the mix, most of Luba's friends aren't.  This book is a pilgrimage that unglues the politic of a centuries old struggle, Principe renders this titan conflict human, she cuts it down to scale.

Frontier of Construction - Gaza

For Rachel Corrie, aged 23. killed 5:20 p.m., Rafah,
      Palestine, March 16, 2003 by an IDF bulldozer

If I were a soldier driving a bulldozer,
a peace activist would be a fly
on the wall of the house
I am here to destroy.

If I were a peace activist
I would look into the eye of the blind
and make hurricanes with the wind of my moving arms.

If I were a soldier
I would lie rather than admit
to murder.

If I were a peace activist
I would hate with all my heart the fact
that I am privileged enough to have a home
while theirs are broken in their faces.

If I were a soldier
I would hate peace activists even more than Arabs
because they grew up in happy parks
while our playground here is war.

I am a peace activist
wishing I could move my arms to make heaven fall
and crush the soldier with the weight of its light.

I am a soldier
trained to detect and wipe out danger
and ignore what can't be changed.

I am a peace activist
thanking God he is not my brother.

I am a soldier
Unable to sleep at night due to nightmares that haunted
     my mother until her death.

My name is Rachel
and I would do it again and again and again
until he does what's right and kills the engine.

I am an Israeli soldier,
prepared to wait until my next life
to cry for the things that happen here.


Principe has a hard, firm hand and these poems show it, there is no slack in this rope.

This morning's reading was a relatively quiet affair.  These poems marched into the room and shut everyone up.  Very steady readings and intent listening.  Now Milo and Kathryn are in the corner pulling down names of Israeli poets, Palestinian poets, Jewish poets, Lebanese poets, Syrian poets, and so on.  Once those two go into the corner, that's the day.  They have become a universe of two.

Kathryn picked the first two poems for today's blog, Milo choose this one:

My German 8

My father is an 8 year old in the dusty little town in the
rocky hills of southern Italy, Calabria, where they grow
olives and figs at their door. The smell of jasmine is a mist
dispersed by the towering puppet of the Madonna paraded
through the streets of her feast day in August.

I think it is a fall day when father runs through the dust
of inner streets to arrive home panting at his papa who, in
World War I, lost two unimportant fingers from his right
hand, and the lower half of his left arm.

They live on his war pension in one room with a stove.

My father says, "Papa, you must buy me a black shirt, now."

"For what?" replies papa.

"Because tomorrow we are having a concert. Everyone
in the school is in the concert and we must each wear a
black shirt."

"Give me your shirt," orders his father, and then puts the
good white cotton in the over, still hot from baking.

In minutes the shirt is done, covered in good soot. Papa
gives it to my father, still warm saying, "Tell them that is as
black as we can afford," and laughs.


Principe's sense of humour is sooty and we like that here at Today's book of poetry.  "My German 8" reminds TBOP of that one time we were in a small barbershop in Barga, Italy.  The elderly gentleman who had so kindly translated my hair-cutting needs, upon leaving the barbershop and entering the street, paused in the doorway, raised his one arm in a dramatic gesture, gave the fascist salute and then yelled "Il Duce!" at the top of his lungs.  Then he turned, smiled, nodded and walked out into the Italian sun and the Italian afternoon.

Most of the time we don't know a damned thing.  If we are are lucky, someone like Concetta Principe comes along with a book like Walking: Not a Nun's Diary and shines a little light.

Concetta Principe


Concetta Principe is the author of two previous books-Stained Glass (1997) and Interference (1999)-and has written and directed for TV, including the Vision TV series on Biblical archaeology, The Naked Archaeologist. She is currently completing her PhD at York University, where her work considers representations of the messiah and the Muselmann in twentieth century cultural and intellectual works, arguing that these figures are evidence of a trauma of secularism dating to first century Judea. She has managed to find coherence in her unconscious compulsion to think politics and revelation together.



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