Archive for the ‘nina’ Category

The purpose of this writing is to pluck the fruit. Les fruits. Des fruits. Fru-its.

Leave me alone, Nietzsche, your aphorisms telling me one way, then the next, your contradictory sentiments, your unphilosophical philosophy, your hardness, which I love too well. I gave my hardness to a bourgeois boy with a doctor wife. Do all rejected people secretly feel they are superior to the one rejecting them?

I came out here, six months ago, in bliss, to write by my parent’s poolside. There was a novel. It was happening.

Oh, good thing no one has married me. Wouldn’t I be the saddest wife? No one wants a sad wife.

My name would be nested at the middle of the table. My big fat father would hover in his muscle shirt. The legs of the tables would attach to my mother in law and sister in law and I would be sacrificed to the family, like a turkey.

I would come here, from across a far distance, to tell you something. I am the voiceless voice, the sin of sons, I am joy in your bosom.

In this time of psychic excesses, what else to do but siphon it into art?

I have heard the call of the miracle cure. It was coming down the long hall. It was effervescent, ever ready. It had a hard hat and hard timing of staying afloat. It couldn’t look at us. It did not have coordinates for directed movement. It was a mass of particles. We did not know where to put it or where to hide it. I was coming, unconsciously, down the corridor of images.

And progress wept. In me. The last of the long gods disappeared, following out a gray cloud to the West. I stood in a field of bodies and screamed my hollow hole to the last chroniclers. They were dancing the dance of Baccus, but had no joy. I felt how still the earth was, and forever would be from this moment.

I felt how good, how golden, I had planned to be. And how the gray skin seemed instead to say, “No one may be golden in a gray world.”

I have no eyes, save the eyes that see particles and parts.

Do you know how important you are to this world? How much they need you? You are not just some schmuck sitting in a suburb and contemplating death. You have the Grand Mission to them. The voice, the help, the responsibility. Sweet succor. Nietzsche said people needed to suffer more, not less.

Beware the handsome voice, the courteous voice, the nascent voice.

Beware the pleasant afternoon, the pleasant morning, the pleasant fuck.

Beware the dream that doesn’t awake you in cold steam, or with hate in your heart.

Beware the dogged doggerel of egolessness.

Beware technique. Beware trend. Beware answers.

The pretty small palms by the blue kidney shaped pool in Seminole, FL are not suburban trees, no suburban water, not suburban sky, but the same self-composed solar system of grandeur as the nebulae and must not be assumed to be pleasant.

The rest of the world cuts out for me.

I waver between jealousy and disdain of those happy actors who act their parts so well.

In cities, love is more intense, because the pain of daily living is nearly excruciating.

I don’t know where to go, or why life should be such a game of shifting floors.

-Nina Alvarez


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When I am Sleepy


When I am sleepy, when I watch Monet’s willow from behind the soldier’s arm

When I think how he decided to stay, decided not to fight, to sublimely ignore

The revolution…


I think about how childhood must be, how dreams are, how there must be a place we can go that is not of this world, though it may be in it. How our minds can set their boundaries at the last quivering leaf, the 80th layer of blue, and then after that, be it war, or want, or misery, that lay beyond it, it simply fades to black.

-Nina Alvarez

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Submitted with my application to a 7-month writing fellowship in Provincetown. Will know by April if I got in! Will keep you guys posted.

Sketch of Myself as a Writer

I don’t think of myself as a good writer. I’ve tried, but it is just too hard to compare myself to other writers and decide on a proper adjective. I do know this: there are many times a month when I must write, and so I do.

I studied writing as an undergraduate. I flaunted my incomprehensible poetry at smoky readings and even won a departmental award for a poem with anachronistic words in it like “discomfit.” The rewards for writing things I don’t really mean have been great, especially this last year in the business sector.

The real writing I do seems to be a cry to myself, or to the silence. It comes in metered verse sometimes, and other times in passages of lyrical prose that somehow miraculously appear with a plot. Sometimes these short stories want to become longer and longer until I think they should be called novellas, or even novels. But it’s when I start with the naming that things go bad.

How does a person talk about their writing?

Once I had a meeting with Douglas Glover, the Canadian author, during his office hours. I was taking a graduate fiction writing course with him. He liked my story. That alone felt like something to base a future on. He asked me about a certain moment when the main character has come home and finds his depressed friend on the roof in the icy rain. He wanted to know how I come up with that decision.

I didn’t know. I was 23.

But even now, six years later, what can I say? A story opens before me like an unfolding picture book. My eyes see it and my brain and heart make words for the seeing and the feeling of the seeing. Jack was on the roof when Phil got home. There was just no other way it could have been. It had inevitability.

But it is easy to write a 20-page short story for a class and follow the muse from the first word to the last.

What has been hard is writing a novel. A serious novel that is going to be “my” novel, that I will ostensibly finally write to begin my real career as a real novelist.

It has been hard to make choices. To write out of reason, out of a disciplined structure, to write with a mind to my audience and not just my self-indulgence. It is hard to know when to bob and when to weave, when to let the mind slope sideways and let the roll of language chug you forward from sheer momentum…or when you must choose every word with care, like someone with a new language.

I am on my lap top every day. I don’t write creatively every day, but I write something almost every day. I have 1,500 poems tucked away in numbered folders and dozens of short stories, a handful of which have been published…mostly because I traded them for nothing but contributors copies. It doesn’t matter to me. I am going to write today and tomorrow no matter if I make some honorarium or not for it.

But the problem is just the way I see it, turning back on myself too often, alone, working in offices, seeing the slush pile at amazon.com grow higher and higher. Going back to Morrison and Tolstoy and Winterson and Foster Wallace and Faulkner and asking in my heart what it is I must do to access the parts of me that are fearless and wild, and then corral them into something resembling a novel. Linear or nonlinear, a part of the story is told through the structure. The structure must have its own logic. That’s where I get sweaty.

But, despite this, I believe I have the potential to be a good writer. I need only a few things, really:

I need to not have a TV.

I need to have limited access to internet.

I need books that are real books.

I need to believe, even amid absurdity, even the many days when I hate this thing I am writing, that it is imperative. Even the days I tell myself this is the best I have done so far and is still so lacking, I need encouragement from others who know what it means to struggle in this way. I have a couple friends who understand this need.

I write alone and do my best thinking alone. At the same time, I like having a sense of camaraderie, of setting, even if there is little communication, I like just knowing that the people around me are on similar treks. That’s why I like to do some of my work in cafes.

Ultimately, though, I do my best writing after midnight, when I have exhausted the easy excuses and noises and need to see if out in all the chaos, some words are emerging.

…check out my SPEAK page and THINK page for more blogs like this

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Enueg 29

I think about Bukowski
vomiting out half-god poetry
and calling it the rallying cry
and saying that the new poetry
doesn’t feel good, doesn’t feel like poetry
doesn’t have substance, like a hot steaming shit
I don’t care. I don’t care anymore.
These years since college have done something to me.
I didn’t even realize, but I’m trying to turn myself
into a safe idea,

with my writing blog, and how little I push
at the edges, but I am surrounded
by moles
and they think I’m a daisy

oh god, is it supposed to be like this?
to be 29 and not looking anymore, not for men
or work, or rainbows or Heideggar
but just turning silent, like stone inside
just breathing so shallow
and not able to want the past
nor the future, just certain
there will be too many worlds you must
be just on the tip of
the ikea world
and the furnished living room
world and the kids eating their
sandwiches world and the easy to understand
that is not actually easy, but appears easy,
because it is loud
and the tv shows and commercials
and what that one poet said about how
everything we do is important
and I watched seven hours of tv today,
so this is shaping, heavily, who I am
what my life is

and god, there was supposed to be something
that came after that hell, after the depression
of those ten years, when the mind fully fused
and there was less falling into the abyss, and more
acceptance of the routines and responsibilities of
this nation, I thought there would be something
in the quiet after that, I thought it would mean
I had gotten somewhere.
but when the storms ended,
I saw that what they had blurred out was
this great unmoving silence, that throbs in long
meters and is like the confused ghost looking back
at her body in the snow.

-Nina Alvarez

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A Robe of White Roses

The red window open upon her beauty,
Do I conceive love thus?
Crimes of tears at the blood-painted stones,
Olive trees, in a horrible old age, become younger.

And my weapons are the color of marble
Which, by the length of a whole world,
Overtakes the forgotten street
Where my steps do and undo regrets.

Round about I want myself faithful,
In the white bewilderment, dragging behind my fairies
And let the seasons come to me
To weep and die my bodies and my bodies undone.

-Jean-Pierre Duprey, from 4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour

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What is this? I find my body passing through the luxuries of another’s order. The stale or crisp ins and out of small things kept in windexed glass boxes, resembling the miniature angles and tracks of the past, leaping out only through my own revving up of their engines. I watch them glitter and swirl in their old world, otherworldly elegance. It is the elegance of the unsaid, the trained hand that knew in its fingertips what braille the artisans of memory use. It sets up its signposts and waits for the rush of modern life to wipe its white and sunlit dust all over the floors of these parlors. It sets up death and waits for life to reanimate it.

I am tracking my way through modern day Philadelphia and I pick up a pencil. I study it, its fine orange finish, its countered edges. I do not write with pencils: what an arcane notion. But I put it in my satchel anyway. It is made of wood and feels like something real.

Across the narrower streets that encase old Jewish families and old Christian families, the brownstone and brick hovers on a street brought by November into its full elegance. I walk with my body, this body that houses me, that doesn’t currently have a home, even an apartment, of my own. I, who studied the most elusive and aristocratic of ideas from a state school, I with a taste for a lifestyle of contemplation and experience that I cannot afford and don’t wish to be able to afford. I who stray into this liminal space between the trappings of culture and grace that only merchants and the children of aristocracy can provide. I, who long to be a writer, who long to be on these bookshelves, bound in fine leather and read before a fire: I am neither schooled appropriately, nor am I connected appropriately.

I neither have the manners to join the collectors of art in their drawing rooms, nor do I have the easy defiance to make art that would shatter their glass boxes. I am the seed that only half-grew. Germinated and then sprouted only its tip. Yet I wander through the facades of the imposing past, the past that was built on money, that paid for its beauty with the grunts of other’s labor. And I want to know why I cannot reconcile myself to it. And then I see a new thing: a museum called The Rosenbach on Delancy Street. And I step in, timidly, like I’m entering someone’s home who is still upstairs or outside. And I’m greeted immediately by a man who may have been a butler in one of these homes in his past life. He is gracious. He is courteous.

There were two brothers, both with money, one who collected art and prints and furniture (mild interest) the other who collected rare books (Yipes! sign me up). Most notable, James Joyce’s Ulysses manuscript was on display there. I pay him eight dollars and the next thing I know I have joined a small tour.

I suffer silently through the docent’s mumbled droning about the dining room silver and the wine cooler with the lock to keep servants out. I wait patiently while he points to portraits on the wall and explains the important people who had once lived here or been connected to those who lived here. I try to imagine why I feel so put off by these things, by the things that are not of my class.

For me, there is a world of difference between gaping at an important manuscript because it changed modern literature and gaping at a silver cup because it was bequeathed by the queen of England. Some would say that they represent the same connectivity to giant structures in history. I say that a silver cup bequeathed by the Queen of England to a bunch of rich Philadelphia merchants as a congratulations for their being so rich and splendid is only interesting if you like to think of yourself being that rich and splendid. And most people do. That’s why places like that downstairs of the Rosenbach house exist.

But give me the Rosenbach upstairs any day. Dr. Rosenbach was the brother with the rumpled collar, literary loves, and a portrait of himself in the reading room that made me want to sit in his lap. He had collected manuscripts and first editions that are rare, rare, rare: Pilgrim’s Progress, Milton’s copy of Thucidities, letters from Lincoln… He even had copies of the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible pass through his hands at some point. Yes, the first printing of any book ever. But even this guy wasn’t rich enough to hold onto that thing for long.

But, feh, who needs all this specific information. You could get that on their website.

N’allez pas trop vite! As our dear Proust would say.

The rooms are dark and spare, with rich woods and one with an old prayer carpet worn by time. We aren’t allowed to stand on it, and all the books are behind lock and key. It feels distinctly how I imagine it would feel were I a bourgeois bohemian in the early part of the century who the Rosenbach’s were somehow obliged to show their library. I feel, in other words, like my presence is intruding on something that certainly doesn’t belong to me and will only be tolerated for a little while more.

I want to open one of those cases, sit on the old divan and just remember a memory that maybe isn’t mine: sitting in an English-style library before a roaring fire, reading a first edition of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby, or studying the tiny, slanted handwriting of certain pages from the manuscript of Ulysses. Places like this are the inner sanctum of the true English major’s heart, and even though we are so rarely allowed to touch anything, these places are what make up happy, make us believe, again, in the idea of society, of priviledge, of art and of letters. We are anachronistics, we Anglophile, literary bibliophiles, pining away from an English countryside manor we’ve never stepped foot in.

And when I say “English majors” I truly mean that. This doesn’t, of course, mean that all English majors idealize the reading life, or that only people who went to college and studied literature can. What it does mean is that I give special place to those who made the sacrifice to their career of studying and dedicating themselves to literature during college, many of whom suffer for it afterward. There is hope, though, as you can read about on my Teach page.

In my team of docent-lead peers, a comment would be made here or there with poorly performed humility, filling in notable little trivia about Marianne Moore at the Marianne Moore room (yes, there was a whole room just lifted from her New York apartment and transported here) or holding court quietly about the Joyce.

It’s been five years since grad school for me, but I’ll never forget those moments of the most muted but present desperation to know, to show you know, to BE whatever it it we thought was contained in these revolving worlds of the literary past. Here I am, still on the inside and outside of the crowd: listening to the docent, listening for the grad students’ posturing, seeing the sincerity licked with this human need to possess the past through saying what we know in hushed tones just loud enough for six people to hear.

I am sensitive to these dynamics because I contain them all in myself. And when the young woman tells the other that she teaches British lit. and creative writing at Penn, where she is a grad student, and the other woman is duly impressed, I am convulsed by this involuntary jealousy, remembering the days when I taught English and wanted nothing more than to one day be secured at a great university teaching interesting classes.

But in my vigilant self-awareness, I am able to step beyond it and laugh at myself, at how easy it is to forget that the trappings of a life are rarely the heart of it and that teaching English felt very little like sitting in a drawing room and reading. And that the thing that has given me the most edge and scope in my work has not been trifling through literary trivia at parties with frenemies, but in sitting alone in my apartment, listening to my heart, to the walls, traveling back through the architecture of my life and resolving, where I can, the fractures in who I am.

I was a state school girl from a middle-class neighborhood in Rochester, New York. We ate tuna helper and for the first 18 years of my life, the closest I got to art was through Cats or Phantom of the Opera. But I read the greatest books in history until five in the morning every summer night. And to me, that’s worth more than the Queen’s cup, or even the scrawled manuscript of Ulysses behind glass. After all, Ulysses is hard enough to read, even as a paperback.

I travel with the inner sanctum of books in my heart. I am not rich enough, nor may I ever be, to have my own collection of first editions signed by great writers to their secret lovers and hidden behind glass. But if I am to speak of my day, to speak in a way that earns the grace of my own day, I must not be afraid of the guises and privileges of the rich, imagining the world of important happenings will somehow always be some world beyond me.

If I am ever to become a great artist, it will not be by enchanting myself with the symbols of the past that cloak themselves in charming ideal, but in facing the winter wind that sets on my face as I leave this museum and wind my way back through by the video shops, graffiti, and brownstones.

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Two of my poems “Mary, Mary” and “Nietzsche” can now be read at the online literary journal Contemporary Rhyme. Many thanks to them (especially because they’re a paying market)…So rare for poetry. But free to you, gentle reader.

roadsepia.jpgVive la rhyming poetry! I know some think it’s woefully old-fashioned, but I sure ain’t over it. It incorporates the musicality we look for in song and the sense of inevitability that we look for in art.

I also have a free-verse poem “bees” being published in the print journal Grasslimb. I will let you know when that issue comes out.

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There is a book of poetry so unique  that it contains four very different poets who come together to form a metaphorical map of the last 150 years of poetry, taking us through Dadaism, Surrealism, Modernism, and Postmodernism.
4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour

It includes Ranier Maria Rilke, whose popularity and importance grows more every year; Tristan Tzara, a polemicist of the Dada movement putting Africa oral poetry to paper; Jean-Pierre Duprey, the French surrealist whose poetry is so evocative, (so moving that I made a one-minute poem about it that you can watch below); and Habib Tengour, an Algerian Muslim master of the postmodern story, meandering through the landscape of a fertile, troubled modern mind.

This book of poetry is called 4×1, since it contains first English translations of 4 poets all translated by the award-winning translator and poet, Pierre Joris. It was published by Inconundrum Press in 2002, but has received little distribution because of the common travails of the small press…mostly the difficulty in getting a wide distribution for a rather small first print run.

History of the Press

Inconundrum Press (now Inconnue) was founded by three smart English major types in Albany, NY who happened to be good friends of mine. When they were ready to move on to other things, I took over the press and became its executive editor. That was in 2005.

But publishing companies need our support. Mine, as well as others. And I’ve parted with $11.95 for two La Fin Du Mondes (the Belgian tripple ale I love) and gone to bed with a headache and no book. I try to buy books as often as I can and to support small and independent presses. Independent presses pretty much exist solely on your direct purchases (what you buy on amazon.com leaves them with only a couple of dollars per sale).

Thanks for your time and for supporting ninaalvarez.net, Inconnue Press, and most of all, thanks for continually supporting the life of poetry.



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I am always trying to die
not big deaths, but small
deaths with paper and hard-cover books
deaths with envelopes and swirly-que doodles
deaths with text and the margins of thought
that can never hang from my head and never be wrought

I am always withering at one branch
like a sick gull’s wing
I am always tying one foot to the long rope
that drags from the ferryman’s boat
I ask for forgiveness, but I only want the broken glass
I’ve only ever wanted to take what was inside
and throw it in your face

to ask you to tell me you see it too,
and then to be done with the things that almost speak
and be done with wondering when the curtain will drop
just repairing to the afterlife with this stick
and some sand to scratch no symbols in.

-Nina Alvarez

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One Word Rime

My brother was a selfish thing,
from an accursed people.
I, an enemy, praised him.
As a joke, he answered.
My brother was, as he always was,
running out into the rime,
the ground, dim, like mustard
taken to powder and scattered.
He was a man, doubled-
was hale and healthy
but fell without warning
and alone, sank.
My father wallowed in golden
answers, always thought of God,
and fell faster that way-
with all heaven’s glory.
I dreamed he would conjure
beauty with this,
lead me from
the endless sight
of bodies falling,
or running through dark hills.
“Brother! The duke’s daughter?”
“She laughed again, did not keep her word…”
“Why didn’t she?” “She ridiculed
my pride, sister.”
“Brother, her dress!
How her coats flowered at her feet,
all that fur and satin
on her shoulders, breasts, and hips.
She was a bell inside velvet.
She was made of caramel,
but what she brought here
wasn’t sweet.
With each smile it ran,
anguished with many worries,
purple visits,
metered courage, many lies.
From her fur, his grasping
hand was ripped,
and only just before he’d fallen.
It takes a million years to fall down
because things slacken,
loosen, before they harden.
Sometimes I’ll push a stone
in night’s pull to the rime,
over that cliff, brother,
where the eagles come.
What is it like there,
in the ground, all alone?
Intending to trick me,
do you await me?
My brother wasted a grave
and knows little rest.
Hell is a tomb with a dark, nodding
brow…a final nod.
Freezing rain rusts the air
and I awake noiselessly
so as not to wake my father
who dreams about the same things
but he, all night, warbles
distantly through dark gardens
waiting for thought to return…
That Sunday was a sunken day
The rime hard under thick fog
like a bed for a man
dreaming of death.
Only she and I are aware
in some farther way
which of us he ran from
and, not seeing through the night, fell.
My brother was a selfish thing,
from an accursed people.
I, an enemy, praised him
as a joke, he answered.

-Nina Alvarez

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