Thursday, June 20, 2019

Donna Stonecipher

Painting by Kyli John

[Image source: Collision at the Herrick Gallery, Piccadilly (April 2019). Artist: .]  

Model City [1]

It was like slowly becoming aware one winter that there are new buildings going up all over your city, and then realizing that every single one of them is a hotel.


It was like thinking about all those empty rooms at night, all those empty rooms being built to hold an absence, as you lie in your bed at night, unable to sleep.


It was like the feeling of falling through the 'o' in 'hotel' as you almost fall asleep in your own bed, the bed that you own, caught at the last minute by ownership, the ownership of your wide-awake self.


It was like giving in to your ownership of yourself and going to the window, looking out at all the softly illuminated versions of the word 'hotel' announcing their shifting absences all over the city.


Donna Stonecipher is another poet I've discovered via the anthology women: poetry : migration, ed. Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (2017). (DS: born in Seattle, lives in Berlin.)

I suppose it's OK to quote this poem in full, as it's already on the Internet at least twice. It's the first of the five in this anthology, and also the first in the Shearsman book Model Cities (2015): an elegant, romantic and comfortably sleepy prelude to a book in which "ownership of yourself" becomes questionable and in which the city comes to be seen as an accretion of commodities.  

(Jennifer K. Dick's review of Model Cities is helpful: .)  

There is plenty of Stonecipher's poetry on-line, and plenty of writing about her too. This is a detailed review, by Bonnie Costello, of her most recent book, Transaction Histories.

I particularly like the Berlin Lyrikline site, where you can read a number of Stonecipher's poems in English as well as in translations to other languages. (On the same site, she has also supplied some of the English translations of work by other poets.)


            He travelled to Japan but he didn’t see any geishas. He travelled to Kenya but he didn’t see any giraffes. When he opened the book, he was surprised to find inside it another book. After a bad night in room 536, the hotel pool swallowed him like a square blue mouth swallowing a sleeping pill.
            It is hard to rip up a photograph with a face in it. In the tiniest torn-up piece, the face is still intact. The face lies smiling up from the bottom of the wastebasket, and then smiles as it falls out of the garbage truck onto a lawn, and then smiles as it drifts slowly across the city back to your door.

            Young people from the less powerful country came over to study the language of the more powerful neighboring country. The questionnaire found that, within a small margin of error, such-and-such percentage of women prefer to be on their knees while performing such-and-such sexual acts.

            She felt like crying when she read in the paper that déjà vu was a chemical reaction in the body and not a magical window into existences previous and future at all. The oval mirror hanging by a black ribbon above the mantel reflected part of the dark sofa and the smile on the porcelain geisha lamp.


This comes from "Inlay 7 (Franz Kafka)", which later quotes that dedicated public servant in The Trial : "What you say sounds reasonable enough," said the man, "but I refuse to be bribed. I am here to whip people, and whip them I shall."

the smile on the porcelain geisha lamp

Donna Stonecipher

[Image source: . At a reading with fellow Berlin poet Thế Dṻng in October 2018.]

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