Archive for the ‘A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin’ Category

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

March 23, 2012

Lyn Coffin Onstage

 On a Roll…

Editor:  If you’ve been wondering what Lyn Coffin, our Poet, has been up to, here’s a recent message:

“Yay! I’m psyched! I’m going to be Lorgean theatre’s first playwright in residence, which means heading out at the beginning of May to Bucharest, Romania! Please go to the Lorgean Theatre site here (some of it’s in English)- The LT has cool photos- Lorin, who lives in and runs the theatre, got a residency in France, and instead of pocketing the money (which okay doesn’t quite cover my flight, but hey) passed it forward to me! and East and West (my and Ts. Bavuudorj’s poetry) is now out in English and Mongolian. And I’ll be teaching Writing Fiction through the University’s Continuing Ed program in the fall. All of which means, I realize, not all joys involve grandchildren.”  – Lyn

Photo by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

April 2, 2011

Editor’s Note:  Latest update on our Poet’s Adventures in Georgia… one month in.  This update arrived with a photo which wouldn’t show… possibly of our Embassy?

Our Poet Tries to Penetrate the American Embassy

Ever since I arrived in Tbilisi, now almost four weeks ago, I have been trying to penetrate, to get inside, the American Embassy here. This edifice/social and architectural construct sits out in the boonies of Tbilisi- extraneous (unlike other embassies) to life in Tbilisi. I have no doubt the positioning is strategic. Never can tell where those terrorists are coming from.
About two weeks ago, when the beautiful invitations for my first reading at Art East Gallery in Tbilisi were printed, I decided to take one to the embassy. Invitations to various embassy personnel had already been sent out electronically and by messenger, but I’m a do it yourself kind of person. I wanted to go personally to “my” embassy, to meet up with Americans serving here, offer my services as an editor and writer, see what I could see. My view was (and is) that the American Embassy is a little piece of America in a foreign country. I am an American, I have papers, I will go and make myself known to “my fellow Americans.”
My friend “lends me” his car and driver- Nobody seemed to know how to get to the Embassy by bus, if it was even possible.           And away we drive.

Staged Using a Professional Actor: Don't Try This at Home

I identify the American Embassy at once. It is extremely big and extremely ugly and has the appearance of a medieval fortress- long thin pencil-like (“we can shoot arrows out of ’em and you won’t even see us”) windows. There is some kind of high wire fencing, and no people in the surrounding area except police.
My driver is waved into a parking lot and questioned about the visit. Before we even enter the parking lot, at least three people (Georgians) have regarded us with intense suspicion.  I am leaving the car and approaching the guard shack when I realize what this complex reminds me of- Purdy, the Washington prison for women, where I used to teach meditation. No wonder the locals call the embassy the Little Pentagon.
I try to enter the guard shack, but it is locked- There are two doors at either end of this kind of Quonset hut apparatus, and I (suspiciously) have just tried to enter by the near door- which is only for exiting. I must go in the far door, which is for entering, and which is watched by its own police woman and bank of security cameras.
I enter the room through a narrow turnstile and, surprise again, there are five people in the room, all of them Georgians. All five regard me with suspicion, which melts partly when I begin my fumbling, I’m sure horribly-sounding, attempt to communicate with them in their language. (I have been studying Georgian for all of two weeks at this point.) I say that I am a pretty well-known poet and writer living in Tbilisi until June. I am having a reading in a few nights at the Art East gallery. I have brought an invitation and a little packet of biographical information (my Wikipedia entry, for one). I would like to enter the embassy and see the Ambassador, if possible. (My dad always told me to start at the top.)
Amusement is now filtering through the levels of skepticism and suspicion. The very small room is beginning to warm with something like friendship. I am told I can leave my packet and they will refer it to the proper department which some say is Public Affairs and some say Cultural Activities. I am told that to actually enter the Embassy is an unusual event. You must know someone inside and you must apply 48 hours in advance for security clearance. Sometimes, apparently in emergencies, 24 hours is sufficient. Perhaps five or ten minutes of intense negotiation follows. I attempt to get across my idea that the American Embassy is a piece of America in Georgia, that I am an American citizen, that I have documents and wish to be admitted to my country, that I come with no ill will (not strictly true, but true enough) toward the Embassy, and have as my purpose only the wish to extend an invitation to what promises to be a fascinating cross-cultural event.
I have abandoned Georgian long before this, of course: all communication is now taking place in English and I do not know whether the nods and smiles indicate understanding or the absence of it. At any rate, I am insistent and eventually the head watchdog calls someone who calls someone and eventually I am told someone will see me. I wait for another ten or fifteen minutes and eventually a woman comes out and speaks to me and she is wonderful- she is a Georgian woman who sympathizes with my attempts to penetrate the Embassy- she says if I send her an email asking to see her at the Embassy, and submit to the security clearance, she will see to it that I get in.
After a few days of emailing, this wonderful Georgian woman comes to my reading and a few days after that we meet for coffee. We are on our way to becoming friends. She doubts, however, that I shall be able to enter The Little Pentagon after all. She has been informed by her superiors that she was incorrect in her “optimistic” assessment of the situation. She alludes vaguely to terrorists and crackpots and people who are at best a waste of the Embassy’s time.
Later that day, I lecture at Ilia University. All the students, without exception, say they want to go to America. I ask why. They tell me what is clearly, to them, the obvious: Because in America, one is free.
I think to myself- “Once upon a time….” – Lyn Coffin

Photo, taken completely out of context once again, by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

March 28, 2011

Update from Georgia

Editor:  Scot Bastian and I attended a reading of the new anthology of Forty-Two Pacific Northwest Poets titled MANY TRAILS TO THE SUMMIT by Rose Alley Publications this past Friday evening at the Elliot Bay Book Store.  (What a sentence!  And a good reading to boot…)  Of course, our own Lyn Coffin was included.  

And Lyn Says: ” I’m having a great time here. Busy reading poetry, lecturing, translating. he night before last was my big poetry event. I read at a gallery and my cohort read his Georgian translations= 12 poems of mine, all from Crystal of the Unforeseen. He’s hoping to publish the Georgian version of this, My book of Orten translations is due out (print and electronic) in April. Today, I meet the head of the English Department at Ilia University for tea. And last night, I saw my first Georgian play. I understood about 3 per cent of the text, maybe less, but about five per cent of the play. I would catch one word, tsoli (wife) for example and by the actions, gestures, knew he was asking her to marry him. I caught “visa” and knew it was so she could get a visa. They had a big pad on the wall with numbers, beginning with 100- how many days she had left before she would return to sakartvelo (Georgia) The Georgian language has no capitals and no personal pronouns of gender- they use “iss” for third person plural, and you have to figure out he, she, or it. Plus there are at least five sounds I can’t really make- a ყ which is sort of like the french rolled “r” but is transliterated as “gh” and a bunch of rather gutteral, back in the throat “ch”s-” On the other hand, Georgian always is as it’s spell- no threw and through.
I’m learning a lot. I’m beginning to understand snatches of conversation on the street. That’s always really exciting. In self-defense I’ve learned the phrase, “You’re very kind, but it isn’t true.” (The Georgians are extravagant with their compliments. And they love America. They all want to come to the US because “there you are so free.”)” 

P. S.  გამარჯoბათ! ( I think Georgian looks not a little like elvish)  – Lyn

Scot Bastian and I Can Be Seen Attending Many Art Events Around Town


Photo by Lynn Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

March 14, 2011

Editor’s Note:  Lyn comments:  “I find it very difficult to write travel pieces. The strangeness is all in the details- the oven  burners turn on by turning them up; where you expect to push, you need to pull; when you thank someone, you are mildly rebuked- friends don’t thank friends, etc. And detailing the details does not make for fascinating reading. Still, I am thrilled to be almost exactly (12 hours) halfway around the world from my native town of Seattle. I am posting this here to see if there will be interest. Perhaps another someone out there is planning a trip to Tbilisi, or or or…. A mantra gleaned from my from one of my Buddhist teachers (Norman Fischer)- “Let’s see what happens.”


What Happens in Georgia, Stays in Georgia



“I went to a birthday party here in Tbilisi, Georgia, last night. a great way to mark the end of my first week here.
Picture: a kind of chalet tucked off the beaten path- One room with fifty or sixty people and a little band- two long tables in an L shape.
The tables were absolutely covered with plates of food- let’s see- chicken, bread, potato salad, some kind of “mice” (maize) dish, fish, caviar, fruit of every variety, mushrooms, cottage cheese, butter cut in circles with some kind of red pepper strips wrapping it, many more dishes I can’t remember- every place had two glasses, a big one for mineral water and a little one for wine- pitchers and pitchers of wine- iced tea-colored. The little juice (wine) glasses were kept constantly filled, many people smoked.
There was a toastmaster with a mike who toasted the birthday guy and then- our ancestors, our siblings, all those we know who’ve died, a special toast extending heartfelt sympathy to those suffering in Japan as a result of the tsunami– to our friends, Georgia, music, and early on, there was a big special toast to Me! My friends translated- We are so fortunate to have this wonderful poet and translator and Gia’s friend and we want to welcome her and then everybody cheered and saluted me by throwing back a few glasses of wine- and then it was time for me to make a little speech and my friend translated and everybody cheered and gave me thumbs up and clinked glasses with me and asked why I ate and drank so little and like that and then there was dancing and I don’t know what all.
And everybody knew the songs and some of them inspired people (the men) to stand or shout call out Hey!
At one point, someone cut the silhouette of a man on a very large orange, so that the figure could be raised up out of the fruit (still attached at the feet)- And when they sang one song that had all the men jumping to their feet in the chorus, I so wanted to stand up (all the women stayed seated) that I took the orange, and when they stood up, I made the man on the orange stand up! Everybody thought that was hysterical so I kept doing it.
And after it was all over, a man took the orange from me and showed me that when you turned the man around and looked at his front, he appeared to have a male appendage and when he stood up, it stood up too. That really and clearly embarrassed me and everybody got a big kick out of the fact that I had done this without knowing. And even the embarrassment was pleasant. And everybody was friendly.
I loved the whole thing- except for the smoke. My host, who has become a dear friend now in the non-e world, smokes like a fiend. Worse, he smokes Camels- which I think are the worst cigarettes for causing long disease. And he tries to be careful but I can feel my lungs suffering and I’m going to have to say I can’t be around him at all if he smokes or around the cigarettes. The concept of second hand smoke has not arrived here in Georgia.
Oh, and another thing that impressed me about the birthday party- sitting across from me was an attractive young man in black (the Georgian national color seems to be black when it comes to dress- most of the women at the party were in black slacks and black jackets or vests- I think I was the only woman in a skirt– a first in my life, who has often been the only woman in slacks- and it was a wildly colored one, at that.)
Anyway- the man across from me was addressed as “mommy” or “momiko”- (Georgian is the only language I know of where “mama” means father and “dada” means mother.) He was a priest, and he toasted and laughed and drank and danced with the best of them. (Priests here are allowed to marry.)
What maybe surprised me the most was that the whole context of the evening was “macro”- religous, patriotic, existential. There were sometimes religious references in the toasts and Virgin mother, and so on. And many people were fasting for Lent, meaning they didn’t eat meat.
And there was a toast to King David the builder (a kind of Georgian George Washington) and Tamar, the number one historical woman in Georgian history, great granddaughter of David, a kind of Queen Elizabeth, except twice-married. She didn’t like the first guy and patched him off to somewhere. Then she chose her own husband and they seemed to have hit it off.)
Anyway- what struck me was the sheer rough-housing joy of the occasion. I left way before the end (my friend said they’d probably stop around 1 or 2). When there were songs, everyone sang- People were talking all the time and commenting- The food and wine kept coming and coming.
A couple of times there were what seemed to be jousting matches in language- i.e., the man next to me teased a man across the table by asking if he was a Muslim; the man said no, his questioner was a Muslim, and other people put in their two cents’ worth and there was a certain amount of I don’t know confrontation- but it was punctuated by all these remarks from others that made everyone, including the two main players, laugh, and it ended with the two skoling each other. Neither of the two ever seemed angry or ashamed. And I don’t think there was anti-Muslim sentiment in this- Georgia seems to have a history of being one of the most remarkably religously tolerant countries in the world. He could as easily have called him an atheist or a Buddhist.
For me, a poet, one of the greatest things is that Georgians seem to love poetry as much as they love wine and song and there are statues everywhere to poets- a general or politician or two, here and there, but mostly poets.
And they love the fact that I am translating (with my friend/host, Gia) some of Rustaveli’s “The Man in the Panther Skin,” their national epic. One last note- there are underway passages for crossing the main avenues, and one I walked through yesterday was lined with stone panels in Georgian and English featuring whole stanzas of this 12th century epic.
This would be something like finding huge plaques with engraved quotations from Beowulf in the subway.
Wow. I’ve really got to get going. I have to polish off a Rustaveli excerpt today.” – Lyn

Photo, taken WAY out of context, by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

March 9, 2011

 Editor’s Note:  You can get out of breath keeping up with a modern day Poet.

Lyn De-friends Paramour, Flies to the Republic of Georgia

Lyn Coffin Arrives in the Republic of Georgia

“Well, the romance with the Indian Cowboy poet is over, killed or mortally wounded by a casual “chat” reference to a Facebook friend, following which I de-friended most of my non-real Facebook friends.
What do poets do over here at night with a few Lari in their pockets? Reflect on their travels- I have some photos I’ll send you.
I guess what I’d like to say to your readers is this: first of all, it always surprises me how tiring travel is. You go somewhere (an airport) by car, go somewhere (Georgia) by airplane, go somewhere (your new apartment) by car, and you’re suddenly exhausted. I think your body feels the impact of travel through air and time viscerally. The geo-rhythms are out of whack. And there are all the little incidents/struggles to make oneself understood along the way.
Also- My flat here is much like an American apartment, and not like it at all. One thing that is very different is the apartment layout. The key is an old-fashioned “skeleton” key, and you lock/unlock the door four times- With every turn the small bolt inside advances or retracts a little more. When you step inside, you are in a little lobby, a small atelier. The other rooms (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom/living/dining room) open off of this “atelier.” Each room has its own door, and each door can be locked. The kitchen and b/l/d door are made of glass. The bathroom has a very deep, very old bathtub.
When I arrived here, I found my refrigerator stocked with all manner of food- two big hunks of some kind of sausage- I’m a vegetarian except for falling off the wagon occasionally for chicken. Then there was a box of small cakes, a box of candy, a box of cheese- two Huge half wheels of hand-made cheese, a bottle of homemade wine, a slab of butter, a jar of quince/pear preserves (delicious), a jar of small very sweet cherries (which I found out tonight can be eaten to accompany tea), eggs. And outside the refrigerator- a large flat cheese bread whose Georgian name I forget at the moment.
There is plenty of hot water but never enough to fill the tub. The old stove has gas burners, and the knobs must be turned from horizontal to vertical when you want to start the burner, just the opposite of what I’m used to.
I have had some very interesting conversations here. The most interesting was with a 16 year old son of my host, who wants to become a politician specializing in international relations. He told me he thinks all politicians are evil and the only way to fight them is to become evil yourself.
My host’s other son, 11, is a great teller of jokes in English- he told me one where a man was walking across the street against the light, forcing a motorist to slow down in order not to hit him. The driver calls out the window to the pedestrian telling him to raise his hands. The pedestrian asks why. “When I hit and kill you, they’ll be able to get your clothes off easier.”
It seemed very funny at the time.
I love the wit and wisdom one falls into when trying to speak a few words of a new language. My host tonight was complimenting me and said I was “full of light.” Thank you, I said, but- gesturing toward my plate- I think it’s truer to say I’m full of cheese.
I’ve got to get some sleep.
Thanks for writing. Just nudge me from time to time.’If you want to see the newest addition to Tbilisi, you can look up the Tbilisi Peace Bridge, commissioned by the President from Michael da Lucci. It’s quite a sight.”  – Lyn

Photo by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

March 8, 2011

Editor:  After our Poet’s Love Flame-Out of a few weeks previous, (read about this in an upcoming post), this Poetic Cat has landed on her feet, again.

Poet Re-Locates to Republic of Georgia

Lyn Prepares to Use the Local Produce

“I’m in Georgia, the country, sitting in my wonderful two-balconied flat, using my new Macbook to work on translating a 12 century Georgian epic from 16 syllable line quatrains rhymed a a a a into English. I’m loving the challenge. Tomorrow I discover what I’m going to be teaching, when, and where. The US seems far away. Wait- it is far away. A 12 hour time difference, I think.”  – Lyn (snatched from Facebook)

Photo by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

February 15, 2011

Editor’s Note:  You must realize that Poets are like the Biblical Prophets of Old who – after living for months in the desert on a ‘totally organic, free-range-grown’ diet of honey and grasshoppers – trundle into town to deliver God’s Word to the King and other inhabitants.   I tell them: “No Politics!”  But they must weigh on the one hand what their Editor says against what God says.  “Think of your EDITOR, as God,” I say.  But here you have it:

"I spent almost two hours yesterday at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma...!!"

“I spent almost two hours yesterday at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. This is a windowless barbed wire prison run by GEO, the same people who run Guantanamo. This is one of the biggest privately-held prison companies in the world, and they get $122 a day from the federal government (tax dollars) to house people who are picked up, as three weeks ago in Ellensburg, in the dead of night by men with guns drawn (heck, maybe some women, too)- and literally dragged from their homes and stuck in this prison with no rights. Families wait in the cold to be let in for visits in scenes reminscent of Stalinist Russia. Visitors are not allowed to take in pencils or paper because they might be able to write down information. Their families don’t know where they are- 15 of the 30 people captured in Ellensburg were sent to Spokane and 15 to Tacoma. A man died in this prison recently. He was from Cambodia and since there is no legal right to a translator, nobody understood anything other than he was complaining of a stomach ache. He died, perhaps from appendicitis. And if you’re thinking “wetbacks,” people coming in over the border from Mexico in the last few years, and hiding out in basements and so on, forget it. Most of the people I talked to came to the U.S. as small children. Their parents, because of the cost, because of the hassle, because in those days we weren’t a proto-fascist state (and for my money, you can drop the proto)- the kids never officially became citizens. So there’s this girl who came to the US when she was six (from Cambodia) and in high school she meets this great guy who came to this country when he was seven. And it’s a high school romance. And they grow up and have kids and jobs and social security and pay taxes and work and contribute and don’t do anything wrong and then one night– He’s picked up, and stuck in a nightmare, and it takes a long while before she even finds out, more or less by rumor, where he is. And so now she drives to see him from a town two and a half hours away, and he’s been in there five months, and it could be years, though recently she was told to bring a suitcase, which generally means deportation will come soon, and he’ll be “returned” to a country where he doesn’t speak the language, torn away from his wife and kids. But it’ll probably be better foe him than in the US where people’s human rights have been rolled over by the tank of corporate greed.
And that’s what this poet has to say.”  – Lyn

Photo taken – completely out of context (again!) – by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

February 9, 2011

Love Affairs!


When Poets fall in love the Universe responds.  And they often need “help!”  In this first discussion, fellow playwright Len Goodisman offers some advice:    (About 1 minute)

Len Tries to Offer Some Sound Reasonable Advice

Love communications between Poets can become quiet intricate also:    (About 2 minutes)

She is NOT discussing here, what you think she might be discussing.

Photo by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

February 9, 2011

Poet Goes For Bookcover Publicity Shot


Lyn tells a good annecdote:   (About 1 minute.)

Lyn Tells About Her First "Photoshoot"

Photo by Carl Nelson

A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

February 8, 2011

Portable Art Gallery


Poet Lyn Coffin Takes Wearable Art to a Here-to-Fore Unseen Level


Hear another portion of our interview with the Poet Lyn Coffin:    (35 seconds!  you have the time…)

This is a little piece of art Lyn made for a charity auction, which is a small house with money in a drawer and burnt filaments of money coming out the chimney. I bought it for twenty dollars; then took my neighbor's advice and put a fifty in the drawer. I look like quite a shrewd investor.

Photos by Carl Nelson

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