Posts Tagged ‘professor’

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 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.”

PARTY!

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 Poets’ Lives with Lyn Coffin

January 18, 2011

Editor’s Note:  Lyn is leaving for the Republic of Georgia within the month in order to teach at a University.  She seems to live the here and there life of the Modern Poet, and has agreed to send us an update now and then from whereever ‘here and there’ might be.  We spoke with her while dining with a friend, Len Goodisman, in West Seattle, prior to a Seattle Playwrights Studio meeting at the theater across the street.

Onion Soup

Poet Eating

“I get a thousand lariats a month…” Photos by Carl Nelson


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