Visions, ed. by Bradley R. Strahan

I first encountered this periodical at the Baltimore Book Festival. Visions used to be based in Maryland but has since moved to Texas. What drew me to the little booth under Baltimore’s Washington Monument was a wire rack of 5.5 × 8.5 inch stapled chapbooks in many colors with cover illustrations of scenes from around the world. One concentrated on Scandinavian poetry; another on Croatian poetry; another on Macedonian poetry. Glancing through the tables of contents, I found each issue included poetry from the U.S., yes, but also from many other countries and cultures.

We in the U.S. are rarely exposed to literature from other countries, except perhaps from England. Until someone wins the Nobel or other prize, his or her work is generally not available here. Although this situation has changed somewhat with the advent of online bookstores, how do you know what authors to look for? How do you know what literary masterpieces are being produced in Denmark or Uzbekistan?

When my son first moved to Canada, one of his first communications home informed me that there was a whole world of Can Lit that I had never suspected was there. Sure, I’d read Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje. But you cannot imagine the delight with which I threw myself into books by Timothy Findley, Jane Urquhart, Rohinton Mistry, David Adams Richards, Paul Quarrington. Some of these authors are now distributed in the States, but at that time, one could not purchase their books here.

Since then, I have tried to attend Toronto’s International Festival of Authors as often as I can. Held at the end of October, this festival brings famous and not-so-famous authors from all over the world to Harbourfront for readings, interviews, and panel discussions. I particularly like the interviews, where one author asks questions of another, eliciting the kind of insights that you won’t hear on a talk show. I was thrilled to hear Timothy Findley interviewed by Jane Urquhart and later read from his books. I loved listening to an author from Finland read the beginning of his novel in English and then in Finnish, enabling me to hear the rhythms he himself heard when composing.

So I was delighted to stumble upon this small periodical that publishes poetry from all over. Now in its 30th year, Visions comes out four times a year. The most recent issue, #79, has two feature sections: one on Argentinean poet Roberto Juarroz and one of Armenian poetry translated by Diana Der Hovanessian.

The particular value for me is not just exposure to otherwise unknown voices, but the insight into their particular experience, such as in this poem “After the War” by Armenian poet Ghurgas Sirounan:

“After a truce war is not over
although roses reappear
although brooks thaw,

. . .

“Ask those who will not return. Ask
the grief that covers the earth.
Ask the soil, now precious as heavy lead . . .”

I also value the common themes, such as here from the poem “He & She” by Pakistani poet Adrian Hussain, translated from the Urdu by David Kamal:

“Her beauty has burnt his eyes
but he imagines
he sees her still
as a silver ship
in the folds of an impossible sea.”

Visions is available from Black Buzzard Press, 3503 Ferguson Lane, Austen, TX 78754.

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