Mariposa House was dead silent Wednesday night. The sounds of every entrance and exit echoed off the wooden floors. Students crowded around the lecture hall, transfixed by the voice of Stegner Fellow Aria Aber; a girl sitting in the corner was briskly knitting a purple scarf, the clicks of her needles punctuating the quiet. Aber’s voice was low and powerful as she concluded her last poem of the night: “God,” I said, my forehead kissing the flowery carpet – I’m not delicate. Look at me. I’m not trying to disappear. The breathtaking tempo of that last phrase left the room in shock. The evening’s conversation, moderated by speaker Jones Keith Ekiss and moderated by the Creative Writing Department”poetry in conversationseries, covered topics ranging from politically conscious poetry to learning the literary canon.
Aber’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, and The Poetry Review. Reading attendees received free copies of her debut book “Hard Damage,” which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and a Whiting Award.
“This might be my favorite of the collection,” Aber said before reading “Reading Rilke in Berlin.” She also read “Can you describe your years in prison?” “Funeral in Paris”, “Reading Rilke at Lake Mendota, Wisconsin” and “The Ownership of Naming Things” for the public.
After the reading, Aber participated in a Q&A discussion. Aber was born in Germany to Afghan refugee parents who did not speak German during her early childhood. Aber herself didn’t speak the language until kindergarten, but instead grew up with Farsi. So, the first poetry she absorbed was that of Rumi and Hafez.
“It’s a very poetic language and poetry is very important to the culture, so it’s always been there,” Aber said.
She described the eternal divide between growing up in a Farsi-speaking household and living in a German-speaking country. “The alienation that this language shift brings with itself is something I wanted to capture in my poetry,” Aber said. “Thinking of language as flexible and porous is something poetry lends itself very well to. »
The second wave of poetry that influenced Aber included the Austrian Rainer Maria Rilke, a recurring reference in his works, and German-language poets such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Paul Celan.
“We read one of Celan’s poems, ‘The Death Fugue’, in German class and that one changed everything for me,” Aber said. “It’s so richly textured and musical, and I just remember my teacher reading it aloud, and I was transported to another plane of existence; it just has a fully charged frequency.
His multilingual training was formative for Aber in his compositions. When writing her first book, she wrote in English, but Aber couldn’t help but wonder: why didn’t she write poetry in her “default” language, German?
“For some reason, I feel more comfortable writing poetry in English, but other languages are always on my mind. How can I bring them with me? Something is lost when I think in one language,” Aber said, expanding on the intentions of his poetry.
The third wave of poetry that influenced Aber was modern American poetry, such as that of Sherman Alexie and Louise Gluck, which she studied as an undergraduate at Goldsmiths College London.
Admiring and learning from acclaimed poets is complicated, according to Aber. Specifically, Ekiss probed his displeasure with elements of Rilke’s work; Aber’s approach to poetry is very different from Rilke’s “pure” style of writing which did not engage with its socio-political environment, such as World War I.
Aber described how she wants to break with the idea that the political cannot enter the lyrical. “I think even if you’re not an activist, as a writer you should look at what’s happening in the world and what’s happening to the language around you,” Aber said.
Writing should be seen as a conversation with elders, especially our literary ancestors, Aber explained. “Sometimes, like parents, you can’t really choose them,” she said, referring to how we often love the works of flawed or problematic people. “Just giving yourself the opportunity to respond to them, or learning the trade as well as you can and then responding to them, can be a very fruitful exercise.”
Aber’s next two projects are a collection of poetry and a novel. The first deals with mourning and friendship. It’s in its infancy, but “the grief is on every page, that’s for sure,” Aber said. The latter is semi-autobiographical, set in Berlin in the early 2010s, and centers on a romance between a young aspiring artist and an older American architect.
“It’s about architecture, about longing, about love, about the cold Berlin winters and how the buildings and neighborhoods of our early years shape our imaginations,” Aber said.