A Guest Blog Post by Marianne Kunkel
Who am I to write about the benefits of global-mindedness? The last time I stepped out of America was to buy Cadbury chocolate in Canada. Before that, my parents moved our family to Merida, Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula. I was three at the time and, without putting much thought into it, enjoyed our house on the beach, daily swims, all that fresh fish. I was a purposeless traveler. I was, like most children, a freeloader.
Now that I have my own source of income and keep my own schedule, why does it feel so difficult to travel outside the country? I have a passport…somewhere. I have the necessary vacation time…almost. I’d like to visit…someplace. It doesn’t help that as an American I am constantly validated for my attention inward; it’s enough that I speak English, I’m told, that I can discuss U.S. politics at parties, that I have a solid knowledge of contemporary American poetry. Having a passion for global issues can feel a little like owning a motorcycle; people definitely think it’s cool that you have it, but no one’s expecting it of you.
In the summer of 2011, my curiosity about the world was an endangered animal heading toward extinction. That’s when I got my job as managing editor of Prairie Schooner, whose tagline at the time was “writing that moves you.” Cute, I remember thinking, studying the logo of reading glasses with bicycle wheels for lenses. I began taking direction from the journal’s new editor-in-chief, Kwame Dawes, running our Nebraska office while he occasionally flew to Scotland, Haiti, or Hong Kong to promote his new book. Kwame travels as casually as other people eat sandwiches.
Even from my office chair, quickly—and I mean quickly—my awareness of the world sputtered to life. I fell in love with poems sent to us by Marilyn Hacker, poems by Jean-Paul de Dadelson that she translated from French into English (these appear in Prairie Schooner’s Spring 2012 issue). I rang up Irish bookstore owners to ask if they’d carry our Winter 2011 Special Irish Issue. I co-curated a womb-themed issue of FUSION, the journal’s new international poetry/art e-zine, with poet TJ Dema from Botswana. I was just doing my job, but Prairie Schooner was doing something important, necessary, and exciting: this 87-year-old journal nestled deep in the heart of American literature was calling and being called into the world.
The next spring, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Chicago, I took a break from worrying if in twenty years I’d be the successful poet I longed to be and sank briefly into memories of kindergarten. Wasn’t it great to spin a globe and skid my finger along the surface? Wasn’t that how I learned the intricacies of the Asian continent? This became the basic design for Prairie Schooner’s new mobile app for smartphones, “Global Schooner,” which launched this month: a spin-able globe mapping the homes of every author we publish each year. There are pinpoints for Nikola Madzirov in Strumica, Macedonia; Meena Alexander in Kerala, South India; Sherman Alexie in Seattle, Washington; and so on. Some pinpoints come loaded with audio, video, and text excerpts of published work. And a separate globe called “Guide to Customs” offers something especially cool: international authors answering the question, “What makes you hopeful or fearful about the world today?”
When I get to Japan, which I planned to do this summer for my 30th birthday but which I had to postpone because of my acceptance into a summer writers’ conference, my friend there promises to introduce me to many foods, historic landmarks, and clothing stores. I will take hundreds of photos but probably feel too busy to seriously read or write. Writing is not un-conducive to travel, but there’s a funny relationship between the two activities. The writing often happens after leaving a place and having time to reflect. This is why literature about countries beyond our own can add so much meaning—emotional, political, environmental, etc.—to these places, even ones we’ve already visited. Prairie Schooner’s newest FUSION presents Iranian poetry through the theme of “secrets” and, wow, I promise you you’ve never experienced the country like this before.
To download Global Schooner on your iOS device, click here. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/global-schooner/id612496796?mt=8)
To explore Prairie Schooner’s secrets-themed FUSION with Iran, click here. (http://www.prairieschooner.unl.edu/?q=fusion/secrets)
About the Author
Marianne Kunkel’s poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Rattle, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the Susan Atefat-Peckham Fellowship and author of The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press). She is the managing editor of Prairie Schooner.