Painting Over Sketches of Anatolia

Painting Over Sketches of Anatolia



About the book

Painting Over Sketches of Anatolia, Neufeldt’s seventh book of poetry, reveals a long-seasoned attachment to our world, despite all its pains and deceptions.

Can one engage our everyday world with a friendly embrace?  A dying Plato tries to fight off intrusions of realism. There are wars, revolutions, the holocaust, obsolete belief systems, Alzheimer’s and ever-present potentialities of the autistic as well as the illusory in the spoken or written word.  

The main part of the collection is pledged to the question of whether one can find rootedness in an ethos quite unlike one’s own.  The realities of discovering and settling in Turkey are uppermost, but the poems offer deepening lenses as the narrator enters a place of beauty, mystery, legend, painful history, irksome tourists, welcome and joy.

A similar rootedness is evident in the lyrical invocations of western British Columbia, where the author was born and raised.  Here the nature poet is most tellingly revealed.

All this with the eye of a painter faced with the incongruities of the familiar and unfamiliar and a sketchbook almost full.

About the author

Neufeldt, Leonard

Author, editor or co-editor of seventeen books, Leonard Neufeldt was born and raised in the immigrant Dutch-Russian Mennonite hamlet of Yarrow, BC.  His grandfather and father, placed under arrest by Bolshevik agents for transport to the Gulag, escaped to Canada via Spain, Cuba and Mexico.  His maternal grandmother accounts for his Ashkenazic connection.  Neufeldt graduated summa cum laude from Waterloo Lutheran University (Wilfred Laurier) and received his MA and PhD in the USA.  He and his wife have spent most of their professional years in America and abroad, notably in Europe and Turkey.  Lecture tours have taken him to India (twice), Germany, Korea and China.  Over the years he has been the recipient of major grants and several awards for his scholarship as well as poetry.  His scholarly essays and books have appeared with Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Princeton University press, among others.


Olive Harvest on the Terraces

Dirt road below half out of hiding,
and two burros (how like their double
sacks) single-filing to the mill
as if hesitations
in a step will make the way straight,
float an endless roll of hills away
and turn the breeze this way,
silver the orchard trees in fits and starts.

An apparition of white butterflies
veers as one from tree to tree
against the morning’s incessant blue.
Where we’ve stopped under our tree
a lizard, throat pulsing the moment’s
desperation, vanishes into the earth.
We’re putting down sheets:

today red olives, only one tree.
Raki Mamut, hair black as a coal
seam emblazoned with light, measures
tree and sky and tells me
we won’t be long, white Neyzen
Yachting shirt ironed smooth,
perfect fit.  His wife, Munifer, almond eyes
and dark embroidered dress, cleaning sunglasses
like a pilgrim of the terra incognita within,
in the doorway her mother
bent by osteoporosis to a question mark
no taller than her grandchild
in primary school today.  Mamut has never said
marriage to beauty and money although
a dream will divide you, and perhaps
his thinner angular part still knows how to towel
drinking glasses, prop them like bowling pins
in a narrow bar in Turgutreis
at three in the afternoon, small quarrel
of wind redesigning the grass
and palms, the brochures about this place
untrue but his voice in the bamboo hut
bottomless: “the raki is ready,
meine Damen und Herren.”

Mamut and I on opposite sides
of the tree, circling as if we’re about to invent
revels of ripeness by shaking branches
and listening to the hail-drum of olives.
I stare into the sun, ignite everything,
surprised by the moment it takes for a world
to burn black, yet my jet-lagged
body knows it’s time to be here,
as it did north of Tarsus
on the far skirt of the Taurus Range
when the engine chatter of our van stopped
across the road from a man’s silhouette
black against morning sun
shooting flames through the harvester –
beyond the harvester golden wheels
of winter wheat and wheels within
the prophet’s fiery wheels.  And when
these terraces return, first as shimmering
and then as olive trees, Mamut
is half way to my side, beating languid branches
with a three-metre pole.  The rake
Munifer gives me with a Yes/No shake
of her head is smooth in my hands
like skin tingling with details as I climb
the ladder’s rungs, strip
the highest branches of leaves
and small pendants blood-brown. 

Our second hour of work is losing
method, Mamut and I opening shirts,
pulling them out of our jeans.  Truth is,
knowing how much repeats itself,
what is finished or not, what’s next,
we want to sit down.
“These trees make you think in ways
you haven’t before” – ladder, pole, and rake
the same as last year, and the sacks
and wedding sheets on the ground –
“there aren’t that many kinds of olives;
there are many ways to harvest them.”

Yes, Mamut, so much of our knowing
comes to nothing, even that
which doesn’t lead to bad ends,
and stripping a tree of most of its olives
and many of its leaves is easier
than forgiving our teachers.

“I say a few simple words
and the professor is lost in thoughts,
I like that,” Mamut grasping the sheet
by two corners, waiting for me to do the same.
Munifer has been picking leaves and stems
from the litter, unafraid of her body’s beauty,
neck and back perfectly straight, cupped hand
sweeping redness back and forth, fingers
alive like a pianist, her face
almost serious as she finally turns back,
rolls a jute sack down as if to step inside,
watches olives roll and mound end to end
across the middle of the sheet,
places the sack at Mamut’s edge,
moves it closer, half the open top
underneath, hands and arms
           Far off another olive orchard
with the vagueness of neighbours allowing
something to happen and children’s laughter
like the sound of water washing a day’s grace
clean at the door.


From Yarrow to Anatolia
May 13th, 2015

Yarrow was a once thriving Mennonite community that was established in 1928 when 86 settlers arrived from Europe, including the parents of Leonard N. Neufeldt.

“Rootless… >>

BC Book Look

Leonard Neufeldt writes with keen attentiveness and clear-eyed afection toward the places where he's lived and traveled.  In this, his seventh poetry collection, that sensibility combines with an equally keen consciousness of time–of human mortality, the movement of days and… >>

— Joanne Epp The Mennonite Quarterly Review

Leonard Neufeldt’s seventh book of poetry is a vast collection that weaves together different voices of history. These poems ruminate on how history impacts both our everyday lives and our futures, and the collection as a whole meditates on memory and… >>

— Krista Wiebe Rhubarb

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