If you’re in New York, be sure to head to “Opre Khetanes IV Concert and Conference on Romani (Gypsy) Musics and Cultures” at NYU. April 23rd and 24th will be packed with presenters on Romani dance, music, art, writing, and culture, and on the evening of the 24th, the legendary Romani singer, Esme Redzepova, will give a concert. The conference is free to the public, and you can buy tickets to the concert here. I’ll be presenting my essay “Esmeralda Declines an Interview”, first published on The Missouri Review blog, and discussing the importance of Romani artists claiming their story and rallying against the ‘Gypsy as Muse’ trope. There are so many wonderful activists, musicians, dancers, scholars, and artists presenting their work and ideas– I’m so excited to hear all of these powerful Roma speak!
I am so jazzed to be reading with GAMBAZine at Hell Phone speakeasy! There will be music, art, writing, food, and refreshments, and who doesn’t love all that? GAMBAZine is all about art and writing that’s edgy and raw, and I’m honored to be part of this event. If you’re in or around Brooklyn, join us. It will also be International Romani Day, so I’ll be getting my Gypsy Pride on, y’all.
Here’s the Facebook event— please share if you’re so inclined. Thanks!
Ederlezi, the Romani (Gypsy) Spring Festival, is one of my very favorite holidays. It’s celebrated with dancing, eating, singing a hauntingly beautiful folk song, and literally throwing flowers everywhere. Flowers in your house, flowers on your lawn, flowers in the river, flowers in the sea…. How could anyone not love this?
Another exciting Quail Bell surprise just in time for the holiday– Rita Banjerjee’s mistranslation poems were just released, including one poem inspired by my lackluster performance of Ederlezi at our last Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Writing & Yoga Retreat in France. Speaking of which, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop summer retreat deadlines for both Paris and Granada have been extended to May 25th. So Baxtalo Ederlezi! Have a beautiful and fortune-blessed Spring– hope to see you this summer!
St. Sarah, Kali Sara, Sara Kali, Sara-la-Kali, Sati-Sara, The Black Madonna, The Black Mother… many names for one Goddess-Saint sacred to Roma all over the world. Today is her festival– she is the Goddess of Fate, good fortune, fertility, and protection– and Roma honor her in pilgrimage, by worshiping her statue, through dance and community… so many ways, so many incarnations of the goddess who accompanied the Roma all the way from India.
Take a look at these articles below for more information about the Goddess-Saint, Romanipen/Romani religion/spirituality, and her celebration. Be sure to click the links for the whole articles.
The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali
“Until recently it was widely believed that this worship of Kali Sara, the Romani Black Madonna or Goddess was unique to Les Saintes Maries de La Mer. My own recent research among Romani refugees from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and in countries of the Balkans has uncovered the little-known fact that other Black Virgins are worshipped by Roma in central/eastern Europe and that Roma from these countries perform similar rituals. These rituals include laying flowers at the feet of the statue, adorning the statue with clothing of the sick hoping for cures, placing requests to the statue, and lighting candles to the female divinity. To the Roma, Kali Sara is the Protectress who will cure sickness, bring good luck and fertility and grant success in business ventures.
The Romani ceremony at Les Saintes Maries, as elsewhere, consists of carrying the statue on a platform strewn with flowers (4) into the closest body of water such as a sea, lake, flowing river or even a large pond of clear water. The platform is then lowered to touch the water while the crowd throws flowers into the water. Indian scholars such as Dr. Weer Rishi (5) and others who have witnessed this Romani ceremony, as well as Western observers who are familiar with Hindu religious customs have identified this ceremony with the Durga Poojaof India. In Romani, Kali Sara means Black Sara and in India, the Goddess Kali is known as Kali/Durga/Sara. Like the Hindus, the Roma practice shaktism, the worship of Goddesses. In other words, the Roma who attend the pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries in France and in other related ceremonies elsewhere honouring black female divinities, are in fact continuing to worship Kali/Durga/Sara their original Goddess in India.
According to the Durgasaptashati (seven hundred verses in the worship of Goddess Durga and her various forms), chapter 5, verse 12, which mentions Sara, contains the following: “Salute to Durga, Durgapara, (Deliver of all difficulties), Sara, (Embodiment of everything par-excellent), Cause of everything, Krishna and Dhurma (Evaporated form in smoke).” Other references in this ancient Hindu scripture also confirm that Sara is one and the same with the Indian goddess Durga who is also another aspect of Kali, the consort of Shiva.” —“THE ROMANI GODDESS KALI SARA” by RONALD LEE
The Indian Goddess Kali
“Some Romani groups in Europe today appear to maintain elements of Shaktism or goddess-worship; the Rajputs worshipped the warrior-goddess Parvati, another name for the female deity Sati-Sara, who is Saint Sarah, the Romani Goddess of Fate. That she forms part of the yearly pilgrimage to La Camargue at Stes. Maries de la Mer in the south of France is of particular significance; here she is carried into the sea just as she is carried into the waters of the Ganges each December in India. Both Sati-Sara and St. Sarah wear a crown, both are also called Kali, and both have shining faces painted black. Sati-Sara is a consort of the god Ðiva, and is known by many other names, Bhadrakali, Uma, Durga and Syamaamong them.” —
Sara, toi la sainte patronne des voyageurs et gitans du monde entier, tu as vécu en ce lieu des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Tu es venue d’un lointain pays au-delà des mers. J’aime venir te retrouver ici, te dire tout ce que j’ai dans le Cœur, te confier mes peines et mes joies. Je te prie pour tous les membres de ma famille et tous mes amis. Sara, veille sur moi!
(Sara, patron saint of travelers and gypsies the world over, you who lived in this region of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You came from a far-away country from across the seas. I love to come and find you here, to tell you all that I have in my heart and in you confide my sorrows and joys. I pray to you for everyone in my family and all my friends. Sara, come to me!) —Saint Sara-la-Kali: A Sister to Kali Maa
“Art doesn’t happen when we try to create a feeling for other people; it happens when we reach into the cosmos and experience it for ourselves…. And our artwork only comes alive for others when we, as artists, lose ourselves irretrievably in it.”
My chickadee Len, a musician and composer, on art and the artistic process. As a deadline looms, I don’t need to think about the audience or my ego when I’m delving into the alchemical process.There’s simply no room.
I’m the Art Editor for The Southeast Review, which is one of my favorite things to do, and another favorite thing is conducting these Q&As with writers and artists who I admire. Ian Hancock, TJ Anderson III, and Christine Stoddard are all brilliant and fascinating people, so naturally they gave brilliant and fascinating answers. Check out the full interviews at The Southeast Review.
So read! Learn how to beat writer’s block through paintings, how to find metaphor in the Romani language, how to be be an artistic entrepreneur, how folklore and social justice color our words, and how the surreal and the real blend our lives with art.
Seven years ago today, it was Friday the 13th of October, which is coincidentally the day that many Pagans believe brings love and good luck to all, and that was the day that Len and I went on our first date. We intended to catch a film at The Cork Film Festival where I was volunteering at the time. The film was sold out so we headed to The Bodega, a cute heritage bar where we drank a lot of vodka and talked very quickly for many, many hours. He drew a Venn diagram on a napkin to illustrate a point about distributive cognition and it gave me butterflies– I was a philosophy minor and I still am an utter logic-nerd. And he was so cute and such a philosophy-nerd that I was wholly in love already: I texted my best friend and flatmate Sarah Sullivan, “This guy has my brain,” to let her know that 1. the date was going super well, and 2. I had not been murdered. Later on, I told Len a story about my Romani family during the Holocaust. I had told very few people this story, and certainly I didn’t tell anyone that I was wishing I could pluck up the nerve to write it. After I told him, he said, “You have to write that. It’s a novel. I can see it.” I told him I was just a poet, but I thought about it.
After the Bodega and many vodkas, we snuck into the sociology building at UCC, where he was finishing a Masters in Sociology and I was studying travel writing through Hollins University’s study aroad program. We used the computers to plan a trip to Italy for artistic inspiration: I was writing a book of poetry, and Len is a talented visual artist and he always wanted to sketch in Italy. Obviously this was before phones with Internet powers. We went on that trip a few months later, and that’s where we decided, in Arezzo on New Year’s Eve, watching boys throw fire crackers at the train tracks below our apartment balcony, that we should just keep riding the crazy, unlikely train of our trans-national relationship and see where it takes us. I told him once that I can only feel comfortable in transit and it took me this long to realize that everyone everywhere is speeding toward something, and now I can sit down and write.
Today, seven years later, I am writing that novel. It’s fiction, certainly, and the characters are characters and not me or anyone else I know, but it has roots in that true story. That night of the 13th, Len told me he wanted to be a composer, and today he is at a piano lesson with a pianist and composer who he truly admires, and he’s already written gorgeous pieces. So tonight, Len and I are going to eat some raw vegan desserts and drink champagne and feel very luxurious and self-satisfied. Maybe we’ll get crazy and draw a diagram or two.