The following interview of Mandy Kahn by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).
Biographical Information—Mandy Kahn
Mandy Kahn is the author of the poetry collection Math, Heaven, Time. In January of 2016, former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser featured a poem from the collection, “At the Dorm,” in his syndicated newspaper column American Life in Poetry. Kahn collaborates with composers to create works that feature poetry in tandem with classical music and has had readings and signings at Colette (Paris), Motto (Berlin), Shoreditch House (London), Davies Symphony Hall (San Francisco), Printed Matter (New York) and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena). She was one of several librettists who wrote the text for the critically acclaimed opera-in-cars Hopscotch; her libretto for the project was subsequently quoted in The New Yorker. Kahn also works as an essayist, and is coauthor, with Aaron Rose, of the nonfiction book Collage Culture: Examining the 21st Century’s Identity Crisis, which features graphic design by Brian Roettinger. Collage Culture was simultaneously released as a record which paired readings of the book’s texts with a score by the band No Age.
The Tour Guide
I followed the German tour guide
through the hulking old basilica.
He told the group (or so I guessed),
indicating high and low:
This is where the wind begins.
This is where the childhoods of a thousand
martyrs live, untouched.
Wood grain in these pews still curls
to likenesses of patron saints.
Window-holes are cut the breadth
of human souls, when loosed.
Dark paint in the frescoes is crushed ants.
White paint is light.
Leaves and fauna long extinct are rendered
in the porticoes. See that goat
with antlers? Gone from life,
but captured here.
(Hold your breath and it bows its head.)
(Reach towards the ceiling and sigh, and it sighs.)
Worth two times the value of the Bulgar Sea
is that old bell.
(When younger priests
would ring it,
the nuns were warned to shield their hearts.)
He said far more
I can’t recall
and when I tried to pay him,
he spurned my coins, saying, in German,
What good is money,
my child, to the wind?