Monday, January 20, 2014

Berlin and Beyond Film Festival - Commentary by Ana Elsner

Berlin & Beyond, the annual German Film Festival sponsored by Goethe-Institut, presented an impressive array of recent film productions from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Particularly noteworthy were the epic Ludwig II, directed by the late Peter Sehr, Two Lives, Germany's 2014 Oscar entry by Georg Maas, and Measuring the World (Die Vermessung der Welt), based on Daniel Kehlmann's 2005 bestseller.

After having read the book Die Vermessung der Welt and subsequently having watched the film, bibliophile Ana Elsner made these observations:

"The novel is a well crafted and highly imaginative amalgam of fact and fiction, written with a beguiling wit. Kehlmann calls his process "the inventing of truth". - In this semi-historical expose the author puts his own spin on chronicling and contrasting the lives of two brilliant and eccentric 19th-century German scientists, the naturalist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and the mathematician and astronomer Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855), with a focus on how their life paths diverged in their individual approaches to the challenge of measuring the world.
As is rarely the case, the author of the book, Daniel Kehlmann, was also the screenwriter, resulting in the closest adherence of the cinematic version to the original dramatic tension and overall tenor of his book.
The cinematograph by Slavomir Idziak is beautifully executed and serves to effectively underline the narrative."


Among the Festival guests were composer Vincent Russo and international poet Ana Elsner.
"Screenwriting and writing poetry are all about generating pictures that play either in front of your eyes or in the mind's eye. These pictures can be brought to life through cinematography as well as through our own visualization of the imagery expressed in the spoken and the written word.
Whether received via one's optical nerve, or perceived by one's imagination, rich and vivid imagery is perhaps the most impactful of all communication and stirs us the most,"
said Ana Elsner in a conversation following the screening of Daniel Kehlmann's 'Die Vermessung der Welt'.
Vincent Russo, a friend of the poet, added: "Music also can convey powerful images just as film and poetry do. In my compositions I paint pictures using the tools of instrumentation and orchestration."
Ana Elsner summarized her appreciation of the Festival program,
"My compliments to Goethe-Institut, especially to Sophoan Sorn, Sabine Erlenwein and Jale Yoldas, on enriching the American cultural community by showcasing a panoply of outstanding films from the German speaking world at the 2014 Berlin & Beyond Film Festival.
My personal highlight was the opportunity to watch the film version of Daniel Kehlmann's 'Die Vermessung der Welt' ('Measuring the World'), a most successful adaptation of the original novel."

~ Go beyond Berlin:
* Click here to go beyond Berlin and
visit bilingual poet Ana Elsner on the web *
Other Links
^ Review
^ Vincent Russo
^ Ana Elsner
^ Goethe-Institut

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A new home for poet Ana Elsner

Poet and world citizen Ana Elsner has a new home on the world-wide-web. Her well-appointed new piece of Internet real estate is located at
Ana's door is wide open to friends and visitors. Just bring an inquisitive mind as a house-warming gift and you will be heartily welcomed.

Ana Elsner's house is always full of expansive poetry, stimulating conversation, international flair, orchids and lit mags, a smorgasbord of mind and soul food, tasty tidbits of information about Ana's life as a poet, not to mention entertaining video.
Also, as a special treat and for the first time ever, Ana puts some of her artwork on display.

Be sure to drop by, look around Ana Elsner's new website, have a poetic glass of wine, and make a toast to Ana's continued success in the wide world of poetry.
"Poetry is a kind of homecoming," as poet Paul Celan put it in Der Meridian, his 1960 Georg Büchner Prize acceptance speech.
Of course Ana will sign your copy of CIPHERS OF UNCOMMON ORIGIN - Poems by Ana Elsner for you whenever you see her in person at her next public event.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

TASTE THE WASTE - Documentary by Valentin Thurn - Commentary by Ana Elsner

Are you aware of the fact, that on its way from the farm, the dairy, the river or the ocean to your dinner plate more than half of all food gets discarded and destroyed?

We are talking about perfectly edible food that gets pulled off supermarket shelves, some of it still in the original packaging with the 'best before'/'sell by' date not yet expired! The store can no longer make a profit on it. So it lands in the trash.

On top of that, twice again as much is rejected immediately on fields and in factories, based on standards that are enforced by distributors and retailers catering to the demands of consumers for perfection and ultra-freshness of groceries: One withered leaf on a head of lettuce, a crack in a potato or a dent in an apple and the goods are sorted out and thrown away.

The wastage amounts to around 100 pounds per household each year in Europe and the US. Disposal of this waste is costly.
Furthermore it negatively impacts the environment as the byproduct of decomposition of food matter is methane, a gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere.

Ana Elsner made this comment, "We live in a time of excess and it must be admitted that all of us spoiled consumers share responsibility for and share complicity in this global food scandal. Why? Because, let's face it, would you pick up and pay for the apple that has a dent in it, or would you rather go through the pile and select the most perfect ones...? And how many of us pull our carton of milk, tub of yoghurt or hamburger meat from the very back of the cooler to get at the freshest batch? It never occurs to us that, not only do we pay for the other hundreds of apples and tons of meat that go to waste, but that we also keep them from ever reaching the mouths of thousands of people worldwide who are malnourished.
Wastage of foodstuffs leads to ever increasing prices. As a result more and more people can afford less and less food. Look around and you will see that need and privation are on the rise not just in far away countries, but right here in our own cities and communities. This has got to stop and we must play a part in stopping it.

Many countries don't have the slightest idea how much is wasted. Britain made an effort to count the waste pile and came to a staggering 15 million tons of food every year. That means: 484 million unopened yoghurt pots each year, 1.6 billion untouched apples and 2.6 billion slices of bread for an annual retail value of 14 billion pounds. At the same time, 4 million people in the UK do not have access to a healthy and balanced diet. In other countries, statistics are tabulated mainly by independent researchers and non-governmental agencies, with some staggering results: In Italy, about 20,290,767 tons of food waste is accrued along the supply chain each year. The combined food waste of all Danish households is equivalent to 2,93 billion US Dollars. (An average Danish family with 2 adults and 2 children wastes food in the amount of 1,872 US Dollars a year.) A recent report published by ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, states that every year each French citizen throws away 7 kilos of food still in the original packaging.
It is estimated that each ton of food waste releases, from its production to its disposal, 4,2 tons of toxic carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere.

Valentin Thurn's documentary TASTE THE WASTE takes us into the personal world of the people who are desperately trying to stop this needless waste: Hanna Poddig, eco activist from Berlin, Romuald Bokej, dumpster diver from Stockholm, Ahmadou Biyah, garbage collector in Paris and Sarah Wiener, celebrity chef from Austria offer us the small scale examples of the bigger struggle.

TASTE THE WASTE - The Trailer:

Tip: Click on the four-arrows-icon next to the volume control bar to expand video to full screen.


The documentary TASTE THE WASTE (Frisch auf den Müll - Die globale Lebensmittelverschwendung) by Valentin Thurn, a timely and startling expose on worldwide destruction of food and its consequences, filmed in various countries and locations, had its San Francisco Premiere at the SF Green Film Festival on March 6, 2012. The screening was co-presented by the Goethe-Institute. Among the enthusiastic audience was international poet and activist Ana Elsner, who said in an interview with this journal:

"We can no longer plead ignorance. We must face the reality of having set in place a global food production and distribution system that is tightly controlled by special for-profit interests who promote massive and unconscionable waste. The disposal and decomposition of these mountains of wasted food threatens our already fragile eco-system. The German word for groceries is Lebensmittel - 'Means for [sustaining] life'. This definition of purpose is being bastardized and re-interpreted as 'Means for [making] profit'.
In a capitalist society one would expect that commerce in consumer goods is profit-driven. However, when it comes to food, which is the essential and existential pre-requisite for human survival, and when it comes to the distribution and attainability of food, applying the methods of exploitation and discrimination is scandalous, punitive and bordering on criminal (as in crimes against humanity). Making food unavailable or unattainable, by any motivation or any means (such as destroying it), amounts to condemning people to death by starvation. Who would directly or indirectly act as judge over who lives and who dies?"

Ana Elsner continues her commentary on the global food scandal:

"Responsibility filters down to the basis of corporate decision-making processes. Consumer behavior is this basis. If you are a customer at supermarket chain stores, that means: You.
If you do not turn a blind eye to this global food scandal, if you acknowledge that by shopping at these establishments you condone the perpetuation of food wasting, if you want to take personal responsibility, then you can be the start of a movement for change. Then you can inspire others to follow your example."

What you can do: Raising awareness - Tips from Ana Elsner

*Go into your local supermarket chain store. (You don't have to buy anything...) Ask to speak to the store manager. Ask him / her what they do with the food products they pull off their shelves. Ask if they are, or will consider, donating their discarded groceries to food banks or local organizations that feed the homeless. Then go into the next supermarket chain store and repeat this action until you have covered all the grocery stores in your greater area. Important: Ask your friends to do the same!
What this will accomplish: You might not be able to change the store's policies right away. But the store manager will report to his superiors that his customers raised this issue. If enough shoppers bring this matter up, management will have to pay attention.*

*Volunteer at a soup-kitchen to see for yourself what hunger looks like.*

*For city dwellers: Join an urban vegetable-garden project.*

What you can do: Changing your eating behavior - Tips from Ana Elsner

*Check portion size and know how much to cook at a time: Those sad looking left-overs will most likely never get eaten and end up in the trash.*

*Cut down on your consumption of highly processed foods. They contain additives like: artificial sweeteners; high levels of sodium; starches, fillers and texturizers; monosodium glutamate; nitrates, nitrites and sulfites; high amounts of saturated fats; artificial flavors; food coloring and dyes; synthetic preservatives. Did you know that these chemically manipulated food items are huge money-makers for the big food conglomerates: good for their profit margin, bad for your body and your brain.*

*And some fun stuff: Try baking your own bread. Have potluck parties where everyone brings one homemade(!) dish. Grow your own tomatoes in a bucket or planter box on your deck, your balcony or even on the fire escape (as shown in the photo above).*

Ana Elsner
What you can do: Changing your shopping behavior - Tips from Ana Elsner

*When buying groceries, avoid the supermarkets altogether. If you cannot go directly to the farm to pick up your produce, then shop at your local farmers markets, where growers bring the goods to you without a middleman.*

*Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. When buying items that do not grow locally and have to be imported, try to find goods with the FairTrade label.*

*Buy only what you need and only as much as you are sure you will use up.*

*Avoid pre-packaged groceries. Production and disposal of plastic wrappings destroys the environment. Buy from bulk bins. And don't forget to bring your own bag to carry your goodies home in.*

*Don't fall prey to advertising and "special offers".*

*Ignore the temptation of lavish in-store displays or "free samples".*

Valentin Thurns zeitgemäßer und alarmierender Dokumentarfilm über die globale Nahrungsmittelverschwendung (wussten Sie, dass auf dem Weg vom Landwirtschaftsbetrieb bis auf den Esstisch mehr als die Hälfte aller Lebensmittel im Müll landen?) ist sowohl ein Aufruf zum aktiv werden, als auch ein Ratgeber, wie wir dieses bedeutende Problem am Besten beseitigen können.


Who is the commentator Ana Elsner

Ana is an independent writer and a bilingual poet. Get to know her better, look at Elsner's website.


Who is the director Valentin Thurn

Valentin Thurn, born 1963, studied geography, anthropology and political science in France and Germany, and journalism at the „Deutsche Journalistenschule“ in Munich.
He is based in Cologne and has produced more than 40 television reports and independent documentaries as a freelance filmmaker. He is the author of radio features and articles for magazines such as Die Woche, Die Zeit, Natur & Kosmos, and has won a number of journalism and film awards. His previous films include The Lord of the Wolves (2000), I Am Al Qaeda (2006), which was nominated for the German Television Prize, Not With My Daughter! (2007) and Killer Germs (2009).
Thurn co-founded the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ) and is a member of Reporters without Borders and Netzwerk Recherche (investigative reporters' network).

Interview with Valentin Thurn by Wiener Zeitung about making the film

More food for thought:

Feasting on the flesh and organs of our fellow mammals?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading with 100 Thousand Poets For Change

On Saturday, September 24, 2011 a consciousness raising event takes place that unites 95 countries around the globe through the collective voices of poets for change. Readings and performances are held in nearly every language and take place in all time zones around the world-clock.

International poet Ana Elsner participates in the global 100 Thousand Poets For Change marathon at the following venue:

The Beat Museum, 540 Broadway at Columbus, in North Beach, San Francisco, on Saturday, September 24, 2011 beginning at 1PM local time.

The concept of Change encompasses topics that deal with political and social change, with the ills of terrorism, war, racism, ecocide, famine, lack of jobs, housing and affordable medical care, collapsing economies and with many other shared and pressing concerns. Each participating poet and each community group present their own area of focus for change.

The purpose of this sweeping, public event is to actually get together and create, perform, educate and demonstrate, simultaneously and in unison with other communities on all continents. The transformation towards a better world is a global guiding principle for this free and open poetry marathon and its poets and performers from all participating nations.

On this day and occasion Ana Elsner reads from her poems that examine the human condition which manifests in its many tragic flaws but also in its vast potential for bringing about benign and life-affirming progress.

Poet Ana Elsner, along with thousands of activist poets worldwide, is dedicated to making our planet more sustainable and our global civilization more aware, accountable, just and co-operative for the good of all human beings and all life forms on this earth. We are united in the pursuit of this common goal. And on September 24, 2011 we celebrate our unity by making our voices heard around the globe.

Quoting from a recent article on, "The beauty of the concept of 100 Thousand Poets For Change is that it is completely decentralized and completely inclusive."


Press release on, The Academy of American Poets
Ana Elsner reads with 100 Thousand Poets For Change


Sunday, July 3, 2011

International Tribute to Poet Susan Birkeland


Through the magic of the world-wide-web the works of San Francisco poet Susan Birkeland (January 18, 1961 - November 18, 2006) have recently been discovered by the organizers of the 2nd European Festival of Poetry which will be held in Antwerp in September. While surfing the internet German poet and festival co-producer Fred Schywek came across Birkeland's poetry. He and his partner Annmarie Sauer decided to include a tribute to Birkeland in this year's festival program in the form of a special audio recording of Susan's poems. Schywek and Sauer flew to San Francisco and arranged a three hour studio session. This recording will be played for the festival audience.

Susan Birkeland died of cancer at age 45. Her poems are given voice by some of the friends who were close to her in her lifetime and who treasure her memory, Bill Mercer, Ana Elsner, Jerry Ferraz, Nicole Savage and Clara Hsu. This special reading is a powerful manifestation of Susie's boundless spirit, sparkling personality and uninhibited creative force. Her poetry resonates with people across continents and nationalities, and beyond time.


Fellow poet and friend Ana Elsner paints this picture of Susie


A Portrait-Poem by Ana Elsner

The flash of an alluring smile,
perhaps accompanied by a soft, girlish giggle,
sucks you into her vortex.

Now playfully mischievous,
now profoundly compassionate,
she plays your heartstrings like so many piano keys.

And she knows it.
And she knows you, and you know her.

Pert and childlike, yet deliciously seductive,
that short, curly-haired quicksilver poet with the angelic face
delivers a high voltage charge straight to your gut.

Stripping herself naked of all pretensions,
the piercing honesty and singular directness of her poems
compel you to take stock of your own frailties and perceptions.

She takes you by the hand
and leads you through the labyrinth of human feeling,
month by month, January through December.

Now this bruised angel has taken flight and left us far behind,
we, who are still mired in our earthbound, self-perceived reality.

Yet, somehow, if you listen closely,
you hear an echo of her voice in your most secret mind.
And, somehow, if you pause but for a moment,
you can still feel the lightness of her touch upon your soul.

© Ana Elsner

Click to find out more about Susie and read her poems


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review of ARKHAI - an interdisciplinary publication

Revue Αρχαι (Arkhai), trans- et inter-disciplinaire

Arkhai - In search of the principleA French language interdisciplinary publication with limited English text

First issue: September 1993
Co-founder and Editor: Ákos Dobay
ISSN: 1661-139X

Title etymology: "arkhai" (plural of arkhon) - a term from Greek philosophy meaning "starting points" or "first principles"

Among the contributing authors are:
Daniel Eisler, Christophe Herzog, Ana Elsner, Nicolas Monod, Wiebo van Toledo, Séverine Viret, Tatiana Zarubina

"Ce qui rend la revue Arkhai si convaincante, c'est la compétence des rédacteurs à fusionner organiquement l'art et la science de l'écriture à la créativité des arts visuels et la représentation expressive de la musique. En intégrant ces catégories et leurs nombreuses sous-catégories dans le contenu de chaque numéro, Arkhai présente le plus large éventail de disciplines et de plates-formes, allant des mathématiques à l'histoire en passant par la politique, la culture, la philosophie et le lyrisme. Il montre aussi leurs multiples combinaisons, en capturant l'objectivité présente dans les sciences exactes, ainsi que la subjectivité inhérente aux sciences humaines et à l'interprétation des différents points de vue individuels. Avec beaucoup de succès Arkhai réunit les diverses manifestations de tous ces éléments et montre clairement leur interdépendance.
Nous devons reconnaître cette interdépendance afin de décoder les principes fondamentaux de la nature humaine et de l'existence." - Ana Elsner

"What makes the Arkhai Review so compelling is the expertise of the editors to organically merge the art and the science of writing with the creativity of the visual arts and the expressive representation of music. By incorporating these categories and their many subcategories within the contents of each issue, Arkhai presents the broadest spectrum of disciplines and platforms, from mathematical, historical, political, cultural, philosophical to lyrical. It also shows manifold combinations thereof, capturing the objectivity found in the study of the sciences, as well as the subjectivity found in the study of the humanities and in the interpretation of individual points-of-view. Arkhai successfully unites the distinctive manifestations of all these elements and clearly demonstrates their interrelatedness.
We must acknowledge this interrelatedness in order to decode the fundamental principles of human nature and existence." - Ana Elsner

--- Click image to go to the ARKHAI website ---

Click to visit ARKHAI


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For Diane di Prima (poem)

Ana Elsner wrote this poem for fellow woman poet Diane di Prima, a feminist icon whose poetry is succinct and often provocative.

di Prima
By Ana Elsner


unburdened yourself

of Brooklyn

of babies

your spindle

rebirthing yourself



[Di PRIMA by Ana Elsner was published in Ambush Review - Poems for the 21st Century, Premiere Issue, 2010.]

Diane di Prima, born 1934 in Brooklyn, New York, is known as the most prominent woman Beat poet and a fervent social justice activist. She succeeded in making a breakthrough as a liberated female intellectual. Her writing spans imagist, political and mystical modes. It also deals with her extraordinary life, creative expression of identity, sexual experimentation and personal introspection. As early as in her high school days she made a lifelong commitment to be a poet. After coming to California, Di Prima first joined the Diggers, a radical community-action group of Improv actors in the Haight-Ashbury and lived in a commune. Later she studied Zen Buddhism, Sanskrit and alchemy, and raised her five children. Much of her writing reflects on female archetypes and Eastern philosophies. Di Prima is a poet, prose writer, memoirist, playwright, activist and teacher and the author of 44 books of poetry and prose. She served as the fifth Poet Laureate of San Francisco.

"Sweetheart, when you break thru you'll find a poet here, not quite what one would choose." -Diane di Prima


[See also:

Ana Elsner's poem about poet George Tsongas

Ana Elsner pays tribute to poet Tony Vaughan]


Saturday, February 27, 2010


Ana Elsner in action
On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, the typical San Francisco fog was replaced by a torrential downpour, thanks to the capricious weather pattern known as El Niño. Despite this handicap a loyal flock of dyed-in-the-wool poetry fans made their way to the Joe DiMaggio Clubhouse in North Beach to see and hear Ana Elsner perform at her poetry show which she titled POEMS MAKE THE WORD GO ROUND, a library sponsored event featuring poetry and music. They were amply rewarded with a dynamic program where Ana demonstrated the close relationship between these two forms of creative expression.

Poet Ana Elsner is not only a repeat feature at the Library, but she was also the producer and creative director of this powerful artistic dialog, choosing the voice of the oboe to complement her own voice.


Rather than relying on the Library's graphic artist, Ana Elsner designed the poster for her show herself saying,
"I am essentially a writer, but every once in a while I enjoy dabbling in artwork."
A framed watercolor by Elsner depicting a quote from one of her poems enhanced the setting at the event.

Ana Elsner is known for her animated presentation of her poetry that never fails to captivate the audience. The selective grouping of her poems in four sets did justice to the amazing range of her poetic repertoire. Her invited musical guest, principal oboist of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Laura Griffiths matched the intensity of Elsner's poetry with a masterful delivery of oboe solos, among them works by German Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann and by Benjamin Britten.

This pairing of seasoned performers made for a magical and memorable evening. A special thank you goes to the San Francisco Public Library for continuing to fund Ana Elsner's poetry programs.

Laura Griffiths accompanies poetry

See event listing at The Academy of American Poets

Find out about Ana Elsner's favorite musical instrument

Click to find more past events


Monday, February 8, 2010

About George Tsongas in my Life

: :

Ana Elsner remembers George Tsongas
Veteran poet George Tsongas (1926-2010), a landmark in San Francisco's poetry scene, died in an acute care hospital in San Leandro, California, on January 15, 2010. He was 83 years old. Throughout his lifetime he maintained that his job as a poet was to "describe reality beyond sight."

Fellow poet Ana Elsner talks about her friendship with George Tsongas:

"When I first came to San Francisco in 1976 I lucked into and rented a tiny studio apartment on Telegraph Hill, three steep blocks up from Café Trieste. I immediately felt at home in what I called 'my village', which was clearly delineated and was proud and autonomous among the surrounding neighborhoods. North Beach was an Italian village and suited my European roots and aesthetic. Industrious Italian immigrants raised up their families and businesses there, held the majority of property there, lived out their senior years there. Italian was spoken and so was poetry. There was a benign coexistence between 'Little Italy' and its Bohemian enclave which incorporated iconic literary haunts like Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore. Poetry was as much a fact of life as were espresso and Chianti. I fast became a habitué of the passionate poetry readings at Bannam Place, the Old Spaghetti Factory and many other neighborhood hang-outs where poets held forth. These places and the faces that populated them live on in my memory. It was there that I met George Tsongas.

By the time I arrived, George Tsongas, who came to San Francisco in 1945, occupied the solid position of well-known and outspoken resident poet with a sizeable following. After having had many animated conversations about poetry, people, politics and travelling, George and I struck up an easy friendship that was based on a mutual curiosity about each other's experience and point-of-view and on a strong sense of camaraderie. I came to spend much time at his Victorian flat on Harrison Street and later at his digs above Enrico's on Broadway. Over a span of 30+ years I was an intimate witness to the creation of a vast body of his work written in a unique and no-nonsense voice. He developed and stayed true to his very own style, a style that I have characterized as intuitive, succinct, condensed, and packing a punch of realism that cuts to the core and is intentionally provocative. George Tsongas' passionate interpretations of the human condition are closely aligned with my own.

George would always give me typed pages, often smudged and dog-eared, of poems and bits of his manuscripts and various revisions thereof. I would always comment at length, a routine between us that he seemed to appreciate as much as I did. Ours was a relationship of trust and affection. He was at my wedding in 1983. I look at the old album: there he is, champagne glass in hand, big smile on his face, eyebrows as bushy as ever, but black with just a little grey beginning to show in the middle where his brows join. Our friendship outlasted my marriage by more than a decade.

When I stepped out as a poet in my own right, I adopted the same unabashed attitude in my writing that permeates George Tsongas' work. I, like him, remain unfettered from convention, affiliation, judgment, real or perceived boundaries. I believe that it is the trademark of the poet to exercise the ultimate freedom of creative expression.

Thank you, George, for having been and continuing to be a part of my life,"

Ana Elsner, Poet

-:- -:- -:- -:- -:- -:-


By Ana Elsner

The old poet sits heavy in his chair at the Café
with a weight that years of swallowing-up
life's richest stew of sweet and sour
have layered on his frame.

This is a man who would not be seduced with dainty trifles,
with empty fluff of palate or philosophy.

This is a man who tasted the salty sweat of honest labor,
the earthy grit of native Greece,
the savory dishes of foreign shores,
the meaty texture of self-worth,
the tangy zest of love,
the bitter wormwood of corruption and of prejudice,
the allspice of the human condition at its most flavorful,
and all the fragrant herbs of Southern France.

His is a life compacted and metabolized
into a solid presence,
that is reflected in his every poem,
meticulously chiseled out on his old typewriter.

This is a poet who needs no muse for inspiration.
His own 'muse-ings' give voice to a wealth of insights into humanity
or inhumanity, as the case may be.

He is an island unto himself, untouched by the surrounding maelstrom
of artifice, indignity and plagiarism.
He is authentic, self-made, self-maintained, and often unapproachable.

Looking out from under the thick brush of his white brow
his gaze seems to be transfixed, in some private limbo,
while unbeknownst to the outside world his mind is playing
through the lines of his new poem like fingers on a keyboard.

His slowness of gait gives no outward indication
of his youthful agility of thought.

Disdainful of the scholars, the pundits, the consumers and society at large,
he writes for no one in particular
and follows the dictates of his own convictions.

After several failed attempts, George pulls himself up from the chair,
does two or three gyrations of his hips in order to relieve
the ache and stiffness in his bones, and, giving a nod
to the proprietor of the Café, shuffles down Columbus Avenue.


Ana added this footnote: The café in the poem is Café Puccini, owned by Graziano Lucchese, where George would often go to take a break.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Bulgakov (review)

Ana Elsner's work and her poetic voice were influenced in part by Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov, a Russian playwright and novelist. This is her abbreviated review of Bulgakov's novel 'The Master and Margarita'.
'Мастер и Маргарита' - полифоничный роман Михаила Афанасьевича Булгакова, русский писатель и драматург (1891—1940), называемый иногда фантастическим.

An excerpt from the book:

" ... И плавится лед в вазочке, и глядят от соседнего стола чьи-то налитые кровью глаза, и страшно, страшно ... О боги! Яду мне, яду! ..."

" ... And the ice is melting in the bowl, and at the next table you see someone's bloodshot, bovine eyes, and you're afraid, afraid . . . Oh, gods, my gods, poison, bring me poison! ..."

-:- -:- -:-

"Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov's complex satirical and phantasmagorical short stories, novels and dramas are psychological exposés, dealing with the correlation of humanity and power in the (former) Soviet societal reality. A prime example is Bulgakov's faustian novel, 'The Master and Margarita', which I want to bring to your attention. It is a veritable tornado of sensual impressions and an explosion of searing imagery.

Oddly enough, most every reader of twentieth century literature is familiar with the works of Russian writers Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak, but very few have heard of, much less read, Bulgakov. 'The Master and Margarita' is decidedly one of my favorites.

Its 32 chapters read almost like individual short stories in and of themselves. No other writer has ever camouflaged acerbic political satire in such a luxurious cloak of fantasy. Three dense layers of narrative are masterfully interwoven so that you literally get three plots at once. I count this work as one of the greatest and most powerful novels of the 20th century.

Having read different translations, I prefer and recommend the one by Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O'Connor which provides interpretive footnotes.

It is beyond doubt that Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov has influenced my own work as a poet and writer,"

Ana Elsner

Bulgakov's signature

Click here for the original text

Click for a biography of novelist and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov


Go to the screening room: Watch a clip of Master and Margarita, the Movie


Friday, October 16, 2009


Here is a poem that has several layers of meaning, as poems by Ana Elsner often do. It requires repeated reading to penetrate to the deeper message.


Stony Sweetheart,
grazer on meadows of skin,
WHO chimed you into Sunday,
the one day when there is no bloodshed?

Flirtatious Dominatrix,
subject of our fascination,
now un-sleeping,
now raised up
from the darkest soil of heaven.

Say you wish you were a Seraphim,

but slice through our sinews
with the gold-tipped blade of your song,

your de-li-ri-ous-ly hypnotic siren-song,

that cripples our feeble attempts
at gasping for life.

No bloodshed.

And you are inscrutably a wanton Seductress,
approaching from far away,

yet never far enough away
to save us from the predictable outcome
of our dangerous contrivances,
and let us go


Yours is immortally a love that is, needs be,
de-lic-ious-ly fatal to our bereft existence.

Yet all our new days
we will be,

we dream of your touch,


All now flirtation.



© Ana Elsner
[reprinted by permission]

FLIRTING is published in CAVEAT LECTOR, a magazine dedicated to literature, social and cultural criticism, philosophy, and the arts


Friday, October 9, 2009

What is Poetry

When asked What is poetry? Ana Elsner got very animated and replied at length.

"There is no definitive answer to 'What is Poetry'. To me it is a purely academic question and a very tedious and irritating one.

A thousand scholars have tried to approximate an answer and fell short. Much like accountants they engage in counting verse, lines and syllables, assessing structure to fit the technical spreadsheet, much like mathematicians they configure pattern and meter into quatrains, pentameters, hexameter and other formulaic schemes, and yet don't even come close to what lies at the core of poetry.

By devising categories of form, rhyme, prosody, genre and style, and then sorting poems accordingly to fit into pre-defined pigeonholes they do injustice to the ground-breaking, multifaceted and dynamic aspect of poetry. Classification is artificial and is a petty academic exercise, one that will be eschewed by those of us who appreciate the raw and organic flow of each individual poet's unique voice. Unlike other literary genres, poetry cannot and should not be approached in a sterile scholarly fashion. By nature it defies clinical analysis, and "thank god" for that.

Academics have done their busy best to build a suffocating mausoleum around the living and ever mutating organism that is poetry. Let’s stop them dead in their tracks before they add more layers of insulation.

Whereas the history of poetry throughout the ages is certainly describable, the essence of poetry is not.

A lot of clever people have felt compelled to say a lot of clever things about poetry or about individual poems, appointing themselves authorities on poetic merit. But that is beside the point. The point being, that poems cannot be evaluated, they must be taken in. At best you can render a personal opinion, and that is fine, but any claim to authoritative judgment is sheer hubris.

Poetry does not address itself to the intellect alone, rather it targets the heart and soul. You might as well try to answer the question 'What is soul?', an equally pointless undertaking.

If and when you read or hear a poem that speaks to you, then you will know what poetry is, what it is to YOU. When you come across a poem that leaves you cold, that poem is no less poetry than is the one you intuitively respond to.

Poetry is not 'this' or 'that', 'iambic' or 'assonant', 'lyric' or 'dramatic', 'right' or 'wrong'. Poetry just is. It exists in the realm of the personal, of the subjective, of the sensual, of the evocative, of the experimental, of the intangible, of the magical.

It is my belief, and strictly my own, that in order to get a grasp on poetry, a certain emotional self-confidence is required. By that I mean, if you are ready to look under the rug and treat with the feelings that you have swept there, then you are ready to give yourself over to poetry.

As my own poetry gains in popularity, I get invited to perform my poems at many different public venues. In general, those people who attend my readings are already equipped with a willingness to set aside all reason, to open themselves up to the irrational and embark on a magical journey that leads to points unknown. Not infrequently I do attract newcomers to poetry. I consider it my responsibility as a poet to unchain them from all preconceptions and empower them to boldly jump into the open waters of unpredictability as my poems carry them along,"
Ana Elsner

For amplification and illustration: Click to read POETRY, Ana Elsner's signature poem


Thursday, October 8, 2009

CIPHERS (book)

CIPHERS OF UNCOMMON ORIGIN - Poems By Ana Elsner, Volume I is Elsner's first book of poetry. It is a selection from Elsner's early work. Though modest in size with 28 pages, it packs a punch with compelling imagery, powerful message and meticulously crafted language.
CIPHERS has garnered only positive reviews from poetry greats like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Hirschman. You can find these reviews on the publisher's site (see link below). Other reviewers have joined in the chorus of praise.
"Ana Elsner writes from her heart, full of empathy for the fate of man. Hers is a sensitive soul which she is unafraid to lay bare. Her words ring true and hang in the air long after the page has been turned. Listen",
- Terry Tarnoff, author of The Bone Man of Benares

CIPHERS sports a bright yellow, modern art cover and easy-to-read print. It was published in June of 2007 by InstaPLANET Press as part of their Language Maker Poetry Series. The publisher's website states:
"InstaPLANET Press is an independent small press, established in 2007 in San Francisco, California. We are passionate about poetry. Here, the word is the poet's paintbrush. We specialize in publishing new and original collections of bold and multifaceted poems that contribute to the enrichment of the contemporary poetry scene."

A quote from the Wikipedia article on small presses:
"Since the profit margins for small presses can be narrow, many are driven by other motives, including the desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market. Small presses tend to fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. ..."

It is a sad but well-known fact that poetry is not a significantly commercial product. The market for poetry is minuscule compared to that of other literary genres. Therefore the large publishing houses shy away from taking a chance on, and incurring a considerable expense in, publishing it, with the exception of keeping up the well-established standard stock of textbook poets, mostly deceased, whose names assure 'brand name recognition' and a steady trickle of sales. That fact does not make contemporary poetry any less important in literary society, it does, however, curtail its widespread dissemination.
That is where small poetry presses come in: If you investigate their literary offerings, you will find them to be a vast reservoir of contemporary voices that are compelling and mind-broadening, albeit continuously marginalized.

Small and relatively obscure publishers like InstaPLANET Press are not just worthy of, but are indeed dependent on the literary public's support. That support must translate into the act of purchasing small press publications. This is the only way that their survival can be assured.

To purchase your copy of
see link below.

-:- -:- -:-

- Amendment to this article -

Ana Elsner made the following remarks:

"Thank you for bringing the subject of small independent presses to the reading public's attention. Yes, many small to very small presses cannot hold their heads above the swift current of insolvency. The idealism and ambition with which they started out may not survive the harsh realities of running a business, however small. They fold quietly without leaving so much as a ripple. I have seen this happen before. So what are your options.

First of all, let's be honest, the odds of your poetry being accepted for publication by 'the big guys' are slim unless you are a national poet laureate or have already established a foothold in the business of poetry.

By way of an alternative, you do take a chance when sending your work to be published by a small and relatively unknown press. In my case, I was swept off my feet by the fervor and dedication of the folks at InstaPLANET Press. At the same time, I was aware that they might not make it in the long run. However, I am not contractually bound and retain copyrights so that in the event that they go under, I am free to take my content to another press or incorporate it into another manuscript or do with it whatever I please.

Among the benefits of letting a small press publish your work is that they pay you a much higher share of the profits from sales, up to three times the industry standard. Moreover, after they recovered their initial investment in production and related services, InstaPLANET Press now lets me buy unlimited copies at cost+ % so that I can sell my books myself and can still give the buyer a discount on the full retail price. This works out nicely since I sell many copies at each of my readings when folks want them autographed.

You have to consider that my product is poetry, not exactly a best-seller. The volume of sales will always be limited even if I go with an established publishing house. Sure, they offer better marketing and distribution. But with giving book stores the right to return unsold merchandise and with royalty payments being very modest, I venture a guess that I am getting the same or maybe even more money by operating on a much smaller scale.

Of course, this might play out very differently for authors who produce novels, sci-fi, romances and works in genres that empirically have mass-appeal.

The reason I am sharing these details is that from my experience I can resoundingly recommend small presses to my fellow poets. The profit margin is higher, the cost of buying copies for your own purposes is lower, and you retain sole authority over the fate of your work,"
Ana Elsner

Buying versus Borrowing

A word about Public Libraries

Due to reliance on outside funding and the budgetary and space constraints that derive from it, and in light of a tremendous volume of books submitted, every entry undergoes the most stringent review process by professional librarians and departmental editorial staff before a decision is made to include it in the catalog and give it shelf space. The San Francisco Public Library and the Poets House National Library of American Poetry Books are two venerable institutions. The fact that CIPHERS was selected by both speaks to its significance in contemporary literature.

CIPHERS OF UNCOMMON ORIGIN - Poems By Ana Elsner is available for borrowing

on the West Coast at

The San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin Street (at Grove), San Francisco, CA, Third Floor, Poetry Collection (check shelf)

on the East Coast at

Poets House National Library of American Poetry Books, 10 River Terrace, Battery Park, New York, N.Y. (stacks)

: :

CIPHERS can be purchased directly from the publisher
by clicking here

Buy a copy today
and add it to your personal library.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

POETRY (poem)

Ana Elsner starts most of her reading engagements with her poem titled POETRY, which is ideally suited to open the hearts and minds of her audience and prepare them for what is to come.


At first

you resist

its power

to throw you off guard,

to strip you

of your defenses,

but without poetry,

what else

could ever reveal

the universal

in the personal,

what else

could ever lift

the blindfold




© Ana Elsner

From CIPHERS Of Uncommon Origin - Poems By Ana Elsner, Volume I
[reprinted by permission]


Related: Ana Elsner takes a stand on poetry.

Click to read article


Looking back (events)

For the past three years Ana Elsner organized and featured in many public events in her ongoing effort to raise the popularity and status of poetry and to bring it before as wide and diverse an audience as possible.

The San Francisco Public Library presents a poetry program featuring Ana Elsner Laura Griffiths performs with poet Ana Elsner
Archive / Images - Caption: Poet Ana Elsner makes her debut at the San Francisco Public Library on June 12, 2007 with a program she designed and titled THE SOUNDING REED. Her invited guest musician was oboist Laura Griffiths.


"Poetry is often overlooked among the literary genres. I believe that if I can give newcomers to contemporary poetry a tantalizing taste of it, I will win them over and make them more receptive to it. Toward this end I will leave no proverbial stone unturned," Ana Elsner

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Here are some highlights from 2008.
For event details please click on the 'press release' links.


- February 2008

POETRY IN BLACK AND WHITE, TWO COLORS - TWO VOICES: devorah major and Ana Elsner join forces at the San Francisco Public Library
For this program, designed to honor Black History Month, Ana Elsner invited devorah major, former Poet Laureate, to participate in a powerful poetry performance dialog demonstrating the coming together of two colors and two distinctive voices.
An excerpt from Elsner's introductory remarks:
"Good evening. ... We are here on the occasion of Black History month. This is the time we pay attention to the realities and concerns of blacks in American society. This is the time we listen to the voices of legends like Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou. And this year it is the time America prepares to elect the first African American president. This is our time to take a giant step in overcoming racism and prejudice and say with one voice and in unison: Yes We Can! ..."
See press release

- April 2008

Bi-lingual poet Ana Elsner celebrates National Poetry Month with a reading of poems by one of the greatest German language poets, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926). Elsner read her own Rilke translations as well as those of other translators.
See press release

- June 2008

Taking a cue from the 19th century European 'café society', Ana Elsner put on a show of poetry and music at one of the cafes in the famous San Francisco North Beach district.
See press release

- September 2008

Featured poet Ana Elsner presented a diverse selection of her poems, speaking to all who open their hearts and minds to poetry, followed by conversation and book signing.
An excerpt from Elsner's introductory remarks:
"Good evening. ... I could step behind this lectern and deliver a talk on a particular subject matter, lay it out with logic and exactitude, develop it, cite sources and statistics, and wrap it up neatly with an elegant conclusion. And then you would go home, knowing a little bit more about that particular subject and leave it at that.
But this is not what is going to happen here tonight. Tonight is all about poetry. Poetry touches on many different subjects at once. And when I say 'touches on', I mean 'touches us'.
Poetry is not neutral or topical like a lecture, but rather it is variegated and personal, and will affect each individual differently, that is what makes it so magical.
Poetry is intuitive. It is intuitively conceived by the poet, and is intuitively perceived by you, the audience. ... Tonight you will take home not knowledge, but a lasting emotional impression and hopefully a new inquisitiveness that makes you want to further explore contemporary poetry. That is my aim. ..."
See press release


A collage of past events

Click here to see a typical example of Ana Elsner's strategies to attract a diversified crowd


Paying tribute to William Oliver Everson

On September 17, 2008, William Oliver Everson aka Brother Antoninus, the "Beat Friar", was inducted into the permanent collection of The Beat Museum in San Francisco. This unique museum displays memorabilia from well-known beat legends such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassidy and other prominent beat poets.

A special event was held in William Oliver Everson's honor, featuring testimony by his friends and contemporaries, as well as readings from his poems. Ana Elsner was among the poets and friends who paid tribute to Everson's life and work. Elsner read three of his poems: "O Poets! Shamans of the word!", "The Raid" (1948) and "War Elegy XI" (1943).
An abbreviated biography of William Oliver Everson (1912-1994)

Everson was born in Sacramento, California, of an agnostic Norwegian immigrant bandmaster and printer and a Christian Scientist mother. He was a cannery worker and laborer for the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1932-33 and worked as a farmer in the mid-1930s. After he encountered the poetry of Robinson Jeffers he discovered his own vocation as a poet. As a conscientious objector he was assigned to the forestry service from 1943-46. After WWII he joined the anarcho-pacifist group of poets surrounding Kenneth Rexroth. He became an influential member of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance and was commonly identified as a Beat poet. In 1951 he joined the Dominican order, was ordained as a Roman Catholic monk and named Brother Antoninus. After leaving the monastery in 1969, he turned his energies toward critical writing, printing, teaching, and editing. During the entire period from 1957 until his death from Parkinson's Disease in 1994, Everson gave countless poetry readings across the United States and Europe and published more than fifty volumes of poetry, prose, autobiographical material and literary criticism.

Among many other poets, Ana Elsner was inspired by Everson's poetic voice. Elsner was honored to have been given the opportunity to be a part of this special tribute.


Related: Click to read about another legend of The Beat Generation, internationally renowned poet, artist and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Ana remembers TonyAnother tribute: click to read a poem by Ana Elsner honoring fellow poet Tony Vaughan (1947-2008)