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“The phrase ‘silk road’ delighted me from when I was a kid.  I pictured it as a luscious throughway of fabric, perhaps an endless shimmer in a fairy tale.” - Daneen Wardrop, Etruscan author of Silk Road

A New Silk Road: An Interview with Daneen Wardrop

 
Great literature takes many forms and can often involve extensive research to create a piece that is accurate and also impacts the reader. For her book of poetry entitled Silk Road, Etruscan author Daneen Wardrop delved into the past to create poems that give readers a view of the Silk Road from the perspective of an often forgotten historical figure, Donata Badoer, the wife of Marco Polo. Silk Road offers an intimate perspective on historical events, while bringing to life the experience of a woman who feels contemporary.
 
When it came to the research involved in writing Silk Road, Wardrop read various books and articles and immersed herself in the life of the Silk Road. She says, though, that it was not a difficult or unenjoyable process. “Some of us are NatGeo type nerds and some of us aren’t.  I just happen to be guilty. I read Polo’s book, The Travels of Marco Polo, and supporting books. If anyone’s interested, there’s a slew of material: for instance, Laurence Bergreen’s 2007 Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu is eminently readable, and Sharon Kinoshita’s 2016 translation, The Description of the World offers a fresh perspective.
 
“I was lucky to visit Venice, which certainly contributed to research. It was a boon to see the artwork first-hand—Venetian glass, paintings, the narrow, mysterious streets. When you’re there it’s easy to comprehend how the sea is everything. These days the sea is having its way with Venice more and more. You can be sitting at an outdoor cafe and feel a small fountain of ocean spray up by your table through a crack in the cement. 
 
“I also had the opportunity a few years ago to visit Suzhou, China, and that was important research, too. Like Venice, Suzhou in the Middle Ages was built on water, so is full of bridges, and was one of the most mercantile cities in the world. The starting point of Silk Road was a rising image of Suzhou’s and Venice’s bridges spanning cities and continents in camaraderie, and that image was Donata’s vision.”   
 
Wardrop did not just decide to write about Donata out of the blue, though. She describes it as if Donata was asking Wardrop to tell her story. “Generally speaking, it feels like the persona chooses me. A person from history will get under my skin to the point that I can hear her voice, and when that happens I transcribe what she’s saying onto paper. Some time ago I’d been reading a National Geographic featuring Marco Polo and found myself attracted to his character…What would it have been like to live with him and raise children, and also create a life of your own? Donata Polo seemed to want to tell me that, and I started scrawling.”
 
Why write a persona poem as Donata, though? Why not Marco Polo, or someone else in their lives? “The personae who attract me are unknown or relatively unknown people. Donata is mostly erased in history: born Donata Badoer, she came from a prosperous Venetian family, married Marco after he returned from his travels, and they had three daughters. That’s about it, in terms of the information we have about her.”
 
Donata is not the first overlooked historical figure that Wardrop has written about. In her previous book, Cyclorama, she wrote in the persona of a woman from the era of the United States Civil War. “These were nurses, female soldiers, prostitutes, mothers, officer’s wives.  The subject of the Civil War is more written about than any other subject, and yet there are relatively very few portrayals of women. Women lived through that period every bit as much as men…There’s still so much catch-up work to be done in terms of gender, and where the historical record lacks precision, I think it’s incumbent upon us to fill in the time line with responsible imagination.”
 
Wardrop’s interest in the Silk Road started as a young girl, and has presented itself as a presence in her adult life with Silk Road. “The phrase ‘silk road’ delighted me from when I was a kid.  I pictured it as a luscious throughway of fabric, perhaps an endless shimmer in a fairy tale.  At some point, of course, I learned that it was a continental network of global exchange [of commodities]…Horribly, enslaved people were also treated as commodities. Though repelled by the violence that some transactions involved, I was also heartened by the instances of people coming together through trade…Not only were people of many countries involved but also of many religions—Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists. That’s some serious diversity.”
 
It was not only the concept of trade that pulled Wardrop in. She found herself relating to Donata and Marco on a personal level. “I’m also obsessed with how people cope with moving. I grew up moving about once a year when I was a kid, and one tends to re-find one’s center as one moves. Perhaps the need to re-find becomes more apparent when geography makes inevitable that mutable center. The constant change of environment and self is at the same time enlivening and wrenching. Marco seems to have moved and changed with panache, lucky fellow.”
 
However, Wardrop finds the amount of wealth that the Polo family held in reference to the rest of the population was astounding. “Donata Polo lived in one of the most global, most affluent cities in the world during her lifetime, and as a noblewoman…she would have found many goods available to her. As a middle class American I certainly experience how global riches are accessible to United States citizens, though of course most of us can’t fully access such products in the way the ‘one percent’ does.”
 
“On a more personal level, as a family member involved in international adoption, I’m painfully aware of the discrepancies in prosperity in different parts of the world and feel connected across the nations in that way. China is more or less always my subject, or perhaps my subject is always the bridge between two countries, or two people, or two conditions of wellbeing, or suffering, or the travels we make in finding each other. I understand these dynamics in terms of pragmatism and emotion, both.”
 
Daneen Wardrop continues to entrance readers with her historical persona poems with Silk Road, bringing new life to the Silk Road and reminding us all of the effects of global trade in global and local terms. Silk Road reminds us that, while men may often be the face of history, they are not the only ones who experienced it.
 
Kelci Piavis is a former Etruscan intern and graduate of Wilkes University. She explores worlds—both real and imaginary—with literature.
 

New Releases from Etruscan

We’re proud to welcome Daneen Wardrop’s Silk Road to the Etruscan Press family.
 
Silk Road is a collection of poems written in the persona of Marco Polo’s wife, Donata Badoer, as she perceives a newly connected world while attending to her everyday activities in Medieval Venice.
 
Donata Badoer lived an unrecorded life with her husband Marco and their three daughters. While a plethora of material by and about Marco is available, very little about Donata exists. Silk Road is written in the voice of a figure who, effaced by history, compels the act of reimagining as Donata turns in unbidden moments to perceive a Venice accelerating from Mediterranean port to global hub. Donata’s reveries arise in the breach between her home in Venice, Italy, and Marco’s travels in Suzhou, China, prompting her to apprehend the ways eastern and western hemispheres coincide and collide, the ways the spice, silk, and jewel trades have resulted in the financing of warfare and slavery, such apprehension affecting also her intimacy with her husband. She perceives as well how the construction of stories, such as those Marco tells, carry a power that affects the interchanges between these newly intertwined worlds of East and West. Though Donata lives during the middle ages, she thinks as a kind of global citizen, albeit staying at home. Donata exists in the vivid divide between regions at odds, even as her meditations find a geopolitical brace of camaraderie.
 
 
We’re also proud to welcome Brian Coughlan’s Wattle & daub to the Etruscan Press family.
 
At once hilarious and unsettling, Coughlan’s stories deftly probe at the darkness and absurdity of our lives.
 
The world of Wattle & daub is inhabited by mysterious and peculiar creatures: a woman who fears the living thing in her apartment walls; an office-based streaker with an axe to grind; automatons that finally recognize their creator; a terminally ill man resorting to hypnotism to quit smoking; the couple who conceive an alarm clock; a dying brain unspooling receding memories of a funfair. Billy O’Callaghan, author of The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind, says, “With this finely-wrought debut collection, Brian Coughlan proves himself a master at catching those moments when the ordinary world turns askew and stories twist into being. These are tales that bristle with life, in the way that all the best ones should, and they will assure readers, hopefully worldwide, that the fine and good tradition of the Irish Short Story is alive and kicking. A hugely impressive first book from a big talent.”
 
Etruscan Press Renews Affiliation with Wilkes University
Etruscan Press is proud to announce the renewal of a three-year affiliation with Wilkes University. Housed on the Wilkes campus since 2005, we continue to celebrate this shared commitment to the continued growth of academic internship, stewardship, and the enrichment of the community. Following are some of the achievements Etruscan is proud to share with Wilkes University:
 
  • Joined United Airlines Books on the Fly, an outreach partnership at Boston Logan International Airport that allows United customers to select books to read on cross-country flights. The outreach initiative now includes books donated by Etruscan Press and faculty from the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University.
  • Provided study guides for educators to assist in reading comprehension, to offer writing prompts for further exploration, and to nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices.
  • Etruscan Press author Aaron Poochigian visited Wilkes earlier this year to record the audiobook of his debut novel-in-verse, Mr. Either/Or (Etruscan Press, 2017). The recording sessions were completed at WCLH, the Wilkes University campus radio station facility located in the Karambelas Media and Communication Center. In between recording sessions, Poochigian observed Wilkes instructor Bernie Kovacs’ poetry writing workshop, conducted a reading from Mr. Either/Or, and was interviewed by local newspapers The Citizens’ Voice and The Times Leader. In between takes, he took some time out to explain his early love of poetry and how this love came full circle in the recording of his book.
  • Etruscan Prize awarded to Sarah Bedford of Hunlock Creek, PA for a work of memoir (judged by Etruscan author Bruce Bond)

About Etruscan Press:

Housed at Wilkes University and partnering with Youngstown State University, Etruscan is a non-profit literary press working to produce and promote books that nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices.

For the latest Etruscan events, please visit our website.
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