Olga Karman

March 27, 2020

Olga Karman was born in Havana, Cuba and lived there until she was twenty years and two months old. Her teenage years coincided with Fidel Castro’s armed struggle and eventual rise to power. “How exciting it was listening to Radio Rebelde every night over our short wave radio. I was in the crowd welcoming Fidel to Havana in 1959, but I was so emocionada when Fidel passed by on a tank that I forgot to pitch the flowers I had brought for el màximo lider.”

Karman left Cuba in 1960 and lived in North Stonington, an isolated part of Connecticut very distant from vibrant Havana, from her uncle’s farm where she’d gathered mangoes and guavas to feed the pigs. To save herself from the emptiness of North Stonington and the torment of a miserable marriage, she resumed her college education at nearby Connecticut College for Women. As a part-time commuter with a nine-month-old daughter, she was “an oddity” in 1963. When she graduated in 1966 with letters of acceptance from Princeton and Harvard, the news hit the local paper. “It made no sense to my neighbor Judy. ‘Funny,’ she said over the phone, ‘you don’t look that smart.'” Karman received her Ph.D. in 1976.

Karman moved to Buffalo from Boston in 1976 where her first poem was published in The Buffalo News. “Knowing it was coming, I jogged to the 7-11 in my pajamas very early that Sunday morning, grabbed the paper, opened it to the poetry page and proclaimed out loud to the 4 or 5 men who had dragged themselves there, although they were not completely sober yet: ‘My poem is here!’ I read it for them and, in return, they did not allow me to pay for the paper. They were my first and last paying public.”

Karman is the author of two chapbooks, a memoir, Scatter My Ashes Over Havana, and some short stories. “I give readings all over the place. My jig is almost up. My twin and I will turn 80 this September. Stay tuned for our fiesta con mùsica cubana in California.



A Cuban Spends an Evening with a Real American


The tall, thin man in the checkered wool shirt

is the son of a son of a Pilgrim

a Mayflower man.

Notice the tapered fingers.

His black-and-tan Setters run

in ferns and moss, laurel and fir.

Ideal Setters in an ideal

New Hampshire pine forest.


All is old in this Winnipeasaukee house.

Everyone is well-rooted in Tidewater past

and Connecticut rectories. The thin cups

are from the mission years in China.


The sun sets, evening opens.

We bring the basket

to the round oak table

and begin to match

our pick of mushrooms

to the glossy illustrations

in the Audubon Field Guide.

He names the Yellow Chanterelles,

The Old Man of the Woods,

the Yellow Amanita (“don’t touch that one!”)

— one mushroom per page, pristine, exotic.

I’m learning a new world and a new word.



After dinner, he shows me

family photos of refined ladies

and towering gentlemen, laughing girls

almost tipping an Indian canoe,

a small black dog from a vanished breed.


I can see my island far away,

flying trees, exposed roots

and fallen birds’ nests

in a September hurricane

that has left almost nothing standing.




Morning song

of mortar and pestle

on strong cumin seed

(I am bringing you lunch)

Sweet song of red currant,

cinnamon bark for fragrance

(Your dogs will run to my hands)

Aroma of turmeric from China or India

(Damp fieldstones the path)

Tomatoes: pulp, juice, and seeds

(From the porch the finches will sing)

The sharpness of scallions

(The house will be dark.

In the rooms,

the spirits of leaves

remembrance of rain.)

Smell, I will say, the cumin.

Let the grains slip through your hand,

prayer beads, bits of sand.

We will taste. We will quicken

the beams in your house.

The floorboards and sills

Will come level and plumb.





Starched white uniform

scented with violet water

hairnet in place

Bibì watches over us

from the wicker chair

she tucks in the sand

under the almond trees.


8 o´clock, the ocean pastel blue


Bobby and I press

our molds into the sand.

¨Look, Bibì,

Bobby made a starfish!”

and then Bobby pulls on her hem,


“Bibì, Olguita made an octopus, mirà!”


She buries her soles deeper

into the cool sand and sings us

a lullaby I will hum into old age


Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul

con zapatos blancos y medias de tul.


I have a doll all dressed in blue

with white shoes on and socks of tulle



Published by Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings is the author of three collections from Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC): Shakespeare & Stein Walk Into a Bar (2016); Nighthawks (2014); and Cloud Fire (2012), as well as several chapbooks. Poet laureate emerita of Sonoma County, CA, Hastings edited Know Me Here — An Anthology of Poetry by Women; Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County; and What Redwoods Know — Poems from California State Parks, published as a benefit for the California State Parks Foundation when 70 parks were faced with permanent closure. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Book of Forms — A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, Lewis Putnam Turco, editor); Verde Que Te Quiero Verde — Poems After Federico Garcia Lorca (Open Country Press, Natalie Peeterse, Editor); Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center, Joseph Zaccardi, editor); Beatitude — Golden Anniversary (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, editors), among others. She hosted WordTemple on NPR affiliate KRCB FM from 2017 — 2017 and founded the WordTemple Poetry Series in Sonoma County (2006 — 2017) where she also taught craft-focused poetry workshops. Following the October 2017 wildfires, Hastings moved with her partner to Western New York in 2018. "Shakespeare & Stein Walk in to Bar is animated by the two most rewarding and replenishing of poetic forces: dexterous formal diversity and a fierce, unflinching searching..." — Malachi Black "Rooted in what Hastings calls the "momentary forever," these marvelous poems, so rich with detail and so full of duende, explore the paradoxes of transience. Yes, the poet reminds us: 'The alarm is set and ticking' for each least thing in the living world..." — Susan Kelly-DeWitt On Cloud Fire: "Lovely...it's your veiled history." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti "For Katherine Hastings, 'The mirror is a lake of longing'. Her poems are told us by 'a woman with a moon in her chest;' their surprising images embrace close observation, deeply dramatized love and losses, and have the power of crossing boundaries of spirit to reveal truths otherwise unseen." — Daniel Hoffman, US Poet Laureate, 1973 — 1974

One thought on “Olga Karman

  1. What a great life story Olga has! Thanks for featuring her, Katherine. If only newspapers still had a poetry section.

    Jodi Hottel



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