Sunday, September 30, 2018

Two Poems for Right Now

Sunset over Potato Fields, Monday at Harmony Fields
I took this photograph six days ago ago at Harmony Fields, yet so much has changed since then that I hardly recognize that it hasn't even been a week: this was before Dr. Blasey-Ford's testimony, before two brave women, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, confronted Senator Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator and before he changed the course of history --- at least for one week; we hope for more.

Lucillle Clifton and Adrienne Rich are two important poets for me (for American poetry) that I return to again and again. The day after the 2016 election I shared the Clifton poem with my Highline College students. I'll never forget one young man sitting with this poem and then articulating his thoughts and ideas about it beyond anything he had done in class before. He illuminated the levels of this piece for me, for the entire class, in a new and necessary way. He brought in the idea of immigration, the trip many of my students have taken in boats, in braving a new world. I share these pieces now as a way to hold onto sanity in this new insane time. May they be of help to you, too.


blessing the boats

BY LUCILLE CLIFTON

                           (at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


What Kind of Times Are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Such a Good Mix: The Poetry of Travel and the Travel of Poetry

Calico Cats in Morocco's Blue City: Chefchaouen

I love poetry and I love travel. When the two join together, it feels like my life makes sense. All day I've been thinking about my favorite poems concerning travel for a class I'm teaching this weekend at a beautiful family farm in Bow-Edison, Harmony Fields

For about 20 years I kept this one poem in my wallet. Then it lived on a bulletin board in my office  and recently, it migrated to the kitchen. I like that it's been with me since December 1994. I think this was my first year subscribing to the New Yorker Magazine. I had just let my apartment in Harvard Square for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest for graduate school. I missed the grit of the Boston accent, the cold stare of strangers, the bookstores. 

This poem spoke to me --- my decade plus of living faraway in Africa, Europe, and working in the Arab world. More than two years away from the US, I entered New York via JFK only to have the customs officer question if I was making up the country of Niger. He was angry with me for coming from a place he didn't know. 

Seamus Heaney never included this in any of his books. I don't know why but I suspect that perhaps it was too internal, so common and uncommon at once. See what you think. 



Far Away

When I answered that I came from “far away”
The policeman at the roadblock snapped “where’s that”?
He’d only half heard what I said and thought
It was the name of some place up the country.

And now it is both where I have been living
And where I left --- a distance still to go
Like starlight that is light years on the go
From faraway and takes light years returning.

~Seamus Heaney, The New Yorker, December 26, 1994

Friday, September 14, 2018

Some of my favorite things: poetry, farmland, and food



Harmony Fields Forever!

Cheese, donkeys. ducks, eggs, herbs, and sheep! It's a wonderful litany of some of the joys of Harmony Fields where I will be teaching a half day poetry workshop very soon! I first met Jess Gigot when she contacted me for some advice when her poetry collection, Flood Patterns, which was about to be released.  We met over Skype(!) and I advised her on book promotion,  tours, and travel --- but honestly, she had figured out much of the poetry biz for herself.  As a farmer, fiction writer, musician, poet, and visual artist --- she is a woman of many talents which is why I'm so happy to be teaching at her farm!

Bow-Edison is an easy drive from Seattle and a gorgeous place to stop at the many farm stands and one of the coolest bakeries anywhere in the world, Bread Farm. It is worth the trip just to visit this world-class bakery!

Okay. I meant to write about my upcoming class on "The Poetry of Travel: How to Write of  the Extraordinary," but I've gotten carried away thinking of miniature donkeys and bread!

Here's a little information about my class! Limited to 12 participants; we welcome all people! Please know that travel can mean to travel back in time; to travel via the imagination; to travel towards the future.




The Poetry of Travel: How to Write of  the Extraordinary

Anais Nin once wrote, “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” And whether the destination is Paris, Marrakesh, or the Pike Place Fish Market — the art of translation from one realm to the other remains the same conundrum. This workshop is for anyone who has traveled in the world of the imagination and/or the physical realm. We’ll look at the work of several poet-travelers and then write pieces of our own. You will leave with the starts of at least four new poems or flash fiction pieces. This class is geared towards beginners and experienced writers, and for poets as well as flash fiction writers. Local lunch provided.

Instructor:  Susan RichWebsitehttp://poet.susanrich.net/
Date September 22, 2018: 11:00 am - 2:00 pm

LocationHarmony FieldsCost (including lunch) $80.00
Contact360-941-8196 or farm@harmonyfields.com
To register:  check out Harmony Fields Event Page

Thursday, September 6, 2018

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers? Thanks to Nimrod Journal~


The poet as a young Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
And here's my answer:

Keep writing and reading and surrounding yourself with people who do the same. Glean something new from every poem you read, every teacher you have. One of the beautiful things about saying yes to the call of writing is that you will always be a student of word and sound and syntax.



Thank you to Eilias and Nimrod Journal for this interview. I am honored to be in the current issue Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, My poem, "17 Years After Her Death, Cousin Molly Appears to Me Outside Kuppels Bagel Bakery." You can read the rest of it right here.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Returning to an Old Love - Joseph Cornell

Cockatoo (Aviary and Watches) circa 1948
   I believe I first came in contact with Joseph Cornell through the poetry of Charles Simic. Simic's Dime-Store Alchemy published in 1992 was one of the first hardback books of poetry I bought. I have to admit that the cover had a good deal to do with my choice --- as did the title, Dime-Store Alchemy. Rereading this book now I realize it was one of the first project-based collections that I had encountered. Simic stated that he wanted to approximate in poetry what Cornell did with visual assemblage.

In his introduction to his own book, Charles Simic writes of Cornell:
"Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. 


Once together they'll make a work of art. That's Cornell's premise, his metaphysics, and his religion....[3]:14 Marcel Duchamp and John Cage use chance operation to get rid of the subjectivity of the artist. For Cornell it's the opposite. To submit to chance is to reveal the self and its obsessions."



 "My work was a natural outcome of my love for the city," Cornell said. 

     Cornell couldn’t draw or paint. He didn’t consider himself an artist, instead he called himself a “maker” or “designer.” Living in New York City in the depression, Cornell became a collector of small objects and photographs, things he found on his walks through the city.

    One day in 1931, Cornell visited Julian Levy as he prepared photographs by Alfred Stieglitz for show. Levy was just about to open the Julien Levy Gallery, and Cornell watched as Levy unpacked new surrealist collages by Max Ernst. This sparked Cornell to go home and make his own collages, using the photographs he’d been collecting. He brought the collages back to Levy, and his work debued along with the surrealists from Paris: Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Salvador Dali in the 1932 exhibition Surréalisme at the Julien Levy Gallery, the first Surrealist exhibit in America. One of Cornell’s first collages ended up being the show postcard. (Guardian)


   Much is known (and repeated) about Cornell. He lived on Utopia Parkway, Flushing, NY  and never left the Northeastern United States. He lived with his mother and his younger brother, living alone after they'd both passed on. Cornell had no formal training as an artist, he made his living selling textiles. By all accounts, his life experiences were not vast or wide. And yet that mattered little in the making of his art.

  And long after many mid-century artists seem forgotten or locked in another time, Cornell seems to only become more relevant, more exciting. I recently learned that Leonora Carrington lived in the states for 25 years --- in New York and in Chicago. I can't help thinking the two of them would have had much to talk about. And perhaps they did meet, did walk through Central Park and comment on the pigeons. Perhaps.