Posted by: wordrunner | April 1, 2021

April 2021

April 1, 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

field of lupineAs I write this, I’m heading to the big south, Big Sur, to catch sight of condors and walk the steep hillsides of lupine and poppies. Seven years ago, I led a Sitting Room year-long workshop on the poetry and lyrical drama of Robinson Jeffers, who built his iconic Tor House along the shoreline of what is now 17 Mile Drive, and who lived deeply in the landscape of Big Sur. For a field trip, we spent a weekend in the Monterey area, took a private tour of Tor House, wrote together in Jeffers’s library, visited Point Lobos and the Big Sur Coast. The images of his poems followed us everywhere, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say we followed his images where they led us. In one particularly memorable poem, “Vulture,” the speaker addresses a vulture/condor circling over him, and imagines after his death that these winged scavengers will free his spirit from flesh and bones, and that he will fly with the condors.

Vulture
by Robinson Jeffers
 
vultureI had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer. I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Beak downward staring. I said, “My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.” But how beautiful he looked,
   gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak and become part of
   him, to share those wings and those eyes—
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.
 
Jeffers’s poetry often has a brutal realism, which he celebrates alongside the beauty of the natural world. His poetry expresses a philosophy that displaces the human from the center of creation and shifts our relationship to the natural world away from the Biblical dominion over all other creatures. He called his philosophy “Inhumanism,” and much of his work was designed to alert readers to the mental and spiritual danger of human self-centeredness, to awaken them to an order of beauty and truth beyond the human realm.

Ascension Point, Ventana, Big Sur Spirit Portal
Ascension PointWhere I’m headed is a place called Ascension Point, high on the ridge above Ventana and Nepenthe. The word ventana means window in Spanish. Local Spanish speakers in Big Sur gave this area its name because the Chumash Indians used it as a place for sky-burials, and saw it as a gateway or portal for souls entering and departing and arriving the planet-sphere. The veil between spirit world and our world is supposed to be very thin at a portal, allowing a space for souls to depart and spirits to pierce through.Besides being a sacred portal, Ascension Point is also one of the places where the California Condors are released to make their way back to the wild.

A Year of Pandemic Shelter-in-Place
Over the years of monthly posts with Sonoma County Literary Update, I’ve taken a look at various spring rituals. Recently, as I was preparing a reading of spring poems, I was reminded of the etymology of March, the martial month and the opening of the season of warfare. Perhaps this connection between spring and the ritual of war has something to do with how brutal this season can sometimes feel. And after a year of mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, sanitizing, isolation, distance learning, Zooming, and grieving those we have lost, the emergence from our long Covid winter feels like a painful rebirth. But one with hope.

One of the consequences of this isolation is how suggestible we’ve become, especially in response to social media. Perhaps you’ll find yourselves engaged in (or the merry victim of) an April Fool’s prank today. One of my favorite such pranks dates to 1976, and is known as the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect. As reported on Wikipedia, British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners of BBC Radio 2 that unique alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 am that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience “a strange floating sensation.” Dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment had worked, among them a woman who reported that she and her 11 friends were “wafted from their chairs and orbited gently around the room.”

April Readings with Rivertown Poets on April 5 and April 19
I want to take this opportunity to invite you all to tune in to Rivertown Poets this month. On April 5 at 6:15 pm. I’ll be reading with Phyllis Klein, and on April 19, Eliot Schain and Patrick Cahill will present from their 2020 publications from Sixteen Rivers Press.

Join the meeting at: https://zoom.us/j/6508887879 or just show up at aqus.com/online. Click on “Weekly Poetry Reading.” No password needed.

For those of you who attended the reading I gave last Sunday with the Village Poets of Southern California, thank you for coming! The reading I’m putting together for Rivertown Poets on April 5 will feature a different set of poems, so if you’re inclined, you can tune in again and, of course, you’ll also be able to hear the amazing Phyllis Klein. If you wish, you can share your own poems during open mic.

While I’m at it, let me put in a plug for Sixteen Rivers Press and a shout-out to Sande Anfang. Like all nonprofits and small, independent publishers, Sixteen Rivers has struggled through this pandemic year. It was hard to launch new books like Eliot’s and Patrick’s without our usual debut at AWP, the fanfare of launches, readings, and celebratory events. I’m so grateful to Sande Anfang, who made the shift from live monthly readings at Aqus Café to online Zoom readings, and who has generously offered reading spots to writers with 2020 books that might have otherwise been lost in the pandemic lock-down.

Sixteen Rivers is running an online Fundly fund-raiser this month, along with our launch of two new poetry publications. The books are Dust Bowl Venus, by Stella Beratlis, and The World Is God’s Language, by Dane Cervine. If you’d like to check out sample poems from these new collections or even order the books, you will find all you need at www.sixteenrivers.org.

And if you’d like to contribute to the Sixteen Rivers Fundraiser, here’s the link: https://fundly.com/spring-fundraiser-4

April Spotlights
Here are some of the spectacular events coming up in April. Many more are listed on the Calendar page.

Most of us have been following Poet Laureate Emerita Iris Dunkle’s launch this year of her amazing biography of Charmian London, and her new collection of poems, West : Fire : Archive. You can hear Iris talk about how her archival work has been a way to research and find inspiration for her writing on Thursday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. at Writers Forum. Details: www.TheWriteSpot.us.

Patti Trimble is leading an outdoor writing workshop at Point Reyes Seashore on Saturday, April 10, 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Details and registration: www.ptreyes.org/camps-classes-programs/field-institute/classes/day-wild-writing

Two events this month will focus on the youth poets of Sonoma County. The first of these is on Saturday, April 17, 5:00–6:00 p.m. Poetry In Action: A Youth Poetry Reading and Conversation on Equity and Compassion. Live open mic viaZoom. Hosted by: Zoya Ahmed, 2020 – 2021 Sonoma County Youth Poet Laureate. Email YouthPoetry-UIK@InterfaithSonoma.org by April 2 to sign up. The second is Sunday, April 25, 7:00 p.m. Occidental Center for the Arts Literary Series: Celebrating the Earth through Poetry with Sonoma County Poet Laureate Phyllis Meshulam and Youth Poet Laureate, Zoya Ahmed. For more information, go to occidentalcenterforthearts.org or call (707) 874-9392.

Also on Sunday, April 25, 11:00 a.m., you can catch the film première of “Meeting Light,” a poem from Raphael Block’s latest book, At This Table, with filmmaker Adam Wilder. This half-hour zoom will open with the instrumental guitar music of David Field, and a few poems by Raphael. To join this zoom, please email raphaelblock@raphaelblock.com.

I am always happy to see Ukiah’s annual celebration of haiku (Ukiah backwards). This year’s is scheduled for Sunday, April 25, 3:00-4:00 p.m., but will be a virtual event. In the tradition of past festivals, the event will be open to all ages (we encourage children & young adults to participate). Email Roberta Werdinger for the Zoom link: rwerdinger@pacific.net

Yes, three great events all on April 25. But you could actually attend all three, as the times don’t overlap, and all are online.

Remembering Adam Zagajewski
In 1984, at one of the first Napa Valley Poetry Conferences, Bob Hass recited the first lines of a poem by Polish writer Adam Zagajewski. I had never heard of him before (but then I was pretty green as a poet back then), but Hass wanted us to listen to the way the words carried the poet’s thoughts and conjured the poet’s images, while his rhythms, repetitions, and variations drove the poem on a physical and unconscious level. I shamelessly imitated Zagajewski’s syntax and repetition to create a weird little prose poem called “In the Bones of My Face,” responding to Hass’s assignment to create a self-portrait in rhythm.

Thus began my acquaintance with Zagajewski’s inspirtational poetry. His poem “Franz Schubert: A Press Conference” became a teaching tool to encourage the writers I taught to create characters through their voices, to experiment monologue, and to commune with their dead. And his wonderfully evocative “To Go to Lvov” became a portal to many imaginary journeys.

Then in September 2001, his response to the tragedies of 9/11, “Try To Praise the Mutilated World” became for many of us an anthem for the work of our lives. The poem was written on September 17 and first published in the New Yorker on September 24, 2001.

Try To Praise The Mutilated World

by Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Adam Zagajewski was born 21 June 1945 in Lwów, Soviet Union (now Lviv, Ukraine). He lived in Paris from 1982 to 2002 when he moved to Kraków. Zagajewski’s books of poetry in English include Tremor (1985), Canvas (1991), Mysticism for Beginners (1997); and Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002).He is also the author of a memoir, Another Beauty (2000) and the prose collections, Two Cities (1995) and Solitude and Solidarity (1990).

The reviewer Joachim T. Baer noted in World Literature Today that Zagajewski’s themes “are the night, dreams, history and time, infinity and eternity, silence and death.” About his own poetry, Zagajewski said this:

“I will never be someone who writes only about bird song, although I admire birdsong highly – but not enough to withdraw from the historical world, for the historical world is fascinating. What really interests me is the interweaving of the historical and cosmic world. The cosmic world is unmoving – or rather, it moves to a completely different rhythm. I shall never know how these worlds coexist. They are in conflict yet they complement each other – and that merits our reflection.” (Adam Zagajewski)

Zagajewski died at age 75 on March 21, 2021.

If you’re not yet familiar with Zagajewski’s poety, The Poetry Foundation’s website provides a portfolio of his poems: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/adam-zagajewski.
 
Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-editor


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