Monday, November 21, 2011

The BeeGees Poem

On Finding Out the BeeGees own the Priory where Joan of Arc was Sentenced to Death I Write a Poem using 40 titles of their No. 1 Hits

(I'm posting this in honor of Robin Gibb's announcement of his battle with cancer. Thanks, songman for songs that always cheer me up! The BeeGees are the only band to have number ones in five decades.)

It was God whom she needed to show how deep
was her love, and for one night only, spirits
having flown, she was named guilty, doomed

to stand, sticks and specks, against the flames'
shadow dancing. Did she think, did she hear
alone the melody, through the still waters of

her timeless, god-connected mind for whom the
bell still tolls, knowing a love so right, the words
in the night, in the night we love, we know how

to do it? Did a horn section blast out the hard beats,
shout out as the ropes lashed her wrists, the words
nobody gets too much heaven no more? Did she

expect to get saved by the greatest bell? I just want
to be your everything, God has said, demanding that
we the little islands in the stream invite his jive talking

in exchange for the sort of immortality that often has
come too soon. You win again, the saints must always say.
Don't forget to remember, instructs God, before letting his

words of "you and I," heard one night only through the still
waters of the mind, feeling like ESP, disappear like a woman
consumed by fire. This is where I came in, says God,

running down a list of Number Ones who answered,
served and died, as the world saw a new morning, and alone
now tries still, shouting from beyond: I've gotta get a message

to you, crying out, singing: If I can't have you I don't want
nobody, baby. And God shouts back, Love you inside out
but we, still thinking we are islands in the stream, like Juliet's

Romeo don't get the message in time. And while this may indeed
sound like a tragedy, love still is so much thicker than water.
Great spirits have flown, having learned how can you mend

a broken heart. And the answer has always been to keep
stayin' alive, and know even among the flames that consume
you like a Saturday Night Fever, you should, like you started

a joke, for the record, in Massachusetts, anywhere, like a
ghetto supasta, no matter what your lonely days, lonely nights
may leave you, you should be dancin'. Yeah.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For Piya (Beloved) and Jiya (Heart) Patel

--for the children murdered by their ill-medicated mother on August 27, 2011

The city will remember your smiles, beloveds,
and carry them in its heart.
The shapes of your small hands will always be beloved,
grasping at the world you were just coming to know by heart.

The city will invite you over to play, beloveds,
when the mountains are changing
as they are always changing our hearts.

The city will sit on the edge of your bed, beloveds,
read you your favorite story until it knows it by heart.
And the city will peek in on you at night, beloved,
and watch the rising blankets as you breathe and listen to the beating of your heart.

Though we now let you go to be with the spirit, beloveds,
we will keep you here in our spirit in our hearts.
We will watch you grow, beloveds.
We will remember you when our hearts delight in play.
Our children will remember the name of your most beloved fruit.
They will know how high you could swing on the playground with a racing heart.
They will mark their hearts with your beloved names
because you’ll be the ones that are always missing.

The city will always have a place for you, beloveds, in our heart.
In our gardens, the flowers that bloom from this summer on will be bright as your hearts.
They will belong to you
and to the beloved summer itself,
and all the bluest skies shall hold you, beloveds, 
as we now reach to touch you, beloveds,
high above the mountain, beloved in its softness,
that holds us up today, beloveds,
in its shining, loving heart.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Mommy Moon

In 1940s movie consciousness, a honeymoon in Niagara Falls was that iconic holiday. The dream destination for beginning a life together, Niagara is the site of a millenia-old geological event. At the end of the last ice age, the newly formed Great Lakes crashed through the escarpment, forging a path to the Atlantic Ocean. Despite its being one of natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls was commonplace in my childhood. My grandparents lived fifteen minutes away along the Parkway in a Georgian house on the river. We picnicked just above the Falls where a ruined ship rusts away in the current over the decades. "This is my favorite part of the river," my grandmother would say, "just before the Falls." I grew up with one of the greatest natural phenomena just down the road.

     When my daughter was three weeks old, I flew to Canada to introduce her to my 93 year old grandmother. We stayed in a Victorian Bed and Breakfast where my grandmother had played with her friends as a child, back when it was a private home. It was summer, and each day during the visit, I took my baby to the Falls. The following winter, I flew north again, and every six months, again. Each time taking my daughter to the Falls, standing above them in the snow or sun. When she was three years old, I started to drive up to Canada each summer to visit my mother at her cottage on Georgian Bay. She's eight now, and each year we have stayed in Niagara Falls for three days. We have stayed at the Econolodge in Clifton Hill, the "strip" where every business is an amusement of some sort: wax museum, lego museum, haunted house, fun house. This year I did something a little different.
      While looking at hotel prices on, I came across a "special rate" for the Sheraton at the Falls. All my life, or at least I think all my life, I'd seen the tall hotels directly across the street from the river. They had always seemed dreadfully out of reach, astronomical. I'd always dreamed of staying in one, of having Niagara Falls be something that was exceptional, something one gazes at for hours rather than sees briefly through the car window on the way to Nanny and Poppee's.  I called the hotel to book the special. I asked about the view and learned that particular rate was for a room with no window. A square space inside a building next Niagara Falls. I said no and hung up.
     But the first bit of rock had already been shuddered from its place. I called the hotel again asked the cost of a room with a view of the Falls. For a difference of $150.00 per night, I could stay at the hotel I'd always dreamed of staying in. Or I could be smart and stay up the road at a hotel that could be anywhere. I couldn't really "afford" an extra $300.00. I hung up. I returned to work, thinking of my paycheck. How much I work to earn what I was considering blowing. I called again. I booked the room with the view. Then I regretted it. When my 8 year old and I walked into the room and saw the American Fall directly in front of me and the Horseshoe Falls just a little farther up, I stopped.
        We moved the loveseat from the wall to right in front of the window, which had a center portion that opened (with a good strong railing). We opened a jar of cashews and listened to and watched the roar. Me and my girl. For about twenty minutes.
          Being in Niagara Falls with an 8-year old doesn't mean sitting and staring at a natural wonder the whole time. That first evening we did the fun house, the foam ball jungle thing, the fun house again, ice cream and a walk through the town. At the end of these things, we returned to our room. Rather than it being a come-down from the various defining qualities of being at Niagara Falls, rather than being a withdrawal into the anyplaceness of a hotel room, we walked into a vista. I made a cup of tea and watched the water fall.  Naturally, we slept with the window open. The moisture from the spray entered the room with the sound. Upon waking, I stared. While my daughter slept, I made coffee I drank sitting in that love seat, gazing.

     Across the river, I could just barely make out the wooden staircase they rebuild each year, taking people to the Cave of the Winds. I watched the four Maid of the Mists perform their daunting journeys rendered neutral by half a century of repetition. I saw the passengers in their blue rain ponchos board from either Canadian or American side.  Through my childhood I'd seen these things, and I had wondered whether I would one day have a honeymoon in Niagara Falls as it seemed every girl used to dream. It dawned on me then. I was on my own kind of honeymoon, the single mother kind.
     I was celebrating my life as a mother, the kind of completion that I personally desired. My daughter was now 8 (just turned) and bright and healthy as I could wish. We have great fun together and when it comes time to correct her on anything I just use a couple of bits of sign language, and we're good. I like my job, had nearly finished my third book. I'd arrived at a good place in my life, perhaps the new "bar" that marriage signified for our mothers' generation. While my daughter slept into the daylight and the Falls roared on through their geological magnificence, I sat on the loveseat and loved it all.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Digital Silence, Digital Speech

I fell through a bridge into a river in Switzerland once. It was a glacial river. It was a very old bridge. I still don't know how I survived. I somehow climbed a brick wall and passed out in a woman's vegetable garden. I did survive, and I got arrested for trespassing. For years following, each time I heard the sound of running water, be it of a river or a faucet in a kitchen, my hands would itch and often swell. When I went with friends to a "swimming hole" on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I experienced a full-blown panic attack which led to my being carried up the mountain by rescue rangers in a white wicker rescue basket then taken by ambulance to the hospital. All of this was unconscious. My task was to consciously draw this fear of water forth by exposing myself to increasingly dramatic forms of this necessary element.

I think of this "de-fearing" process when I think of Tweeting and Facebooking (and blogging). Public speaking is the number one fear among North Americans. In today's world, it is a daily terror. That is, if someone wants to be part of the online scene. If that fear remains in place, the person holding it will go unnoticed and unheard. Public writing is speech. It is the conveying of what is inside into the outside, audible, legible world.

People who aren't writers are expected suddenly to write. Writers for whom revision and long thoughtful pauses between typographical activity are the long-held practice, are now told that "4-5 tweets per hour" is optimal. That's several poems a day! That's a scene in a novel. But we can no longer get by just on our looks or on how well we perform daily tasks. We have to speak. And in order to speak, we have to have something to say. In the age of digital personality, it just might be inevitable that we find out who we are.

There's the feeling at first that you have nothing to say, that if you type anything at all it will be the wrong thing. It won't be "cool" enough. No one will "like" it. You might say too much, or you might offend someone. What you say might not matter enough to take form in letters stolen from the alphabet. The alphabet! What right does anyone have to take letters from one of the longest living human-made systems on the planet just to share what they are thinking?


As with all fears, overcoming a fear of self-expression takes time. As though the universe is moving us through a new phase of evolution, we are all forced by fashion into group therapy. Sometimes we want to share. Sometimes we have nothing to share, sit back in our chairs, fold our hands, or simply describe what we had for lunch.

The machine into which we speak has become a medium for self-development. Instantaneous feedback arrives in the form of a blue button under our facebook update. Like. And in the vacant box beneath it. Comment. And in the ultimate reward for having said something of value. Retweet. It has become a medium for finding one's voice. Whatever that voice may be.

As anyone committed to psychotherapy knows, there are many aspects within each person. The more speech, the more discovery. And it's okay to have a number of voices: to be reflective one moment and blatantly brilliant in another, to speak of a real-life moment at noon and to post a critique of a world event at one. Speech is space. There's only one way to create it, though. To gently but boldly move the unconscious fear of speaking (instilled in us from an early age!) forward, to feel the thrill of daring as our fingers type into the world our very own words and ideas.

This is the river of human discourse now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Lovers

In the land of the esoteric, the tarot deck is much more than a box of thick, richly illustrated cards. It is a practicing ground for symbolic literacy wherein a practitioner "learns" how to "read into" things intuitively. This literacy renders the world a magical place, one where, as Paulo Coelho says, we can see into the Soul of the World.

For the ancient Greeks, for the ancient anybodies anywhere, the world and all that happens in it is living organism, growing, breathing, changing every second.  As a part of this living world, we also participate in the whole. We are affected. We are transformed by experience. (Passive voice fully intentional there.) That is, when we are open, when we have been broken open just enough to let the world speak with us. From that point, with imagination and intuition, we can "see" the world at work inside the world, reflecting on the surface.

So, this photograph. How incredibly well it has captured the very essence of the yin-yang. There is all the fire, all the hardness, all the riot shields, all the rioting. And in the midst of it all, a boyfriend comforts his girlfriend, who has been knocked down (by the police no less), with a kiss.

Scott Jones and Alexandra Thomas, you are beautiful. You are the Lovers in the worldly tarot deck.

For more about them:

Sunday, March 20, 2011


                                           The Wild Swans at Coole as Yeats saw them, too.

I woke up this morning to a clouded over moon and news of a new war, this after a week of earthquake and following fifty nuclear energy workers as they strive to save the world. The vegetables are already contaminated, and the people will get sick from this, even if Ann Coulter continues to insist that radiation is good for us. It is the first day of Spring, and it is cold and gray out. It's a hard day to wake to. I read that it was mostly children who were harmed by the bombs over Libya, and Ghadafi simply replies, "Prepare for a long war." I slept so heavily last night. Today, I want to sleep some more. I feel the earth is tired, the people of the world are tired. I feel we all need to sleep. But we don't sleep. We will keep acting, keep trying, keep searching for the words that will balance out the silence of the dead and dying.

I feel all of this invites me to move through the countless layers of grief that tragedy stirs. To somehow address the personal and political past and reconcile it through the present. I wonder if this isn't the meaning I can find, the path to feeling equal to world events.

The world is like a poem: doing things that at first appear incomprehensible. But the longer I spend with a poem, the more space opens up in me to accommodate the complexity. I can accept the many-sidedness, even if it still doesn't make a "rational" sense. I remember the first time I read Yeats' "Wild Swans at Coole." None of it made sense, kind of how the world doesn't make sense to me today.

I pick up the poem today as way of encouraging myself. What was once incomprehensible is now soothing for me, still deeply engaging. I feel my mind expand as I read through, expanding to hold a more complex world than the one I'd much prefer to wake up to. Here's the poem:

The Wild Swans at Coole

THE TREES are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones        
Are nine and fifty swans.
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount 
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, 
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold, 
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water 
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

When we are faced with something complex, we will almost always shut down our hearts and imaginations and revert to a kind of thinking that insists that things must make simple sense. I can't relate it to Okkam's Razor because the simplest solution may always be the "correct" one but "simple" is sometimes determined on emotional terms, terms we are ill-equipped to access. The razor is sometimes tears and loss. But we will more often call it action and set about further cutting up the world. I remember when first faced with this poem, I wanted to rip it out of the book with my own Okkam's Razor.

There was an intensity, or perhaps a peacefulness, to the language that my 17 year old brain wasn't prepared for. I got lost immediately, sitting in Mrs. Dennis's class where I was usually a bit of a superstar for being able to write well. The truth is that having a poem placed in front of me inspired the same anxiety of walking into math class and seeing the systems of algebraic equations. A feeling of being defeated before I'd even begun. New information, in whatever form, made me retreat.

Over time, though, I've grown into the poem. It has appeared in my life many times, at one point in the context of my growing fascination and connection with swans. I simply wanted to read every poem in the world (in translation) about swans. This one resurfaces.

I can see now that Yeats merely paints a picture in the first stanza: there are 59 swans drifting on the lake.

In the second stanza, he says he'd counted them 19 years earlier, and the birds had all taken flight before he'd finished.

In the third stanza he reflects on how they make him sad now because so much has changed in 19 years, when he "trod with lighter tread," meaning he'd felt lighter in the world, because of youth and because, I suppose, because of how life weighs us down over time.

The fourth stanza shows that he sees that the swans have been unaffected by all that time (poets seldom make allowances for the shorter lifespans of animals: Keats' credits the Nightengale he hears while eating oatmeal one morning with being the same one that's been singing since the dawn of Time). "Their hearts have not grown old," unlike the poet feels his own has; the birds are all still "Passion and conquest."

What happens in the final stanza is, still for me, a rough encounter. As is often in poems, the ending flies in many directions, like the swans leaving the water. Yeats imagines they will move away, "mysterious and beautiful" to delight other "men's eyes." Perhaps he laments them as he laments his waning sex-life, the affection of women. Perhaps he also laments the idea that he will "wake" in a world without them when he dies. The poem's ending is open-ended, as wild as the flight of 59 swans (four more swans than the years of his life at the time he published the poem), "scatter wheeling in broken rings/ upon their clamorous wings." The poem does not seek to resolve incomprehensibility so much as reflect it back to us, the way things really always are.

The things we "wake one day/ to find they have flown away" are the very things of incomprehensibility. A love, a loved one, a world we expect to be the same on Tuesday as it was on Monday. The way that poems end are so often the way that life really is, open-ended, complex, "mysterious and beautiful" and too often terrifying because of this.

This morning, I am overwhelmed with the world. I can only open myself wider to take it all in the way Yeats stood by the shore nineteen years before this poem and tried to count the swans as they flew. He can count them in the today of the poem because they "drift on the still water." He has also known the "bell-beat of their wings." Today is a "bell-beat of their wings" kind of day. A day I won't get a good count.

Yeats penned this poem during World War I, the war that took a generation of poets from the world, a generation of men. He saw it all and too often must have woken as I wake today: astonished, bereft, nearly dismantled by human events I don't even have to touch to be able to experience. Are the swans his friends who are fighting? Are they the general sense of "making sense" that we, no matter what, insist on finding in the world and news of world? Are they everything that changes and that will change? "Mysterious and beautiful." One day: gone.

Yeats would say that he knew he'd heard a great poem when he felt like "taking the sword down from the wall."  I am tired of swords and of things being cut open by nature or by weapons. I am content to spend the day with poems. They bring my swans back to me. Always.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Epicenter, a poem for Japan

Hiromitsu Shinkawa
EPICENTER, for Japan

Japanese sailors rescue Hiromitsu Shinkawa Sunday, two days after the 60-year-old was washed to sea on the roof of his Minamisoma home by a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake. Thousands are feared dead.
                                Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2011

When the home is shaken, then taken
by the sea,

when all they can compare it to
are two atomic bombs,

there is no such thing as waiting as
when in this: the water wants.

There is no such thing as meaning as
when in this: the earth does break open.

Sometimes it helps to lift one’s head in prayer
and look around the world for what is missing,

to count the waves and all the waves have taken
and see how everything can be taken.

The shoulder of the globe is always soft to cry on.
The distance love will travel, salt to salt.

I look to the man on his roof floating on the ocean
and know he is a story unto himself,

having made it safely out of the doomed city, then
having returned for something he wanted, had to have.

What could it have been that made him be
the one who floats with the last of his home

in one hand, a red makeshift flag in the other?
What letter was it he returned for? What photograph?

What favorite piece of cloth, perhaps, or perhaps that’s
too perfect in the stories we want to tell about others’

survival of the disaster. He floated for two whole
days, had agreed with the sea that this is how

he’d die, surrendered his world to the wind
as he could not do on shore, gone from home,

unable to let it entirely go, and to the waves.
For the others, the other story we cannot know

even more deeply, so only hold onto them as one holds
onto strangers in a tragedy: closely—their open mouths,

their voices loud in our dreams, the screams and names
we want to say before the sea swallows them when it is

shaken, the earth

broken open, the heart of the world broken open,
gaping whole and in wonder at how it all—

the roar of it, the falling, the love, the families, the stories from
before the water through the window, the smiles, the touches,

the reaching hand we imagine emerging from the crushed
and drowning city reaching out of us to touch everything

that is never too far away.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Full Dreaming of Asheville Wordfest

The Full Dreaming of Asheville Wordfest, a press release for a paper that might not exist yet.

by Laura Hope-Gill on Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 3:48pm
May 2-8, 2011
All poetry events are free.
Films $10.00 donation.

It’s time for Asheville Wordfest, Asheville’s poetry festival. Between Tuesday May 2 and Sunday May 8, Asheville residences and guests can enjoy poetry events and readings around the city. Asheville Wordfest is the product of a conversation among poets Laura Hope-Gill, Glenis Redmond, Jeff Davis and James Nave in 2007. In 2008, Wordfest launched at UNCA. Director Hope-Gill expected “maybe forty people, but by the end of the weekend, more than ten times that many had come to the events.”

Wordfest is a local festival created to bring the Asheville community together while also connecting it with global voices. Each year, Wordfest explores a theme, using poetry as a form of citizen journalism and not just as a Fine Art. This year’s theme is Resilience as Wordfest fixes the wide lens of poetry on the many ways that poetry acts as an agent of absorbing and moving with change when life changes.

The 2011 festival begins on Tuesday May 3 with a screening of local film-maker Paul Bonesteel’s ten-year project The Day Sandburg Died. Sandburg’s poetry celebrates the resilience of the American people. “He was very much a singer of the American song, a song of work and collaboration,” says Hope-Gill. “Sandburg’s full voice lives on in Bonesteel’s film.” In keeping with Wordfest’s goal of connecting the regional to the global, the presence of Sandburg’s Flat Rock home, Connemara, plays a powerful role in the film, while the poet’s work in the Civil Rights movement, and his highly-regarded biography of Abraham Lincoln resonates with the whole of American, and world, history.  Screenings are at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Fine Arts Theater at Biltmore Avenue.

Further exercising the local-national focus of Wordfest, on Wednesday May 4 at 6 p.m. Biltmore Farms hosts a Wordfest Reception at the Hilton Hotel in Biltmore Park followed by performances by Keith Flynn and the Holy Men and Quincy Troupe. Quincy Troupe penned his memoir of his close friendship with Miles Davis in Miles and Me and has published collections and anthologies (including an anthology of third world writing) that have won him international acclaim. Troupe and Flynn became friends when Troupe first came to Wordfest 2009 to read.  Hope-Gill says of Troupe, “He is the first poet I ever heard who used poetry to reach out as much as to reach in.”  After Quincy came here in 2008, with his wife Margaret Porter Troupe, he published a number of other Wordfest poets in the literary journal he edits. “That’s what Wordfest is about: bringing voices from outside, getting our local poets’ voices even deeper into the world,” says Hope-Gill.
Asheville-area poets Landon Godfrey, Holly Iglesias, Luke Hankins, Rose McLarney, Mendy Knott and Britt Kaufman all have new collections published. They will read at Asheville Wordfest.

Hope-Gill themed Wordfest 2011 “Resilience” upon seeing a trailer for the not-yet-released documentary Poetry of Resilience by Katja Esson at the AWP writers conference in 2009. The film will show at Fine Arts Theater on Thursday May 5 at 7 p.m.  The documentary features poets who have survived the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Iranian Revolution, Rwandan genocide and exile from their homelands. Each poet has found healing and renewal in poetry.  “I wanted to shape a festival that explores this nexus of creativity and survival.” Film director Katja Esson will be present to introduce and discuss the film.

Readings by local and Asheville-based poets Britt Kauffman, Luke Hankins, Mendy Knott and Rose McLarney take place at 4 p.m. on Friday (Grateful Steps at 159 S. Lexington). The William Matthews Poetry Prize winners will read Saturday at the YMI Drugstore at Eagle and Market Streets at 4 p.m. Local (Landon Godfrey and Holly Iglesias), national and international poets (see schedule), take place at 7 p.m. at the YMI Cultural Center.

The visiting poets each speak from a place of Resilience, as well as hope.

Kwame Dawes, born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, has published fifteen collections of poem hailed by Elizabeth Alexander as “majestic.” Also a playwright, author and producer, he penned the quintessential study of Bob Marley’s words in Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius. Dawes is Distinguished Poet in Residence, Louis Frye Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts and founder and executive director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative. He is the director of the University of South Carolina Arts Institute and the programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica in May of each year.

Paul Guest of Tennessee was paralyzed in a bicycle accident at the age of twelve. His collections have gained acclaim for their “puckish cheek and utter sincerity” as he shares his journey. His debut collection of poems, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, explores the body and disability, familial history, and the author's childhood in the South, which was "oppressive as wool and cartoon tonnage" in one poem, and, in another, "home ... a wordless idea." The book was selected by poet and MacArthur Fellow Campbell McGrath as winner of the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize. His second collection, Notes for My Body Double, Winner of the 2006 Prairie Schooner Prize in Poetry, explore the loss of love, the pleasures of language, and the fascinations of pop culture. His third collection, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco Press 2008) toys with biography and truth—and our expectations of them.

Brian Turner is a soldier-poet whose debut book of poems, Here, Bullet, won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times “Editor's Choice” selection, the 2006 Pen Center USA "Best in the West" award, and the 2007 Poets Prize, among others. Turner served seven years in the US Army, to include one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, of Wendat, Huron, Metis, Tsalagi, Creek, French-Canadian and Scotch-Irish descent, has served as a panelist for United Nations‘ Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Forum and has published more than a dozen collections and anthologies drawing light to contemporary indigenous voices. Hedge Coke is a board member of the Mountain Multicultural Literary Society, the non-profit Hope-Gill is forming to house Wordfest and other multicultural events.

Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist, is widely considered to be one of the most influential and provocative Native American figures in the contemporary American literary landscape, and is an internationally recognized public speaker addressing environmental issues. Hogan has received a prestigious Lannan Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim, and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and Wordcraft Circle. She has also received the Mountains and Plains Lifetime Achievement award and has been inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. A Professor Emerita from the University of Colorado, she is now the Writer in Residence for The Chickasaw Nation and lives in Oklahoma.

The line-up of poets, says Hope-Gill, “aims to inspire all of us to apply our creativity to our own healing and to the healing of the world we live in. Creative imagination is medicine. It staves off despair and also offers a vision of what comes next. Without it, we stop dreaming.”

To bring the city's youth into this dreaming fold, Wordfest will feature young poets at all the readings and include a highlights reading from the WORDslam, a poetry slam that will take place during the months leading up to Wordfest in Buncombe County schools.

Wordfest’s new partnership with the YMI Multicultural Center enables Wordfest to take place in the nation’s first non-university, non-church-related community center for African Americans. For Hope-Gill, this means the festival takes place in one of the most powerful symbolic architectures in America. She says, “I have realized it isn’t enough to just have a multicultural poetry festival if it’s taking place in a part of the city with a history of hostility toward minorities.  There are deep scars, scars we all need to heal. Wordfest is about welcoming everybody. The YMI only has a history of safety and welcome to everybody. It is a true multicultural center, and I’m honored to be working with Ronald King and Dan Johnson on a number of new projects.”

For Hope-Gill, Resilience, poetry and multiculturalism are all closely related. “Multiculturalism is about so much more than surface demographics. It is a way of thinking from multiple perspectives at once and being able to hold a space for complexity. In poems, complexity thrives without threat to the integrity of each of the many ideas present. Poetry has always been a system for accommodating multiple systems of thought. That’s its gift. And for today’s world, where a dominant way of thinking no longer holds, it offers itself as a guide."

“In order to be resilient, we have to be able to accommodate the full complexity of life. This is what Wordfest 2011 is about.”

Wordfest 2011 features a family event that aims to share the role nature and imagination play in developing resilience in children and adults alike, IMAGINATURE. This event features with local children’s authors Cindy Bowen, Lisa Alcorn, Hal Mahan and puppeteer Hobey Ford on Saturday morning. (Check website for location.) Late night events include a reading by The Rooftop Poets atop the Battery Park Hotel on Friday at 10 p.m. and The Mountain Xpress Poetry Bash on Saturday night. 
Visit the website at (.org will still reach the site, for people who are used to using that url) for more information. Asheville Wordfest is made possible by a grant from the NC Arts Council and local support.
Info: or through the website

Monday, January 03, 2011

Black Swan: Alchemy in a Tutu

For any mother who has taken her daughter to ballet classes at the local studio, the irony is evident. We hand our daughters wands and tiaras, while in the waiting room the mothers talk of all that goes on in our adult lives: husbands who have returned from war with deep psychic wounds, struggles with jobs and the efforts to keep a house (either clean or from going to the bank). Meanwhile, through the large plate-glass window, our daughters leap and twirl, engaging dreams of princess-ness. The dichotomy of girlhood and womanhood is clearly pronounced.

The film Black Swan draws on an ancient motif. The whole goal of the alchemical process is transformation through a slow drawing forth of the "active feminine," or "mercurial," principle from within matter. It is the "dark nature" that dwells within things, including the alchemist, and once the "soul" of matter is released, the soul of the alchemist can work with it and make new things come about. Nina, the obedient, girl-like woman alchemizes herself in this film. In the process, she must encounter and grapple with her dark-side, her own dark feminine nature and bring it to light.

It is, as Aronofsky's film shows, not an easy process. It is about much more than technique, which only serves the surface. It is a dance with oneself: dangerous, terrifying, in some cases deadly. The opus contra natura, this "work against nature (nature being the surface appearance of things which hold us captive)" is the theme of the original metamorphosis stories of Ovid, a theme that reaches into all cultures, all mysteries. Most familiar to us, it is a theme prevalent in fairy tales. The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty all encounter their dark feminine sides, be it in the form of a sea witch, a closed cell or a vine-encrusted sleep in a castle. The darkness consumes, draws the girl into an unconscious state where she must do battle. True love's kiss not withstanding, it is the girl who must go through the darkness. Ovid shows that the metamorphosis is sometimes successful, but most times not. Daphne turns into a tree and remains a tree. The Sybil becomes immortal but forgets to ask for eternal youth. Many things can go wrong on the path to transformation.

In the language of the alchemist, a failed opus is called an "abortion." If at the moment of death, the spark of life does not carry through to a resurrection, the matter in the crucible, the "child," remains dead. Success requires a "diuturnity of intense imagination" and also a disciplined balance within the mind of the alchemist wherein he or she is at once consumed in the process and separate enough from it that the boundary serves as what Robert Frost terms a "stronghold."

Nina's star-turn as both the black and white swan reaches perfection. It is a dance of life and death, the loss of self sacrificed to becoming new. There is a great power in the swan metaphor. A bird both graceful and violent, an embodiment of all we are and hide from.