Saturday, October 19, 2013

Your Inner Seven

Packing to be at Ghost Ranch for two weeks teaching and writing, I decided this time to travel light – one bag of clothes, one sack of books, one bulging file of handouts/exercises, flashlight, and homemade (thank you, Margaret!) cookies to lure friends to my room for happy sugar hour.

I also carried with me, like a lucky penny, a shiny bit of wisdom which came unbidden from my oldest granddaughter, Laken.

Why do you always have to go to Neww Meexxico? she complained, and rightly so, since I was going to miss her soccer tournament.

I have to see my friends, and also teach a class.

What class?
Not to complicate matters with words like sense of place, landscape, open genre, memoir, I kept it simple: I show people how to make a poem.Silence. Furrowed brow. Wide-eyed wondering. Incredulity.

Grandma, I write a poem nearly every day…all by myself.

Oh, for the capacious mind, the confidence and intuitive powers of such a seven-year-old. Oh, for the gift of truthfulness and sudden ego-thumping.

It was enough to make me consider for just a second staying home and yelling for the North OKC Reds. (It turns out those girls took the trophy and didn’t even need my extra cheering.)

My Fall Writing Festival class was actually called: This Land – Writing Out of the Places We Know. Laken’s reminder that we probably all have an inner landscape where language is not inhibited by someone else’s sense of form and beauty was more important to me last week than clean underwear or a nighttime flashlight.

Like seven-year-olds on the cusp of reason but clearly committed to imagination, all the writers who joined me at the Ranch this year took Laken’s exclamation to heart and revisited that place where, as Sandburg said, we were first given a song and a slogan to sing.

The Spanish have a word : Querencia – the place where you feel you are your most authentic self.

These talented students mined those places and found ways to revision them– the forest, the creek, the flood, the chine, a sandy parabola, the grain elevator, the dogs in the street, the deadly wave, even the Amazon forest, where one woman had lived, was brought into our small room with the most vivid description of clear cutting I’ve ever heard. Among this group of ten was demonstrated both the child’s wonder and the mature woman’s braided complexity. Trust ensued. Generosity flew around the room like party confetti or at times like Kleenex. Oh, not “like” Kleenex. It was Kleenex.

In the end, the wave that broke a girl’s neck was given a name, a woman waiting for her lover in the airport made place out of that placelessness we call a terminal, an ancient mother was given voice, a flood was brought to life, erosion was honored, green was deepened and made real, a family that didn’t seem containable was poured into a fine container, the Continental Divide rose up nicely, a raven shook things up, and then at the end of a street where you would think nothing was going to happen, profanity found the perfect place to speak, and speak she did.

Oh, and that poem which got the whole Ranch laughing on the final night’s performance, The One Good Thing, the one about the passing of the girdle, I know it wasn’t exactly about landscape and sense of place, but the point was taken: let’s not constrict our bodies and separate ourselves from all that moves and jiggles and breathes. Let’s live in the world full of every kind of contour.
And let’s make sure our granddaughters ask us: what’s a girdle? Incredulously.
Thank you, Jeanne, Louise, Marilyn, Rosemary, Susan P., Susan J., Jane, Kathy, Dorothy, and Helen. You are my favorite ten each with a lovely inner seven.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Letter

Plaza Blanca

A Letter : with special thanks to the writers who joined me for a week of hellos and goodbyes, classic letter writing, and wonderful experimental letter poems. If any of you are responsible for this winged letter of note, I thank you.

Sarah Atlee, Terrye Bullers, Sylvia Karcher, Alice Byrd, Debbie Allen

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I had a haunting visitor. A large moth had pressed its body against the screen door and it spent the day there in complete stillness. I think it was a Pachysphinx Modesta, a nocturnal creature which should have spent the day sleeping on the bark of a pin oak or poplar.

Its presence made me do things a little differently -- enter and exit through the back door, shoo the birds away, dig around in the nearby Hosta beds, meet the mailman at the curb so he would not disturb. I paced the day by a different clock as well -- abruptly stopping whatever I was doing to check on the welfare of this napping symmetrical pattern.

It had startled me at first because from afar it looked like a Halloween bat. An early omen. Up close its wings were perfect twin paintings of desert mesas, what we call the painted skirts out in the canyons of Ghost Ranch. They matched the pocket rock I borrowed recently from the wet stream bed of Plaza Blanca. Those paper-thin wings could have been picture jasper in another incarnation. The quietude was that of chimney rock. The wasps buzzing around it in the afternoon made me nervous, the little buzzards.

Modesta showed no fear. Her day was night. She seemed alright with that. Nothing seemed amiss except that I had a giant moth.

This is how it is when I return from the Piedra Lumbre Valley. Notes arrive, letters of no advice, no big news really. They are written in cloud script, to the tune of rain, or, as in this case, a bit of moth borne hieroglyph. Then they disappear like invisible ink on onion skin, and I am happy to be home again.

Sincerely (wishing this were written with a fountain pen)


Thursday, March 21, 2013

A place for you in the circle

It's officially spring, and summer will be upon us soon enough. What are you going to do with your beautiful summer? Or, as Mary Oliver asks, your wild and wonderful life? There is a chair especially for you in my class during Creative Arts Week at Ghost Ranch, July 29 - August 4. 

I usually try to lure you out with a landscape photo, the valley of shining stone being a on-going siren song. The picture I offer you today is of Ghost House. This has been my classroom for many years because it's small and perfect for six or seven writers. It is an intimate space but outside those windows is the famous mesa, Pedernal, sometimes called Spider Woman or Changing Woman, and later seen widely in the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe. "God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it"  she said. Whatever bargain they made, fortunately for us, the living can still enjoy it -- that and many of the other natural gifts of Ghost Ranch. A room with an inward perspective and calling to look outward nurtures the creative spirit.

Consider coming this year. My classes offer a circle of shared insight and also provides new vistas, challenges for fresh and unexpected writing.

Back by popular demand this summer is Where Truth Is Told: the Art of Letter Writing, a class I offered a few years ago during the Fall Writing Festival.  The link to the Ghost Ranch catalog will give you all the particulars of living on the Ranch for a week. Here is the course description but I would like to add that we will study and experiment with the letter as a contemporary art form not simply a mode of communication.  

Where Truth is Told: the Art of Letter Writing

Workshop ID: G13W753
Dates: July 29, 2013 - August 4, 2013 Price: $350.00
Reading the letters of both famous (Ansel Adams, Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, Woody Guthrie perhaps) and ordinary people (maybe your mother or grandfather) we will discover the way letters rise to the level of art and enrich the lives of both sender and receiver.  Through letters, daily routines and deepest desires intermingle.  The art of letter writing is not entirely lost to us yet.  Come prepared to compose letters worth keeping, the ones you have been meaning to write. While we still have a mail carrier, let’s write some beautiful letters.