Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ghost Ranch Fall Writing Festival

What was I thinking titling my poetry class Ekphrastic? Obscure. From the Greek.
Not a welcoming word.

 It drew five participants, but one dropped out after being told it was not, as he thought, a class on the geology of the southwest. It was poetry based on art.  So, I had an amazing class of four.

The thing I love about a tiny group is that we can meet in the intimacy of Ghost House, the first adobe structure build on the property in 1888.
Through the double cranked out windows we can see the old rustler cottonwood, the “hanging tree” turning golden. Farther out, the  mesa which is surely about to wear out its ancient name: Pedernal.

The other thing I love is that with four writers, five with me, there’s room to notice all the other invisible spirits who want to hang around and have their say: living and passed -- a wife, a son, a dog almost lost to depredation. We welcomed in van Gogh, an artist named Veeneman, songster Donald Fagen, O’Keeffe, of course, and a farm in Namibia called Damara.

The room fills up with newness. The daily grind we left behind recedes. Language powers us up beyond the tiring talking points lodged in our heads from dogged media.

These writers were so creative in that space I almost decided against a field trip to a gallery in Los Ojos. But the day was ashine with Aspen and Chimisa, so we went.  One the way, a flock of Churro sheep slowed us down. The border collies and horse-mounted shepherds minded hundreds of woolen ungulates waving down and up, down and up, Highway 84. Other drivers turned around. We took turns jumping out the truck to get a closer look. That day in Rio Arriba County something was happening and we were there to see it, smell, and feel it -- the October ritual of guiding sheep down out of their summer highlands.

When the flock turned left and quilted down toward the valley, we were suddenly less interested in a gallery. Anyway, it was closed. Tierra Wools was open, though, and we went in and marveled at the brilliant hues of wool, the looms. We loved the women with their needles clicking, talking, laughing, by the fire as though it was an ordinary autumn day.

Nothing during the week was very ordinary, especially the poems, a few of which I am happy to share with the wider world. With permission, here is a sampling.


Georgia O’Keeffe looked at Pedernal
Everyday even if
Only in her mind because
Really the mountain dominated her life,
Gave her
Inspiration to take her
Artist brushes in hand and paint.
Charles E. Colson


We saw a bobbing sea of walking wool,
A mass of undulating fleece that blocked
Our way. Police directed, traffic stopped,
A cowgirl waved, and dogs insisted on obedience,
Until the crowd of cloud-hued sheep was gone.

Proceeding on our way, we came upon
A shop, where crafty weavers worked their magic.
From skeins of yarn a colour wheel unspooled.
They warped and weft it by design and now
It’s done. Now all that wool’s for walking on.
                                                Dianne Hubbard

(from a series of linked poems entitled HWY 84)

A gentle turn north becomes the road to Abilene, I pass a
Business man, a Sales man, a Willy Loman, piloting his sixty-grand Ram
I feel his lurking quota, his debts, a desperate book of business hanging over his head
Like Gollum, failing, greedy, grabbing for that one ring of power
Even a sucker, a rube, a mid-level manager can sense his anger and his hangover
Now I pass trooper lights, stopped and popping like the Fourth of July
Every trooper’s witnessed desperation, but this one’s gone and he can’t know what I know I’ve done
Gary Alexander

The Woman, the Horse and the Sheepdog

Warmly dressed on a light snowy day
A woman stares at something beyond, something
we cannot see
and can only speculate has something to do with
the sheep behind them –
Behind the woman,
                behind the horse and
                                behind the sheepdog.

The woman, the horse and the sheepdog
A unity of being in three parts
A perfect Trinity.

As she looks, so then does the horse move
                sensing her gaze or the
                                imperceptible pressure of reign and flexed
                                                leg muscles.
And the dog, curling around dangerously close to iron
 Hooves, follows the horse,
                                following the woman
following the gaze.
This is harmony
                the woman,
                                the horse,
                                                and the sheepdog

Can we respond to a passion more felt than seen,
more intuited than understood?
                Can we hear it,
feel it,
trust it?
Do we know what it even is
And is it a part of us,
are we a part of it?

Not a thing obtained
But one nurtured,
found within and cultivated.

To follow a gaze,
                To respond to a gentle pressure,
                                To trust the one we are following,
The woman,
                The horse,
                                And the sheepdog.

                                Scott Herren

Friday, September 16, 2016


How to coax a poem out of hiding was the general theme of last week’s poetry interactive at Artspace At Untitled. I was joined by Ben Myers (Oklahoma Poet Laureate) and Chad Reynolds (of Short Order Poems and Penny Candy Press) in talking about methods and meanings of our own practice of poetry.

Special thanks to the writers and artists who came out to listen and who wrote fascinating pieces of their own right on the spot!

To add to the fun of the evening, our favorite influences showed up in spirit as we traded tips and threw out prompts. It seemed as though William Wordsworth, Ted Berrigan, Richard Hugo, Bernadette Mayer, and even, for a moment, Doctor Who showed up.
 I was reminded of my first poetry teacher, Betty Shipley, who often focused on gathering language, and continually wrote the code “ww” on my paper. Wrong Word. She was such a believer in finding the just-right-word. She was a proponent of the scavenger hunt.  Just go look on page 52 of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Betty would say. She played the sheriff and the seer and other funny juxtaposed authorities.

 So, in this spirit of play and happy exchange, I’m inviting you before time runs out (Sept 22) to come downtown (1NE3 street) and participate in A Hiding Place. As Betty would say, there is something in that gallery you need to know. Just be open to it and let color, shape, contrast, language, texture, sound, story, movement, talk to you like an old teacher.

And for your scavenge pleasure, here are 8 evocative lines from the participating poet which you can look for on the finely letterpressed poems mounted on the wall.

Ben Myers, Jeanine Hathaway, Chad Reynolds, Julia McConnell, Anita Skeen, Jane Vincent Taylor

The result of my body’s friendly fire///once fresh cream now pinked by Oklahoma dust// / duppies good and ornery vex me here///you have chosen not to open///the labyrinth of wrong turns taken///we break for higher ground///on an altar of cardboard box///we each imagine on the other side///

Before you leave, please thank the Gallery geniuses, Rebecca Bloodworth and owner, Laura Warriner, for bringing us all together in this way. 

Then make something. You know you want to.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Hiding Place

A Hiding Place: Artists Respond to Poetry


This exhibit at Oklahoma City's beautiful gallery, Artspace at Untitled, will be up until mid September. We, eight poets, wrote poems with a hiding place in mind. Each poem was offered to a cluster of artists who used the themes and images to create a unique work of art.

I would love to hear what you find most compelling about this collaboration. Please send me your comments after you tour the show.

Support Art!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

PENCIL WORK: notes for a future poem

Drawing by Jefferson Vincent (Jake) LeForce

Today I’m thinking back to A., writer-in-residence in the 1990s. I enrolled in his class in poetic forms. Each Monday night we brought forth a freshly manufactured sonnet, villanelle, or triolet. The best part of a class with A. was his odd and clumsy entry, his abrupt recitation of a favorite poem. Didn’t he love the Irish and the Welsh – Yeats and Dylan Thomas? He was pretty keen on Roethke. He knew that Lawrence poem about the snake by heart. 
 But he was not in love with us, his needy budding poets. Early on, he told us he’d moved beyond poetry. Mr. A. was working on a novel about gambling and the people who can’t live without it. Nevertheless, it was in his contract to teach one poetry class, thus these traditional forms, scansion, training the ear to the foot -- iambic, trochaic, spondaic.

Reciprocally, there was not much to love about Mr. A. When I saw him running in his sweats around the campus sidewalks in the snow he looked like Rocky played by Steve Buscemi. Like he’d lost something, he was trudging along eye on the old clock tower in case that slipped-away-thing reappeared on the hour, or off the hour.

At the single one-on-one conference he allowed, A. scoffed at my attempt to write a ghazel. Leave the Persian forms to the Persians or to the wise old Bly, I thought, or he said, or I’m thinking now.

Eye contact did not come easy to this visiting writer, but I asked him in an intimate voice, “Why, really, did you scrap poetry?”  “It got too easy”, he said, puffing himself up slightly. “I could write a poem at the drop of a hat.” Or, I thought, at the roll of the dice or the spin of a wheel, with the speed of a horse. Bingo, he could apparently make a poem fit into the squares of a card of random numbers.  Amazing.
Later he told the class that he wanted to write a money-making novel.  I saw it some years ago on a remainder table in The Strand. There certainly was no book of mine there on any table, sale or otherwise. So never mind a pay-back silly scoffing.  
I must have learned from Professor A.: how form works and doesn’t work, what one cannot live without, what to love enough to know by heart.
My other teacher, Time, taught me not to cheat or bluff or dope the thing.  For most of us, the novice or the longtime practiced, making a poem get out the gate then cross the finish line with just the right amount of sweat, no more, no less, is hardly ever easy. And the rewards are hard to calculate. You just walk back up to the window and put your earnings on a another horse that strikes your fancy.