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


  1. Jane, we love having you teach at Ghost Ranch. Thank you for guiding your students and allowing them to guide you. Of course, we know the real guides were the churro sheep.

  2. This thing you do is a good thing. Think of the joy and courage you set before your students. You are a giver of blessings.