Interview with Laurie James

 

Aye! Way back at the end of January, at then end of my interview with Rosmerry Wahtola Trommer, I said: I’ve another interview, with another poet. I’m thinking, now, I’ll post here as well, say, in a week or so.

And, oy, how it’s been so very much longer than “a week or so.”

Four or five years ago, I interviewed Laurie, planning to submit it to an online poetry ‘zine which went “on hiatus” right when I submitted it. (And it’s still on hiatus, which is sad—it was wonderful, and filled a necessary niche.)

Back then, I’d known Laurie for years, and I still regularly touch base with her. When she was the Featured Poet for Telluride’s monthly Talking Gourds, two years ago, I made it a point to be there.

So, without still more further ado, here’s my interview. Laurie has been beyond patient, waiting for this interview to finally leave my laptop, and enter the outside world.

 

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1) How’d a Montana woman find herself in dinky-town, Colorado? Further, what’s kept you here, forty-plus years?
Well how does anyone end up where they are?  Guess I went with the flow of my life and let it take me where it wanted me to go … but I made a very hard decision to live here in 1972 by leaving behind a good relationship and a different future in Los Angeles. Of course, it changed my life.

I was born and raised in Montana and that certainly still has a huge influence on who I am and what I write about in relation to my younger self and the landscapes I experienced there.  But, I haven’t lived there since I was 21.  I am still just a cowgirl without a horse.

The Montana winters were no fun and this little valley in Colorado has so much sun and good clean air and a pretty mild Winter season.  California was one big season and I felt unconnected to time in that place.

I almost went back to Montana to live in 1974 but something bigger than me came up and I stayed in Salida instead of moving on.  I was married for a short time, had a wonderful son who has given me two incredible grandsons. I was a single mother for 13 years which taught me a slew of survival skills.  I had a great job for 30 years at the local newspaper and things got easier.   But even now as a single woman, I still am tested from time to time. I am a tough old bird and I totally protect what life I have built all by myself.  I don’t have any regrets about any of that but often wonder what other life I might have had if I had stayed in California or gone north in ’74.

I was in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s, of all places, living with my boyfriend at the time, who was an aspiring musician, a drummer.  We had some interesting adventures together trying to survive there. I mean homeless part of the time, down to our last quarter, without a car a lot of the time, hitchhiking and living on bananas. But things turned around and in 1970 when the big earthquake happened I sorta knew I didn’t want to live in LA much longer.  Plus I felt so out of touch with my surroundings.  Being a nature lover, I found all the concrete overwhelming and the people less and less genuine and difficult to relate to.  A fish out of water, is what I was there.

It’s a long story of many things but in December of 1971, I came out to Salida by bus to visit a very close friend who had moved here.  I had only planned a couple week visit but ended up staying for 5 months before I went back to LA and packed up my cat and my sewing machine, hitched a ride with a friend going cross-country to Florida in a VW Beetle.  I landed in Salida and lived in Smeltertown without running water or electricity, where I cared for an adopted goat, and lived on fried egg sandwiches and beer …  until the snow fell.

My first job in Salida was at the now burned down Poncha Lodge as a waitress and bartender.  I drove a 1952 dually-flat-bed pickup I bought for $150.  Friends painted “ Ultra Violet’s Dance Hall and Saloon” on the driver-side door.  I was happy. I had returned to a simpler way to live; wood stoves, blue jeans and letting my hair blow in the wind.  Earthy people instead of city blowhards.   I just knew I was in the right place.  Salida was not the town it is now, but a workingman’s town with miners, railroaders and cowboys—with a few hippies and artists thrown into the mix. It has slowly changed over the years but mostly to my liking.  Seemed then, a lot like Montana in that it had its own special character and characters.

After moving here, I discovered that my father had lived in this area in the 1930s and his father, my grandfather, owned a sawmill in Howard, down the road 12 miles.  That’s a whole other can of worms, but guess maybe that is what made me comfortable and made me stay… a familiarity in the DNA perhaps?

 

 

2) Tell me about poetry: How did you come to it, and/or was it vice versa? Or, maybe, how’d you come back to it? Why, specifically, poetry, rather than prose—or painting/sculpting/rose gardening/music/cooking/whatever?

 

I grew up in a town of 600 people in Western Montana.  It’s claim to fame was “The Largest Bull-Shipping Center of the World”.  I had a happy childhood.  I spent more time outdoors than between walls.  I often sat high up in a cottonwood tree to read, or on the roof of the back porch daydreaming.  I am an introvert by nature but have learned to enjoy the company of others most of the time.  My nickname in high school was “the mute”.  Seriously.

My mother was into culture … classical music, good books and she had one little volume of poetry that I must have read hundreds of times as a kid.  “The Pocket Book of Verse – Great English and American Poems” with a copyright of 1940.  I still have it and still read it.  Everything from Chaucer to Joyce Kilmer.  She also had a volume of Dorothy Parker that enthralled me to no end. My mother could recite by heart “The Jabberwocky”.  I was drawn to the rhythm of words and I believe it’s how I began to think, in cadences. I often would write in my head, a short line or a rhyme.  Wish I had written these things down, but I didn’t.

But I also was a voracious reader of all sorts of literature and read my way through the Book Mobile that came through town during the summer.  Otherwise I had to rely on the grade school libraries which were less stocked.  My Aunt Rose lent me books.  She had a big library and was a school teacher who always had her eyes to the page.  I read War and Peace when I was thirteen years old.  I always read way beyond my age.

Words strung together meant a lot.  We didn’t have television.  We listened to the radio and tons of music on a phonograph.  In 1958 my mother bought a stereo and we thought that was the wonder of the world.

My sister played piano and oboe.  I was deprived of  musical instruction because I wouldn’t practice.  That was a disservice to me I still complain about.

But at 14 my parents “split the sheets” and my mother took my sister and I to Missoula to live.  It was a big thriving university town. I had excellent English teachers in high school and when I was a junior, my English teacher told me I was a natural poet. She submitted one of my poems to the school yearly literary publication and I was published for the first time. After that, friends would kid me about being a poet, like it was some sort of abnormality.  I didn’t flaunt it.

My father died in my senior year of high school and that event had a huge effect on me. I wrote in journals over the years but never developed a cohesive collection of anything worth saving. I have a few but they are just awful. Self-absorbed, depressing stuff.

After high school I attended the University of Montana and lived in the dorms.  My roommate was a poet. She was studying poetry with Richard Hugo. We’d stay up late at night and write poems together, or read his poetry and the poems of others.  Hugo had a huge influence on me.  But I left after a year and moved to California where I went to college for another year but kinda lost my way.  Survival I suppose.  Living on $100 a month and trying to be a student was difficult. I turned on, tuned in and saw the light. I went back to Montana in 1967, “The Summer of Love” for a final go around.  I could write a book about that year.

So moving way ahead in time to 1997, a friend of a friend, Jude Janett, started a writing group in Salida and I started attending and things just started pouring out onto the page.  It felt safe and at the same time it was scary as hell.  I finally got up at an open mic and read something.  It so empowered me that I stuck to it.  Then Jude got me involved in the Sparrows Poetry Festival, which lasted 7 years, and I met and became friends with so many regional poets and it’s all sorta uphill from there. It was like, oh here is my tribe!  I had gone many different directions but this one looked like the fork in the road I had to take, and so I did.

From Sparrows, I was invited to be in the poetry troupe River City Nomads.  We have written and performed together for over 10 years now. We perform together 3 or 4 times a year and write to different themes.  It’s good incentive to get things polished up and ready to deliver out loud to audiences.  We have way too much fun together and it’s been a valuable experience.  They are brothers and sisters in all the best ways.  They make me better.

I dabble in black and white photography as an alternative to the world of words. But poetry only takes a pencil and a piece of paper… napkins, deposit slips, post it notes whatever is nearby when the words come.  When it comes it comes and I had better get it down or it flies away.  I write mostly in longhand and then for ease of editing, transfer it to the computer.  Each poem is a process.

 

 

3) Have you considered publishing a book of your poetry?

 

Well of course.  I haven’t felt like a collection has matured enough but I am working on a collection. I am still emerging.  Whether or not it manifests, remains to be seen … remember I don’t like to practice …

 

 

4) Whose poetry voice/style would you like to borrow for a short bit (say, a day or a week, or maybe a month)?
Richard Hugo or Sharon Olds or anyone but me would be enlightening.  I’d embody just about anyone else for a period of time, for new perspectives and processes.

 

 

5) What keeps you attending Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival? Talking Gourds events?
I go to gatherings to keep in contact with the tribe.  There is nothing like a passel of poets getting together to rock your world.  Any excuse to get together, not just festivals.

 

 

6) What one workshop would you sign up for, immediately?
Always Judyth Hill.  She opens me up like no one else.  She is ecstatic and it’s contagious.
An afternoon with Billy Collins or maybe Charles Bukowski or Jim Harrison would be interesting. Richard Hugo of course.  I enjoy the company of men.  I find men fascinating in the way their minds work, opposed to mine. There are women I also admire and write with that make me aspire to better things.

 

 

7) Are there any workshops you’re hankering to teach?

I don’t think I am the teacher type.  I would probably walk around the room with a ruler and smack people on the knuckles if they stopped writing.  It might be something to look at but there are too many other things to do and I am running out of time.  Never been drawn to teaching … it takes a lot of patience.  I am still gathering knowledge and not dispersing it.  Selfish perhaps but I know nothing about how to convey to someone else how they become a poet or how to inspire them to write better.  I’m okay one on one or in writing groups where there is no judgement or overt criticism.  Who am I to inspire someone else and prod a good poem out of them?  I don’t see myself in that light. I am still learning and developing too.

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Back Again, So Soon?

So.. let’s see. My last two visits to Telluride were from Oct 27 – Nov 10, and then Dec 14&15. And I’m back already — again, for just one night — and I’ll be back again, each of the next four Wednesdays : Feb 8, 15, 22; and March 1st. What gives with seven visits, one of them being for two weeks, within roughly a four-month period?

Well, things have turned out thataway. December’s Talking Gourds was rescheduled for when I could make it, and with a poet I wanted to see, and also on my birthday. Hard not to feel the Universe was in my corner. And this current weekly surge is due to a workshop put on by beloved poet and friend. Since my New Year’s resolution (Ick!) was to bring my writing more to the forefront, this is one of those steps in that direction.

But, then, a question remains: Why do I keep returning here, anyway? Well,… here I go…

The reasons are legion, and I may not even be aware of them all, but to put it succinctly, because coming here is good for me. The beauty, the smallness and quietness, that I’ve become familiar with the place (and also in no small part, familiar to the place and some of its people), and that it’s a place I know where I can escape to are some of the specific reasons I persist in returning. Too, it’s far enough away (four to four and a half hours) that I’m not able to constantly come here (It requires a commitment to come.), yet it’s close enough that it’s not huge burden getting here. As the Little Bear would say, “It’s just right!”

That said, I do love where I live, and am grateful for being able to continue living there. As much as I also love Telluride, whenever I’m here, the very fact that I’m here means I’ve stepped away from day-to-day life — I’ve no commitments, no work schedule, or nearly all the other things that come with a life that keep you from being able to do (pretty much) whatever you want whenever you want. As Gus McCrae tells Lori, in Lonesome Dove, “Even in San Francisco, life is still life.” If I were to move to Telluride, I’d also have to bring all the rest that comes with my life, which I’m currently able to leave at home precisely because Telluride isn’t home.

Anyhoo. As I said, I’ll be returning each of the next four Wednesdays.

And, each Thursday, I’ll be returning home.

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Interview w/Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Something like a year ago, I interviewed Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, who’d recently become the Western Slope Poet Laureate. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Colorado-speak, we refer to the part of our state that’s west of the Continental Divide, as “the Western Slope.”) I’d intended it for an online poetry magazine that went “on hiatus” while I was putting some of the final touches on the interview. Since, I’ve tried a couple other places, and neither place was interested in even receiving the interview.

Then, yesterday, I came across this interview, referenced in Rosemerry’s own blogsite. I read it, liked it, and then later pondered whether I could do the same with my own.

So, without further ado, here’s my own interview with Rosemerry.

 

Show Up And Write Something True

(An interview with Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer by Eduardo Rey Brummel)

Version 2Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, current Western Slope Poet Laureate, has had her work included in O Magazine, and on, Prairie Home Companion. One of her current WSPL projects has been the online, Heard of Poets: Poems From Colorado’s Western Slope, a weekly profile of a Western Slope poet.

Long before she became WSPL, she was teaching and conducting workshops in places such as: Colorado Mesa University, Ah Haa School for the Arts, The Aesthetic Education Institute of Colorado, and Think 360 Arts. Her latest book is, Even Now, and her website is, wordwoman.com. She and her family live in Colorado’s San Miguel County.

(This interview was conducted via a series of emails between Rosemerry and myself.)

ERB: Let’s jump right in. In Mr. Hendrick’s fourth-grade class, you wrote:

“Pink is pretty/and fingernail polish./Lovely roses/I’d never abolish.” What would your fourth-grade self think of where that poem has taken you?

RWT: Well, that fourth-grade girl knew exactly one thing about poems. They were fun to write. She didn’t care if a poem were[was?] published. She didn’t know that it wasn’t practical to be a poet. She didn’t know that poems could save her life.

What a gift, really, to come to poetry for the pure pleasure of it. What pulled me in then, as it does to this day, is the thrill of reading poems and finding resonance there. And then there is the thrill of the blank page—how perfect it is in its potential. How anything can happen. And then there’s the thrill of the words themselves at play with each other through sound, through meaning. And then there’s the disappointment of not saying what we wanted to—not precisely communicating what we want to say. And the chance to try it again. And it’s free.

I have worked with enough fourth grade students to know that it is possible at age 10 to write really moving, mature, insightful poems. I was not one of those kids. I just wanted to have a good time. I think that fourth-grade self would be glad to know that I still find writing playful, even when the subject is very serious.

 “…[I]t wasn’t practical to be a poet,” you said. I’m reminded of the line from, The Wizard of Oz, “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”  I’m not so sure being practical is really all that practical.

I love that line from the Wizard of Oz. I am grateful for impractical hearts—hearts that risk and break and open wider than we ever dreamed possible.

Tell me a little more about how “poems could save her life.”

I think many people who have gone through very difficult times can point to a poem that “saved them,” that helped them find meaning or purpose or at least the will to live another day. For me, that poem was “Rumi, Pay Homage,” a version of Rumi by Daniel Ladinsky.

What about your life, poetry or otherwise, surprises and/or amazes you?

Oh Eduardo, what doesn’t amaze me? Is that too flip? I am not trying to be flip. I think I live in a constant state of amazement. I am told it’s a little overwhelming for people around me sometimes.

Since you earned your graduate degree in Language and Linguistics, it seems you’d already decided to pursue some sort of writing career. Had you also decided, back then, to be a poet?

When I was at Colorado College, I was lucky enough to take a half-block class with Owen Kramer called “English as a Classical Language,” in which we looked at the Indo-European roots of words. It was the first time I was introduced to the phonetic alphabet, and I fell in love with the usefulness of that! I transcribed several of Hopkins’s poems into the phonetic alphabet, and it enabled me to really notice the patterns he was using. That was the beginning of my love affair with linguistics. I understood that if I wanted to really know language, a scientific background in phonetics, syntax, etymology and language acquisition would help enormously! I was an anomaly in the [University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate] program, for sure. Everyone else was planning on teaching ESL (which I did as a TA). But you are right, Eduardo, I chose to study linguistics because I knew it would really help me as a writer. I believe it does.

You’ve composed a poem each day, for what—the last ten years? What got you started, doing that? What’s kept you at it for all this time?

About ten years ago at Sparrows Poetry Festival in Salida, I did a workshop with Jude Janett. She had just finished doing a poem-a-day practice for 30 days and challenged each of us in the room to do the same. Here were her guidelines: Find two friends. Agree to send each other poems. Agree that you do not need to respond to each other’s daily poems. I thought it sounded impossible, but I was excited to try. I partnered with Ellen Marie Metrick and Barbara Ford. Ellen I knew well, and Barbara was someone I really wanted to get to know. It turned out to be a fabulous way to engage with each other and has fostered an intimacy that still exists between the three of us to this day.

After 30 days, we decided to go for 90. Then, when the other two decided to take a break, I decided to keep it up, though I did take a six-month break in 2008 when my second child was born.

Perhaps I would like to tell you that I need to do it, that I am driven to write the poems. Perhaps it is more true to say I do not need to do it. That it is all too easy to not write poems. That is why, I think, the daily poeming is so important. It helps me maintain poetry as a practice. Practice. That word is so vital to me when it comes to poetry. I feel as if I am constantly learning, constantly exploring new tools, new voices, new ways of reading and writing and saying the things that defy being said—like what it means to be alive.

One of the best things about writing a poem a day is that it takes off a lot of pressure. I used to only want to write if I was pretty sure that what I wrote would be good. As a result, I had a hard time starting. What joy I have now in saying I am a failed perfectionist. When writing a poem a day, I know I can’t write a masterpiece every day. But, as Billy Collins once said, “If you stay in the aviary long enough, sooner or later a bird will land on your head.” If you write enough poems, well, eventually you will write one that really sings.

Okay, one more thought. The practice has really shifted my approach to the page. Now, instead of my goal being to write something good, I tell myself all I need to do is show up and write something true. True, of course, does not mean factual. I would be lying, Eduardo, if I told you I don’t want to write something good. Of course I do! But that intention is not the starting point.

In his book, Fooling With Words, Bill Moyers quotes Mark Doty, who says, “I might write a poem which begins in raw and inchoate feeling. Most of my poems do begin that way. They come tumbling out of me, but that’s a cry, not a poem. An unshaped utterance is not a poem…. You must stand at a distance from yourself and apply all the resources you can muster to the raw stuff of experience.” 

When I read this to Art Goodtimes, he disagreed, arguing for the unpolished—“First thought, best thought,” I reckon. What about you? Where do you stand: fine-tuned or closest to the source?

Ha! This is a great follow up to the last question. So. I feel that it is essential to start with something true … and then I very fiercely believe in craft. Of course the more you read and study, the more tools you bring with you to a first draft—a sense of rhythm, a drive toward a turn. In other words, the more you practice, the more likely it is you have better “first thoughts.”

I sure do understand what Art is saying, though. I would think that most poets know what it is like to wring out whatever is essential in a poem by fine-tuning it too much.

Whether I am writing a poem or revising it (hopefully after it’s very cold so I am a little less attached to it), I ask myself over and over and over, “Am I serving the poem?” I love this notion of being in service to the poem. For me, it’s come out of a mantra given to us by Jack Mueller, “Obey the poem’s emerging form.” I have never had much fondness for the word obey. But the more I feel that I am in service to the poem, the more I get out of the way and let the poem have its way, well, the more powerful the practice, the more powerful the poem.

Is there a poet whom you’re intimidated by? Say, whom you’re nervous about meeting? (Jane Hirshfield? Jorie Graham? Marie Howe? Sharon Olds?) Was it like this, crossing paths with Naomi Shihab Nye?

I suppose the kind of intimidation you are speaking of begins with admiration but is tarnished by comparison and even self-flagellation (“why can’t I be that brilliant, that funny, that wise, that clear”). Pedestal-itis: the impression that another person’s greatness makes them inaccessible. I’m prone this way.

That was the case when I met Naomi a few years ago. We were presenting together at a poetry festival in Ohio, and it became almost immediately clear that the pedestal was getting greatly in the way. There was no chance of friendship when I held her up so high. Luckily she was so warm, so human, it didn’t take long for me to learn I needed to alter my lens.

I have a friend who has a habit of meeting every poet she admires. She seeks them out and befriends them. I have watched her for years with great curiosity and I would like to think I am learning from her. What a gift we give ourselves to surround ourselves with people we consider to be more intelligent, more creative, more funny, more wise—people who inspire us.

I think I am particularly lucky to have landed on Colorado’s Western Slope where the poets tend to be especially friendly, welcoming, supportive and fun. That open-armed, open-hearted environment, fostered for years by Art Goodtimes, Jim Tipton, Karen Chamberlain and others, certainly helps take away some of that intimidation factor.

“Pedestalitis,” to be sure; but it’s, perhaps, a more intimate intimidation I’m asking about. For example, there are certain poets whose works can cause me to fall sort of into despair, wondering what right do I have, poeming, when the world already has this poet, their poems, so beyond my own talents. Michelle Kodis has said, “Comparison is the root of all unhappiness.” Do you struggle with this? If so, how do rise from these ashes, do you have to befriend a person in order to tear down their pedestal?

I think I used to be more intimidated by other poets and fall into the kind of desperation you’re describing. That doesn’t happen so much anymore. Maybe it’s a blessing that comes with age? I think we can exhaust that intimidated part of ourselves so that after years of clenching and shoulding and pedestaling, it finally gives up and we can relax a little more.

Why write? And why poems? Why not essays or stories?

Why write? Who can say why we are tugged to one art or another? For me, words are like friends, and I am infinitely curious about them. I love to know their etymologies. I love to speak them for the pure fun of speaking them. Language thrills me. And why poems? Well, partly because I have no sense of plot. I have written many essays and articles, and I enjoy creative non-fiction, but they don’t have the same magnetism for me as poetry. Perhaps, and I hate to admit it, part of this preference is because poetry is very efficient. I am half-German, and I think that there is a drive toward efficiency bred into me.

“I have no sense of plot,” you said. I disagree. What about “Vivian Learns First Person Possessive” and “Because Sometimes I Get that No Gets Me Nowhere,” from, The Less I Hold; nearly any poem from, The Miracle Already Happening; or even “Telluride Lunaria,” the very first poem from your first published collection, Lunaria? To be clear, I’ve scarcely even begun to scratch the surface. Sometimes plot does happen on the page, true; but there’s no plot unless it happens inside the reader—which all of these poems of yours, and so, so many others, cause to happen. I agree with you about the mysterious tugging toward a specific art form, the elegant efficiency of poetry, but I think you’re far more adept with plot than you give yourself credit for.

I have written a lot of short stories over the years, and I can tell you they are just plain bad. Maybe I have no sense of elongated plot 🙂

You are a singer, both with an a cappella group and in your everyday—have you considered writing lyrics?

I think that a lyricist might be better equipped to say what the difference is between a poem and a song lyric. The fact that I don’t know the difference is probably the reason why I am not a song writer. Having said that, Heartbeat has performed some of my poems as songs—other members have arranged them so we can sing them. And I have collaborated with other composers before—David Lingle even created a four-part choral arrangement based on the seasons that used four of my poems. I enjoy these collaborations and would love to do more, but I haven’t even considered writing songs for the sake of writing songs … Hmmm. Maybe I should learn more about it!

List some poems you wish you’d written.

Well, it’s more a hit list of some of my favorite poems … I am glad they were written. There could be many, many more if you have space …

“For the Anniversary of My Death,” W. S. Merwin

“Cruelty,” Lucille Clifton

“Kindness,” Naomi Shihab Nye

“i like my body when it’s with your,” e. e. cummings

“How You Might Approach a Fawn,” Wendy Videlock

“Postscript,” Daniel Gerber

“Learning to Speak Italian Slowly,” David Shumate

“Love,” Lola Haskins

“And Remember to Be Kind to Yourself,” David J. Rothman

“Roadkill Coyote,” Art Goodtimes

“Rumi, Pay Homage,” Rumi, translated by D. Ladinsky

All 100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda

“O,” A. E. Stallings

“From Blossoms,” Li-Young Lee

“Spring and Fall,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Unwise Purchases,” George Bilgere

“Truth,” Alison Luterman

“Autumn,” “You Darkness,” and “I Live My Life in Growing Orbits,” Rainer Maria Rilke

“Concourse K,” Danny Rosen

“I Wanted You in the Kitchen of My Heart,” James Tipton

“The Sabbath Poems,” Wendell Berry

“Ask Me,” William Stafford

Had you been to Telluride before moving/landing here?

Though I lived in Colorado since 1980, my first visit to Telluride was in 1993. I was home on summer break from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I was earning my Master’s in English Language and Linguistics. I had no idea what kind of town it was, but my German friend Babette and I were up for an adventure and drove over. We found a room for $10/night in a hotel being renovated and decided to stay a few nights. That evening, walking down the street, I met the man who would become my husband. After I graduated, that man, Eric Trommer, invited me to come live with him, and though I was wary of living in a resort town, I very muchly wanted to be with Eric. I still have reservations about living near a resort town, as jawdroppingly beautiful as it is, but I am very glad to be married to such a wonderful man and I love the beautiful life we have made together here.

Tell me about Talking Gourds. How did you get involved, and how has it evolved across the years? Are there struggles, finding a poet/writer, each month?

When I first moved to Telluride, Art was director of the Telluride Writers Guild, and he was leading monthly readings and an annual festival in which we passed a gourd around a circle to share our poems and stories. The gourd, a symbol of both the masculine and feminine, was a tradition passed on to him by deep ecologist Dolores LaChapelle. After a year or so, I took over as director of the Telluride Writers Guild. For ten years, I developed a pretty ambitious schedule of events—we had the monthly readings, plus two annual festivals (Walking Words and Talking Gourds), two annual contests, and a monthly writer-in-the schools program. Then, with my second child, I had to give up the leadership. The Writer’s Guild is presently defunct, but Talking Gourds has persisted as a poetry series, now under the umbrella of Telluride Institute. Art and I revived it in 2012. For the past two years it has been hosted at Arroyo, a wine bar in Telluride, on the first Tuesday of the month, and it always features a reader, followed by an open gourd circle. Most months we have themes, such as Water or Red or Liberty, and we invite readers to share poems or thoughts on the theme—though we don’t mind if someone shares on another topic.

I really appreciate the gourd circle. It is so different from the stage model, in which one person is put in the limelight. I like the equality of the circle, a round of listeners and speakers, and I like the symbolism of the gourd—it was the first vessel for a “message in a bottle” and has been a valued plant in many cultures.

What poems of yours have you been surprised by? How/Why?

Well, I would like to think that I get surprised in most of my poems. I push myself to not know how a poem will end. If I think I know the end, I try to write past it. Or I write two endings. My friend Kathryn Bass once called it using an “emergency exit” when we escape a poem by thinking we know where it will go.

But lately my best surprises have come when I have been collaborating. Recently I wrote thirteen poems based on paintings done by Colorado artists for a project sponsored by the Ars Nova Singers. I LOVED it! How else would I have ever gotten an elephant balancing on tea cups into a poem?

Another great surprise was to start performing with cellist Kyra Kopestonsky. We’ve been having so much fun pairing poems with music and rhythm, and it takes performance to a whole new level. I often clap and jump up with excitement when we stumble on a new way to play with the poem and the instrument. It’s just so darn exciting!

Do you write at a specific time, or do you squeeze it in when you’re able?

For the last few years, I have written almost always at night after my kids go to sleep. It seems to me there is a big difference in poems written in the morning and in the evening—one looks forward and the other looks back. It will be interesting to see when my practice changes how it changes the poems, too.

But beyond writing, I think that a poetry practice involves paying attention. This is something I really love about a daily practice. It invites us to be available to the world. I am almost always on the lookout for a poem bud.

Going back to what you said earlier about focusing on writing something true rather than good, doesn’t it typically turn out, anyway, that what is “true” is also “good?”

You are so right. If we can write something true, then chances are its authenticity will ring in the reader, creating resonance. Good is such a strange judgment. I would suggest that I would rather have resonance than be “good” in a technical way. Though of course, it would be great to have both!

 

I’ve another interview, with another poet. I’m thinking, now, I’ll post here as well, say, in a week or so.

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January 28, 2017 · 3:45 pm

Back Again

A wee bit more than a month ago, Nov 10th, I headed home after two weeks in Telluride. At the time, I figured it’d be at least until February or March before my next visit. Wound up not taking that long.

A week and a half ago, I got word that the December monthly meeting of Telluride’s Talking Gourds poetry club, had been moved from the 6th to the 14th. Since I have Wednesdays and Thursdays off from work, I would be able to attend. Further, the guest poet was going to be, Elissa Dickson, who is currently the San Miguel County Poet Laureate and also someone whom I wanted to hear read their poetry. Finally, Dec 14th is my birthday. All these plusses converging, what other choice did I have, but attend?

When I arrived at the venue, last night, it was packed. The only time I’d seen as many folks attend a Talking Gourds was the night Jewel (the singer/songwriter) was one of the guest poets. Last night’s draw was Elissa. She works at the library, is outgoing, and has lived in Telluride for a number of years. Her friends, peeps, loved ones, and other supporters had filled the room.

Speaking for myself, I scarcely know Elissa; I’ve seen her a few times at previous Talking Gourds, and have heard a few of her performance and written poems. Even so with such seemingly little to go on regarding Elissa, my regard for her, and my appreciation and respect of her talents, was enough to cause me to come for the night in Telluride: (Four-and-a-half hour drive, each way; three mountain passes, also each way; not to mention the cost of gas and a hotel room, and the sorta “loss” of my two days off from work.) There are very few others I’d willingly do this for. So, if  I, “scarcely” knowing her as I do, immediately decided to come to Telluride in order to hear her, is it any wonder she packed the house with those who know her far better?

Of course, and to be sure, once I’m here, spending time in Telluride isn’t any burden. I’ve lost count of my overnight(s) visits over the past three or four years, but I’m pretty sure it’s in at least the upper teens. As always, I stayed at Mountainside Inn, and stopped by the local Indie bookstore, Between the Covers, (two times, this time), to buy needed books and the like. Also, I got to touch base with some of own Telluridian “friends, peeps, loved ones, and other supporters.”

Even though I’ll have to be at work by 4AM, tomorrow, “what other choice did I have,” but to come? (Place your bets now, on whether I’ll be able to wait until next year’s Lit Fest, in May, to return.)

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Filed under Changing Perspective, Honoring Your Writing and Your Being a Writer, Inspiration, re: Writing

LitFest

Three years ago, Telluride presented its first Literary Arts Festival (“LitFest”), and I wanted to go, but I had very recently spent time there, and couldn’t afford another visit, so soon. Last year, I decided, instead, to visit my mom on Mothers Day, which I likely might have done this year, had Mom not passed away, earlier this year. So this go-around, I booked my hotel early, and began dreaming and waiting.

Of course, reality wasn’t much like any of my dreams; but its quality was at least as high as my dreams’. I met one author and one poet, each of whom I only knew by name and photos. And, I got to see nearly all the Telluridians I already knew.

One of the most popular events of LitFest, is its Literary Burlesque, which is both a metaphoric and literal disrobing of its featured poetesses. I wish I could show pictures from it, due to the costuming and such, but alas and go figure, pictures were not allowed. This was also the only event that you had to pay for. It also had sold-out, the previous two years. Thanks to my knowing one of the co-owners of the bookstore where tickets were being sold, I was able to call and get one, while they were still available.

As these thing often happen with writing type festivals and such, I didn’t get much writing done. Well, it’s not the festival that’s to blame—it’s my addiction to YouTube videos. (I’m seriously wondering whether getting wi-fi for my apartment is a good idea.) However, I’m leaving feeling more solid and grounded in being a writer; more thoroughly a member of the tribe.

Meanwhile, back in Salida, Wednesday is to be the last day for our current kitchen manager and dietician. I’ve struggled mightily giving my writing precedence over my paying job. With the upcoming change of management, it seems a good time to make such a change. However, that’s entirely another sack of worms for perhaps another time.

In a few hours, give or take, I’ll get in the van and head back home. My next scheduled visit, here, won’t be until late October, an entire summer and two-thirds of an autumn away. Maybe I’ll squeeze in at least one visit before then. We’ll see. It’s hard to stay away too long from views like these.

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Filed under Honoring Your Writing and Your Being a Writer, Inspiration, Uncategorized

On the Mend

Wowza, I had no idea I’d receive such a flood of responses to yesterday’s blog. Any words of thanks I can offer to all y’all fall so short. But, I’ve gotta try, anyway, right?…

T H A N K   Y O U ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Due to: your responses, a phone call from my sister, and a plethora of emails, hugs, and personal words, I’m back on the mend. I just had a talk with our HR head honcho, and found out about additional resources that are available. Life is worth the living and the fighting for, once again.

The Dallas Divide, on my way home from Telluride, roughly three weeks ago, Oct 15.

The Dallas Divide, on my way home from Telluride, roughly three weeks ago, Oct 15.

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Slip Sliding Away

This is gonna be a bit embarrassing, and I’m gonna feel a fair bit of shame in posting this blog; but those very-same reasons of embarrassment and shame are why I need to go through with this posting.

Last night I did something I’d never done, by calling a suicide crisis hotline. I wasn’t planning any harm to myself, but I was very clearly and definitely gaining ground in that scary direction. (The past two days at work had been brutal and crazy-making, and I wasn’t recovering.) In typical Ed fashion, I put-off calling, and was hesitant about following through when I did finally make the call. In fact, when the counselor answered, I immediately began apologizing, saying I wasn’t sure the reason I was calling was a proper and intended reason to be calling. Well, if it wasn’t he never said so, didn’t hang-up on me. Instead, as these things are meant to happen, when our conversation ended, some twenty minutes later, I was feeling sturdier and stronger, as though a weight had been removed from my chest.

Now, I wouldn’t be bringing this up if this were an isolated, singular incident; but it isn’t. Just a month ago, I was stuck flat-on-my-back in my Telluride hotel bed, slipping down the chute that leads to suicide. Once again, I had to fight a LOT of inertia and vulnerable pride to email my sister, and also a friend who lives in the suburbs of Telluride, telling them of my plight. I’ve been raised hard-fast and hard-wired to not be any kind of burden to anyone. I’ve been thoroughly taught to, “stay out of the way.” And, hey, I’m a southern man. I either suck it up, walk it off, or cowboy up—I certainly don’t give any notice of being anything other than full-bore, gun-ho, able-bodied, and ready.

As these things happen, my friend and I had already scheduled to meet for a short walk, the very next morning; and my sister, two states away, emailed me, encouraging me to hang in there; and she called me the next evening.

I still have three more shifts at work, this week. I’m currently not feeling as sturdy and strong this morning as when I went to bed. Therefore, my fight to stay in the light isn’t over. But, too, the darkness has yet to fully overcome the light. And I have allies; I’m not alone in this fight.

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By the way, here’s the crisis line number, always there, 24/7, whatever the reason—if you feel you might want to, that’s reason enough to call ’em: (719) 539-6502.

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Filed under Fighting Toward the Light, Not Alone, Sorting It Out, Suicide