Thursday
Nov172011

Thankful Thursday: Young Poets

I spent the week at Seashore Family Literacy. On this Thankful Thursday, I am thankful for young readers and writers who fill me and stretch me, and write sweet notes.

It's Thankful Thursday! Gratitude. Appreciation. Praise. Please join me in a weekly pause to appreciate the people, places & things that bring joy. What are you thankful for today?


Wednesday
Nov162011

Fast Five with Oregon Poetic Voices  

In a world that really

doesn't seem to value

the small, quiet voice,

I think they felt like

they mattered

says Doug Erickson, as he finishes a day recording people and poems in rural Oregon.

Oregon Poetic Voices, founded by Erickson in 2009, is the nation’s largest online poetry repository, offering a comprehensive digital archive of poetry readings from all over the state.

OPV contains recordings of almost every significant Oregon poet — including a 1921 recording of Oregon’s first poet laureate — and over 300 contemporary poets of all ages, backgrounds and accomplishment. Access to the wesbite is free, and participation is open to all.

“We hope to be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “Early on I thought it was important that this not to be a juried project. I felt that to really capture the essence of Oregon and its poets, it was important to leave it completely open to all. It gives the site a mixture of literary, cultural, and anthropological layers.”

Though not a poet, Erickson — who works as special collections archivist at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon — carries an enthusiasm for the written and spoken word. As a result, OPV is growing fast. He travels town to town, across the state, inviting new, established, and self-described poets to share their words.

“I have had people come on horseback and on bus, from homeless people to the wealthiest of our state,” he says. “Each with a story, and a medium to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity.”


Doug Erickson, Oregon Poetic VoicesYou are not a poet, yet you appreciate poetry, and think it worthy to archive. Why did you create Oregon Poetic Voices?

I do not self identify as a poet, but I am a writer, and know the highs and low of trying to communicate through printed words. Early on I thought it was important for me to not be a poet, and for this not to be a juried project. Much of the academic world that I live in is peer reviewed and scholarly. While I am a big believer in this type of scholarship, I felt that to really capture the essence of Oregon and its poets, it was important to leave it completely open to all. This has enabled the site to grow much faster that it would have been if every poem and poet was vetted. It also gives the site a mixture of literary, cultural, and anthropological layer to it. I imagine that not only those interested in poetry, but also anthropology, sociology, history and literature, in the future will find this site useful. I hope it becomes a time capsule for the thoughts and ideas of many Oregonians from this time period. 

When and how did you start OPV? 

The idea comes out of the encouragement of William Stafford, who was my colleague and friend at Lewis & Clark, who wrote and encouraged writing every day. When his archives came to the college, and I saw the nearly 50,000 pages of correspondence, I realized that much of these letters were from fellow writers, those that were famous, and those that were just simply trying to write, or become writers.

His teaching philosophy was "no praise, no blame," meaning encourage people to continue to pursue and grow as writers and thinkers. Sometimes praise and blame can lead one down a path that takes away from that seeking. While I don't fully subscribe to that notion myself, I do think in the case of OPV, this approach is a good one. Sure, there are many bad poems, yet there are also some very good, if not great, ones. They all represent a place in time for a writer/poet. Some with bad poems will go on and write great ones, and vice/versa. So, I wanted to capture and create a medium where this could take place.

Oft times historians and archivists wait for the history to come to them, rather than go out and harvest the activity that is happening presently. History is full of examples of recording that survived over time, the ruling class, and the prevailing race. With technology, and hopefully more cultural compassion, we can harvest the history of people, regions, races, genders, and voices, hereto forgotten or destroyed. And we can do it in the season that it is being created. I hope this is what OPV is doing. 

What do you hope listeners will experience? 

I hope they encounter the breadth, and expanse of this collection. There are so many self-identified poets that really feel passionate about their writing, and words. I have had people come on horseback and by bus, from homeless people to the wealthiest of our state. Each with a story, and a medium, to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity. I think that Oregon is unique in having so many poets, but I also think that if other states were to try this same project (and I hope they do!) they would find that many people would come forward to share their writings. 

Here's an excerpt of an email I received. I share it with you because I think it captures the feelings that many have when they come together and are able to share their work. I just happen to be the person who brings the equipment. The real OPV is simply the poets, young old, good, bad, famous, and not famous. Each share equal footing here, and collectively make up the voice of Oregon:

 . . . I'm the woman who was so emotional I insisted on hugging you and thanking you for letting our voices be heard. What you may not know but should, is that when my friends came out of the recording room their faces showed the joy of accomplishment. We sat around the table and our poetry tribe found a reason to be a community together because a community happens sometimes when you don't know it will and reading our work brought us together. Reticent, shy people bubbled over with talk. People who I'd had to nag and keep after dared to come and do something they truly feared but wanted to do so much and, because of you, they just did it.  . . .  In such a complex, difficult, unknowable place as this earth, this life, I love when something is so clearly GOOD, and Oregon Poetic Voices simply is. 

How is OPV funded?

OPV started with an initial grant from the Library Service and Technology Act, a grant distributed to all 50 states and administered by the State Library. The money originates with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

We only have funding through January 31, 2012. After that, well . . . we are working on it. We are not really in a position to take donations, unless some angel wants to come in and be a major funder. We are looking to small granting agencies to see if we can keep some of this program going after Feb. 2011. I am Head of Special Collections and Archives here at LC for the last 20+ years, so I will continue in that role, and hope to keep OPV alive in some small way if no money comes our way. 

Bonus Question:  Anything I didn't ask that you'd like to answer?

None of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of my team at Lewis & Clark College: Melissa Dalton, poetry project fellow; past poetry project fellow, Tessa Idlewine; Jeremy Skinner and Paul Merchant, my colleagues in Special Collections and Archives; OPV's design team Jeremy McWilliams and Annelise Dehner, and student interns and assistants past and present, Rachel Sims, Chris Keady, Natalie Figuroa, Anna Fredrickson, Caitlin McCarthy, and Becca Dierschow; workshop leaders, and all the local folks in communities across Oregon who helped to organize and prepare for OPV, and for making us feel at home in your communities. 

To learn more, and listen, to Oregon Poetic Voices, visit www.oregonpoeticvoices.org.

 

Thursday
Nov102011

Thankful Thursday: Oh, Florence! 

It's Thankful Thursday. Joy expands and contracts in direct relation to our sense of gratitude. What are you thankful for today? A person, a place, a thing? A story, a song, a poem? What makes your world expand?

On this Thankful Thursday, I am thankful for cellos and harps. For lush lyrics and sweeping sound. For the transformative power of music. For Falling by Florence + the Machine.

I've fallen out of favor and I've fallen from grace
Fallen out of trees and I've fallen on my face
Fallen out of taxis, out of windows too
Fell in your opinion when I fell in love with you

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Sometimes I wish for falling, wish for the release
Wish for falling through the air to give me some relief
Because falling's not the problem, when I'm falling I'm at peace
It's only when I hit the ground it causes all the grief

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Whoa-oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

This is a song for a scribbled-down name
And my love keeps writing again and again
This is a song for a scribbled-down name
And my love keeps writing again and again
And again and again and again and again
And again and again and again and again
And again and again and again and again
And again and again and again and again

I dance with myself, I drunk myself down
Found people to love, left people to drown
I'm not scared to jump, I'm not scared to fall
If there was nowhere to land I wouldn't be scared at all
At all
At all

Fall
Fall

Sometimes I wish for falling, wish for the release
Wish for falling through the air to give me some relief
Because falling's not the problem, when I'm falling I'm at peace
It's only when I hit the ground it causes all the grief

Lyrics by Isabella Janet F Summers and Florence Leontine Welch

 

Monday
Nov072011

Get a grip & other rules

Weather Report

All this time on the the planet, and still I am no wiser
than I was thirty years ago, when I began to write,
scratching on a yellow pad while the voices in my head
screeched not good enough. They're still shrieking
their shrill words in my left eat, just above the migraine
that's singing a high E sharp from its perch in my brain.
Not good enough, and I know it, but today the sky
is that low blue note that comes after a storm,
and the locust is sending out round green messages
as it bobs and weaves in the wind. There's a flock
of cedar waxwings in the sumac, wearing
their little black masks, stealing the afternoon away.
The light streams in from the west, still I wrestle
with my old friends faith and doubt. A thin scribble
of clouds float by, obscuring the sky, and all the words
are hiding, elusive as that bird over there, the one
that's singing its heart out, just out of sight.

Barbara Crooker
from Calyx, Summer 2011

 

November is National Novel Writing Month and writers are rattling across keyboards in a rush to create a novel in a single month. I'm exhausted already.

And the poets, not to be outdone by their driven brethren, are pressing pen to paper to pull a poem a day from the mysterious fog where poems reside. And this, too, wears me out. 

With a mixed mind I enter this writing challenge. I don't like group-think, though I do like structure. Don't like obligation, but favor commitment. Don't care for frenzy, but crave productivity.

I'm not writing a poem-a-day. Can't take the pressure. But I am writing every day. Already, just a week in, I'm feeling good and stretched. The following reminders have helped with my writing pledge:

Drew's Rules for Daily(ish) Writing 

1.
Set low expectations

I'm not writing profound poems or epic tales. I am writing one word and another word and maybe a few more. I am writing lists that turn into poems, and dreams that turn into trippy descriptions. I'm doodling with words. If something reaches higher, great. If not, so what, I've exercised my mind. (Tip of the pen to Kelli Russell Agodon for this suggestion).  

2.
Any bit of time will do
I don't write all day. Five minutes will do. If it's going well, I keep writing. If it isn't, I let go and return the next day. By establishing a daily pattern, I've lessened the pressure to write good each time.

3.
Play

Have fun. Let go of results. Remember the mystery of pen, paper, mind.

4.
Get a grip
Stop whining. Writing is not manual labor.


Thursday
Nov032011

Thankful Thursday: Running, Writing 

Today I ran 30 minutes and nearly three miles without stopping.
I am beyond thankful. I am weeping with gratitude.

It's not a huge accomplishment for most people but it is a big deal to someone who has lived a life of asthma inhalers and emergency room rushes, and then, years after breathing was enhanced, a tumor was discovered and a hunk of lung removed. 

And so, running is a big deal. While my childhood was largely sickly and sedate, my adult life has not been inactive; I hike, ski and swim. Respiratory treatment has greatly improved since my first visit to National Jewish Hospital, where I lived as a child.

Still, until recently, running alluded me. I envied those lean, long runners. I wanted to experience legs and lungs working together. A few years ago, with encouragement from my husband, I started a slow jog — to the end of the street. I'd pant and wheeze and nearly cry with discouragement, and he would rally me to go just a bit more.

And then last winter my asthma flared. I couldn't run. A murky x-ray suggested infection, demanded stronger medication. This was no emergency. This was how I had always lived: try, progress, stall, repeat.

Last summer, my lungs stronger, I began to run regularly again. Encouraged by my sister, my friends at Daily Mile, and coaching from Running Mate, I have now — this week — achieved a 30 minute run without resting, stopping or stalling.

Now I realize how much running is like writing. I never really want to run but once I start a sense of wonder and accomplishment kicks in. I can do this! Each time, my body surprises me with its ability.

But, really, it never feels easy.

Writing often feels the same. Some days words flow and everything clicks. And the very next day I am stuck in the sludge wondering, How do I do this?

On the difficult runs, when the lungs shrink and the couch calls, my husband nudges me: Look how far you've come! And in the writing life, too, it helps to have friends and mentors, or just a crazy neighbor who appreciates your pursuit.

Running, like writing, like asthma, will offer both struggle and ease. I will start and start and start again. On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for the chance to keep showing up, slogging through, and shining on.

 

It's Thankful Thursday. Joy expands and contracts in direct relation to our sense of gratitude. What are you thankful for today? A person, a place, a possession? A story, a song, a poem? What makes your world expand?