Swimming In The American River

The Distant Cataract About Which We Do Not Speak (By Mary Mackey)

     Sunset Sacramento on American RiverThe air is full of drifting cottonwood seeds; the water is turning from translucent green to puddled copper; it is 105 degrees Fahrenheit; and once again I am about to sneak up on the ducks disguised as one of their own. Donning a blue baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses, I slip into the river, sink until my nose is just above the surface, and begin to do a slow, underwater breaststroke toward a flock of mallards.

The water comes from Sierra snowmelt that has been held behind Folsom dam like a cache of liquid ice. Even in mid-July, it is still so cold, it takes my breath away, but over the years I have learned that, if I grit my teeth and keep swimming, my body will gradually acclimatize. 

The mallards do not notice my approach. They never do. Perhaps ducks are nearsighted, perhaps they have a limited ability to sort out foreground and background, perhaps they are too busy dunking under to grab a beak-full of duckweed, or perhaps they just don’t give a damn. I have never been sure why they always fail to notice the weird thing moving toward them, particularly on days like today when I approach against the current. Logically, I can not possibly be a log or even a lost beach ball.

I swim nearer. No one looks up. The mallards continue to quack and duck their heads under the water. Over to the left, a male is engaged in a display of splashing and wing beating aimed at impressing a female who appears to be more interested in grooming her tail feathers. I take a few more strokes and float silently into the middle of the flock. The water is so clear I can see tadpoles scattering beneath me in all directions. The shadow of a large fish, a carp perhaps, slides under my feet. I am now close enough that I could reach out and grab the legs of the nearest drake, but I am a duck-observer, not a duck-eater.

For a moment, I relish my presence among them. Again, I wonder why they are not seeing me. Does the bill on my baseball cap make me look like a large mallard? Does their universe include the possibility of a bright blue duck with no eyes or tail feathers?

Suddenly, a female with six tiny ducklings trailing behind her paddles toward me, freezes, and does a double-take. That THING is definitely not a duck! She gives a terrified squawk and my cover is blown. Instantly all hell breaks loose. Quacking in panic, the ducks scatter like swimmers who have just realized that the log floating toward them is actually a crocodile. Most of the flock takes to the air; the mothers lead their ducklings into the reeds and disappear.

 Finding myself alone again with only a few floating feathers to keep me company, I turn and begin to swim back toward the island, still keeping a low profile. Sometimes on the return trip, I see other animals. I can not get anywhere near the four-foot tall blue herons who are too smart and much too wary to be taken in; but once a green heron actually perched on my cap for a moment, perhaps mistaking me for a small, blue island. On another occasion, near dusk, I looked up and there on the bank, staring at me with unguarded curiosity, was a large buck with a fine rack of antlers. Once, only once, I saw a coyote playing catch with a stick.

Only a week ago as I swam in a warmer backwater, something sneaked up on me. It was not, thank goodness, a rattlesnake. I have only seen one of those in the seventeen some years I have been coming here and one was enough to last a lifetime; but it gave me quite a start nevertheless. I was swimming under the cottonwoods toward a patch of ripe blackberries that can only be pillaged by water, when I heard a huge smack behind me. I did exactly what the ducks do under such circumstances: I squawked and began to paddle toward safety only to discover that I was sharing the lagoon with a large beaver.

I have no idea why she was out in mid-afternoon. As a rule, beavers are crepuscular creatures. When we paddle our canoe back to the boat launch after sunset, we often encounter as many as twenty of them: large, plump, shadowy balls that slap their tails on the water like a rhythm band as we float by. But this one was up early, and she did not enjoy sharing the lagoon. For a few minutes she swam circles around me, slapping and diving. Then, to my great relief, she slid under water and disappeared. I have never heard of anyone being attacked by a beaver, but I got a good look at her, and just for the record, beaver teeth, when seen up close, are formidable.

But today, I make it back to the island without encountering anything more than a small muskrat and a swarm of Bluetail flies. Stumbling out of the water across a spread of small, unreasonably sharp stones, I towel off, sit down in a lawn chair, pick up the thermos, and pour myself a cup of iced tea. In a few minutes my husband, who originally introduced me to this place, swims up and joins me. We sit, chatting, drinking tea, eating cold melons, and waiting for the sun to set; and in the distance, as always, we hear the sound of The Distant Cataract About Which We Do Not Speak.

Of course, it is not really the sound of a cataract. It is the roar of rush hour traffic, half of it crossing the Howe Avenue Bridge, half of it crossing the bridge at Watt. We are sitting on an island in the American River, right in the middle of Sacramento, the state capital, a metropolitan area of well over a million people, but my husband and I like to preserve our mutual delusion. We have agreed to imagine we are not a five- minute drive from our home and a twenty-minute walk from the university where we both teach, but instead in some remote part of California where just out of sight a magnificent waterfall foams down into a green pool.

The American River Parkway makes this fantasy amazingly easy. For over thirty miles, it runs through the heart of the city from Folsom Lake to the point where the American River joins the Sacramento. This is a town where if you float in a canoe or sit on an island below the levees you can not see houses (except in a few places where, alas, the zoning restrictions are being violated). This is a town where some state employees kayak to work; where, no matter how hot it gets, you can get goosebumps and blue lips just by going for a swim.

Over the years, we have seen Hmong families in brightly embroidered, traditional dress picnicking on the banks. We have come upon a circle of Somoans, up to their chests in water, drinking cold beers and singing “On The Boardwalk” in perfect  harmony. When we launch our canoe, we often find ourselves having conversations in Spanish with recent immigrants from Mexico or Central America. About 75,000 Russians live in Sacramento county, many of them Baptists. We have watched them build huts of reeds and flowers and carry flowered crosses out into the water as part of their baptismal rituals. African-American congregations baptize here too, dressed in white robes. Like the Russians, they sing hymns and pray. I am always moved when I hear them. This, I think, is the spiritual heart of the river.

Once, during a January when it looked as if the levees might break, my husband and I came upon a pile of candy wrapped in gold foil, pineapples and oranges sliced in half, several beheaded guinea fowl, a pack of matches, and a handful of popcorn: traditional offerings made to the goddess Oxum by devotees of the African-Brazilian religion Candomblé. On another occasion, we went down to the river to launch our canoe and found the parking lot occupied by a Russian Orthodox priest and his congregation. The priest appeared to be blessing the river with incense. A procession made its way to the edge of the river bearing banners painted with holy icons. I believe their prayers were in Old Slavonic.

But nothing can compare to a night in early August when my husband and I came to the river and found it full of small, floating lanterns. A Japanese priest stood at the boat launch chanting as the lanterns drifted toward him and his congregation. We found out later that this is a traditional ceremony for souls lost at sea, but that now it is done to commemorate those who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. Above the lanterns, a full moon rose into the sky, bright and large as a second sun. The flames swirled in the current, the night primroses blossomed, the beavers were silent, and for a few moments the American was a river of light.

Note by Mary Mackey: This description of my swims in the American River was originally written for My California (Angel City Press), an anthology published to raise money for the California Arts Council and school writing programs statewide.  

 

 

 

 

 

How to Archive Your Literary Papers

Earthsong SeriesA few months ago, I packed up six drafts of my recently published novel The Village of Bones and sent them to Smith College along with thirty-eight boxes of other materials that span my writing career. I have been saving these materials for well over forty years; and after fifteen years of inventive procrastination, I finally gotten around to archiving them. The result is that I now have a clean basement (who knew the floor was made of concrete?) and the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library in Northampton, Massachusetts has my Literary Papers.

What are “Literary Papers?” Well, “The Mary Mackey Papers,” as Smith calls them, include among other things: copies of all the foreign and English language editions of my novels and collections of poetry; multiple handwritten drafts of my works; copies of every magazine with my written work; fliers for most of the readings and lectures I’ve done; photographs of me from age two to the present; literary correspondence from famous writers like Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Marge Piercy, and less well known writers who should be better known; posters almost too big to mail, and chapbooks so small that if you gasped, you might inhale them.

Smith even asked me to send them my juvenilia, a term for the things I wrote when I was a child; so I have had the fun of finding my first novel (a science fiction piece written when I was nine about a little girl who outwits alien robots) and my first collection of poetry (handwritten on lined paper when I was eleven).

As you can see, “archiving” your literary papers means much more than simply placing copies of your books in a library. A university archive is like a safe or a time capsule. Smith is going to put every scrap of my materials in a specially constructed part of the Special Collections Library where they will be preserved in a climate-controlled environment and protected from insects and mold, not to mention floods, fires, mudslides, and earthquakes. Thus, The Mary Mackey Papers will be available to the general public, students, and scholars of the future for all eternity, or at least until climate change makes the human race extinct.

I want to encourage every woman writer reading this to think about archiving her literary papers. (Actually every male writer should too, but that’s another issue.) Please don’t think: “There’s no use my trying to find a place to archive my work. I’m not important enough. No one will want my papers.” Almost every woman I’ve told about the archiving process has said this, including famous poets and best-selling novelists. On the other hand, when I mention archiving to male writers they tend to say: “That’s a great idea. Of course my work should be preserved for posterity.” Or sometimes: “I don’t think anyone will want my papers, but I’ll give it a try. All they can do is say ‘no.’”

The men are right. If you contact an institution about archiving your papers, the worst they can say is: “No, we can’t take them.” But if you don’t try, your work may end up in a dumpster. You need to archive your papers now, while you are alive and can made all the important decisions. Don’t leave archiving your papers to your heirs or they may dump your old love letters in with the rest, and you may end up being known to future generations as “Snookums.”

So how do you go about archiving your papers? Well, that depends. If you are younger, you probably don’t have much. In fact, everything you have may be in digital form, so you need to begin printing some of it out. Not all of it, but a few drafts, important emails, etc. You should also start saving fliers from the readings you do. And don’t throw away those poems you wrote when you were nine. Keats kept his early poems. Keep yours.

If you are over fifty (or already very well-known), you need to make a general list of what you have and estimate how much room it takes up. Then you need to find out which libraries, universities, or museums already collect the kinds of things you have.

Next, you need to send a brief email to places you think might be interested in archiving your papers. Introduce yourself, describe the highlights of your collection and its significance, attach a very brief bio, and ask them if they are interested in seeing more. My initial email was three paragraphs, sent out with the subject line “Interested in a literary collection?”

Archiving your papers is particularly important right now. Literary correspondences are occurring in emails; drafts of novels and poems are being stored in the Cloud; news of readings are coming via MailChimp. According to the archivists I have spoken to, the life of digital material is about five years. Then bit rot sets in, and the files are no longer readable.

In other words, the entire literary life of the twenty-first century is being written on water. Let’s see that it’s written in stone.

If you do archive your papers, that is to say if you place them in a climate-controlled environment in a university or museum archive, I have a present for you: I have created A Guide To Women Writers’ Archives on my website. Send me your information, and I will put you up there with Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, and Maya Angelou.

woman reading a book in a library

Mary Mackey is a bestselling author who has written seven volumes of poetry including Sugar Zone winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence. She is also the author of fourteen novels some of which have appeared on The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists. For more information about Mary’s books, including her recently published novel, The Village of Bones, please visit her website.

This article was originally posted on the Women’s National Book Association, San Francisco Chapter, website. To see it in its original context CLICK HERE.

MARY MACKEY’S “THE VILLAGE OF BONES” HAS JUST BEEN PUBLISHED

The-Village-Of-Bones-Low-Res

Lowenstein Associates has just published The Village of Bones, Sabalah’s Talethe Prequel to my best-selling Earthsong Series. If you buy the novel before May 15th, you can get a FREE Kindle edition of The Year the Horses Came, which is the next novel in the Series.

“Mary Mackey’s The Village of Bones, gives us the vivid adventures of The Clan of the Cave Bear, the magic of The Mists of Avalon and Lord of the Rings, and the beauty of Avatar. Filled with the belief that love drives out fear, it contains stunning twists that will leave you wanting more.”   –Dorothy Hearst, author of the Wolf Chronicles

A perilous journey, a stunning prophecy, a dangerous love that could destroy humankind: In 4386 B.C., a young priestess named Sabalah conceives a magical child with a mysterious stranger named Arash. Sabalah names the child Marrah. This child will save the Goddess-worshiping people of Europe from marauding nomad invaders called Beastmen, but only if her mother can keep her alive long enough to grow up. Warned by the Goddess in a vision of the coming invasion, Sabalah flees west with Arash to save her baby daughter, only to discover that she is running into the arms of her worst enemies. In the dark forests of northern Europe, other human-like species left over from the Ice Age still exist. 

Click here to buy the Kindle e-book.
Click here to buy the paperback edition.

Click here for your FREE Kindle e-book edition of The Year The Horses Came.

 

Interview With A Witch

Mary Mackey Interviews San Francisco Witch Starhawk

StarhawkMary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Starhawk. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time about your work as a Witch, and am pleased to be able to help you celebrate the publication of your new novel City of Refuge.

A novel-writing Witch is not the kind of Witch you come across every day. In fact, people often have a stereotyped image of a Witch as an old woman in a pointed hat who flies around on a broomstick. What does it mean to call yourself a Witch in 2016? What does the title “Witch” mean to you and how does it differ from the stereotype?

Starhawk: For me, being a Witch means having a commitment to the ancient, earth-centered spiritual and healing traditions of Old Europe and the Middle East, and serving the well-being and development of the community that is practicing and regenerating this spiritual path. It is also a way of identifying with and reclaiming the heritage of the many, many women and men who have been persecuted down through the ages for holding to the old belief that the earth is sacred.

Mary: How did you become a Witch?

Starhawk: I first met Witches when I was researching an anthropology project in my Freshman year at UCLA back in 1968.  I began studying with them—and when I became part of the second wave of the feminist movement in succeeding years, it seemed to that an ancient religious tradition with a focus on the Goddess, that offered roles of responsibility and leadership to women, was an  important aspect of empowering women.  When I moved to San Francisco in 1975, I began training with Victor Anderson of the Feri Tradition and was initiated—I went through a ritual of commitment and empowerment.  In the early ‘80s, a group of us began what became the Reclaiming Tradition, bringing together deep magic, personal and collective healing, political action and practical earth healing.

Mary: Can you briefly tell us about the Wiccan Religion and Contemporary Paganism? For example, when did Wicca become an officially recognized religion in the United States?

Starhawk: The contemporary Pagan revival has many strands—the interest in occultism and Eastern spirituality going back to the 19th century in England and US, the writings and teaching of Gerald Gardner and his followers in England in the 50s, the interest in Eastern and indigenous spirituality in the ‘60s, and the feminist movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s where we began searching for alternatives to patriarchy.

The US doesn’t officially recognize religions—the body that does is simply the IRS, which awards the non-profit religious organization status.  The Covenant of the Goddess received that status in 1975, and many other Wiccan and Pagan organizations have done so since, including various groups within Reclaming’s extended network. Many Wiccan and Pagan organizations have taken part in interfaith organizations—including the Parliament of The World’s Religions, and have also mounted successful campaigns to get Wicca recognized by the military. Ongoing campaigns include the efforts spearheaded by Patrick McCollum to get Wiccan and Pagan chaplains for prisoners in California and other states.  Slowly, we are gathering more widespread recognition.

Mary:  How has being a Witch influenced your life and your work?

Starhawk: My deepest spiritual experiences have always taken place in nature, and discovering that there was a spiritual tradition that honored nature as sacred, for me, was like coming home. Wicca teaches that the Goddess is immanent in the natural world and in human beings, and for me, this is the ground of my spiritual practice, my political work for social and environmental justice, and my creative work as a writer, film maker and permaculture teacher and designer.

City of refuge, StarhawkMary: Your new novel City of Refuge is a sequel to your earlier novel The Fifth Sacred Thing which is often assigned in courses on Woman’s Spirituality. Could you please briefly describe both novels? What is the most important thing you want your readers to take away from City of Refuge?

Starhawk: Both The Fifth Sacred Thing and City of Refuge are set in the mid-twenty-first century, when, after environmental and social meltdowns, Northern California has become a matrifocal, multi-cultural, ecological balanced society, devoted to peace, art, and connection.  Southern California has become the opposite—militarist, racist, with huge divides between rich and poor. When the Southlands invade the north, the people of Califia struggle with the question of how to defend themselves without becoming what they are fighting against.

The Fifth Sacred Thing, StarhawkFor me, The Fifth Sacred Thing came directly out of the research I had been doing on the period you yourself write about in your Earthsong Series novels about the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe: the shift from the early matrifical cultures of the Goddess to patriarchal, warlike cultures. I was asking myself the question: Could it have been different? Could those peaceable early cultures have resisted the takeover without changing so drastically into something resembling the invaders? Or, even more crucial, could we do that now? Is it worth trying to develop a society rooted in peace and cooperation if it is doomed to be conquered?

City of Refuge begins where The Fifth Sacred Thing leaves off. The invaders have been ousted, and much of their army has defected and joined the Califians. The book centers around a different question:  How can we build a new world when people are so deeply damaged by the old?

Mary: How, if at all, has your perspective on nature, society, and spirituality changed since you wrote The Fifth Sacred Thing in 1993?

Starhawk: I have a great deal more knowledge around practical earth healing, permaculture and ecological design, and much more experience in situations of intense conflict, such as the global justice mobilizations of the early part of this century, of supporting the nonviolent resistance in Palestine to the Occupation, of aiding relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  I have a wider breadth of experience, and probably seen more nuances. For me, a novel centers around a question, not around answers, and I continue to hold these great questions. I don’t expect to find clear answers in my lifetime, but in wrestling with the questions, we may find a way forward.

Mary: Both The Fifth Sacred Thing and City of Refuge are post-apocalyptic novels. Do you think we are headed for a planetary apocalyptic melt-down?

Starhawk: There’s a proverb, reputed to be Native American, that says:  “If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to wind up where we’re headed.” It doesn’t take a prophet to see where we’re headed toward destruction.  We’re already past the tipping point on climate change. We’re experiencing a concentration of wealth and power and a militarization of everyday life on an unprecedented scale, and the two crises are really the same one—the ultimate end of a patriarchal war culture that places profit and weapons over caring and nurturing. But I also believe that we have the tools, insights, and technologies to turn it around, that we still have the potential to use the resources we still have now now to create the resources we need for a new world, one in balance with nature and where we prize interconnection over domination. 

It’s a question of political will.  I believe that making this transition is the biggest challenge we face in the coming years, and that all of us have come into life at this time to make our own unique contribution to the change.

Mary: What is the most important thing we can do to meet that challenge on both a personal and global level? Can we build a City of Refuge?

Starhawk: To meet that challenge, I encourage people to educate themselves, to become ecologically literate and socially adept, to learn about other cultures and explore multiple perspectives. I also encourage everyone to give yourself time to have your own connection to the natural world, to spend some time each day listening to nature and observing the plants, trees, animals, sky, water and soil.  And then—take action.  Ask yourself what you most deeply care about, and put yourself at its service. Organize, or join with others. Stand up against the destruction, but do it with an awareness of what we want to create. And don’t lose hope!

Mary: For many years you have taught classes in non-violence and earth-based spirituality. Could you briefly describe the classes you are currently offering and tell people how they can enroll?

Starhawk: I currently teach a lot of workshops, give many talks and discussions, and direct an organization called Earth Activist Training, where we teach permaculture—ecological design—with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism.  We also give courses in social permaculture—applying ecological and systems thinking to human relationships and group dynamics. People can find out more information on my website, starhawk.org, and on the Earth Activist Training site.

Mary: Will you be doing any public readings from City of Refuge this spring?

Starhawk: I’ll be doing lots of traveling, talks, and readings throughout this spring and next year as well. My full schedule can always be found at starhawk.org, and people can also sign onto my mailing list to get advance notice of events.

Mary: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.

Starhawk: It’s been a pleasure.

Starhawk is one of the most respected voices in modern earth-based spirituality. Besides being a practicing Witch, she is the author or co-author of twelve books, including The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, long considered the essential text for the Neo-Pagan movement, and the now-classic ecotopian novel The Fifth Sacred Thingnow in development for film and television. Her most recent novel City of Refuge is the long-awaited sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing. Starhawk’s papers are archived at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Join this  People Who Make Books Happen conversation with Starhawk. You are warmly invited to leave a comment. People Who Make Books Happen is where the experts hang out.

For writing advice; a sneak peek at Mary’s new novel The Village of Bones; Mary’s latest news; course syllabi; resources for Women’s Studies, Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Film, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Advanced Composition and more information about writing and teaching, you are invited to visit my website homepage and click on the tabs.

 

 

Come Celebrate National Poetry Month With Mary Mackey

POETRYTuesday, April 19, 6 pm, Montclair Branch/Oakland Public Library,  Mary will be reading from her new and collected poems to celebrate National Poetry Month. Reading with her will be poets Grace Marie Grafton; John Rowe; Sheryl J. Bize Boutte; Grace Morizawa; William Winston; and Carol Pingree. Linda Brown, Past President of the California Writers Club will MC. TIME: 6:00 to 8:00 pm. PLACE: Montclair Branch/Oakland Public Library, 1687 Mountain Boulevard, Oakland, CA  94611. Free and open to the public. Open mic after the reading.

April 15 Awaken Magic with Mary Mackey’s new novel “The Village of Bones”

Featuring Mary MackeyOn April 15th, Mary will discuss her forthcoming novel The Village of Bones as part of the free Awaken Magic Teleseminar.

Set in the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe, The Village of Bones is a prequel to Mary’s best-selling Earthsong Series, which includes The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring.

“Mary Mackey’s The Village of Bones gives us the vivid adventures of The Clan of the Cave Bear, the magic of The Mists of Avalon and Lord of the Rings, and the beauty of Avatar. Filled with the belief that love drives out fear, it contains stunning twists that will leave you wanting more.”
                          —-Dorothy Hearst, author of the Wolf Chronicles

The Village of Bones will be available on May 10 from amazon.com as a Kindle e-book and trade paperback.

 

A Stunning Review of “Travelers With No Ticket Home”

Travelers With No Ticket Home Porms by Mary MackeyPoet Susan Kelly-Dewitt has written the following stunningly intelligent, powerful, beautifully crafted review of Travelers With No Ticket Home, my most recent collection of poems. Her review originally appeared in Poetry Now a few days ago.  Kelly-DeWitt goes straight to the heart of my poetry, understanding not only its meaning but its more subtle intentions. She sees both the darkness and the light, the exotic and the familiar.

I am re-posting her review of Travelers With No Ticket Home here, because I think you will find it a pleasure to read.

Travelers With No Ticket Home
by Mary Mackey

Reviewed by Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Mary Mackey’s new book of poems, Travelers With No Ticket Home, is mystical, passionate and strange. It picks up where her previous collection, Sugar Zone, left off—continuing the journey through the ravaged jungles and rainforests of the 20th and 21st centuries, reminding us that, wherever we are, history insinuates itself into our lives, exiling us from ourselves, from the past and from each other—so that we are always “travelers with no ticket home.”

Here Mackey also continues, as she did in Sugar Zone, to weave the English and Portuguese languages together into a lyrical text that becomes, in its own way, a third language unto itself—as if to say that all language is finally one language if we can learn to speak as members of a global community.

-==-

The first section of the book begins with a poem called “Jacobs Ladder,” that sets the tone for what is to come. In it we get a portrait of the speaker’s great aunts, “hair done up in braids/ calico feedsack dresses aprons full of chicken feed”—turn-of-the-20th century Midwestern farm women for whom a Brazilian landscape, an Amazonian rainforest, or their great-niece speaking the Portuguese tongue to them, might have seemed incomprehensible:

“queridas tias / dearest aunts the jungle is thicker than corn
mais grosso do que o milho
greener than cucumbers/ mais verde do que pepinos
filled with black lagoons that shine like obsidian

In the Old Testament story, Jacob’s dream of an unbroken ladder to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it, comes to him as he flees in exile toward an unknown future; the dream connects him to the promise of a homeland, a kind of earthly and spiritual ticket home. (Genesis 28:11-22) The great aunts might have grown up with that story, but the poems that follow catalogue a brokenness that dispels that myth.

The poem ends with two lines that set out the theme for the book: “we all stand at the foot of a ladder that’s missing rungs/ speaking in tongues no one can understand.” (Mackey’s endnotes also remind us that “Jacob’s Ladder” is a traditional block quilt pattern; one can think of Mackey’s book—six separate sections, each with its own design—as a kind of word-quilt.)

The second section of the book, called “The City of Apocalyptic Visions,” drops us into that very world so “foreign” to the great aunts:

“How you loved it in the beginning
the flashing sequins the bare thighs and breasts
the drumming that you said made you feel
as if you were being passed from hand to hand
over a crowd of 72,000 people
who loved you more than your own mother…

the samba whispers terrible secrets!
you cried but you would not tell me what they were

how easy to it is to give ourselves to the gods, o meu bem
how hard to take ourselves back

[from “After Carnival”]

And so it is with Mackey’s “travelers”—which is again to say all of us—who are “like souls trapped between two worlds.” (Mackey has traveled to Brazil regularly for twenty-five years and, as in Sugar Zone, the poems here are grounded in those years of exploration and travel.)

Amazonas

we walk on the bottom of an invisible ocean
under us the ground heaves in slow waves

look the masts of a thousand ten thousand a million
sunken ships surround us in a cage of pale flame

over our heads vast green clouds tremble in the dying light
the Waika have warned us to be silent
they say if we open our mouths here
we will drown

Much to the poetry’s advantage, Travelers also reintroduces the surrealistic shamanistic dream figure, Solange, who first appeared in Sugar Zone.

Tempting as it is to think of her (at least in part) as doppelganger or alter ego, Solange insists on being much more than that: She is soothsayer, truth-sayer, lover and doom-monger; materializing and vanishing again and again throughout the book. To my mind she is surely one of the most interesting characters ever to appear in a book of contemporary American poems.

Solange Taunts The Colonels of Para

She lifts the flowers to her lips and blows on them
until the petals flap like the wings of egrets
she disappears becomes invisible incorporeal immaterial/delusional
transforms herself into a snake stalks us like a jaguar
tears out our throats and heals us with a kiss

when the colonels and their jagunços come to kill her
she greets them by pulling up her skirt
which of you fat men with big guns and small pistolas
is brave enough to enter the door that leads nowhere she cries
which of you wants to die with the taste of cashews on your tongue?

after they run away she sleeps for forty days
when she wakes she tells us to place another row
of small black seeds on her tongue calls them
the bitter stones that pave the path to Paradise

Not surprisingly reviewers have compared Mackey to Elizabeth Bishop, who traveled to Brazil intending a brief visit and stayed on for the better part of two decades, living there during the Fifties and Sixties with her partner, Lota de Macedo Soares. (Soares committed suicide in 1967.) Bishop would surely have described herself as “a traveler with no ticket home,” and Mackey alludes to her Brazil-Bishop connection in the poem “View From The Balcony”:

View From The Balcony

Nine times the sun rose over the bay
nine times the sea looked as if some great
fish had been slaughtered between
the channel and the point

in the streets people dressed in strange
brightly-colored clothing
danced to songs of drought and starvation

each night the spirit of Elizabeth Bishop
walked in the park her lover had designed
where palm trees waved like human hands
the wind was a cough that stopped and started
and the heat burned like strong coffee

from our balcony high above it all
we could see long white ships taking people to kinder places

this is how we learned about despair
this is how we were schooled in it

“Bright-colored clothing; dancing to ”songs of drought and starvation; ships “taking people to kinder places”—these are things Mackey’s travelers see along the way—this is how they enter the land of Despair.

-==-

Travelers chronicles much about the Brazilian world—the favelas, the homeless street children, the military “fat men,” the polluted waters, the anacondas and bocarubus—the cruel and gorgeous set side by side or peeled away in layers.

The poems here seem to say: No matter how much good the travelers intend, no matter what beauty remains in the degraded land/human-scape, history has left things in ruins. We understand then why, when the travelers encounter “the last six speakers of Arikapu” (in the poem “Under the Bocarubu Trees”)

they did not turn to look at us standing there beside our canoes
we were the noise that had drowned their silence
the thieves who had cut out their tongues
pale ghosts in their green light
our words harsh and incomprehensible
as the ringing of axes

-=-

In the last three sections of the book, Mackey shifts her focus to include some intimate family poems that in some ways hearken back to “Jacob’s Ladder”—poems like “Language Lessons” and “To My Mother on her Second Non-Birthday”—among the most emotionally touching poems in the book.

These are followed by a penultimate section of poems called “The Kama Sutra of Kindness” (several poems reprinted from earlier books), which explores the place of kindness in erotic love (eros and agape).

Walking Toward the Largo do Machado

when the smell of jasmine
flows through the streets of Catete like a warm fog
when the scent is so liquid you can
breathe it in get drunk and stagger
I think of all the years I have loved you
and all the years I will go on loving you
I think of how we protect each other from pain and betrayal
how each night we wrap ourselves around each other
and peace floats above our bed like a canopy of white petals

The final section, “The Martyrdom of Carmen Miranda,” is composed of a single poem, an elegy for the Brazilian samba dancer and film actress who became one of Hollywood’s shooting stars but was, in the process, reduced to caricature—with “the fruit basket hats,” allowing herself to be “done up in pompoms like a pet poodle.”

Here is an excerpt from the closing stanza:

Carmen like you we are all travelers
who set out believing we can bring back
something to make it worth the trip…
something that will make us happy and whole…

It is a poem that brings us back to the central theme of the book, to exile and to those missing rungs in our own Jacob’s Ladder.


Susan Kelly DeWittSusan Kelly-DeWitt is the author of The Fortunate Islands and ten previous print and online collections; a new book, Spider Season, is forthcoming in 2016. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Northern California Book Reviewers Association; her reviews have appeared in Library JournalSmall Press Review and Poetry Flash, among others.

 

What Is Women’s Visionary Fiction?

What Is Women’s Visionary Fiction? (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)

Foremothers CoverWomen’s Visionary Fiction is not a new type of Visionary Fiction. It has been around for decades if not centuries. In fact, for all of recorded history (and thousands of years before writing existed) women have been associated with visions, mystical experiences, spiritual powers, magic, the ability to bring new life into the world, heal the sick, and speak to the dead.

When women authors finally cracked the Paper Ceiling of Publishing in the early 1970’s, they began to draw on their visionary heritage as they struggled for cultural recognition and spiritual identity.

The best of Women’s Visionary Fiction is not preachy or didactic. Mystical, flowing, beautifully crafted, it draws on folk traditions and esoteric sources as it creates new worlds, explores the after-life, and evokes other states of consciousness and other realities. Yet many of the early examples, fine they are, still remain unknown except to a small audience of readers.

Waterlily cover DeloriaFor example, in 1940, Native American author Ella Deloria wrote Waterlily, a visionary novel that takes as its subject Lakota (Sioux) culture before the Lakota had contact with Europeans. This fascinating recreation of Lakota rituals, culture, and spiritual life, was not published until 1988, nearly twenty years after Deloria’s death.

In the past half century, women have written visionary fiction about witches, midwives, herbal healers, priestesses, goddesses, fairies, oracles, and angels. In fact, sometimes the authors themselves have been witches, midwives, herbal healers, and priestesses. Take for example Starhawk, San Francisco’s most famous witch. Her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing (Bantam, 1993), is a post-apocalyptic vision of the San Francisco Bay Area as a newly created ecological paradise governed by a council of elderly women who are guided by their dreams.  

Usually, as in The Fifth Sacred Thing, Women’s Visionary Fiction takes as its subject the path of peace rather than the path of war. But this is not universally true. Maxine Hong Kingston’s visionary autobiography The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (Knopf, 1976), not only redefines what it means to be a Chinese American woman; it blends folk-tales, legends, and visions to create a fierce woman warrior with magical powers.

Since the 1990’s the growth of the Women’s Spirituality Movement has inspired women to write visionary fiction about the Earth as a living Goddess. Sometimes known as the Gaia Hypothesis, this idea that the Earth is not real estate to be developed, but a living being to be cared for is slowly making its way into popular culture.

The Year The Horses CameThree of my novels, The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring, take the living Earth as their subject. Written for a popular audience, they recreate the religious rituals, visions, poetry, and mystical bonds between the Earth and the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe.

My new novel The Village of Bones, which will be published in early 2016, continues my visionary exploration of the Gaia Hypothesis as it explores the possibility that small bands of human-like survivors (hominids) were the original inspiration for the stories of fairies, gnomes, elves, and other magical creatures, which appear so often in European folk tales.

In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss some of the major works of Women’s Visionary Fiction in more detail and answer the question: Can Men Write Women’s Visionary Fiction?

Resources:
Find Syllabi for courses in Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Women’s Visionary Film on my Educators Page.

Get the latest news about Women’s Visionary Fiction and my forthcoming novel The Village of Bones by clicking here.

Read my People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series, take a look at my Guide to Women Writer’s Archives, find me on Facebook, and know that your questions and comments are always welcome.

This essay on Women’s Visionary Fiction originally appeared on the Visionary Fiction Alliance Blog, November 2, 2015.

 

 

My Literary Papers Are Going To Smith College

Archives for literary papers in beautiful libraryAfter procrastinating for fifteen years, I finally vowed this summer to place my literary papers somewhere where they could be properly archived and preserved. My poems, novels, and manuscripts are going to be housed at the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library at Smith College in Northampton, MA. This means  Smith is taking my first editions, manuscripts, rough drafts of my poems and novels, fliers for all the readings I’ve done, copies of all the publications that contain my work, and a lot of other things including my literary correspondence. This also means that if you have ever published one of my poems or written me a letter or an email that does not contain intimate personal information, your work will also be housed with the Mary Mackey Papers at Smith forever or until the human race goes extinct from climate change.

If you are a writer, an artist, editor, or publisher, or have records of a career that will be of interest to future scholars, I urge you not to follow my example and wait fifteen years to archive your papers. Please do it now while you are alive to make vital decisions about your collection (like removing all those old love letters).  I talked to archivists from thirteen universities and special collections libraries this summer, and several of them told me that the life expectancy of digital material is about five years. If you aren’t old enough or far enough along in your career to archive your papers, please make hard copies of your material. The history of the twenty-first century is being written on water. Let’s write it on stone.

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Jane Hirshfield On Craft and Inspiration

Poet Jane Hirshfield talks to poet Mary Mackey about Craft and Inspiration in this People Who Make Books Happen Interview.

Jane HirshfieldJane Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry. She has edited and translated four books presenting the world of poets from the past and is the author of two major collections of essays. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T.S. Eliot Prize. Named best books of the year by The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon, and Financial Times, they have won the California Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Mary Mackey: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Jane. March of this year saw the publication of two new books: The Beauty, your eighth collection of poetry, and your second book of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Today I’d like to talk to you about craft and inspiration, but before we begin, could you please tell us something about The Beauty?

Jane Hirshfield: I write my poems one by one, not as books, and the very point of a poem is to be distinctive, one-of-a-kind, and beyond paraphrase. So all I can usually do is give some sense of poems’ terrain.  In this book, though, the opening section of the book is more coherent. The poems have “My ” as the first word of the titles: “My Skeleton,” “My Corkboard,” “My Species,” “My Sandwich.” Each is its own investigation—but as a group, they also explore the shifting boundary of what we think of as the self and what we think of as non-self. To say “my” is to personalize, to make subjective, sometimes to own. Yet in the end we own nothing, not even our own ribs and wrist bones. These poems explore that paradox, they look both at the dearness of our lives and at their provisionality, permeability, perishability.

The Beauty poems by Jane HirshfieldThe Beauty has running through it as well the sense of stock-taking that arrives at a certain stage in a life. There’s the sense of a life’s shape, poems of mourning, poems of personal love and our broader interconnection. Like its predecessors, the book carries in certain poems the awareness that this country remains at war. It also dips its ink at times into the surreal; one poem is titled “Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain.” Last, there’s a fair bit of science—proteins, the microbiome, references to physics. I hope  this happens always in ways that serve poetry’s central reason for being: to enlarge and expand our sense of our own existence and the ways our lives are shared with others.
 

Mary Mackey: This seems like a good moment to ask you to say something about Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World.

Jane Hirshfield: Ten Windows is an exploration of how it is good poems do what they do, and why that may matter to us. This book of essays came out eighteen years after the first one, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, which meanwhile seems to have become something of a small classic. Both books are a bloodhound-following of one scent: how is it that shaped words affect us they do?

The “how” in the subtitle matters. The book offers close readings of many individual poems, both to unfold their substance and to reveal some of the sleight-of-hand work by which they are made. Many things happen in poetry under the surface of the reader’s awareness—and those hidden elements of meaning are often the reason we find ourselves moved, though they are not what we consciously see. We see—as we should—the poem. We see its images, hear its musical depths and translucence, feel the spring of release into larger being without know what has unlatched us.

 Ten Windows essays by Jane HirshfieldSome of the latch-springs looked at in Ten Windows are uncertainty, hiddenness, surprise, paradox, the way sometimes a work of literature is going along looking at one thing then looks at another— and that quick glance out the window changes everything in the poem or novel or play, exactly as putting an actual window into a room changes how we then see everything inside the room. That particular chapter, “Close Reading: Windows,” is one that writers beyond poets–novelists and non-fiction writers and playwrights–have been very excited about. They felt it named something they had not before been quite as consciously aware of. It’s not a device to use mechanically or all the time—but it is something to have in your toolbox of craft.

 I hope both Nine Gates and Ten Windows are helpful to their readers as readers and also helpful to those who are writers as writers. They aren’t craft handbooks in any normal sense, but craft instruction is there, on virtually every page. They have each been called “life handbooks”— I like that. Literature is not an arcane activity or idle entertainment—it’s a way we can know our lives’ living-through more fully, opulently, broadly, and wildly.

Mary Mackey: How does your process of writing essays differ from your process of writing a poem?

 Jane Hirshfield: This morning, in the midst of our fourth year of California drought, I went outside on waking and found the ground wet, with actual and entirely unexpected rain. The arrival of a poem feels something like that— beyond my control, a surprise that unlatches some new way of saying and feeling, some new way of knowing. Essay-writing is also a path toward discovering something I didn’t know before, but one that feels much more under the sway of intention. Usually I write an essay because I’ve been asked to teach, to give a lecture. Then I spend a long time trying to find some good  and interesting question. Only after I’ve found a question worth exploring for a few months do I begin writing prose. With poems, it’s the opposite: I never know what a poem is going to be addressing until after it’s written. Poetry comes from a pre-Linnean world—you don’t know the name, you don’t know the species or genus, you just see something that seems to be alive and record what you see. The poem itself is both the creature and its name.

I do think there are ways that essays and poems share a process. I write the first drafts of both forms by intuition, but intuition guided by the demands of shapeliness. And I revise both poems and essays keeping in mind that compass-sense, and the magnet of arrival, and the effort to offer for every moment of a reader’s attention something worthy of that exchange.

Mary Mackey: What are the primary sources of inspiration for your poetry?

Jane Hirshfield:  Each poem’s source is sui generis. What I can name, perhaps, are some of the conditions of inspiration. Life itself brings something that demands a poem. A death, the multiple swerves of love, some more subtle fracturing. I don’t think anyone has ever written a good poem out of a sense of complacency, out of mere desire for self-display, or out of idle gamesmanship—even if you tried to, if the poem finds its life, something else inevitably shoulders its way in. Hunger, tilt, the burr of empathy, grief, or bewilderment— in these are the beginning of poems.

Mary Mackey: What can poets do to nourish and encourage inspiration?

Jane Hirshfield: Part of a young writer’s task is to find what it is that nourishes and encourages them. We are each unique in our needs. For me, part of finding a new poem has to do with entering a deepened silence and so a deepened listening. To be undistracted and permeable, to be vulnerable, to feel safe enough to invite unsafety into the room. Poems are risky. They undo who you are, what you thought you thought.

And then, there is this: if you are going to have something to write about, you must be fully exposed to the world, to other people and beings and weathers. Even a poet as sequestered as Emily Dickinson had a family, correspondents, a dog, a garden, a library. The Chinese recluse poet Han Shan had the wildness of his mountain home, and a friend, Shih Te, who would come to visit. The Turkish poet Hikmet, in prison, had his life before prison, his fully developed heart and mind, his sense that his words would find readers who would need them. We are part of the largeness of existence, and can’t write without its full collaborative presence. No world, no words.

Mary Mackey: Besides reading all the poems of Jane Hirshfield, which I heartily recommend, what five additional poets should people read in order to learn how to write well-crafted poetry?

Jane Hirshfield: I’m afraid an adequate list would run closer to fifty, to five hundred. I’ve learned craft from reading the English-language tradition (a phrase I use in the broadest possible sense, not only what was meant by that word in the 10th grade English classes of my youth, though those poets, too, are indispensable), but also in translation. Polish poets, Spanish and Portuguese poets, Greek poets, Japanese and Chinese poets, Russian poets, Indian poets, Scandinavian. Much of my craft knowledge comes from studying Latin for five years when I was young—I learned to scan meters, I learned the awareness of rhetoric, both in the larger sense and in terms of shapely and memorable turns of phrase. I acquired an abiding love for the poems of Horace.

I don’t think I can argue for readers of this conversation to all start studying Latin and Greek, or Sanskrit, or the Malay languages, or Arabic. I do think that translating teaches you to read poems closely, for their craft and for the grain of their heart-wood. Translation forces you to grapple with the particulars and nuances of meaning and it awakens you to the subtleties of grammar, which are in truth the possibilities of existence. Think about what the future perfect tense really means—the sheer chutzpah and optimism of it: “By next month, she will have married.” Such a verb tense tempts fate… yet we cannot abstain from its promise.

Mary Mackey: What can creative writing teachers do to nourish and encourage inspiration in their students? Can inspiration be taught or is it an innate talent?

Jane Hirshfield: There’s a line I love by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski: “Rivers from rivers, paintings from paintings, poems from poems.” Surely the first inspiration must be lullabies, nursery rhymes, skipping rope songs. Later, someone—parent, teacher, or friend—offers a doorway into other poems already written.  It matters that imagination be welcomed rather than discouraged, that experimentation be honored even when it doesn’t quite succeed. The desire of a young person to express herself, to be seen for who he is, is such a fragile ember. Innate talent surely matters, but it can be fanned by one wind, put out by another. The teacher’s job is to know how to foster and not to throttle. To demonstrate the love of art and what it brings, and to craft invitations that lead to a full attendance. And finally, the teacher’s job is surely to make themselves dispensable, so the student can go on to become her or his own authority, to write what that person alone can write.

I taught for five years in the California Poets in the Schools program, and saw the effects of that way of teaching—expose young people to good poems, give them the chance to participate from the inside by writing their own, and lives change. I wish every student in the country could have such an experience of words made their own lives’ shapeable clay.

Mary Mackey: All your poems without exception are beautifully crafted. I know from personal experience that learning the craft of poetry is a long, complex process. Could you please briefly take us through one poem from The Beauty, and speak a little of its journey from inspiration to final draft? Here is the one I have in mind:
 

          A Cottony Fate

Long ago, someone
told me: avoid or.

It troubles the mind
as a held-out piece of meat disturbs a dog.

Now I too am sixty.  
There was no other life.

                  Jane Hirshfield  
     
              (from The Beauty, NY: Knopf, 2015; all rights reserved)

How did the idea for “A Cottony Fate” first come to you? As an idea? An image? A phrase? A rhythm?

Jane Hirshfield: Well, the immediate beginning, I took out of the poem, except that it lingers on in the somewhat mysterious title. The poem began with some lines about an Italian kitchen towel— but when I went to revise it, I found that the most alive part was what you see here. The towel, as towels do, did its good work and was then set aside.

The poem’s real beginning, though, came forty years ago. An early writing teacher suggested I should be wary of using the word “or” in poems. (I do sometimes still  include that word, but I always think about it.)  It was only as I was writing this poem that the advice returned to me as perhaps good advice for a life. I’ve reached the age when certain choices cannot be made again. The verb tense switch in the last line reflects that.

Mary Mackey: Did you write the first draft of “A Cottony Fate” in a single sitting or in pieces over a long period of time?

Jane Hirshfield:  The first drafts of my poems almost always come to me in a single sitting. There have been exceptions to this, but they are rare. I do, though, revise poems, sometimes over a long time. Time is an invaluable editor: it allows the objective words on the page to assume their fully independent life, which you then can see more clearly. There’s one poem in The Beauty that needed more time, it seems. I’ve realized I want to revise it. I’m pondering asking my publisher if I can switch two words, in two adjacent lines, for the paperback.

Mary Mackey: What did you cut from the earlier drafts of “A Cottony Fate”?

Jane Hirshfield:  The kitchen towel. Beyond that, I would have to go back to look at the first draft to answer. I only remember now that the poem was once a great deal longer.

Mary Mackey: What did you add?

Jane Hirshfield: The ending. It took cutting the poem down to find the question it was asking of me, and to find what felt a right response to that question. Not a definitive answer; there’s always another answer. But a response that felt right the way hitting a bell can feel right. You know it by feel and by sound.

Mary Mackey: Did you read various drafts of “A Cottony Fate” out loud to yourself in order to assess the rhythm of the lines or do you have some other method for assessing poetic rhythm?

Jane Hirshfield: I don’t ever say my poems out loud when I write them, but from the first words’ first murmur, I hear them. On the voice, with sound. Earlier in this interview I said, “No world, no words.” Here I’ll say, “No music, no poetry.” Some reviewers seem to think that if music isn’t big, baroque, visible stuff, the poet doesn’t care about the rhythms and tones and sounds. But free verse poems, at least as much as ones of “formal” meter and rhyme, are formed. They require their own strength of music, or they will dissolve into muddled chatter.

There’s one other poem in the The Beauty that shows what I mean:

               Two Linen Handkerchiefs

How can you have been dead twelve years
and these still

              (from The Beauty, NY: Knopf, 2015; all right reserved)

That’s the whole poem. Its meaning entirely depends on hearing its question’s tone, on hearing the voice of the living person who has been brought to write it, who has been brought to stop speaking mid-sentence. Letting you hear that is what prosody and music do. Each word here is equally weighted. It’s almost impossible to get English to do this for so many words. I didn’t plan it— the poem spoke itself in my ear in the measures of grief. But that is also part of how craft works, how music works— they are based in reality. You learn these sounds and gestures by your awareness of actual voices in the world in actual circumstances. How grief, say, can either throw a person into an aria or into silence.

Mary Mackey: What in general do you do to your poems to improve and polish them?
 
Jane Hirshfield: There is no general, only particulars. I re-read, I re-experience, I notice how the words affect me. If something feels off the mark, I look for what might want to be changed. This might mean expanding, it might mean cutting, it might be looking for a word more alive and tensile to replace one that is flat and inert, it might mean changing the line breaks, the punctuation, it might mean finding an entirely new ending or opening or middle.

All I can say to the students I teach is: “In this place, in this poem, perhaps this might be tried.” My only general advice? Try to awaken a deepened and more accurate attention at every stage. And, I suppose also: Try to hold yourself to at least the same standard you would hold others. Your companion poets are both the living and the dead. Do not bore them, do not waste their time.

Mary Mackey: Your poems, as I’ve read them over many books, often end in a way that makes a connection between the visible, physical world and the eternal, spiritual world. Two linen handkerchiefs can speak to us of our relation to death, what lasts and what disappears. Sometimes it’s obvious in your poems; sometimes it’s subtle, but I see this as a note that runs throughout your work. At what point in the writing of a poem does this connection come to you? Does it precede the poem, or does it develop organically out of the poem as you write?
 
Jane Hirshfield: I think, to the degree that does happen, it comes because a larger awareness of the ground of existence and its grounding is what I want. Lightning wants to find trees, the large wants to find its way into our lives. While trees may not think they want to be opened by lightning, we humans do. I, at least, do. There’s a poem in The Beauty titled “Of Amplitude, There Is No Scraping Bottom.” In it are the lines: “You wanted to be ignorant, unknowing, thunderstruck, gobsmacked./ Wanted to be brought to your knees / by the scent of mushrooms you couldn’t know whether to pick.” Randall Jarrell once said that a poet’s existence consists of standing out in thunderstorms for a lifetime, hoping to be struck by lightning five or six times. One reason I turned to poems as a child, and turn to them still, is for just that—to become a conduit of the unfathomable.
 
Mary Mackey: Thank you for talking to us today, Jane.

Jane Hirshfield: It’s been a pleasure.

Join this  People Who Make Books Happen conversation with Jane Hirshfield. You are warmly invited to leave a comment. People Who Make Books Happen is where the experts hang out.

For writing advice; course syllabi; resources for Women’s Studies, Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Film, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Advanced Composition, Lesson Plans for California Poets In The Schools, and more information about writing and teaching, you are invited to visit my Educators Page and use my novels and collections of poetry in your courses.