Poetry

The Beautiful & Complex: A Conversation with Heid E. Erdrich

Lauren Becker

credit: Chris Felver

credit: Chris Felver

On April 25, the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, in partnership with the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild and the UW-Eau Claire Department of English, have the pleasure of hosting acclaimed author, poet, educator, and interdisciplinary artist Heid E. Erdrich.

Heid has authored six collections of poetry, is the editor of two anthologies of literature by Native writers, and has been the recipient of numerous writing awards highlighting her beautiful and complex work. Heid grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota and is Ojibwe, enrolled at Turtle Mountain.

Throughout the evening, Heid will read from her own recent work and present brief poetry videos, “poemeos”. These poemeos are made through the collaboration of an all-Indigenous team of artists, animators, filmmakers, and composers. Join us at 7PM in the Woodland Theater in UWEC’s Davies Center.

Lauren Becker: Could you speak a little on what you’re looking forward to sharing with us on the 25th?

Heid E. Erdrich: The poems and poem videos (tiny films and animations) I'll share are part of my most recent book and one coming out later this year. My most recent book of poems focuses on forms of communication and expressions, everything from cave art to music lyrics and cell phones. The more ways we find to communicate, the less we seem to understand one another.

I'll read some new poems and talk about the anthology I edited for Graywolf Press and that came out in summer last year, but is in its fourth printing already!

LB: What’s led you to this path of creation and advocacy?

HE: I am pretty much as creation made me - someone who has always been interested in art, words, justice and deep listening to the world. Poetry has always been a part of my life and I've loved collaborating, but did not find the time and company to really engage it until recently.

LB: Could you speak on your experience collaborating with all-Indigenous teams of creatives?

HE: My team of collaborators were, first of all, my friends and colleagues. We worked together in a lot of settings including with choreographers and in community development, so I knew they would understand my aims in making short films and other art projects based in poetry.

LB: Your work has been characterized as ecologically centered, deeply complex, critical, strikingly beautiful, and simultaneously ironic. What does your creative process look like?

HE: It often looks like daydreaming, walking around an urban lake, laughing at the absurdity of the world, texting pictures and ideas back and forth with visual artists and reading aloud to groups of people so I can hear where my voice works and what does not work.

LB: Before attending this event, is there anything you wish your audience would know more about?

HE: It would be great if audiences came to poetry readings without any worries that they might not "get" a poem. Not all poems need to be figured out. Sometimes it's just fun to let the words flow over you, to enjoy the humor or other tones. I usually give time for questions, too, so the audience can ask about anything the poems bring up. I like my audience to expect an enjoyable evening with some laughs, even.

LB: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

HE: I really appreciate being invited to these literary events and it's how I make my living, in fact. As my 94 year old Dad in North Dakota says, "People actually pay you to read poems, huh? Well, how about that!"

How about that indeed!

You can check out Heid’s latest collection of poetry, Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media here.

For those who would like to form a better understanding of the traditional homelands of the Nations of Wisconsin, please visit https://wisconsinfirstnations.org/.

Poetry & Pi(e): An Intersection

Dasha Kelly Hamilton • Credit: Va’Na Barki

Dasha Kelly Hamilton • Credit: Va’Na Barki

Lauren Becker

Interdisciplinary. A term defined by Google’s dictionary as “Relating to more than one branch of knowledge.” A buzzword. A mindset.

 Perhaps you’re in the mindset that if you go to a coffee shop, you’re in a space limited to casual chats and creamer. If you go to a museum, you’re in a space limited to mummies and dinosaur bones. I think we can all say that we were once in the same boat, believing that everything had its “place”. Believing that history didn’t belong in my dream of someday becoming a rodeo cowgirl. Or that calculus didn’t belong in your dream of becoming a children’s author.

As it turns out, many things that we once thought of as polar opposites are actually quite intertwined. For example, the art of poetry and the art of mathematics. On March 14, we at the Guild, along with our collaborators at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, are hosting an event that will make math and spoken word’s cross-over crystal clear.

Join us at Pablo Center on National Pi Day for a reading and discussion led by acclaimed poet, writer, artist, and founder of Still Waters Collective - Dasha Kelly Hamilton. Throughout the evening, we’ll celebrate the beauty that is interdisciplinary thinking, with the help of coffee from Shift Cyclery and Coffee Bar and pies from Randy’s Family Restaurant. . Thanks, too, to the UWEC Student Office of Sustainability for sponsoring student tickets.

 Academy associate director, and editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas, Jason Smith shared a bit about the nature of Poetry and Pi(e) and his take on the term “interdisciplinary”.

Jason.jpg

Lauren Becker: Given the nature of this event, what has your experience at the Wisconsin Academy taught you about interdisciplinary studies?

Jason Smith: Sometimes the best conversations happen when different disciplines collide, whether by design or by accident. These “creative collisions” can complicate our understanding of a person, place, or thing by providing a different lens through which to see, say, the mathematical precision found in haiku or the beauty of carbon atoms arranged into a graphene nanotube.

LB: As a Madison-based writer, what's your perception of the literary scene here in our Valley?

JS: I think that what is going on in the Valley is exceptional and a model for other areas in Wisconsin that want to help grow what I see as one of our state's greatest potential exports: excellent writing. Of course it doesn’t hurt that you have committed community partners—the CVWG, the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, UWEC, Pablo, Volume One etc.—and people like BJ Hollars and Nick Butler working together to cultivate the scene, and I’m not even counting Shift!, the Oxbow, and the other local hangouts that host and promote Valley writers.

LB: What do you hope folks will take away from this event as a whole?

JS: Well, first I hope they enjoy the poetry. Dasha is an incredible poet, and her performances resonate with people from all different background, poets and non-poets alike, and this is a rare opportunity to just kind of submerge oneself in the world of her words. I also think that this is a great opportunity for people to get together and talk about the great poets we have in Wisconsin. I am continually amazed at the depth of talent we have in our statewide poetry community, and the ways in which Wisconsin poets support each other—showing up for readings, teaching classes, reviewing chapbooks. Right now, Wisconsin is a great state for poets and writers.

LB: What sparked your interest in partnering with us?

JS: Well, at the Academy we believe that Wisconsin ideas move the world forward. So, we like to work with organizations that help writers and artists to achieve their goals—to get their writing seen and heard—while bringing people of all stripes together to take part in our state’s literary heritage. I admire the work the CVWG is doing, so it just seems like a good fit.

A good fit indeed!

Excited to come to a better understanding of how our world is connected?

Purchase your tickets for an interdisciplinary evening here.

 

 

3 Questions with Max Garland--Deliverer of Keynote Addresses and More!

credit: Justin Patchin

credit: Justin Patchin

Former Wisconsin poet laureate Max Garland is the author of The Word We Used for It, winner of the 2017-18 Brittingham Poetry Prize. Other books include The Postal Confessions, winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and Hunger Wide as Heaven, which won the Cleveland State Poetry Center Open Competition, and a chapbook, Apparition, from the University of Wisconsin Press. This summer, he’ll provide the keynote address at The Priory Writers’ Retreat.

I recently chatted with Max to learn more about his experiences as a rural letter carrier, humility, caffeine, and Dylan Thomas. Read on!

B.J. Hollars: This summer you'll be giving the keynote address for our inaugural summer at The Priory Writers' Retreat.  First, no pressure (though this address will surely go down in literary lore as the moment dozens of writers reaffirmed themselves to their craft).  the talk is titled "What I Learned On My First Day Of Writing" or "Don't Quit Your Job."  Without giving too much away, what inspired this talk?

Max Garland: After working almost 10 years as a rural letter carrier on the route where I was born, where I lived, my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles lived, my first true love lived (we were 6-year-olds at the time), I quit that job, placed the last letter in the last mailbox on Rural Route 7, Paducah, Ky. 42001, and drove my mail car 442 miles to the Iowa Writers' Workshop for my first official day of Poetry School. My talk is a cautionary tale inspired by the mixed results of this journey.

BH: Over the years, you've had the privilege of working with thousands of writers in a variety of settings.  What conditions do you find to be the most conducive to creativity?

The conditions I find most conducive to creativity are attentiveness, humility, and the stubborn conviction that you are the one best equipped to tell your own story, and also, of course, there's caffeine. I realize these aren't really "conditions," but more like qualities or attitudes, and in one case, a psychoactive drug composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, which, coincidently, are the four most abundant elements in the human body.

BH: Finally, was there a poem or poet or piece of writing that inspired you to take the poetic plunge?  If so, what, specifically, inspired you?  A line?  A phrase?  An idea?

MG: Writing that inspired me early on? I'd have to say the Elizabethan cadences (I didn't know it was poetry at the time), of the King James Bible rolling off my grandmother's tongue in her western Kentucky accent. Then in college we were assigned a poem by Dylan Thomas that went-- "Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs/About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green/...Time let me hail and climb/ Golden in the heydays of his eyes/ And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns/ And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves/ Trail with daisies and barley/Down the rivers of the windfall light.."  By the end of that poem, when I read, "Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means/ Time held me green and dying/ Though I sang in my chains like the sea," I thought my head might fall off. The words were simple, but the order cast them like a spell. I was a goner. 

Hear Max’s keynote address this summer at The Priory Writers’ Retreat! Click below to apply!

Bruce Taylor On His New Book, Breaking Forms, and Fish Chowder

credit: Justin Patchin

credit: Justin Patchin

by Chloe Ackerman 

I will never stop being amazed by the awe-inspiring power of words. In my studies as a creative writing major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I have consistently found myself motivated by the writing processes of other writers. I was especially excited to have the opportunity to interview Bruce Taylor—former poet laureate of Eau Claire, and professor emeritus at UWEC—about his new book Poetry Sex Love Music Booze & Death. Bruce Taylor will be reading from this book at The Local Store in downtown Eau Claire at 5PM on Monday, October 8th. Be sure to swing by and pick up a copy!

Bruce Taylor Book.jpg

Chloe Ackerman: Has your poetry style evolved over time? If it has, how has it changed? 

 Bruce Taylor: As a young poet in the 60’s I would say, along with many others, things like “the sonnet is where old poets go to die” What I didn’t know I meant was I wasn’t good enough to write one. It takes a while to get your chops. Formal poetry is easy to do badly but hard to do well. You try.

CA: Have you noticed any changes in the poetry or literary scene around Eau Claire?

BT: I don’t know if more folks are writing across the Chippewa Valley, though it seems so. There are certainly many more venues to share: the readings at places like the library, The Local Store, The Pablo Center, publications such as Local Lit, Barstow & Grand, Twig. And the CVWG is directly responsible for injecting new energy and interest in writing. For a population the size of ours, the CVWG list an extraordinary number of writing groups, and book clubs.

 CA: At what point in the poem writing process do you decide to put it in a form?

 BT: Very early, and you don’t “put” it into a form as much as coax, tease, worry, beat it in that direction. The form can always be abandoned, and the poem turns into something more free (er) verse, and often better. Or you can simply cheat. We call it “pushing the envelope.” I have some 16-line sonnets, 3-line couplets and an envoi-less sestina. A form is only as good as it can be challenged, stretched, adapted. Still only about half of my poems are in traditional forms. The new book brings them together for the first time in one volume.

 CA: What question would you like to be asked that gets at the core of you as a writer and/or your writing?

 BT: You just asked it.

 CA: On October 8th at 5pm you are reading from your new book, Poetry Sex Love Music Booze & Death, at a Local Lit: Off the Page event in the Local Store. What do you hope people will take from this event and other events in the series with other local authors?

 BT: A book.

 CA: Is there anything else you would like to share?

 BT: I make a very good fish chowder.

 

Spotlight: Andy Patrie on Half-Life

By B.J. Hollars

We meet at Sacred Heart Church in the early evening—a place I’ve never been, but one Andy Patrie returned to daily for five years as a child.

            “I went to school next door here to the church,” 40-year-old Patrie tells me as we slip inside the propped wooden door leading us into the foyer.  “I spent a lot of time in this church, and probably a great deal of my 20s trying to figure out what that meant.”

            For Patrie, poems became the perfect vehicle for untangling his oft-fraught relationship with his faith, a “messy divorce” of sorts that ultimately inspired a series of poems on God, guilt and growing up, all of which inhabit the center of his soon-to-be released second collection, Half-Life

            Yet faith is but one of many themes Patrie tackles in its pages, the most prominent theme, perhaps, explores his candid assessment of his own mortality.        

            “I was doing dishes and the name ‘half-life’ came to me,” Patrie says, “and I thought, ‘There it is!  Now I have sort of a focus for this collection.’”

            While many of his poems explore the realities of reaching mid-life, for Patrie, this milestone is hardly a crisis.  His poems are more celebratory than elegiac, more filled with wide-eyed-wonder than a dirge-like lament for the past.  Whether recounting male-pattern baldness (“Black hole / swallowing strands of light”) or a kayaking trip with his wife (“The lake assures / it will flip / these kayaks / and dip us / as we slip inside”), Patrie always manages to excavate the beauty in the mundane.

            Tied to the subject of mortality is legacy, and I ask Patrie what he hopes his nine-year-old child, Simon, might one day take from his father’s work. 

            “That’s a great question,” Patrie says, leaving it to linger for a moment as the church returns to silence.  “I often think of [my wife] Adrienne as the person I’m writing for, but I would say oftentimes I’m thinking about Simon, too, and these little mementoes, I guess, for him, as he approaches these milestones, and what that will mean for him.”

            Patrie explains that the collection’s most personal poem is its last—one simply titled, “Simon.”

            “Simon is just really different,” Patrie says, “and I know every kid’s different, but in that sense of how he approaches what it means to be a boy.  There’s some gender nonconformity going on…so that poem really became just a way to say to him that it’s okay, it’s cool, with me, with us.”

            I smile though the night’s grown so dark he can’t see it.  By the glow of my computer screen, Patrie reads a poem, and then, at our interview’s conclusion, we leave that place, exiting through the same propped door we’d entered.

            Outside, an elderly man awaits us, and, in the kindest way possible, makes clear he’s curious about what we were up to in the church.

            “Not to worry!  There’s a simple explanation,” I explain, “we’re just two grown men reading poems in the dark.”

            Thankfully, before those words leave my mouth, Patrie offers a simpler explanation, explaining to the man that he’d attended the school many years prior, and that he’d just completed some poems on that experience.

            The answer seems to satisfy the man, and after a bit more conversation, he promises to see to it that the church door gets locked before the hour grows too late.

            We thank him, and then, after Patrie and I say our farewells, we get into our cars and drive off.

            In the rearview I spot the church’s twin towers, and between them, the circular stained glass peering out.

            Call it what you will—a marvel, a miracle, a mistake—but for me, our time in the church was nothing short of revelatory.

            How curious, I think, that for a man exploring life on the outside of faith, on this night, the doors remained open.

 

Half-Life will be available for purchase at Red's Mercantile and The Local Store in mid-March. 

The book release will take place at The Plus on March 19.

Interview music courtesy of Lee Rosevere