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A peek at the poets coming to Brave New Words at Greenbank Farm
With the debut of Whidbey Island’s very own poetry festival, Brave New Words, coming Saturday, April 18 to Greenbank Farm, The Record presents a series of pre-festival peeks at some of the poets.
Colleen J. McElroy
Headliner Colleen J. McElroy is a gifted writer of prose, creative non-fiction and poetry publications which include her most recent poems, the award-winning collection “Sleeping with the Moon.” Her other publications include “Jesus and Fat Tuesday,” “Driving Under the Cardboard Pines,” “What Madness Brought Me Here — New and Selected Poems 1968-88,” “Queen of the Ebony Isles,” winner of the American Book Award, “Travelling Music,” “A Long Way From St. Louie” (travel memoirs) and “Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar.”
McElroy said that she is always, overtly or not, working on another manuscript.
“The next one promises to be more attentive to current politics/economics and environmental issues,” she said.
She is also currently tackling health issues as she has reached the age where friends die, some much too early, she said.
Regarding performances, McElroy said she seeks clues from an audience which often sets the pace for the cache of poems from which she will read.
“This has posed problems in other countries where translators want to know what you will read ahead of time, or in instances where there is a sign-language interpreter. But usually, everyone gets into the rhythm after the second or third poem.”
She might read something from her latest collection.
In “Sleeping With the Moon,” she dedicates the first poem to one of the 20th century’s foremost American poets, Denise Levertov.
In this excerpt from that poem, “Pillow Book,” she writes:
in the absence of a lover
books occupy my bed’s extra pillow
those words have never failed me
though paper ages — grows brittle
every phrase stays muscular
laughing at all the right places
saddened by slights by deaths
the significance of even simple
language: curtains blowing at a window
a cup abandoned on a table
I hear them breathing Denise confesses
more surely than ever any man beside me
she tells me how on her pillow
books take hold of her dreams: a sort of
Levertov then and now she says
age so deceptive the
50-60 becomes more like 20-40
time faster than any clock
When asked what she tries to do for an audience listening to her read, McElroy said, “As a young poet, my mentor told me ‘If you can get the old men to leave the bar and come into the lounge to hear you, you have a poem.’
“I’m always aiming to get folks into the lounge to hear me,” she said.
Lorraine Healy is an Argentinean poet who resides on Whidbey Island.
She has been published extensively and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2004. Healy’s collections include “The Farthest South” and “The Archipelago,” and she is hard at work on her next manuscript.
Healy applauded Victory Lee Schouten for creating Brave New Words.
“She is such a good organizer. I’ve seen her originate three different festivals which are always absolutely lovely and gorgeous,” Healy said.
She said she enjoys performing at festivals mainly for the other poets one gets to hear.
“The words are coming from someone else, but can trigger a memory or emotion which may lead to a new poem of my own,” she said.
The festival is like a shower of poetry with lots of new discoveries, she added.
Although Healy said some audience members often will make requests from her “greatest hits,” she likes to take the opportunity of their absolute focus to try out new poems.
“It’s visual; I can see their attentiveness, as if they see the words coming out and don’t see me anymore. It’s humbling. It’s a reminder that I don’t know where the work is coming from and that ultimately it’s a gift,” Healy said.
Much of her new work has been largely odes after the model of the odes of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda that Healy has been using in poetry classes she teaches.
Neruda’s odes, she said, are largely songs of praise to the simple life, a style Healy admires and one that has inspired her.
In her poem “Ode to a coyote skull,” she muses over the life of an elusive animal, but could be a portrait of the legendary Don Juan.
In this excerpt she writes:
and what got to you,
what stopped your
in its tracks,
and how long did you lay
ridding yourself of yellow fur,
boiling yourself down
a triangular meeting of bone,
a few remaining teeth,
the bow of cheek
which encircles now only
an absence of eyes
and weren’t you quite
the fellow, weren’t you
the lad — a cad, traipsing
through woods and orchards
in search of lunch,
of hen-house — if pushed
to shove, adventurous cats.
You can see footage of Healy reading “Ode to a coyote skull” in its entirety along with two other of her poems by clicking on the link below.
Poet Michael Daley recently published a collection of poems written over a period of 25 to 30 years.
“To Curve” reveals the poems that spring from the poet’s family background — stories, memories and strong feelings — as well as the experiences of living in the Northwest and travels to Mexico and Europe.
“I liked it when someone introduced me at a reading a few years ago as ‘deeply bicoastal,’” Daley said.
“Didn’t get it at the time, but I think the term applies to both ‘To Curve’ and to the essays.”
Daley was referring to his collection entitled “Way Out There: Lyrical Essays.”
In “The Moon and Mt. Rainier,” from “To Curve” Daley writes of hitchhikers, perhaps ghosts of a former time:
Just so the days
pass like geese
startled by cloudburst.
Everything comes back,
trudging over frozen ground
of decades. I could be the girl
thumbing a ride, the boy
behind her in windy light.
Now they’re huddled in my back seat.
Christ, they sound so
I’m no help. I suggest things
even I would never do.
At poetry festivals, Daley said he looks forward most to reading aloud to a responsive audience.
“The interaction is important to me, and I hope to those who listen,” he said.
Other poetry collections include “The Straits,” and his forthcoming collection, “Moonlight In The Redemptive Forest: Poems,” is due out from Pleasure Boat Studio in September of this year.
Brave New Words is happening from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 18 at Greenbank Farm.
All-day tickets for the festival are $15 for adults, $5 for students.
Tickets will be on sale at the gate starting at 8:30 a.m. Visit www.bravenewwords.org for more info.