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POET & WRITER, JOSEPH HESCH … not working for “the man,” finding poetic voice at 55

Joseph Hesch
Joseph Hesch

“Each day I squeeze the contents of my heart over whatever expression I’m wearing & imprint it onto a notebook page–my version of St. Veronica’s veil.”

Joseph Hesch (A Thing for Words) lives in a beautiful region, upstate New York, at the confluence of my own beloved Hudson River and the Mohawk River.  It’s a nice setting for a poet.

Joe was a professional writer for forty years. Post-retirement finds him doing writing that is more creative – poetry and fiction – with publication in quite a number of magazines, literary journals and an anthology here and there. He has self-published two collections of poetry. Joe is also a member of The BeZine core team of contributing writers and his poems and flash fiction are featured in the zine just about every month.

JAMIE: Joe, I know you worked as a journalist for a good part of your life.  Did you also write poetry or did you come to it late? What’s it like now that you are not working for “the man?”

JOE: Journalist or hired typewriter and gum-flapper for Skidmore College, a three-state professional organization or the State of New York over my 40-plus years in the working world. And no, I definitely was not writing poetry until I reached the age of 55. Not in high school, college nor when I was a professional writer.

A pretty miraculous recovery from a heart condition let me know each day is a blessing not to be wasted. I decided I’d best hurry and let the writer’s heart I thought I had within me live again.

I started to write sassy essays that I shared with friends. Then I wrote a bit of memoir one afternoon about my childhood Christmases. I took a chance and it was accepted for publication in a Christmas anthology. I continued to write for the discoveries I was making in myself and my world. And then everything stopped. Absolutely dead in the water. I’d run out of those easily reached ideas and emotions. I didn’t know what to do.

A friend told me my prose always sounded quite poetic to her. “Why don’t you write a poem?” she said. So I started out with the 5-7-5 structured hug of haiku. Then I wrote a poem about not being able to write anymore, stringing together those five-and-seven-syllable lines. She suggested I submit it to some journals. I did and it was accepted for publication. Poetry had recharged my life machine and  put me back in the world as a writer.

I never wanted to be a poet. Never wrote a poem in my life before those haiku. I consider myself a storyteller. You could say my poems are stories with the sentences broken into bite-sized pieces, stacked like crackers. But I’ve discovered more about myself as an emotional being, as a feeling man since I began to write poetry than I could have imagined in fifty-some years on this Earth. So, about no longer writing for the man? They can’t pay you enough in any job to learn the discoveries I have as a poet.

JAMIE: Tell us about your two collections.Do you have plans for another? If so, what would be the theme.

41MhSiONWBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_JOE: Oh, thanks for asking. Yes, I have two collections available on amazon.com. The first, Penumbra: The Space Between, I put together in 2014. I guess you could say it’s my coming-out as a poet in middle age. I hope I expressed my impressions on life and nature from the view of a man emerging from years of darkness into a brighter personal and artistic existence, standing astride middle age. Neither young nor old, still peering at things from the edge of shadow and light, the penumbra. I’m kinda proud of it as a first effort.

51thPS3WjdL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In my second collection, One Hundred Beats A Minute, I hope to convey impressions and imaginings of life, love, art, nature and what I see outside or inside the swirly-glassed windows of my soul. All of its sixty poems, the number of seconds in a minute, are bound within the frame of one hundred words. No wiggle room, exactly one hundred, or my obsessive mind gets all edgy. When I succeeded at hitting 100 and putting that final period on the page, where my obsession met compulsion and life met art, I squirmed in my seat, my knees and heels tended to flutter up and down from the floor and my heart beat like I’d just run a sprint of a hundred meters. I hope readers can experience that feeling here and there in this collection, too.

My next collection? I haven’t thought very hard about anything yet. However, I have thought for long time about putting together a collection of my short stories and flash fiction. Already have the title, the title of my first short story after I began writing for myself again—But Don’t Touch, as in “You can look, but…” So many of my stories are the opposite of my poetry. Many seem to have the theme of men who have problems reaching out to or accepting intimacy, whether it be carnal or merely the simple warm touch of another’s hand.

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“Writer and poet who’s spent decades writing for The Man. Still do. Except now I’M the man.”

JAMIE: What sorts of poetic activities do you participate in and why?

JOE: Not many, and I feel badly about that. But when I go out to read to other writers, I just don’t feel a sense that I belong. Never have. Nevertheless, for the past four or five years, I’ve read at the Albany Word Fest Open Mic that the Albany Poets group holds during April for National Poetry Month. I’ve also run up the Adirondack Northway to read at the legendary Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. That’s an interesting feeling, reading your poetry where Bob Dylan made his bones as a poet in song. But I don’t get out enough to share my work with others. Maybe I’m shy that way. Or maybe just lazy, other than writing something for someone, only lately myself, every day for the past 40 years.

JAMIE: Why is poetry important to you and why should it be important to us?

JOE: Wow, that’s a big one. I guess it merits a big answer, then. Simply put, poetry, my finding poetry as an outlet for my long dormant creative self, helped save my life, most certainly the quality of it. I don’t know how long I could go on wandering in that vast desert of empty when I knew I was supposed to do something creative to fulfill myself.

Beyond that, though, I like to think poetry holds up a mirror, sometimes cracked and refracting, others with a soul-illuminating clarity, to who we are as individuals, families, communities, nations, a world. They can bring us the great Ahh moment, as well as the Ahh-Hah! And most of the time goes for the writer—at least this one—as well as the reader.

IN THE ROOM

Here in the room the breaths come
maybe every ten seconds apart,
snoring sounds from a mouth agape,
now voiceless, beneath eyes mostly closed,
but probably unseeing.
She doesn’t hear the talk in the room.
We think. We hope.

Above the bed, a little plastic bag
of morphine perches like blessed fruit
from a swirly silver branch atop
the six-wheeled tree they’ll roll
out of the room whenever her spirit does.

Here in the room we watch, we wait,
hearing only the sounds of the family,
of the bubbling O2 humidifier,
the beeps of monitors and machines,
the murmurs and shoe-squeaks from staff
in the hallway on the fifth floor
as the hospital awakens this morning.

And punctuating it all come
the snorting gasps of a life dwindling away
every ten–no, fifteen–seconds.
We think. God help her, we hope.

– Joseph Hesch

© words, poem, portraits, cover art, Joseph Hesch

Review “Raven’s Wire” and Interview, poet Matt Pasca

MattMatt Pasca, an American poet, teacher and speaker, is someone to watch. On February 27, his second poetry collection, Raven Wire (Shanti Arts Publishing) will launch at Bay Shore, Long Island, New York.  For those living in that area, the details are HERE.

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Two of Matt’s poems are featured in the January issue of The BeZine. His work is refined, ambitious and precise. It exposes an intimacy with mythology, history, music and literature as well as a keen eye and ear for the complexities and pains of our post-modern times.

Matt demonstrates a sensitivity to the moral responsibilities of the artist and all human beings and an appreciation of social insults and human frailty that is intelligent and compassionate and able to be transformed by beauty. His work is not trite or cheapened by sensationalism or voyeurism. It invites one to read and reread to fully appreciate it.

The name of the book is a reference to the Norse god Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn, thought and memory. The collection is divided into two sections, one for each category.

So … artists, I humbly submit, in addition to craft and toil, [we must] maintain a vigorous and sacred practice of Listening, becoming a receptacle that extends into the universe, hoping to return with something true. It is not Odin‘s ring, spear, or death-defying feats I wish to spotlight here, but his practice, our tether as humans seeking compassion and connection, wonder and wisdom…” Matt Pasca, Raven Wire

 

JAMIE: What first drew you to poetry at age eleven?

MATT: I was never much of a talker. I spent lots of time alone as a kid—just my hyper-awareness and a constant hailstorm of words banging off the windshield of my consciousness. Before writing, my only relief from the intensity of life’s stimuli was music. Then, yes, at 11, I discovered a word processing program on the Commodore 64 called Easy Script and fell immediately and unimpeachably in love with the process of making external what had been entirely internal. Not to be dramatic but it felt, as I typed, as if I were writing myself into existence—calmly, honestly and courageously, without shame or judgment or raised voices. Absolute freedom. I was hooked. As years passed and my process evolved, I learned how to hover while the external and internal intertwined and became not only transfixed by these conversations but spurred on to render them with potency.

As for the genre itself, I was around poetry often as a boy, but didn’t take much of a liking to it. I avoided it out of a sense of distaste and saturation, seeking out short stories and non-fiction instead. I remember thinking, “If there is James Baldwin in the world, why bother with poetry?” Even in Kenneth McClane’s wonderful verse-writing course at Cornell, I found poetry composition an arduous and frustrating endeavor. At some point in my late 20s, poetry suddenly “clicked” with me. It became all I wanted to write or read.

JAMIE: As you matured, what surprised you about poetry as both writer and reader?

MATT: In some ways, I think poetry finally “clicked” for me as an outgrowth of my passion for cinema. I had always loved the experience of being in a theatre, dreaming while awake—it felt familiar. When I became a trained projectionist at Cornell Cinema, the flames of my passion for film were mightily fanned. I spent countless nights up in that booth, mesmerized. I decided to sign up for a film class and was lucky enough to have the late Don Fredericksen as my professor. One day he taught a lesson on cinema’s early experimental filmmakers who said to hell with filming stage plays, let’s use this new technology to create something ONLY the film camera can do! During this lesson, we watched Leger’s Ballet Mecanique, a brief 15 minute film that capitalized on the basic principle that a huge screen and a zoom lens could create instant and utter defamiliarization. This made so much sense to me, and reminded me of how I had perceived the world even as a child: intensely, fragmentedly, impressionistically, with a different aperture and at a different speed. Poetry, in turn, more than any other genre, seemed perfectly equipped to provide me with Leger-like shortcuts to the creation of/expression of defamiliarized perception. I began to chase this as both as a writer and reader – the isolation of the familiar in a way that reframes and challenges, both artistically and emotionally. And me, with my long, detail-oriented attention span (perfect for both cinema and poetry), I do enjoy the infamously laborious process of sculpting a single page of defamiliarizing verse.

JAMIE: Your interests are quite diverse. They appear to me to influence your language and bring a multi-layered perspective to your poetry. Russian. Africana studies. Gospel music. Sports and travel. How do they move into your poetry?

MATT: I credit my family for fostering in me not only an aversion to rigid thinking but a relentless pursuit of others’ points of view. I was exposed, as a kid, to people from countries all over the world—ate their food, heard their accents, wanted to memorize the contours and colors of their flags. The more foreign a thing was to me, the more interesting it became; the more misunderstood a thing was by my more homogenous Long Island surroundings, the more sense it made to me; the more marginalized, the more attractive. Diversity is the hallmark of my cellular structure and every pursuit I undertake consists of new and dissimilar information. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to grab on to what I do not know and absorb it, walk around inside of it and get to know how it feels. A poet-friend of mine, Steven T. Licardi, writes in a poem about life on the autism spectrum, “Even numbers have feelings,” and I so get that. Everything seems to be alive and vibrating. As a word-lover/wordsmith, I find I want to upload every activity or subculture’s “lexical field”, to the point where a single new word or detail can trigger an entire poem. The interests I have stuck with the longest—baseball, social justice, music, travel—are also a kind of spiritual chiropractic; they align my rhythms and spaces and prepare me for poetry’s entry and excavation.

JAMIE: I think a lot of my readers will be interested to know how you carve out time for creativity with job, marriage, children, social commitments and so forth. What can you share with them that will assist them in their own work?

MATT: My wife (author Terri Muuss) and I get this question a lot and I have a few answers that may be of some use. First and foremost, my marriage is the engine that drives everything else, just as in a plane, car, ship or train. If you take care of your engine, make sure it fires on all cylinders, there is no telling what you can accomplish. (Astrologically inclined friends would say it’s because she is a Capricorn and I am a Taurus and, despite being wildly creative, neither one of us likes to be un-grounded or unorganized. Guilty as charged.) ☺ So back to the question—since, for both of us, parenting and job and marriage are non-negotiables, where do we find the time to run workshops, perform, curate, edit and write?

The simple answer, and my second point, is that we use what time we have rather than ruing its deficient quantity. We write in stolen moments at work, taking off in a plane, speaking into our phones while stopped at red lights, during faculty meetings. Once you start waiting for “enough time”, or the “right kind of time” to create, you are dead in the water. It simply won’t happen, unless you are willing to sacrifice your relationships or professional standing. Naturally, these stolen moments must be attended by some ongoing and suspended organizational system (i.e., somewhere to store the scraps and composted bits until there is time to assemble them)—that is what Dropbox, IClouds or folders are for. ☺

Thirdly, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a word about process. If one has only stolen moments here and there that require immediate generation and organization, one must be coherent and focused, with a writing process that precludes writers’ block or any notions of perfectionism. This tends to also preclude drinking and/or drugging, neither of which my wife and I do. There is no judgment in this, just a fact that does influence our ability to get so much done in so little available time. Rather than subscribe to the archetypal “artist mystique” involving inebriation and inordinate drama, we believe more can be accomplished creatively and perceptively when one stands in the honest space of clarity and fullness or brokenness, whichever is ascendant in the moment. It is hard not to get in one’s own way, but it’s awfully important to try. ☺

JAMIE: Our mutual friend, Michael Dickel, said in his interview that the job of a poet is to bare witness. You write in a different frame, so what to you is the poet’s job? What is the poet’s social and artistic responsibility?

MATT: Well I would agree whole-heartedly with Michael and posit, further, that there is no “other frame” than bearing witness in poetry. To the casual observer, there is ostensibly socio-political poetry and its more internal-leaning counterpart, but I don’t find this dichotomy convincing. No. A good poet friend of mine, Veronica Golos, once said in a Q&A, when asked, “Do you set out to write political poetry?” that she believed all poetry is political. I agree with her. The very paradigm of our individual perception at any given time is what creates our sense of reality as well as our response to it. Even bearing witness to how we witness is political.

At the micro level, how we learn to honor complexity and timelessness in an age bent on thumbs up/thumbs down exigencies and disposabilities is, ultimately, political. My hero in so many ways, James Baldwin, said, “One must know what is happening around them in order to know what is happening to them.” No, not everyone finds their way from the specific to the general, from the micro to the macro, but I believe deeply that peace begins with a more robust, nuanced and empathic perception that begins at the molecular level. This is the job of the poet: to listen, notice, pan for truth, scrape for justice and undertake the alchemic sculpting of language and space to illuminate and, hopefully, heal. In my ongoing effort to cure myself of ignorance, I want each of my poems to act as a dissertation highlighting and easing humanity’s tragic miscalculations.

review portion, Jamie Dedes; © interview responses, photograph and cover art, Matt Pasca, All rights reserved

The Poet As Witness: “War Surrounds Us,” an interview with American-Israeli Poet, Michael Dickel

5182N5cYeEL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_“That some of those labelled as enemies
have crossed the lines to offer condolences
at the mourning tents; that the mourning
families spoke to each other as parents
and cried on each others’ shoulders;
that we cried for the children who died
on both sides of the divide; that the
war began anyway; that hope must
still remain with those who cross
borders, ignore false lines and divisions;
that children should be allowed to live;
that we must cry for all children who die”

– Michael Dickel, (Mosquitos) War Surrounds Us

Jerusalem, Summer 2014: Michael Dickel and his family including Moshe (3 years) and Naomi (1 year) hear the air raid sirens, find safety in shelters, and don’t find relief during vacation travels.  In a country smaller than New Jersey, there is no escaping the grumbling wars that encircle. So Michael did what writers and poets do. He bore witness. He picked up his pen and recorded thoughts, feelings, sounds, fears, colors, events and concerns in poetry. The result is his third collection of poems, a chapbook, War Surrounds Us.

While some use poetry to galvanize war, Michael’s poetry is a cry for peace. He watched the provocations between Israel and Hamas that resulted in war in 2014 and he illustrates the insanity.

            And the retaliation
Continues, reptilian and cold,
retaliation the perpetrator
of all massacres.

Though the poems change their pacing and structure, they present a cohesive logical and emotional flow, one that takes you blood and bone into the heart of Michael’s experience as a human being, a poet, a Jew, a father and husband. He touches the humanity in all of us with his record of the tension between summer outings and death tolls, life as usual and the omnipresence of war.  Both thumbs up on this one. Bravo, Michael.

– Jamie Dedes

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MY INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DICKEL:

Jamie: Putting together a poetry collection and ordering the work in a way that enhances the meaning and clarity of poems included is not easy. One of the first things to strike me about the collection as a whole is how it flows, so well in fact that it reads almost like one long poem. I found that quality contributed to the work’s readability. How did you work out the order? Was it consciously ordered or did it arise organically out of the experience of the war?

Michael: I’m very gratified that you noticed this about my book. I hadn’t thought of it quite in that sense, of being one poem, but I like that it reads that way. The sense of a book holding together, a collection of poems having some coherence, is important to me. I don’t think my first book achieved this very well, although it has some flow poem to poem. The whole is not focused, though. My second book has a sense of motion and narrative, from the Midwest where I grew up to arriving and living in Israel, and now being part of the Mid-East. However, War Surrounds Us, my third book, finally has a sense of focus that the other two did not.

Unfortunately, I probably can’t take too much credit for that coherence. Even more unfortunate, a real war raged in Gaza, with rockets also hitting the Jerusalem area, not that far from where I live. As we know now, thousands died, most apparently civilians, many children. Just across the border to the Northeast, diagonally opposite of Gaza, a much larger scale conflict burned and still burns through Syria—with even larger death tolls and even more atrocities over a longer time. These wars had, and still have, a huge impact on me and my family.

During last summer, the summer of 2014, this reality of war surrounding us had all of my attention. And it came out in my writing as obsession with the war, my family, the dissonance between living everyday life and the reality of death and destruction a missile’s throw away. So the topic filled my poems those months, as it did my thoughts. And the poems emerged as events unfolded over time, so a sort of narrative wove into them—not a plot, mind you, not exactly, anyway.

This gives a chronological structure to the book. However, not all of the poems appear in the order I wrote them. I did move some around, seeing connections in a theme or image—if it did not jar the sense of the underlying chronology of the war. Some of the events in our life could move around, and I did move some poems to places where I thought they fit better. I also revised the poems, reading from beginning to end several times, trying to smooth out the flow. A few of the poems I actually wrote or started before this phase of the ongoing conflict broke out—but where they also fit into a pattern, I included them. In the end, I moved and revised intuitively, following my own sense of flow and connection. I’m glad that it seems to have worked for you, as a reader, too.

Jamie: What is the place of the poet and poetry in war? Can poetry, art and literature move us to peace? How and why?

Michael: This is a difficult question. Historically, one place of poets was to call the soldiers to war, to rile them up and denounce the enemy. There is a famous poem from the Hebrew Scriptures. Balaam is called by Balak to curse Jacob and his army. The story sets a talking donkey who sees an angel with a sword and other obstacles in his way, but long story short, he arrives and raises his voice. He is the poet who is supposed to curse the enemy. Instead, he begins, “How beautiful your tents, O Jacob…” and recites a poem that is now part of the Jewish liturgy. This is not necessarily a peace poem, but it shows words and their power to curse of bless. I think the place of the poet is to bless and, rather than curse, to witness with clear sight.

There is a long history of poet as witness and observer. Czeslaw Milosz in The Witness of Poetry and Carolyn Forché, following him, in her books Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness and Poetry of Witness, which goes back to the 16th Century, argue that the poet’s role is to observe and bear witness to the world—to the darkness, the atrocities, genocide, war… Forché quotes Bertolt Brecht: “In these dark times, will there also be singing? / Yes, there will be singing. / About the dark times.” I think that is what we do as poets. That’s what I hope that War Surrounds Us does at its best, albeit as much a witnessing of my own family and context as of the Other. Then, as feminist theory has taught me, the personal is political, the political personal.

A1oKsOxRrJL._UY200_Can art and literature move us to peace? I don’t know. I hope it can move us to see more clearly, to feel more acutely, and to embrace our humanity and the humanity of others. Perhaps that will move us toward peace. There is so much to do, and it is as the rabbinic wisdom says about healing creation: it may not be ours to see the work completed, but that does not free us from the responsibility to do the work. As poets, we make a contribution. I hope the songs about the dark times will also be blessings for us all.

Jamie: Tell us about your life as a poet. When did you start and how did you pursue the path? How do you carve out time for it in a life that includes work, children and community responsibilities. You live on a kibbutz, I think.

Michael: Well, starting at the end, no, I don’t live on a kibbutz, I live in Jerusalem (the pre-1967 side of the Green Line). I do teach English at a college that was started by the Kibbutz Movement as a teacher’s college in the 1960s, now Kibbutzim College of Education, Arts and Technology. That appears in my email signature and confuses some people outside of Israel, who think I teach as part of living at a kibbutz. I’m actually more like adjunct faculty, but no one at the college works directly for a kibbutz as far as I know, and the college is open to anybody who qualifies.

While I only have a short day, from when the kids of my current family go to pre-school until I pick them up, I also usually only teach part-time. Some semesters I teach full-time or even more, but usually not. And, many of my courses in the past couple of years have been online, meeting only a few times during the semester. This helps.

My wife works full-time in high tech, which allows us to survive on my irregular, adjunct pay. She also has some flexibility, which allows her to usually be free to pick up the kids as needed around my teaching schedule, and we have on occasion hired someone to help with the kids so I could teach, not so much for my writing. But that has allowed writing time on other days.

Mostly, I write during those few hours when the kids are at pre-school, after the kids have gone to bed, or even later, after my wife has also gone to bed. If I’m working on a deadline or a large project, such as some of the freelance work I do for film production companies, I write after my wife gets home from work even if the kids are still awake. Usually, though, I write when I find time, and I find time when I don’t have other obligations.

Perhaps of relevance to this book, the writing took over. I was late in getting papers back to students and delayed other obligations and deadlines, even canceling a couple of other projects—although it was not just the writing, but the whole experience of the war, dealing with it and wanting to be very present with my children. As the poems relate, we went to the Galilee, in the North, for a month, a vacation we have taken before. Last summer, though, it had extra urgency because of the war. Unfortunately, during an outing picking apples in the Golan Heights, we heard artillery across the border in Syria, and that’s when I wrote the title poem of the book, “War Surrounds Us.”

The summer before, on that same month-long getaway, I wrote a lot of flash fiction, which makes up most of my next book, which should come out by the end of the year. I wrote during both summers when the kids were napping or after their bedtime, mostly. The place we stay in, a friend’s house (he travels every summer), has a lovely courtyard, and after the children went to bed, Aviva and I would sit out in it, usually with a glass of wine. She would read or work online and I would write on my laptop into the night. It was lovely and romantic.

I have to say that I almost don’t remember a time when I didn’t write poetry or stories. I recall trying to stop on a few occasions, either to work in some other aspect of my life, or when I did a different kind of writing, such as for my dissertation (which devolved into creative writing for more than half of it). But really, going back into my early years, I wrote stories or poems of some sort—influenced I suppose by A. A. Milne, Sol Silverstein, Kenneth Grahame and, later, Mark Twain and even Shakespeare. I had books of Roman and Greek myths, the Lambs’ bowdlerized Shakespeare for children, and some Arthurian tales as a child, not to mention shelves of Golden Books. Later, I read Madeleine L’Engle and a lot of science fiction. And everything I read made me also want to write.

I owe the earliest of my poems that I can remember to exercises from grade school teachers, one in 3rd grade, maybe 4th, the other in 6th grade. However, I’m sure that I wrote stories and possibly “poems” earlier. My first sense that I could become a poet arrived via a junior high school teacher, who encouraged me to submit some poetry to a school contest. I tied for first place.

So, I started writing forever ago. By the time of the junior high contest, I had read e e cummings, Emily Dickinson, some Whitman. By 9th grade, I discovered the Beats through a recording of Ginsberg reading “Kaddish” and other poems. Hearing him read the poems, then reading them myself, changed everything.

Alongside this development, one of my brothers brought Dylan records home that I listened to. All three of my brothers, with my parents’ tacit approval, played folk music and protest music in the form of songs of Woody Guthrie; The Weavers; Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary; in addition to Dylan. These influenced both my writing and my world view. The same year that I came across Ginsberg’s work, I was involved in anti-war activity in my high school. That spring, four students were shot at Kent State. In another way, that changed everything, too.

Writing, activism, and politics, for me have always been interwoven. I also heard that year about “The Woman’s Movement,” which today we call Feminism. Later, much later, I would read and take to heart the idea of the personal being political, the body being political. I think my poems, even the most personal, always have a political and theoretical lens. And the most philosophical or political or theoretical, also have a personal lens. I don’t think that we can help but do that, but I try to be aware of the various lenses, of using their different foci deliberately as part of my craft. I’m not sure that is the current trend, and much of my work doesn’t fit well in spoken word or slam settings (some of it fits). However, this is my poetry and poetics—and they arise from a specific cultural context, the complexity of which I could not begin to convey in less than a lifetime of writing.

My development from those awakening moments looked like this: I read. I wrote. I shared my work with other people who wrote. Sometimes I talked with others about writing. My first degree in college was in psychology, not English, because I naively thought that psych would help me understand the human condition and that English would “ruin” – suppress – my writing voice. However, I took a lot of literature courses and my study abroad term focused entirely on literature.

After college, I had a career as a counselor working with runaways, with street teens, with children undergoing in-patient psych evaluations, and in a crisis intervention and suicide prevention center—a career that taught me a lot about politics, gender, race, and justice. I continued to write, often about some of the most disturbing realities that I encountered, but not well.

I had been out of college nearly a decade when I took some courses in creative writing at the University of Minnesota, at the suggestion of some friends in a writing group who had also taken some. One of the professors encouraged me to apply to the Creative Writing Program, where I was accepted. The acceptance was a poignant moment—I was out of state at my father’s burial. My now ex-wife remained back with our then 2 year-old daughter. She saw the letter in the mail, so called and read it to me. It was also my 32nd birthday. So many emotions all at the same time. Mostly, I remember wishing I could have told my father—from when he first heard that I’d applied, every phone call we had included his asking if I had heard yet if I had been accepted. It was the most direct way he had of saying he was proud.

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Jamie: Tell us a little about 100,000 Poets for Change (100TPC) in Israel and how people can get in touch with you if they want to participate this year. Are you able to manage a mix of Arabs and Jews?

Michael: The thing about 100TPC is that it’s pretty loose, as an organization, and very anarchic in governance. Which is to say, I’m not sure there is something I could call 100TPC in Israel. There’s a wonderful poet in Haifa who does some events, I don’t think every year. She is very active in peace activism and poetry. There’s an Israeli mentor of mine, Karen Alkalay-Gut, who has organized 100TPC events in Tel Aviv since the first year. For the past two years, I organized a poetry reading in Jerusalem. The first one was small, a few people I knew and cajoled into reading. The second one was much larger, over 25 poets. We had one Arab writer, who writes in English, at the second reading. Her poetry is powerful and personal, written as an Arab woman, a mother, and an Israeli. An Arab musician was going to join us, but he had a conflict arise with a paying gig. It is difficult to manage the practical, political, and social barriers, but people do it here. I am just learning a bit how to do this now.

For this year, I am working with two other organizations—the Lindberg Peace Foundation, which has held annual Poetry for Peace events. This year will be the 40th anniversary (yartzheit, in Hebrew) of Miriam Lindberg’s tragic death at the age of 18. She wrote poetry, was a peace activist, and also an environmental activist. Her mother was a poet and professor, and passed away a few years ago. Joining us in planning the Jerusalem event will be the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. Their mission as I understand it is to develop interfaith leadership for common goals related to eco-justice that would also provide a model for solving the Middle East conflicts.

The Jerusalem events won’t be the same date as the national event (26 September)—our dates will be 15–16 October, to honor the 40th anniversary of Miriam Lindberg’s death. Dorit Weissman, a Hebrew-language poet and playwright, also has become part of 100TPC this year, and she and I are having a smaller reading on 8 October with other poets.

We are just setting up a Facebook page for organizing with the three groups, 100TPC, the foundation, and the center. People could look for me on FB and send me a chat message there to be in touch. I hope that we will have the events posted on FB in the next few weeks, but we are still working on the details. The devil is always in the details, as the saying goes.

Michael will host The BeZine‘s virtual 100TPC this 26 September 2015.

Poems from War Surrounds Us:
Again
Musical Meditations
The Roses

TLV1 Interview and Poetry Reading

Be the peace.

© 2015, book review, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; words, poetry, photographs of Michael, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved; cover illustration, The Evolution of Music, by Jerry Ingeman, All rights reserved

Inside the Brightness of Red

Mary MacRae (1942 - 2009), English poet
Mary MacRae (1942 – 2009), English poet and educator

NOTE: Originally published here about two years ago, this post is worthy of a wider audience and more than one read; and so, with some additions, I post it again for the benefit new readers and old. Among other things, the evolution of Mary’s poetic grace in her maturity is certain inspiration for those who come to their art late in life as she did. Enjoy …

Mary MacRae “wrote and published poetry for only the last ten years of her life, after ill-health forced her to take early retirement from teaching. She taught for 15 years at the James Allen Girls School (JAGS), Dulwich, London. Her commitment to writing led to her deep involvement with the first years of the Poetry School under Mimi Khalvati, studying with Mimi and Myra Schneider, whose advanced poetry workshop she attended for 8 years. In these groups her exceptional talent was quickly recognised, leading to publication in many magazines and anthologies.” MORE (Second Light Live)

Elder

A breathing space:
the house expands around me,
·
shopbrightnessunfolds elastic lungs
drowsing me back
·
to other times and rooms
where I’ve sat alone
writing, as I do now,
when syncope –
·
one two three one two –
breaks in;
·
birdcall’s stained
the half-glazed door with colour,
·
enamelled the elder tree
whose ebony drops
·
hang in rich clusters
on shining scarlet stalks
·
while with one swift stab
the fresh-as-paint
·
starlings get to the heart
of the matter
of matter
·
in a gulp of flesh
and clotted juice that leaves me
·
gasping for words transparent
as glass, as air.

Mary MacRae

Elder is from Mary MacRae’s postumously published collection, “Inside the Color of Red,” published here with the permission of the publisher and Ms. MacRae’s family. © poem, portrait, and book cover art (above and below), estate of Mary MacRae, All rights reserved

Δ

shopasbirdsdoMy profound gratitude to poet Myra Schneider for the introduction to a new-to-me poet, Mary MacRae, and to poet Dilys Wood of The Second Light Network (England) for granting this interview. Jamie Dedes

JAMIE: Clearly, and as has been stated by others, Mary was profoundly inspired by art, nature (particularly flowers and gardens), and love. What can you tell us about her life and interests that would account for that?

DILYS: Mary writes tender and accurate poems about wild nature, creatures and landscape, drawing on her stays in a cottage on an untamed part of the coast in Kent, England and visits to her daughter living in remote West Wales. In her London home, it’s easy to guess from her poems about garden birds and flowers how much time she spent at the window. She almost always sees nature in flux, changing moment by moment, unpredictable, mysterious, a spiritual inspiration. One of her great strengths as a poet is catching movement.

Many of Mary’s poems focus on love between close family members. This may relate to a difficult relationship with her own father, which she sought to understand, and the relationships which compensated (with mother, sister, husband Lachlan, daughter and grandchild). A back problem prevented her from holding her baby daughter and she often refers in her poems to young children. She clearly has a yearning towards them.

JAMIE: She wrote poetry apparently only at the end of her life and for ten years. What were her creative outlets before that? How did she come to poetry?

DILYS: Mary was a dedicated teacher of English Literature and language in a leading girls’ secondary school. She was also deeply interested in music and painting (these are strongly reflected in her poetry). Though she had written as a young woman she followed the pattern of many women creative artists in becoming absorbed into her home life and her paid work, only turning to writing when her illness released her from the daily grind of intensive teaching. The remarkable, rapid development of her poetry shows how strong her latent powers really were.

JAMIE: Was writing poetry a part of her healing process when she was diagnosed with cancer? If so, how did it help her?

DILYS: I’m confident that Mary’s diagnosis with cancer enabled her to change her life-style and from then on concentrate on her poetry, urged by the sense that she might be short of time. There is no evidence that Mary wrote therapeutically to come to terms with her cancer. In fact she only ever addressed her illness in relation to the possible unkindness of fate in cutting her off from beloved people and life itself. The poems written in the last 2-3 years of her life give the impression that her dedication to writing, with the spiritual experiences which accompanied it, enabled her to bear terrible distress. She records this distress, using imaginative and metaphorical approaches to focus it, and these poems make heart-wrenching reading.

JAMIE: Can you tell us about her process? When did she write? Where? For how long?

211309305DILYS: I have the impression that Mary’s life revolved around three things, people she loved, gathering experiences that would feed her poetry (travel, listening to music, visiting galleries) and very hard work in direct furtherance of her writing (extensive reading, attending workshops with other inspirational poets, writing, revising and submitting her poems to criticism from critics she respected). She used notebooks to make a full, accurate record of those experiences – landscapes, human encounters, thoughts – that would feed her work. There is an extract from one such entry in the section about keeping a journal in the resource book Writing Your Self, Transforming Personal Material by Myra Schneider and John Killick. This book also includes a contribution in the chapter on spirituality which reveals much about Mary’s attitudes to life, nature and also her writing process.

JAMIE: Do you have any advice from her for other poets and aspiring poets?

DILYS: Mary was a dedicated writer, entirely sincere in her commitment to poetry as opposed to ‘career’ as a poet. She was always ready to enjoy and praise the widest range of subject-matter, approaches and styles from other poets, providing she thought they were ‘busting a gut’ to get their poems right, and not indulging in the trendy or superficial, which she despised (whether from well-knowns or unknowns). She put much emphasis on wide-reading of both past and contemporary poets and she herself had absorbed a huge amount of other poets’ work, always quoting fully and accurately. She liked using another’s work as a starting pont for her own (the Glose) and particularly admired the work in strict form (including SonnetVillanelle and Ghazal), which began to be more acceptable from the mid-1990s (eg from such poets as Marilyn Hacker and Mimi Khalvati).

JAMIE: Are any other collections of her poetry planned? If so, when might we look forward to them?

DILYS: When putting together ‘Inside the Brightness of Red’, Myra Schneider and I went through the whole of Mary’s unpublished work and selected all those poems we felt were both complete and would have satisfied her high standards. What remains unpublished would be mainly fragments and early versions of poems she did more work on. There will not, as far as we know, be a further book, but Mary did achieve her aim of being a significant lyric poet, whose work is very attractive, polished and, above all (as she would have wished) deeply moving and consolatory.

* The Second Light Network aims to promote women’s poetry and to help women poets, especially but not only older women poets develop their work. It runs weekends of workshops and readings in London usually twice a year, a residential extended workshop with readings and discussions at least once every 18 months and occasional other events. It is nationwide and includes and some members who live outside Britain altogether. Importantly Dilys is the main editor of ARTEMIS poetry a major poetry magazine for women produced by Second Light twice a year for all women poets. It includes a lot of reviews and some articles as well as poetry. Second L. members receive it free as part of their subscription. An e-newsletter is sent out every few weeks. A few anthologies of poetry have been published by the network but now this magazine has been developed books are only produced in special circumstances – such as Mary’s collections.

Thanks to Second Light Web Administrator, poet Ann Stewart, for the following: The books (Inside the Brightness of Red and As Birds Do) can be bought: via order form and cheque in post: http://www.secondlightlive.co.uk/books.shtml or here online: http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/shop.php (typing  ‘ Mary MacRae collection ’ in the filter box will reduce the list to just those 2 books).