"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Finding Inspiration in the Spontaneous Community Created within Literary Gatherings: Mountain Words Literary Festival, Crested Butte, CO

"Perhaps we are all here to trace and collect words, to sow meaning; we collect that thing which people discard as ordinary and bring it to a page of life where it can flourish and be the map of human struggle and therefore an instruction as to how we can all survive. " - Aaron a. Abeyta

I jumped in my car a bit last minute a week ago to drive 16 hours across Nevada and Utah to participate in an exciting new gathering of writers. The Mountain Words Literary Festival is a multi-day literary celebration at nine-thousand feet, featuring readings, workshops, kids' events, parties, panel discussions, live theater, and more. Over four days, I joined other writers, film makers, scientists and artists beginning at 9 am to stretch our imaginations and hands in a shared community at the architecturally striking Arts Center in downtown Crested Butte, CO.

Thursday morning early I found a seat with a view of the valley looking north towards Mt. Crested Butte peak for Nuha Fariha's workshop, "Better Together: Creative Collaboration". Fariha is the Fiction Editor of the New Delta Review.

I finished Thursday morning with a dive into the concepts of status and stasis, exploring where we stand in our writing. This workshop applied the concepts of playwriting by Keith Johnston in Impro for Storytellers. Dr. Paul Edwards, a retired professor of Communication Arts of from Western Colorado University and playwrite/director at the Crested Butte Community Theater, guided us through a discussion of how status actions motivate a character in a scene. I wrote some dialogue and felt a prick of Ahha!

So much inspiration here in the varied writers, teachers, panels, and workshops! More details will emerge in blog posts over the next few weeks. I just want to mention one particular writer and teacher who was awarded on Friday night the Karen Chamberlain Award for “ outstanding service to poetry in Colorado, a long history of building communities of poets & providing inspiration to us all by developing a body of powerful work”. Aaron Abeyto is a poet, novelist, teacher, and the mayor of his hometown, Antonito, Colorado. He read for us an open letter he's published in praise of books. His passion and obvious love and care for other human beings shone from his face as he read this letter. I bought his novel Rise, Do Not Be Afraid, and can't wait to become more familiar with his poetry!


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Imag[In]ing America: a exhibit of photography by Jennifer Garza-Cuen at Melhop Gallery in Zephyr Cove


After wandering alone from photograph to photograph, taking in the staged details, trying to observe with a level of specificity worthy of this photographer’s eye, at last I’m overwhelmed. The images make me uncomfortable. I cannot passively observe. I must feel and respond. The subjects stare at me as if saying, judge me if you will but don’t look away from me.

I sit in a pale wooden chair in the front room before nine square photographs on the wall ahead of me. Behind me the windows are paned in rectangles and the sun is projecting the shadows of clouds onto the floor, as if they float on the surface of water.

To my right, a large photograph captures the black-green rippled water of a pond and the white body of a young woman floating naked, eyes closed, mouth open, auburn hair wrapping around her tricep. On my left, a girl stands alone in a wide rural empty road that curves behind her, like her curling hair, like the curving boa wrapped in her wrists and draping down to tip under the hem of her dress. The girl stares straight at me. 

I’m a poet, and I felt intimidated when Jennifer asked me to write a response essay for her solo show at the Melhop gallery. I’ve known Jennifer Garza-Cuen for many years while we participated together in the Reno Art Salon with a vibrant group of artists of diverse mediums. "I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing," wrote John Cage in his book Silence. As a literary artist I love collaborating with visual artists, seeing through fresh interdisciplinary lenses each other’s work.  I think what poets and photographers share with their viewers is the question, what does it mean? In my own experience as a poet and teacher, people read a poem or listen to a poem and then look up wide-eyed and anxious that they must now be able to answer that question. I don’t know what Jennifer’s photographs mean. 

I’ve always been guided by this idea that a poem is not complete without its reader. The poet, the speaker, and the reader collaborate in a created social space. In these photographs, I feel the presence of the photographer, the subject, and myself. Maybe in photographs of people, we always experience the illicitness of the voyeur. In these photographs, most of the subjects look brazenly at me. Not back at me. They are looking at me first, hand and fingers poised arrogantly with a cigarette. I imagine they have already considered why they are being photographed, and why they want to be in this photograph.

If I look closely, I see my own reflection in these photos I've taken, within the social space of the scene. The poet Myung Mi Kim in Commons wrote, "The poem may be said...to mobilize the notion of our responsibility to one another in a social space." These photographs loudly protest any attempt to step away from my complicity.