August 26, 2014

Rilke: Poet as Novelist

Rilke's Point of View: I, You, and He

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge was Rainer Maria Rilke's only novel. It was written while Rilke lived in Paris, and was published in 1910. Especially, I am captivated by his doubleness. He is both inside and outside himself, male and female, past and present, and seeing the world through his memory, and seeing memory as the world. Rilke accomplishes an interesting exploration of the writer's voice that is both the same and different than the person writing. His fluid use of pronouns--he is the I, and he is the you, and he is also the he; this expresses his vision of the artist. His work is novel in its structure, language and point of view, and it provides a fascinating exploration of the writer's process.

This begins with the moment he began to see. "I think that I should begin to do some work, now that I am learning to see." ...  The narrator Brigge struggles with his writing. A poem is not a feeling, he says, it is an experience. The poems should be written after one has lived a full life, experienced love and lost it, travelled, etc. This not the case for him, he says. His work does not measure up to the standards that he created. Not only that, he struggles with his vision. He sees cause for alarm on the street, in his apartment building, in his family, and in himself.

August 12, 2014

Migrations: The Score by Olli Kortekangas

 A Poet and A Composer

Recently, I received a copy of the musical score "Migrations," by Olli Kortekangas of Helsinki, Finland, a Cantata for Mezzo-Soprano, Male Voice Choir and Orchestra. Intended as a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of modern immigration of Finnish people to Minnesota, the work was commissioned by Osmo Vänskä of the Minnesota Orchestra and will be performed in February 2016. 
 
Mirrors

The poems that Olli selected as the basis of his musical composition are from two books of my poems. The titles were changed on a few of the poems to enable the audience to understand the arc of this musical story: Two Worlds, Resurrection, The Man Who Lived in a Tree, and Music We Breathe.

"Two Worlds" (CB) explores the two worlds that each of us walks inside: our past and present, this world and the other world.  The mirror image created in the poem also occurs in the music. The next poem, "Resurrection," is the poem "Migrations" in Cloud Birds.  In the book, the poem has an inscription, a quote by HD, "In resurrection is confusion...."  from her long poem, "The Flowering of the Rod."  The third poem from Cloud Birds as well. "The Man Who Lived in a Tree," is a narrative poem about a Finnish immigrant to America who worked in an underground iron mine but contracted a lung disease and returned home to Kalajoki to die. While ill, he hoisted himself into the limbs of a tree and did not want to descend  The fourth poem, "The Music We Breathe," is titled "What Is Found" from the third section of Echo and Lightning.  Using the image of bird flight, this poem reaches beyond loss into new beginnings.

Migrations has long been a metaphor for me as a poet. All of my grandparents are Finnish, and I believe that immigration affects families deeply, particularly in relation to borders, language and landscape. Immigrants make massive transitions as they enter a new culture and language, and many feel that speaking a new language brings out different parts of the self. Some feel they are a different self in the new language. This is perhaps why my grandmother was reluctant to speak English; she wanted to preserve an important part of her self. She lived in Minnesota, but she rarely left Finnish language and culture. This was a border that she kept. I myself am most comfortable on borders, and less so in the midst of things. As a poet/artist, I also perceive the permeability of borders.  I can cross back and forth into Finnish and American culture.  My work is always narrative, but it does cross the border of genres and perhaps exists in a state of "between."

It is a great honor to have my work used in his music. As a composer, Olli Kortekangas has received commissions from ten countries. His music has been featured in concerts and at festivals around the world, and his works are included in the repertoires of many leading orchestras, choirs, and soloists. He has received numerous scholarships and awards in Finland and abroad. His oeuvre consists of more than 100 works, from solo pieces and chamber music to orchestral works and operas.  Recently, he used work by poet Wendell Berry in his music, "Seven Songs for Planet Earth," that was performed at the Kennedy Center in 2011.  New projects are underway for him. At our panel discussion in Minneapolis at Finnfest, Mr Kortekangas reflected that his great grandfather immigrated to the United States, but that he was lost on the way. Nobody in the family knows what happened, whether he died on the ship enroute or after he arrived. His grave is unknown. 

Migrations is an apt metaphor for change. We all encounter new cultures and new experiences with or without preparation.  Immigration is actually a gift, even though it is often perilous. It helps us understand the process and inevitability of change and it enriches American culture.

For more information about Mr Kortekangas: see

http://www.fennicagehrman.fi/composers/kortekangas-olli/

http://composers.musicfinland.fi/musicfinland/fimic.nsf/WLCBND/kortekangas+olli

http://www.sfchoral.org/site/olli-kortekangas-biography/

August 3, 2014

The Stairway of Surprise




Deep in our culture run archetypal stories. The Kalevala, Nordic Tales, creation stories, and fairy tales are stories of quest and strife, and heroism and love. These archetypal stories are told over and over in many forms. Star-crossed and tragic lovers, once and future kings, and quests emerge again and again in our contemporary literature. Jungian psychology has examined these with great interest because they reveal deep patterns. As a writer, and reader, I am drawn to their power. Ralph Waldo Emerson was inspired by Norse sagas and the Tales of King Arthur. Here is a poem that he wrote about Merlin:

July 25, 2014

New Projects

I strive to re-create the flows of the northeastern Minnesota landscape, and I borrow metaphors that express the pattern of change in individual stories and narrative poems: the erosions, floods, migrations, lightning strikes, industrialization, excavation, mining, roads, and harbors. Night Train Red Dust will become part of a new transmedia media project, and I can't wait to get started!

 
Vestiges / My Geology : short work sample from Sheila Packa on Vimeo.

In this short sample are several layers. For detail about the origin of these poems, see more:

July 22, 2014

Marosa di Giorgio


In the Introduction to History of Violets, translator Jeannine Marie Pitas writes about the Uruguyuan poet Maroso di Giorgio (1932-2004): "Navigating the precarious terrain between recollection and creation, beauty and danger, religious transcendence and violent eroticism, her poetry brings a new world into being."  This sentence aptly describes the hyper-sensuality of this gifted poet. Although some reviewers have complained, in reviews of the recent publication by Ugly Duckling Presse, and perhaps found her too odd or hermetic or dwelling too much in childhood and fantasy, I find her work riveting.  

Leonardo Garet writes that she has created her own epic mythology: the first three books an account of creation, and the next three "the dance between Eros and Thanatos,"  and the last books tell the story of "the world on the other side of the looking glass."  This is a form of magical realism, and it brings the reader into a world that is innocent and erotic, dreamed and dangerous.

XX.
The daisies...were like deformed, circular birds with a single golden or silver head, surrounded by so many wings...burned the whole garden...the pungent fragrance of grapes, figs, honey, daisies set the whole house aflame. Because of them we were emboldened, like the insane, like drunks. And so we went on through the whole night, the dawn, the next morning and through the day, committing over and over again the loveliest of sins. 
This prose poem is from The History of Violets, and it illustrates the tenor and quality that the poet achieved.  It vibrates with a wild energy that reminds me of the liminal state Clarice Lispector induces.

July 18, 2014

What Kind of Poet Are You?

Most poets dread this question and the question: what type of poetry do you write? The landscape, the elements (water, wind, fire, and earth), and the body capture my imagination.  I've written erotic poems, love poems, spiritual poems, and dreams.  In the past, I've done series about women and cars, fiber and cloth, birds and animals. I often collaborate with other artists and musicians--create confluences.  Like many other poets, I hesitate to label myself because labels are for jars.

July 11, 2014

Poems and Objects

Dinggedicht, defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the German world for "a poem focused upon an object, though the object frequently fulfills a symbolic function."  Object poems, poems about things, originally seemed to focus on art objects, making ekphrastic poems. Now they focus on any simple object.  It can be a household object, a tool, a treasured object or a discarded or found one. The poet can convey a great deal with the very narrow focus of this form.

July 3, 2014

The ABC of Grief

Carolyn Forché
Poets pay attention to forms. A lament is a very old poetic form that expresses the grief of an individual or a community. Finnish shamans perform laments as did ancient Mesopotamian cultures. The Hebrew Bible contains examples the form. Nancy C. Lee writes: "Lament in the Hebrew Bible is an expression of sorrow, a description of distress, or a protest about injustice." It can be a dirge, a poem of sorrow, a prayer.

Laments are ritualized crying, and they occur in fixed and non-fixed forms, in ancient and contemporary poetry. Blue Hour by Carolyn Forché provides an eloquent example.

June 26, 2014

Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing


Hélène Cixous, a French writer, wrote Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. The book was published in 1993, and she has written many others, but I continue to reread this one because her secrets of writing are fascinating.

She says writing is a "strange science of farewells. Of reunitings."  The reader is plunged into the book with a marvelous speed.  "Writing in its noblest function, is the attempt to unerase, to unearth, to find the primitive picture again, ours, the one that frightens us. Strangely, it concerns a scene...we are the audience of this scene...witnesses to an extraordinary scene whose secret is on the other side." This sentence is key to the beginning of the writer's voice because each person has a unique extraordinary scene that they have witnessed. It awakens consciousness.

June 25, 2014

Book Review by Julie Gard: Night Train Red Dust

Book Review 

Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range 
Reviewed by Julie Gard 
New World Finn, Summer 2014

In Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range, Sheila Packa fearlessly explores the Finnish and Northern Minnesota roots of her life and language. Family history, landscape, industry, and the animal world are all essential elements of the poet’s psyche and vocabulary.

In “My Geology,” language is excavated, hard-earned and fiercely chosen: “I claim my words from the broken / English, damaged roots, / Finnish syntax and geomagnetic fields.” Access to language and a place in history is claimed not just for the poet, but for her entire community. Packa’s voice is bold and Whitmanesque in poems like “Zenith City,” which is a playful, polyphonic tribute to Duluth, and “Strange Highway,” which encompasses multiple generations and experiences: