March 4, 2018

Writing Workshop for Women Veterans

Women Veterans are invited to a retreat at Giant's Ridge in Biwabik.

I will be teaching a writing workshop at this event, on Saturday May 5, 2018 from 3:00-5:00 pm.

Every veteran has a story to tell, and we welcome you.

Form and Fairy Tales

I happened across an interesting essay by Kate Bernheimer, "Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale."
The essay begins by three inscriptions from Walter Benjamin, Italo Calvino, and Angela Carter.  Walter Benjamin says:
The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children
because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on
in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be,
the teller of fairy tales.
The fairy tales are enduring cultural narratives that have shaped every storyteller on earth. Bernheimer asks us to appreciate their qualities, which are not the qualities often celebrated or taught in creative writing classes. She says they have "four elements [in]  traditional fairy tales: flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized magic."   She goes on to explain these four characteristics:
Fairy-tale characters are silhouettes, mentioned simply because they are there. They are not given many emotions—perhaps one, such as happy or sad—and they are not in psychological conflict.
 So, it is curious that we are so deeply imprinted by these characters.
Fairy tales [often tell not show]…rely on abstraction for their effect. Not many particular,
illustrative details are given. The things in fairy tales are described with open language.
Often called "just-so" stories, fairy tales relate events that would seem to have no connection, that are outside of concepts of cause/effect, commonly thought of as plot.
The language of traditional fairy tales tells us that first this happened, and then that happened. There is never an explanation of why. In fact the question why does not often arise....
The natural world in a fairy tale is a magical world. The day to day is collapsed with the wondrous. In a traditional fairy tale there is no need for a portal. Enchantment is not astounding. Magic is
Bernheimer says fairy tales bring together traditional and fantasy and avant garde writers, Countless poets have written work connected to fairy tales. Here is the first stanza of Sylvia Plath's Mirror:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles.
I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart.
But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

This poem alludes to the queen's words, mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Fairy tales are a rich source of material for all poets.

Read Bernheimer's full essay here:

February 19, 2018

Chance ::: Poems

Chance ::: Poems - Reading and Book Release Celebration on February 20, 2018, 6-8 pm in the Sax Brothers Gallery, Tweed Museum at UMD. A quartet of poets, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Julie Gard, Sheila Packa, Kathleen Roberts have their work brought together into a book with full color visual art by Kathy McTavish. The poems are also coded spaces that explore the intimate relationship people have through their devices to a rapidly developing networked omniscient intelligence.

December 2, 2017

Neruda: Wheels That Have Crossed Long, Dusty Distances

Pablo Neruda (from an introduction to his own work) wrote: 
It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter's tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all troubled lyricists. The used surfaces of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things - all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized. 
In them one sees the confused impurity of the human condition, the massing of things, the use and disuse of substances, footprints and fingerprints, the abiding presence of the human engulfing all artifacts, inside and out. 
Let that be the poetry we search for: worn with the hand's obligations, as by acids, steeped in sweat and in smoke, smelling of lilies and urine, spattered diversely by the trades that we live by, inside the law or beyond it. 
A poetry impure as the clothing we wear, or our bodies, soup-stained, soiled with our shameful behavior, our wrinkles and vigils and dreams, observations and prophecies, declarations of loathing and love, idylls and beasts, the shocks of encounter, political loyalties, denial and doubts, affirmations and taxes. 
The holy canons of madrigals, the mandates of touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, the passion for justice, sexual desire, the sea sounding-willfully rejecting and accepting nothing: the deep penetration of things in the transports of love, a consummate poetry soiled by the pigeon's claw, ice-marked and tooth-marked, bitten delicately with our sweatdrops and usage, perhaps. Till the instrument so restlessly played yields us the comfort of its surfaces, the woods show the knottiest suavities shaped by the pride of the tool. Blossom and water and wheat kernel share one precious consistency: the sumptuous appeal of the tactile. 
Let no one forget them. Melancholy, old mawkishness impure and unflawed, fruits of a fabulous species lost to the memory, cast away in a frenzy's abandonment-moonlight, the swan in the gathering darkness, all hackneyed endearments: surely that is the poet's concern, essential and absolute.
Those who shun the "bad taste" of things will fall flat on the ice.
Neruda, Pablo. Selected Poems. Grove Press. Translated by Ben Belitt. 1961.


November 6, 2017

Poetry as Technique: Strange and Wonderful

Poetry is all details. It's physiological. Poetry is breath, and poetry is perception. Schlovsky writes about the technique in art of defamiliarizing the familiar and slowing perception. He also applies this to poetry. Here are excerpts of Victor Schlovsky's essay "Art as Technique:"
And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object…
In my article on plot construction I write about defamiliarization in psychological parallelism. Here, then, I repeat that the perception of disharmony in a harmonious context is important in parallelism. The purpose of parallelism, like the general purpose of imagery, is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception - that is, to make a unique semantic modification.
In studying poetic speech in its phonetic and lexical structure as well as in its characteristic distribution of words, and in the characteristic thought structures compounded-from the words, we find everywhere the artistic trademark - that is, we find material obviously created to remove the automatism or perception; the author's purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception. A work is created "artistically" so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of the perception. As a result of this lingering, the object is perceived not in its extension in space, but, so to speak, in its continuity. Thus "poetic language" gives satisfaction. According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful; and, in fact, it is often actually foreign: the Sumerian used by the Assyrians, the Latin of Europe during the Middle Ages, the Arabisms of the Persians, the Old Bulgarian of Russian literature, or the elevated, almost literary language of folksongs. The language of, poetry is, then, a difficult, roughened, impeded language. 
As Schlovsky writes, "...the general purpose of imagery is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception," and "the language of a difficult, roughened, impeded language."  This brings to mind the multitude of object poems and figurative techniques that take imaginative leaps.  Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" comes to mind with the lines

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. 
And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, 
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, 

gleams in all its power. 
. . . . . . . .

This is a torso only, and yet the eyes are like ripening fruit, and the gaze "gleams in all its power." It is not entirely strange to refer to an all-knowing, all-seeing god, but the sense of perception coming from the marble statue is wonderful and unsettling. Aren't museums and statues meant to be seen and not seeing?  The up-ended expectation reverses the direction of perception. This creates a shift in self-perception, in consciousness:  a knowledge of being seen by Apollo. The narrator can no longer bear his old way of being. He speaks not in second person point of view as if the force of encounter has already removed him from the "I."  The poem ends with the memorable lines "for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life."  The repeated words "you. You..." are nearly stuttering.  This new vision, mentioned by Schlovsky, or a "semantic modification" has haunting results. 

Readings & Book Signing

Poetry Reading  Nov 13, 2017 at 6 pm
Knights and Ladies of the Kaleva
Aallottaren Tupa 15, Duluth
Kenwood Lutheran Church,
2720 Myers Ave., Duluth.

Book Signing
Night Train Red Dust
November 25, 2017 2:00-3:00 pm
Zenith Bookstore
318 Central Ave N, Duluth, Minnesota 55807

Celebrating Our Common Ground
Saturday, December 2, 2017 7:00-9:00 pm 
Duluth Township Hall, Homestead Road, Duluth 55804
(This is a Community Arts and Heritage Event) Images, Words and Music.
Photography Exhibit, Drawings by students at NSCS, Music and Storytelling
I'll talk about writing about place and read a few excerpts of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range and new work in progress.  

November 5, 2017

Diane Jarvenpa, Poet: The Way She Told Her Story

I wrote this blurb for this forthcoming book of poems:

From the land of the midnight sun, deep forests, and rye fields comes a girl, a shape-shifter. In The Way She Told Her Story, Diane Jarvenpa explores Finnish women's history, immigrant stories, and the mother/daughter terrain: "...a shifting place/ not a country/ more a continent with moving borders." These poems were forged in the context of the Finnish Kalevala and also another text of the same era, a collection of ancient runes sung primarily by women, the Kanteletar. Jarvenpa comes to poetry through song, and through her own mother, poet Aili Jarvenpa. She has searched archives and found forgotten stories breathing with life, and she has blended these with her own. In one poem, a grandmother smokes a pipe and says, "in the center of the heart/ is a lie and a truth." This might be true of all women's stories. Past the stereotype of women who tend the home, marry and bear children and past the stereotypes of those women that refuse the domestic roles, we glimpse the true ways that women create their lives and their communities. The women in these poems are witches, mothers, housekeepers, artists, journalists, vagabonds, and revolutionaries. Genealogy is here, but also "an inheritance of common things" that transforms into a new language of lyric, script, potter's wheel, poetry, and flight. The immigrant undergoes difficult passage. It takes courage to leave everything behind to enter a new landscape and a new language. This is a testament to creativity and resilience that this poet puts in the reader's hand. I love this book! Diane Jarvenpa, like her poem The Rune Singer, "sleeps a different breath of notes/ until dawn is strewn with magpies." (Publisher: New Rivers Press (scheduled for late November 2017) ISBN-13: 978-0898233667

--Sheila Packa
former Duluth Poet Laureate
author of Night Train Red Dust and Cloud Birds

About Diane Jarvi's album of kantele music, Bittersweet.

“Bittersweet is a fusion sound and a melding of both Finnish and American folk traditions; the album embodies both musical landscapes. Jarvi has taken the Nordic sound and also brought it into American folk, sometimes evoking mountain music and café accordion sound. Her voice is resonant, rich, and she uses it like an instrument. Many (but not all) of the lyrics are in Finnish, and this lends an aching and beautiful element. Her skills as a poet are also present in her music. She evokes the flight of a sea bird and sparrow and the feeling of wandering in the first snow amid falling stars. Even if one does not follow the exact words, her expressive voice carries the meaning. There is a mystery that she weaves from the landscape, the sounds, and the stories. Buy this album. Not only will you support this strong musical and poetic voice, you will cross untravelled regions of your soul and be glad for the journey.” -Sheila Packa and Kathy McTavish –New World Finn

See her website

October 28, 2017

Finnish Writers

The First Lady of Finland, Jenni Haukio hosted a writers' luncheon in Minneapolis on September 22, 2017 at the Hilton Hotel during the Finnfest 2017.  Her most recent book, Sinä Kuulet Sen Soiton. (You Hear That Music) is published by Savukeidas Kustannus.

Here is an excerpt from her book in Finnish:
Laakakatajat, haahkat, tyrnit, 
rahkasammalta kasvavat kalliot
vanhan meren loppumaton kohina
Vain tämä silmiini kivettyvä maisema
jää jälkeeni maailmalle,
veteen heitetyn kiven synnyttämä aaltoilu,
kaarenkestoinen onni, täydellinen...
In conversation, we explored the question of how all of our writing might relate to Finnish identity. It is an interesting question, and the answers were diverse. They are elusive. In the culture, people might say Finnish-ness includes independence and determination, a quietness or reserve, a connection to nature and landscape, and also inexpressible longing.

In the photo from left to right: Suzanne Matson, Diane Jarvi, Liisa Virtamo, Jenni Haukio, Ann Tuomi, Beth Virtanen, Christina Maki and Donna Salli in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Elbows of reeds, hawks, gulls,

the moss-faces of rocks
in the endless noise of the old sea

Only in this eyed landscape
I'm behind the world,

a ripple caused by a stone thrown far into the water,
a concentric orbit of luck, widening

(Translated by Sheila Packa)

Migrations: A Cantata

This is a 2 minute preview of the cantata Migrations, composed by Olli Kortekangas with poems written by Sheila Packa.  This is the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland, Oct 19, 2017.

October 6, 2017

A Poem's Capacity

What is the difference between poetry and prose? Poems rely on figurative language. In metaphors, the writer can reach more meanings. As Mary Oliver said, a good poem casts more than one shadow. In addition to the ability to evoke more, poems also seem to use voice somewhat differently. A poet throws her voice into other things, animals, plants, and beings. For instance, Denise Levertov wrote:
When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
Poets leap into figurative language, and figurative language has more imaginative capacity. Here's an excerpt by "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
Other writers have written about the difference between poetry and prose. Irish poet Seamus Heaney said poems are melodious and true. French poet Paul Valéry said that poetry is physiological. Connected to the breath, poetry is a little machine made to recreate the experience in the reader. The language is memorable. In prose, the words are not meant to take any focus away from the story. The words dissipate once meaning is delivered. Gertrude Stein found another difference between poetry and prose--nouns. She said:
Poetry is I say essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not. And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun. Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is. And there are a great many kinds of poetry. So that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose.
This is from her essay, "Poetry and Grammar," in Lectures in America (1935). Stein's experimental prose sheds light. There are many 'object poems,' and these essentially center upon the use of nouns. These noun poems are personas. Like in Plath's poem, the object is voiced. Louise Glück, in her beautiful collection Wild Iris projects her voice into the irises, poppies, violets, and other blooms in the garden. She speaks also as if she were the creator, God. As if in dialogue with other poets, Charles Simic goes inside a stone and makes it more capacious:
Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
This is not all the poetry can do. Sound becomes is an important element: vowel assonance, consonance, and repetitions. Melodious, as Heaney said. The voice also can be direct, from the poet to the reader. In the following poem by Antonio Machado:
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship's wake in the sea.
The words traveler, road, walk, path, no, never weave back and forth in the poem's lines and weave an interesting net around the reader that takes away the ground where we walk. The world of poetry is a different world; things are not as they seem. In the following excerpt of John Haines poem, "If the Owl Calls Again," there is yet another technique, a shape-shifting, when the narrator in the poem becomes an owl: "I'll wait for the moon/ to rise/ then take wing and glide to meet him." The boundaries are more fluid in poetry.

These are one of many changes that poems can create, and in this way, they become fascinating, flexible, and charming mechanisms. Agency and voice can change in a poem, and a poem can enact changes in both poets and readers. Gertrude Stein is right; they are created by loving the names of things and loving the language that we speak. They are perhaps the closest thing to magic. Poems are enchanting beasts.