June 14, 2020

Art and Selfishness

In the era of the pandemic and violent racism, it's worth thinking about the value of one's time and whether writing poems or stories or essays is useful. In any case, this does not need to be either/or. One can nurture others, become an activist and write. Rebecca Solnit writes her insights:

Work and the Myth of the Art Monster
Creativity and Advocacy Are No More (Or Less) Selfish Than Motherhood
By Rebecca Solnit

There is certainly more self involved in artmaking, or some kinds of it, in that it is often solitary, usually introspective, and sometimes personal, but that plunge into the depths may be as much about dismantling the blithe vanities of the unexamined life as celebrating yourself. Even though you write out of a deep solitude, you generally write because you want to say something to other people, and you secretly hope it will benefit them in some way, by offering pleasure or new insight into the familiar or visions of the unfamiliar or just descriptions of the world and our psyches that make the world new and strange and worthwhile again.
Writing is work that can hold up its head with all the other kinds of useful work out there in the world and it is genuinely work. Good writers write from love, for love, and often, somehow, directly or otherwise, for the liberation of all beings, and the kindness in that is immeasurable.
Read the entire essay at LitHub:

May 19, 2020

Summoning the Muse

Incantation / Muse
by Sheila Packa

In the north
in the rising of waters
in the rising over the sun over the lake
in the rising of wind
in the rising of storms and love, of hawks, of music
where the dark world turns on its axis
beneath the constellations we are born under
where the stars cast their light infinitely
where the clouds cast their shadows

with your body’s strings, come
with your bridge across death, come
with your magic wands, come
with your ink stained breath
your winged instrument
with the flicker of lightning behind closed lids
with the spark that flares
with the smell of sulfur
touch the wicks and ignite the body
with the silk threads that are spun in the cocoons
weave the flights of migrating birds
above the silver lakes and blue green forests
above the smoke of the houses
above the circulation of the highways
lift me into the unfettered space
with your eyelash grant a wish
with your palm cupped against the cheek
let the waters rise brimming
with your cheek against my breast
let the waters come pouring
let the constant river come roaring
with your dreams made of star shine and smoke
with your music made of darkness and light

I come into your streams
I have untied myself
let go of my fear
I have been giving myself away
emptying myself for your gifts
I have prepared a home for you
lit the stars, turned down the blanket of night
come to meet you…


from Echo and Lightning
ISBN: 9780984377718
Available in bookstores
Wildwood River Press

April 8, 2020

A Course in Creative Writing

William Stafford was an excellent poet. This morning I found a gem in his book The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press). This poem speaks to the wily nature of writing. The source cannot be found with a map, although we often want a map or suspect that a map can be drawn by experts.

A Course in Creative Writing

They want a wilderness with a map--
but how about errors that give a new start?
or leaves that are edging into the light?--
or the many places a road can't find?

Maybe there's a land where you have to sing
to explain anything: you blow a little whistle
just right and the next tree you meet is itself.
(And many a tree is not there yet.)

Things come along toward you when you walk.
You go along singing a song that says
where you are going becomes its own
because you start. You blow a little whistle--

And a world begins under the map.


Stafford points to the value of errors. Mistakes offer opportunities or a change in direction. Leaves emerge. These are the new growth or the new departures.  A place that a road can't find is a very good place to write.  "Maybe there's a land you have to sing/ to explain anything..."  The impulse to sing: a lullaby, a celebration, a joy, or an occasion for mourning.

The word whistle here is an interesting sound/image.  It's a call or a signal. It's a personal tune.   "...you blow a little whistle/ just right and the next tree you meet is itself. (And many a tree is not there yet)."  I like this. The tree has an is-ness. It is not a reflection of the writer, an interpretation, or a metaphor. It is only itself.  "Things come along toward you when you walk....a world begins under the map."  The creative work emerges in the act of writing or creating, not before.  This poem is a lesson in paying attention, listening, and believing the work itself will lead you into a new world.

In his essay "A Way of Writing," Stafford said:
So, receptive, careless of failure, I spin out things on the page. And a wonderful freedom comes. If something occurs to me, it is all right to accept it. It has one justification: it occurs to me. No one else can guide me. I must follow my own weak, wandering, diffident impulses.
In these impulses, he found his material and then he developed it from there.  He wrote: "A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.") For more about Stafford's writing process, see: https://www.powells.com/post/poetry/four-elements-of-a-daily-writing-page-in-william-staffords-practice

April 5, 2020

Just Write

On April 8 at 5:30 pm the Poetry Book Club will be discussing 44 Poems for You by Sarah Ruhl (Copper Canyon Press.) This month, we will meet on Zoom. If you are interested in joining the group send me a DM on Facebook.

Sarah Ruhl (playwright, essayist, and poet) wrote:
The injunction to write becomes more crucial now than ever—it might save our culture from mendacity, it might banish boredom and existential dread, it might save our human spirit from isolation. Because existential dread occasionally inhibits the impulse to write, I am keeping an on-going list of reasons to keep writing that I hope you’ll add to:
Write for God. The cave. The envelope.
Write for your mother. Your father.
(Whether they are alive or dead.)
Write for the home-bound.
Write for the weary nurse.
Write for your friend who is sick.
Write for the future. Write for the past. Write for the present, but sideways.
Write for the theater-going politicians and judges. That is to say, write for Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Write for the ancient ones who go to the theater and immediately slip into a deep sleep.
Write for the critics who haven’t even been born.
Write for the child who saw cruelty.
Write for those dispossessed of language.
Write for the actors who paint houses so they can still be in plays.
Write for the actors who can’t be in plays right now, who are waiting for the theaters to reopen.
Write for your daughter. Write for your son.
If they don’t exist write for the dream of them.
Write for your uncle to weep, your aunt to laugh.
your baby-sitter to cover her face with recognition.
Write for the accountants whose eyes are too tired at night for numbers.
for the farmers who grow your corn.
Write for all the retired librarians like Pat Watkins from Madison, Wisconsin who once wrote you a letter about your play.
Write for your teachers. Write for every single hour they left off writing their own sentences so that they could read yours.
Write to thank the books you love.
Write for the church you walked past with a sign that read:
And you mis-read it as: THEATER AS SACRAMENT.
Write for yourself.
Write for God. The cave. And the envelope.
And when you are not writing for the inward, for the cave, for the envelope:
Write for each other.

April 1, 2020

Writing on the Iron Range: Workshop

At the Lyric Center for the Arts

Writing On the Iron Range: Workshop and Reading
Sheila Packa, author of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range and other works

Oct 24, 2020, Saturday at the Lyric Center for the Arts, Virginia, MN 

2:00 pm Workshop
7:00 pm Poetry Reading by Sheila Packa (free and open to the public) 
followed by an open reading (sign up at the door)
Writing on the Iron Range Workshop: Oct 24 Saturday 2:00-5:00 pm 
Fee: $20
Have you always wanted to write down some of your life stories? Come to this writing workshop! Using guided writing exercises, participants will draw on their own experiences, memories, family history and landscape to make a story, memoir or poetry.  We’ll look at some examples of good writing and play with some interesting and fun approaches. We will also have time to share the stories in our group. This workshop is for beginning and experienced writers.   
Register here https://squareup.com/store/lyric-center-for-the-arts-2/

Sheila Packa is a fiscal year 2020 recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.