December 29, 2019

Creativity and Aging

Creativity does not diminish with age. In fact, creativity can actually enhance health and build resilience.  In 2019, I attended a creative aging teaching artist training (sponsored by the Aroha Foundation and Minnesota State Arts Board) and in 2020, I aim to teach writing classes with and for elders. Email me at if you as an individual are interested in attending or if you are part of an organization that is interested sponsoring a class.

December 17, 2019

False Starts

Einstein said, "No deep problem is ever resolved on the plane of its original conception."  Here's a great video from Granta featuring George Saunders talking about false starts.  The amateur reaction to false starts is to give up, says Saunders. The artistic reaction is to keep working.
We have all received this advice: Don't Give Up. Keep Trying. Success is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration. How many false starts have you had? How many rejections? The next important question is: What did you do with those?

December 3, 2019

Image & Metaphor

Charles Simic

I think image is at the base of a poem. Metaphor is the poem.

Natalie Diaz has written about the use of image in her poetry. In "Building The Emotional Image"
If you want to convey fact, this can only ever be done through a form of distortion. You must distort to transform what is called appearance into image. 
The mystery lies in the irrationality by which you make appearance - if it is not irrational, you make illustration.  
Great art is deeply ordered. Even if within the order there may be enormously instinctive and accidental things, nevertheless they come out of a desire for ordering and for returning fact onto the nervous system in a more violent way.
Rebuild the image each time that you use it in order to make it new.  Take it apart.
What is it? What is it not?  Here is an example from Diaz:   Diaz's comment about irrationality intrigues me. Another person might have said "imagination."  Her term suggests a greater leap of some sort against logic. It is a willingness to go out of bounds. A subversion but in a good way.

For an amusing and in-depth consideration of the function of image and metaphor read "The Narrative of the Image: A Correspondence by Charles Simic":

In this examination of the narrative related to these two terms, Simic writes: "I kind of fancy "Image is the crucifixion, metaphor is the ascension," " and "Don't you think that reading most contemporary poets one would have to conclude that they have never been to the movies? I know for a fact that they have never heard a country fiddle or a banjo playing!"  He argues for being grounded and for the ability to dance.
Natalie Diaz

An Arts Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and upcoming publications


News from my writing desk

I was thrilled and grateful to get the news that I'll receive an Artist Initiative Grant for 2020 in support of my poetry.  To get information on the grants that are available in Minnesota and a link to the application instructions and forms, go to:
"Sheila Packa will develop poems for a new manuscript "Surface Displacements" and present 4 readings & workshops focused on individual stories that reflect on local history and current tensions in the landscape."   
Publication news:

My short story, “Everlasting Life” will be in the December issue of Valparaiso Fiction Review. A set of five prose poems (a runner up for the chapbook contest by this press) forthcoming in The Laurel Review Issue 52.2.  The poem "My Geology" will be reprinted in Stone Gathering's special edition coming out in spring 2020: The Relevance of the Rural: What's Lost, What's Left, What Lasts.  The poem "Crossing Guard" will be in the forthcoming anthology Rocked by the Waters: Poems of Motherhood (Nodin Press). 

October 13, 2019

Poetry Readings Coming Up

Oct 26, 2019
noon - 3 pm at Fair Trade Books in Red Wing, 2526, 320 Bush St, Red Wing, MN 55066, USA
featuring Poets Laureate: James Armstrong, Rob Hardy, Ken McCullough, Sheila Packa

November 3, 2019
at 1 pm at The Bookstore at Fitger’s, Duluth, MN with the Sami Cultural Center of North America, featuring
--Ellie Schoenfeld, Duluth Poet Laureate 2016-2018
--Sheila Packa, Duluth Poet Laureate 2010-2012
--Ron Riekki, co-editor of Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice and My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction

November 8, 2019
at 7 pm - All Souls Day Poetry at the Underground Theater, Duluth Depot, Michigan Street, Duluth, MN 55802. 
Musical accompaniment by Richie Townsend with featured readers: Zomi Bloom, Brady Kamphenkel, Sheila Packa, Ellie Schoenfeld, Rocky Makes Room and Gary Boelhower (10 minutes each). There will be an additional hour of open mic (3 minutes each). Sign up with Duluth Poet Laureate, Gary Boelhower.

September 11, 2019

Book Review: Ada Limón: The Gathering

Ada Limón has a new book, The Gathering (Milkweed Press), that has gained a lot of attention. She was at the Northwoods Writers Conference in Bemidji in June 2019, and did an engaging reading and craft talk.

The Question

In the Guernica interview, Ada Limón asks: "how do we live in the world? How do we live? Because with the amount of loss and suffering that is all around us all the time—our own inevitable demise, the inevitable loss of loved ones, the damage to the planet—how do we live in that reality, yet still do the daily work of praise and presence and gratitude, without driving ourselves mad?"

The Liminal

In an interview in the art-related Bomb magazine, Limón says about poetry: "What it does is live in the liminal spaces. It’s not interested in showing off wounds for coins, it’s interested in living, day to day, breathing moment by moment and staring out into the sea and noticing the small thing and saying the real thing and because of that, I believe it’s the most human type of art form. It is messy and complex and real and doesn’t have any answers for us, for that reason, I think it’s something we can trust."

The Music

Ada Limón had once been part of a band (named after her previous book, Lucky Wreck) in NYC. The music in Limón's poetry comes through alliteration. Content is primary, it seems. Her form follows content.

The Gathering is a book with heart.

August 18, 2019

Tony Hoagland Thinking about Poetry

Tony Hoagland's poetic voice was distinctive. He once said, "I discovered that identity was composed of a lot of other things besides familial trauma; it included race and money and being American and technology and historical currents." His topics were exquisitely presented with titles like Donkey Gospel, What Narcissism Means to Me, and Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. He's a poet that touches the funny bone, but also he makes you think.  The Art of the Voice provides much insight into his technique and the craft of poetry. I recommend it. It contains his teacherly thoughts about voice in poetry as well as several writing prompts to help a student develop an interesting poetic voice. 

Also, I've found some wonderful essays online, definitely worth a read!


Biography & Critique:

August 14, 2019

Joy Harjo: Carrying Over a Thousand Names

For years, the poetry of Joy Harjo has always been arresting for its beautiful imagery and figurative language, its connection to the body and the earth, and its music.  She Had Some Horses, In Mad Love and War, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and A Map to the Next World are among my favorite books of poetry, ever.

In this new collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, she extends her reach to provide a poetic engagement with the problems in the world. She a master poet, and she is teaching the readers her spiritual wisdom.  In previous work, she began this work. I'm thinking of an earlier poem, "Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace." I would not call her impulse didactic. It is a deeper knowledge that she shares.

This is a wide ranging journey from Oklahoma to Paris to New York City to Alaska to Hawaii. Part One: How It Came to Be addresses the reader directly. It is a singing of creation stories, contemporary stories, and music.  The poetry does not ignore or exist outside of contemporary politics, but it meets it head on. "The politics of politics makes a tricky beast. It destroys either side with equal hand. It has a hunger that never seems to end."  It is politically engaged, but in a spiritual way.  It is spiritual without being preachy. "Nez found God then forgot where she had left him." It is speaks to cultural genocide and murder, to name it, and at the same time, goes forward and brings all of us into the same fold.  "Let us not shame our eyes for seeing. Instead, thank them for their bravery."

The rabbit is an important figure in many tribal stories. He is fearful, impulsive, and does not consider the consequences. This is perhaps offset by his speed and ability to leap so far that his tracks are not easily found.  In "Rabbit Is Up to Tricks," Harjo writes:

And once that clay man started he could not stop.
Once he took that chicken he wanted all the chickens.
And once we took that corn he wanted all the corn.
And once he took that wife, he wanted all the wives.

Locating human behavior in a story of rabbit is a profoundly wise thing to do.  Considering another character, we can see the problem as well as empathize. It's also the same for us; we have insight. Empathy is an important quality, as it prevents the cycle of blame and othering. It is a key to conflict resolution.  Harjo speaks from her own tradition of Muskogee knowledge, and she weaves in other Native stories and Biblical stories. She speaks to all people, whether of not they have her heritage.

Part Two: The Wanderer and Part Three: Visions and Monsters speaks to all the ways that humans have become lost in violence, greed, and forgetfulness. In "The First Day Without a Mother," the color blue is significant. It is more than the eye can see. It is more than blue; it is a spiritual color, the color of sky, and the color of a raging fire. It is the blues music. "I keep looking back."

This book offers a formula for conflict resolution in the title poem, and it calls us back to listen to others and our own spirits. Throughout the book, she uses the metaphor of jazz as a symbol of how to survive the insurmountable obstacles. The horn, the song, and the dance are sacred ways to remember.  They renew us as well as teach us how to improvise, to continue, and to make something beautiful.  Harjo writes,"You cannot legislate music to lockstep...."  and "We will wind up back at the blues standing on the edge of the flatted fifth about to jump into a fierce understanding together."  This is a wise metaphor for survival. 

Part Four: The World begins with the poem, "You Can Change the Story...," reminds us how our expectations can shift the outcomes.  By taking control of one's own thoughts, fears, and actions and by allying ourselves others in love and tenderness, we can experience the power that we do have. There is a story of a walrus hunter who murders a woman; the poet slips into the murdered woman and speaks. The poet returns from death and speaks the story to the community. A well told story rings with the truth; all people can understand it.  In this story, the murderer is brought to justice. The articulation and shaping of our narratives are the reasons we must have art, music, stories, and poetry.

In the terminal of stopped time I went unsteady to the beat,
Driven by a hungry spirit who is drunk with words and songs.
What can I do?
I have to take care of it.
The famished spirit eats fire, poetry, and pain; it only wants love.

The famished spirit who only wants love is an endearing being. The aim is noble. Her failures are forgivable.  This book at first appears fragmented, however the inscriptions, section headings and "proems" are as necessary as the poems. This is a heartening piece of work, a ceremony, a dance, a deep gift from Joy Harjo. It has done in beauty.

Book Review:

July 27, 2019

Octavio Paz

See his reading and thoughts about poetry

Octavio Paz, 18 October 1988 from Lannan Foundation on Vimeo.

Octavio Paz - 1914-1998

At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of speech and the vertigo of death;
the walk with eyes closed along the edge of the cliff, and the verbena in submarine gardens;
the laughter that sets on fire the rules and the holy commandments;
the descent of parachuting words onto the sands of the page;
the despair that boards a paper boat and crosses,
for forty nights and forty days, the night-sorrow sea and the day-sorrow desert;
the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipation of the self;
the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors; the recollection of pronouns freshly cut in the garden of Epicurus, and the garden of Netzahualcoyotl;
the flute solo on the terrace of memory and the dance of flames in the cave of thought;
the migrations of millions of verbs, wings and claws, seeds and hands;
the nouns, bony and full of roots, planted on the waves of language;
the love unseen and the love unheard and the love unsaid: the love in love.
Syllables seeds.

July 13, 2019

The Sublime

Rilke's poem has remained in my memory for a long time. It's one of my favorites. This is from Orchards by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

The sublime is a departure.
Instead of following,
something in us starts to go its own way
and getting used to heavens.  
Is not art’s extreme encounter
the sweetest farewell?
And music: that last glance
that we ourselves throw back at us! 

The Latin word sublimis means "looking up from."  Edmund Burke, in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, defines the sublime as a quality of art or experience that "excites the ideas of pain and danger" that produces "the strongest emotion that the mind is capable of feeling" (302) and that causes "astonishment...horror, terror;...the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect." The Romantic poets tried to create this emotion.  Kant defined sublime as "that is beyond all comparison (that is absolutely) great, either mathematically in terms of limitless magnitude, or dynamically in terms of limitless power."

I rather like Rilke's definition. In my thinking, as a poet and writer, the sublime occurs when one lets go of the material and allows it to develop on its own. The art leads the artist.  Because of pure attention and deep listening,  the artist is able to break away from the usual and achieve new ground.  He says, "be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you. What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love..."  (Letters to a Young Poet)