September 20, 2021
September 10, 2021
Do you want to explore ekphrasis? Read Diane Seuss's Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. This poet is intense, funny, brilliant and class-conscious. Do you want to see how a contemporary poet handles the sonnet? Her new book is Frank: Sonnets.
Read a poem here: https://lithub.com/a-sonnet-by-diane-seuss/In 2019, Donovan writes that her poems "dance with form, turning it on its side and tearing it apart to create something new—as with the American sentences and sonnets with seventeen-syllable lines in her latest book, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I love what I call ‘freaking form,’ she tells me. “Like a bathtub that can be made into a shrine to the Virgin Mary.” To read the whole interview, go to
If you would like to hear her read in person at St. Mary's, register for the Zoom link: https://www.saintmarys.edu/evening-diane-seuss-registration-form
September 8, 2021
A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one's beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them. A manifesto functions as both a statement of principles and a bold, sometimes rebellious, call to action. It reflects your intent and your motivation.
Here are some manifestos (and some statements) from writers and artists:
The Tracing, the path with every misstep along the way…
It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
On Poetry and Craft
In poetry, there are no casual readers.
Nothing seen, nothing said.
The lyric is almost forgotten in this time of sawing and snoring and scraping.
Energy is the soul of poetry. Explosive active language.
Live in a perpetual great astonishment.
Rhythm depends on expecting.
The literal, that grave of all the dull.
I need the botanist's leaf more than the poet's flower.
Put it this way: I detest dogs, but adore wolves.
Eternal apprenticeship is the life of the true poet.
That intense profound sharp longing to make a true poem.
Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.
Art is our defense against hysteria and death.
If we muddle and thump through a paraphrase, with side comments, however brilliant, we still do
not have the poem.
Talent talks; genius does.
Poetry is an act of mischief.
A poetry of longing: not for escape, but for a greater reality.
The greatest assassin of life is haste.
Make ready for your gifts. Prepare. Prepare.
Rosemarie Waldrop (experimental poet)
A manifesto: “shall we escape analogy”—without question mark.
The French film maker said of his work that it was "as if I wanted to write a sociological essay in the
form of a novel, and all I had to do it with was notes of music."
Frank Lloyd Wright
Form follows function – that has been misunderstood.
Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union. -Frank Lloyd Wright
"When you start with a portrait and search for a pure form, a clear volume, through
successive eliminations, you arrive inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the
egg and following the same process in reverse, one finishes with the portrait."
"Style and Structure are the essence of a book;
great ideas are hogwash."
Towards an Impure Poetry (an introduction he wrote for a book of poetry)
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. Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970. Ben Belitt, editor and translator. Grove
Press, c1974 (pp xxi- xxii)
September 2, 2021
The beauty of other cultures and languages is the discovery of different ways of thinking. New frames. I've been reading a book of essays, Mythic Discourses: Studies in Uralic Traditions, edited by Frog, Anna-Leena Siikala & Eila Stepanova published by the Finnish Literature Society, Helsinki. I also had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Eila Stepanova sponsored by the Finlandia Foundation. This volume provides me with much more context and history as I read and study the Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, collected from oral tradition, singing minstrels, by Elias Lonnrot. There are several translations of the book, and I have about four of those. I've been reading the Kalevala for many years. It is a source for me, a place where I learn more about my family's Finnish history, heritage and culture.
It takes time to see and understand subtleties. In the English language, many American and European people conceive of the afterlife with Christian perspectives. Most are familiar with the story of what happens in spiritual texts in the Christian narrative: heaven or hell. Heaven is the most sublime place, the heavenly, blissful, sunlit blessed place with God, the creator. Hell is the worst place, the miserable, painful, fiery, dark place with the devil. For a time, the Catholic church held a category called purgatory. But in the Kalevala, with its pre-Christian roots, this understanding is somewhat different It is not even called the "afterlife" but the Otherworld, Pohjola. The Finnish word Pohjola literally translates to North land.
This is a different frame. The binary is less clear. Pohjola is either a womb or a grave or a strange village or country. It is not heaven, it is not in the sky. It is an island set upon open waters. The concepts of Tuonela or Manala refer to the realm of the dead or the underworld. Rivers must be crossed in order to find Pohjola, and the rivers are the Rivers of Tuonela, Pojohola, and Manala which have dangerous rapids and waves like vertical swords. Not many return, it could be said. Not any.
In old tradition, in the time of Kalevala rune-singers, a lament singer must perform at funerals in order to ensure a safe passage for the deceased. Eila Stepanova provides fascinating information and stories about the women's laments alongside the Kalevala. Here is a description of the presentations and I have also included a link to both lectures.
Women’s Laments alongside the Kalevala: Forgotten Symbols of Finland’s Nation-Building
Eila Stepanova discusses Karelian laments in the context of national romanticism in Finland starting from the nineteenth century up to the present day, beginning with Elias Lönnrot, who was also the very first collector of this tradition of women’s poetry. In the context of national romanticism in 1800s, this genre of traditional poetry was important in Finland’s nation-building project but has been forgotten in the shadow of Lönnrot’s Kalevala.
Eila Stepanova is a Finnish folklorist specializing on Karelian and more broadly on North Finnic lament poetry. She received her doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki. She is recognized as the foremost active expert on Karelian laments and as an expert in Karelian culture more generally with a variety of fieldwork experience. Stepanova is currently executive director of the Society of Karelian Culture (Karjalan Sivistysseura).
The Viking Age in Finland
The Viking Age is a period of history that has fascinated people for generations, and interest in it has only grown in recent years with the popularity of programs like The Vikings. Popular knowledge of the Viking Age has tended to focus on Scandinavians and their westward expansion across the North Atlantic. In this talk, I will introduce the Viking Age as a period of mobility and cultural contacts that also extended to the east along inland routes. In these regions, speakers of the language that would eventually become the Finnish, Karelian, and Vepsian languages were also active participants. I focus on territories where Finnic languages were spoken or where they would be spoken later. Today, we tend to imagine where languages are spoken on a map more or less along the lines of where they were spoken in the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the Viking Age, however, the situation was very different. Most people don’t realize it, but the Viking Age was pivotal in the histories of Finnish and Karelian languages and cultures, ultimately leading them to be dominant in the areas where they were familiar in recent centuries.
Frog is an Academy of Finland Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Folklore Studies at the University of Helsinki. He specializes in early Finnic and Scandinavian contacts and cultural reconstruction. He received his PhD from University College London in 2010 and an Associate Professorship from the University of Helsinki in 2013. From 2011–2014, he was co-coordinator of the Viikinkiaika Suomessa – Viking Age in Finland project, which produced the books Fibula, Fabula, Fact: The Viking Age in Finland (edited by Joonas Ahola and Frog with Clive Tolley, 2014) and The Viking Age in Åland: Insights into Identity and Remnants of Culture (edited by Joonas Ahola, Frog, and Jenni Lucenius, 2014).
The direct link the lectures is here: https://youtu.be/7E5oQeYQdUY. Eila Stepanova is first. Frog is second.
Here is a link to the pdf version of Mythic Discourses: Studies in Uralic Tradition. If you are interested, I encourage you to buy the book. https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/id/5cd85324-37ee-4644-98d7-15b0c7d6ffa7/9789522227638_mythic_discourses.pdf
July 18, 2021
Gifts and Grants
I was a recipient of an Artist's Initiative Grant for Poetry from Minnesota State Arts Board in 2020. The grant application requires the thoughtful planning of a writing project, including goal-setting, creating a timeline and a budget and evaluation of outcomes.
In my last book, Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range, I wrote narrative poems inspired by material I'd discovered in Minnesota history archives about learned about little known people - influencers! -- in northern Minnesota. These people: doctors, journalists, union organizers, ministers, teachers, iron-workers, farmers, and others were in the community that my Finnish immigrant grandparents arrived in in 1917, just in time to confront the 1918 flu epidemic, a massive wildfire, anti-immigrant sentiments, and the World Wars. I understood the gifts of immigrants. By entering a new culture and a new language that they did not know, they could teach all of us to make do, be creative, build sustainable lives, grow in new ways.
In my new work, I'd begun exploring the Laurentian Divide, the three way continental divide that formed three major watersheds in northern Minnesota, "the top of the continent." Near Hibbing, the waters split with some flowing into the Mississippi River, some flowing toward the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence (River) Seaway, and some flowing north to Hudson Bay. These rivers have been impacted by large iron ore and taconite mining operations. The new poetic work I envisioned explored the tensions in the landscape and how they influenced the current community and environment. I planned to research and write, and to bring this enthusiasm into the community. By encouraging others to explore their family and local history and write about it, I hoped to develop a polyphony of voices that brought forward the tenacity, creativity and resilience of this region. I have long felt that the writers of northern Minnesota have a unique perspective and a strong voice that needs more amplification.
History Repeats Itself
Well, sometimes what one expects is not what happens. I think most people in the United States were confident that the 1918 flu epidemic could not happen again because of advances in medicine and technology. Nobody -- not the federal government, not the National Stockpile, not the CDC, not the politicians, not the cruise ships, not the schools, not the hospitals, not the business owners -- nobody was prepared for this pandemic. And because of it, the virus ran rampant.
Stay at Home
In 2020, I completed work on the new poetry manuscript and completed even more writing that I expected. I revised a novella based on historical material, stories reflecting those of women, laborers, and immigrants. I wrote 8 new short stories. In line with the established goals of my poetry project, I hired a consultant / editor Amelia Martens of Black Lawrence Press. I also had a poetry mentoring session with poet Sun Yung Shin (through Grand Marais Art Colony) to discuss the full manuscript and the arrangement of poems. Their feedback was valuable. It's rare to find people who are able and willing to scrutinize a manuscipt in progress.
The pandemic had one upside, which was to make more learning opportunities accessible online. I attended the NorthWoods Writers Conference, the Dodge Poetry Festival, and Associated Writers Program Conference, all on Zoom. Of particular value for me were the following workshops: a craft talk by Carolyn Forche (DPF) and a craft talk by Eduardo Corral (sponsored by Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri MFA program). At the AWP Conference, I focused on the sessions related to using historical material in writing. Of particular value were the following workshops: Revisiting History: Diverse Approaches to Historical Fiction; A Woman’s Place: Rewriting Women into the Historical Landscape; It’s Not Ekphrastic; The Past is Present: Writing the Legacy of Historical Injustice; and Docupoetry and Investigative Poetry.
Also, an important book I found along the way was Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot and books by the contemporary writer Saidiya Hartman, author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Hartman uses archival materials to write the stories of black women in the 1900s. Her work illustrates the way to bring out forgotten women and forgotten history.
Initially I had hoped to present writing workshops for Seniors, but this was the population most at risk of serious illness from the COVID19 virus. I had established a venue at a Senior Center in Duluth, but cancelled the class in order to keep people safe. I had an event scheduled for Hibbing with the Boreal Writers Group, but this was also cancelled because of the virus, with the promise we would reschedule after the pandemic. Well, the pandemic is still happening. But in the past year, I was able to do some community presentations. I taught a writing workshop on October 24, 2021 sponsored by the Lyric Center for the Arts (held on Zoom). The second workshop was in-person, post vaccination, sponsored by the Northwoods Arts Gallery in Cook, Minnesota.
In February 2020, I participated in poetry readings along with other featured poets. One event was at Zenith Bookstore, sponsored by the Finlandia Foundation Northland Chapter in honor of Runeberg Day (the Finnish holiday that celebrates the poet Johan Runeberg) and another was with three other poets at Poetry at the Zoo. In March and April, publication readings to celebrate new anthologies (Rocked by the Waters, an anthology of motherhood), and ReWilding (Split Rock Review) were not able to occur in person due to COVID. The poetry reading held annually in the Duluth Homegrown Music Festival was cancelled and several others were moved online.I was the featured reader at a poetry event November 8, 2020, sponsored by the Duluth Poet Laureate Gary Boelhower and the DPL Committee. Blair Powless was also featured. I also was one of four featured poets reading at the Duluth / 365 Poetry Event on December 13, 2020 that focused on climate issues. I also gave a reading to students of a creative writing class at Lake Superior College on March 29, 2020. The writing workshop I was able to do was sponsored by the Lyric Center for the Arts, which was moved from an in person format to Zoom. The online platform was better than nothing, but it had limitations. Connectivity was one. Social distancing was the other. Zoom impacts the personal connection that one could establish in person. The format is not ideal. Nevertheless, I and the participants could make it work. It's always great to have folks writing together and sharing their work. Always, there's the unexpected and vivid images, the flashes of doubt and the flashes of brilliance. This is the truth of writing -- to waver between opposites, to suffer self doubt and to question everything. If one is strong as a writer, one learns not to give up.
July 7, 2021
Alice Oswald's poetry has been called "water music." As an example of her work, read the poem linked here: "A Short History of Falling." In an interview with Kit Fan, Oswald reflects about punctuation in poetry. It is actually an opportunity to build sound and rhythm, and in the deconstruction and reconstruction of new phrases and sentences, to see the world in new ways.
April 27, 2021
|Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar|
According to Poetry River, "Documentary poems combine primary source material with poetry writing. Myriad sources inspire documentary poetry, including news articles, letters, photographs, dairies, court transcripts, medical records, and a variety of public records."
It is similar to poetry of witness which expresses lived experience and direct observation by the poet. Muriel Rukeyser's Book of the Dead addressed a coal mine disaster in the 1930s. During WWI and WWII, Paul Celan is a poet of witness. In the 1970s, Carolyn Forché's book The Country Between Us left a strong mark on our culture. The Colonel is a prose poem example of this. It is reportage, her encounter with a colonel in Nicaragua who had collected the ears of people who had been tortured. Investigative poetry similarly stems from a journalistic impulse, but the poem uses the tools of poetry: compression, image, sound, pattern. When she published her book, it was sometimes criticized for being political. Attitudes toward political poetry have changed since then. In an interview published On the Seawall she says:
What I find now is that there’s been a great opening in the last 20 years, and poets are almost expected to address contemporary concerns. It’s almost the reverse of what it was before. We have emergent poetics among communities that were suppressed before: African-American poets, Asian-America poets, Indigenous poets of the First Nations, Latinx poets. I find that that’s where much of the most exciting work is being written, and they are quite politically aware in that work, although the work is not always expressive of political views.
There are many ways to address contemporary concerns. Layli Long Soldier's book Whereas, engages with a single document. A declaration made in 2007 by the US Congress, addressing the atrocities committed against Native Americans in the 1800s. It is poetry in conversation with the document, reflecting and responding to its language and to the events which it refers (Graywolf Press) Her poem "38" is from this collection.
Philip Metres, in the Kenyon Review, wrote:
For me, the best documentary poems draw us back to the headwaters of poetry, where tribal elders, griots, troubadours, holy fools, tricksters, medicine men, witches, and shamans all do their work, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable."
First, to use Muriel Rukeyser’s words, the poem can “extend the document,” thus giving second life to lost or expurgated histories...
Language and action. In her book of essays, Sister Outsider, Audré Lorde wrote about the necessity of transforming silence into language and action. She wrote:
"Second, the poem itself can be extended through the document, given a breadth or authority that the lyric utterance may not reach on its own. Documentary poetry comes out of a desire to break open what has often been seen as the monology of the lyric. While the lyric at its best can be subtly dialogic, negotiating self and other in nuanced ways, documentary poets are drawn to the chorale effect, employing multiple voices and voicings that merge into a larger (but often dissonant) symphony. Documentary and investigative poems that don’t simply “contain multitudes,” as Whitman boasted, but breathe and seethe multitudes."
Third, and finally, the practice of investigative poetics extends the very idea of poetry, enabling a rethinking of what poetry is and what it can do; in this sense, it returns to a more fundamental and primal relationship to its audience. Documentary and investigative poetries come out of the sense that we are called to be co-creators of history through language and action.
In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities such as Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they fail to find them, what can they do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement.
To write about these things is to reflect the real issues that we grapple with every day. Poetry is succinct. It brings clarity. Poetry engages the five senses and the physical body, making it immediate. Let us do everything we can to work with the matters at hand. Let us change the world into a better place.
CHANGE, CHANGE, REARRANGE: A WRITING WORKSHOP
210 S. River St. in Cook at the NWFA Gallery in the building
presented by Sheila Packa, author of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range.
What moves you? What has marked you? Come to this half day workshop. During the 3 hour session, we will do guided writing exercises that use personal memories, family history, and even music to create a piece of writing: a memoir, a poem, or a story. We will play and experiment with writing in order to discover good material. While the focus is on generating new work, participants will also consider some tips that make a piece of writing more vivid, immediate, and powerful. This workshop is for beginners and more advanced writers. At the end, participants will have time to share their new work if they like.
Cost: $40.00 members, $55.00 nonmembers. Registration required at the gallery or 218 666-2153 .
To register: contact Alberta Whitenack, Gallery Manager, Northwoods Friends of the Arts 218-666-2153
or contact NWFA via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or see the website at www.nwfamn.org and on FaceBook.
The NWFA Gallery at 210 S. River Street is open for viewing and purchasing regional art from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Wed., Thurs. and Fri.. Saturday open hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
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.
February 4, 2021
In Duluth, since 2018, I have facilitated a book club for poetry at Zenith Books. The bookstore was kind enough to host us in between the stacks. In the past year, due to the pandemic, our book club moved online. Zenith Books still orders books for us, and they sell them to book club members at a 15% discount. Zenith Bookstore is a fantastic local bookstore, and they have continued to help the readers in Duluth get through the pandemic. You can order books online to be mailed or for curbside delivery.
The book club has been meeting for over two years. Lately we gather together on Zoom (contact me if you would like an invite). The discussion is wide-ranging. We discuss the topic or theme and also examine voice, metaphor, images, sound patterns, and forms. Members often do more research to learn biographical or other related information about the poets.Our list of books (in the order that we read them):
Ocean Vuong: Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Natalie Diaz: When My Brother Was an Aztec
Natasha Tretheway: Native Guard
Danez Smith: Don’t Call Us Dead
Tracy K. Smith: Duende
Joy Harjo: Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings
Tom Sleigh: House of Fact, House of Ruin
Jane Hirshfield: The Beauty
Forrest Gander: Be With
Ross Gay: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
Ada Limon: The Carrying
Maggie Nelson: Bluets
Sharon Olds: Odes
Hanif Abdurriq: A Fortune for Your Disaster
Saeed Jones: Prelude to Bruise
Sarah Ruhl: 44 Poems for You
Farzana Marie: Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat Afghanistan
Sun Yung Shin: Unbearable Splendor
Andrea Jenkins: The T Is Not Silent
Robin Coste Lewis: Voyage of the Sable Venus
Marilyn Chin: A Portrait of the Self as Nation
Louise Glück: Poems 1962-2012
Jericho Brown: The Tradition
Tomas Tranströmer: The Great Enigma.
Lorine Niedecker: Granite Pail or Selected Poems