October 16, 2011

Life and Work

Whatever gets in the way of your work becomes your work. Or maybe my creative work is an answer to my mother; often she told me as a child that life was hard. My grandparents were Finnish immigrants in far northern Minnesota with no grasp of the English language when they came. They lived in poverty. My grandfather's alcoholism and domestic violence only made things worse for my grandmother and their ten children. It was strength and resilience of the women that carried them through.

Migration from the old country was only the beginning, and it taught me things about moving from one culture to another. After that were other kinds of migrations: from a difficult marriage to coming out as a lesbian, from working in a taconite mine to a career in social work, from a love of hearing stories to establishing myself as a writer. One of the central obsessions in my life is the question why women (and men, for that matter) often deny their own needs, enter into or stay in dangerous situations, risk their children's safety, and deny or defy reality because of their dreams. From individual stories to myth to deep patterns in nature, I am engaged in the question about what propels us.

Echo and Lightning uses the metaphor of bird migration and myth to examine ways that women change and even relinquish the self. It is a spiritual exploration of fear, ecstasy and love through poems about Mary, Mary Magdalene, Lot's Wife, Eurydyce, Leda and The Swan, and the Gnostic book Thunder, Perfect Mind. 

Cloud Birds is about immigrants, bears, wilderness, bird migration, and the journey of women through hardship and violence, including the story of Persephone going back home to mother.  This book explores a Minnesota family history and has a sequence of love poems to bears. 

The third book, Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life's Transitions, traces movement and change in the community. This book is an anthology of writers from the Lake Superior and Northern Minnesota region that came out of an Arts and Cultural Heritage Community Arts Learning grant and my work as Duluth's Poet Laureate, teaching writing as a tool for life's transitions in the community and at Safe Haven Women's Shelter, the Family Justice Center and the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. 

In addition to the books, this creative work has moved into collaborations with my partner, composer and cellist Kathy McTavish.  As the name Wildwood River implies, our arts collaborative is a confluence of the arts. We live and work closely together in a wilderness area and in a creative process that draws from our own life histories and experience. The project continues in the form of musical compositions, abstract film, poetry videos, gallery installations, and live performances. 

Catherine Holm (author of My Heart Is a Mountain, Holy Cow! Press, 2010) wrote:  I read Echo and Lightning on my porch, after a night of queasiness, an upcoming demand later in the day, and the noise of traffic competing with the birds. I was instantly transported; material world forgotten. Packa's poems are passionate and they make me want to BE the narrator. Who hasn't "given themselves up" or left a part of life behind? What if we were the wind? What if we ARE the wind, in some or all aspects? These poems bring artistry, subtlety, and power to the world -- the world will benefit. I found myself want to, wishing to, write with this depth. This is the power of Sheila Packa's poetry.  Read this and be transported. Namaste, Sheila."

The Midwest Book Review says: "The changing of seasons, the changing of life seems to move so much faster in the north. Cloud Birds is a collection of poetry from Sheila Packa, a Finnish American woman who calls Minnesota home, viewing the changing of nature and life as she sees it and always moving. Cloud Birds is an excellent compilation of poetry driven by both humanity and the beauty and uncertainty of nature. "Cloud Birds": 'we live on both sides of the border/ in two countries/ in and outside each other/ bone and blood/ in disguise without intention or force/ without blandishments/ blown by wind/ silent like shadow crossing and crossing/ over the boundaries without end/ borne by moon or sun/burnished by wing.' "

The books are available at your local bookstore or at http://amzn.to/oVJRAD

Phantom Gallery: "Migrations" a multi-media exhibit at 1215 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI:  Poetry/video exhibit:  On view from October 20, 2011 to November 30, 2011

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