October 1, 2011

The Migrations Project

About the Book:  http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/210797/
Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life's Transitions just came out and I've been asked about where the project started and how it developed.  Maybe it started with a recent trip to Finland to visit some relatives; my grandparents immigrated to the United States. They had to start from scratch and do so in a new language. They came out of hope for a better life and more possibility, and the change caused great hardship. Maybe the project started with my own changes in relationships and home. Or maybe it was a background in social work and writing; they were two separate careers, but I began to see that engaging in the arts was an effective way to deal with problems. And my own capacity to pay attention as a social worker was improved by my writing.

For me, writing is not about self expression. That is like saying gardening is a physical activity. It's true, but it leaves out the fact that it's an act of faith, an investment and act of stewardship -- the attention to soil, irrigation, and plants results in growth.  It creates beauty and sustenance.

My mother's cousin in Finland, Mikko Himanko, was a war orphan. His father died before he was born, and he was raised by his mother and step-father. Now, a retired minister, Mikko spends his time interviewing and writing the stories of many war orphans. I think that's important work.    

Writing is a quest to find an image, a metaphor, a pattern that is beyond the self.  Like many arts, writing teaches us to pay attention. This is one of the great values of arts education, it increases skills of observation. It teaches us to listen. Writing gives one a greater capacity maybe not to solve the unanswerable questions but to hold them. It solves the question of where to put the hard stuff. To write about the obstacles or the barriers in life is to bring creative skills to the task at hand.

Migration, the annual cyclical pattern of birds in nature, happens to people. So does erosion, storm, and melting of glaciers  We are not separate from the landscape; the natural patterns express themselves in human lives. Earthquake, wildfire, drenching rain. Lake turnover. These are very interesting patterns that offer metaphors. 

Migrations is a theme of my work, certainly.  And because of a Community Arts Learning grant I was teaching writing to people in transition. I'm enthusiastic. Because of being in the role of Duluth Poet Laureate, I developed a community writing project of placemats printed with area writers poetry and given to diners at the Empty Bowl fundraiser for the Northern Lake Food Bank. Because it is my job to promote poetry and increase the audience, the project fell into place.

My project started small and got bigger as I read the beautiful work that people sent to me. Others refer to this as "scope creep."  It has certainly expanded my own skills at editing and helped me examine my theme through the words of many contributors. I've learned more project management skills.

I couldn't have done it without help from my partner Kathy McTavish and Wildwood River, our creative collaborative. Art making is at the center of our life, it's our business. She is a composer, cellist and media artist. I am a writer. We inspire and support each other.

It's satisfying to bring the work of a community of writers together into a book. It's like introducing your friends to each other. It shows the community the depth and breadth of the writing here. It offered the opportunity for me to bring together my two careers at the point where I leave social work to write full time. The book creates an opportunity for readers to reflect and to pay attention to the changes going on in their own life.

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