June 26, 2014

Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing

Hélène Cixous, a French writer, wrote Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. The book was published in 1993, and she has written many others, but I continue to reread this one because her secrets of writing are fascinating.

She says writing is a "strange science of farewells. Of reunitings."  The reader is plunged into the book with a marvelous speed.  "Writing in its noblest function, is the attempt to unerase, to unearth, to find the primitive picture again, ours, the one that frightens us. Strangely, it concerns a scene...we are the audience of this scene...witnesses to an extraordinary scene whose secret is on the other side." This sentence is key to the beginning of the writer's voice because each person has a unique extraordinary scene that they have witnessed. It awakens consciousness.

June 25, 2014

Book Review by Julie Gard: Night Train Red Dust

Book Review 

Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range 
Reviewed by Julie Gard 
New World Finn, Summer 2014

In Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range, Sheila Packa fearlessly explores the Finnish and Northern Minnesota roots of her life and language. Family history, landscape, industry, and the animal world are all essential elements of the poet’s psyche and vocabulary.

In “My Geology,” language is excavated, hard-earned and fiercely chosen: “I claim my words from the broken / English, damaged roots, / Finnish syntax and geomagnetic fields.” Access to language and a place in history is claimed not just for the poet, but for her entire community. Packa’s voice is bold and Whitmanesque in poems like “Zenith City,” which is a playful, polyphonic tribute to Duluth, and “Strange Highway,” which encompasses multiple generations and experiences:

June 20, 2014

What I've Learned About Poetry: A Manifesto of Sorts

It begins with an ache. 
Nothing is too small not to notice.
Let it tell you what it is. 
Fall into a crack.
Create a motion.
Stay in the body. Write inside.
Stay in the body of earth. 
Consider the object to be a symbol and then a tool. 
The beginning must lead the middle to the end. 
Leave room for shadows or ghosts.
Remember the workings of tiny gears inside the clock.
Repeat in a way.   
Be thorough in whatever you are doing.
Stay true. 
What you are given more than suffices.
If you are going in the right direction, the universe will synchronize and give you a gift.
Time falls away from the beginning.
If a sacrifice is needed, it’s the ego. 
Simplicity is your direction.    
The ending happened before you stopped. 

June 18, 2014

Calvino and Artists Inside the Invisible Cities

Italo Calvino inspired the creators of Sophronia Two, featured at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis during the Northern Spark Film Festival on June 16, 2014.

The film in the tent was created by digital artist Joellyn Rock.  Shadow movements were created by her, improv actors, and audience. The graffiti angel (video, text and music - a live film created by software) projected large across the walls of the gallery space was created by Kathy McTavish. Shadow dancing was added by the audience.  Improv writing in the projection was done by Rob Wittig.  Other netprov writers contributed. During the show, Sheila Packa, Kathleen Roberts, Katelynn Monson, and audience participants added text to the live projection via handheld devices (through a textbox located at the Sophronia website http://sophroniatwo-13570.onmodulus.net/). Kathleen Roberts adopted the persona of the city of Ersilia and Katelynn became Zaire.  For a glimpse of the pre-show improvisational writing, see https://www.facebook.com/sophroniatwo?fref=nf
Live musicians, with an accordion and harmonica, also brought their talents to the festive all night event.

 Calvino: "The city of Sophronia is made up of two half-cities. In one there is a great roller coaster with its steep humps, the carousel with its chain spokes, the Ferris wheel of spinning cages, the death-ride with the crouching motorcyclists, the big top with the clump of trapezes hanging in the middle. The other half-city is of stone and marble and cement, with the bank, the factories, the palaces, the slaughterhouse, the school, andall the rest. One of the half-cities is permanent, the other is temporary, and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it, and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half-city. And so every year the day comes when the workmen remove the marble pediments, lower the stone walls, the cement pylons, take down the Ministry, the monument, the docks, the petroleum refinery, the hospital, load them on trailers, to follow from stand to stand their annual itinerary. Here remains the half-Sophronia of the shooting-galleries and the carousels, the shout suspended from the cart of the headlong roller coaster, and it begins to count the months, the days it must wait before the caravan returns and a complete life can begin once again."

June 9, 2014

It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)

The Invisible Connection between Italo Calvino and Ella Fitzgerald: It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)

I am thinking about swing--the rhythm found in creating music or dancing or writing a poem. After reading Calvino's essay "Cybernetics and Ghosts," about narrative, I begin thinking about jazz forms and Ella Fitzgerald singing It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing). These artists have a strong and compelling voice. They have a connection.

 Invisible Cities is made of several stories, each with the same form, told by Marco Polo to the emperor Kublai Khan and these descriptions are arranged in eleven sections: Cities and Memory, Cities and Desire, Cities and Signs, Thin Cities, Trading Cities, Cities and Eyes, Cities and Names, Cities and the Dead, Cities and the Sky, Continuous Cities, and Hidden Cities. It is a beautiful form that reminds me of Islamic art.  The content of Calvino's work was matched by the form that he used. He employed patterns. This gives his writing a strong poetic form.  Swing can be noted not so much in the syllables and metrics as in poems--but in the narrative patterns. Swing--or patterning--also occurs in the arc and reach of an individual's body of work, and even of literature in general.

June 8, 2014

Poetry and the Imagination

Poetry and imagination are joined at the imaging.  --Sheila Packa

I imagine that yes is the only living thing.  --e. e. cummings

My imagination is a monastery and I am its monk.  --John Keats

What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth."  --John Keats

Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are, the more necessary it is to be plain. --Samuel Taylor Coleridge

People can die of mere imagination.  --Geoffrey Chaucer

The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.  --Percy Bysshe Shelley

We say God and the imagination are one… How high that highest candle lights the dark.
 --Wallace Stevens

All the best have something in common, a regard for reality, an agreement to its primacy over the imagination.  --Wislawa Szymborska

Poetry must have something in it that is barbaric, vast and wild.
  --Denis Diderot

For women . . . poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of light within which we can predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
  Audre Lorde

Do you know how poetry started? I always think that it started when a cave boy came running back to the cave, through the tall grass, shouting as he ran, “Wolf, wolf,” and there was no wolf. His baboon-like parents, great sticklers for the truth, gave him a hiding, no doubt, but poetry had been born—the tall story had been born in the tall grass.
  Vladimir Nabokov

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
  Carl Sandburg
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. --Sylvia Plath.

June 1, 2014

Night Train Red Dust Book News

Laurie Hertzel, Senior Books Editor, Star Tribune

Here are links to book reviews and interviews:
Minneapolis Star Tribune 
September 20, 2014 Review by Elizabeth Hoover:

The epigraph to Sheila Packa’s fourth collection is from Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead,” a masterful long poem about West Virginia miners. Like Rukeyser, Packa acts as a powerful witness to the lives of people connected to the mines in a project that is poetry and documentary.

Packa writes about the Iron Range of Minnesota and its labor history: work, strikes and injuries: “Thick ores and clay and blood / mix in crush wounds and miner’s lung.” She includes poems about women miners “with the air of Amelia Earharts” who “face the lay off” when men return from war. Her syntax mimics the relentlessness of labor; readers work through long sentences squeezed into short-line poems.

From strawberries to saunas, Packa sensitively portrays the culture of this area’s immigrant communities. She writes of music that “echo[es] time and resistance,” and how “one language blooms from another.”

The landscape acts as a major character. It has its own history, but it also absorbs the stories of the people who live there: “Old rocks speak in grandfathers’ tongues / of workers strife, gun and knife.”

While below, the mines claim the lives of workers, above the landscape bursts with life: “The surface of the lake glints like silver-plate” and spring makes frogs in frozen mud “jump-start their hearts.”

Elizabeth Hoover is the assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Hibbing Daily Tribune, 
"Taken together, Packa’s poems act like a pack of strikers jumping the berm of an iron mine, hoping that in number one of them would avoid the bulls to reach the works. The elements of poems overlap, but the mission, the theme, each follows its own path. What it means to be an immigrant, what it is to be cheated, what it is to work your life out through your arms."

"More than that, though, also the landscape. The colors. The odd mix of isolation and community comprising life on the Iron Range. I’m no regular reader of poetry, certainly not in the form of anthologies like this. But “Night Train, Red Dust” resonated with me; like songs mixed onto a great album, back when albums meant something. I read this with the windows open and frogs practically screaming out in the swamp. There was a light breeze. Goosebumps speckled my arms for most of the evening." --Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. 

For the full review see: http://minnesotabrown.com/2014/06/hundred-years-went.html

Next: Grand Rapids Herald

"It shouldn’t be understated that besides the interesting content, looking at the local history in a new light, Packa’s collection of poems is wonderfully well written. Thoughtful in each word and punctuation mark, the poems with few exceptions offer readers a joyful experience in the aesthetic of language while at the same time giving those of us who won’t be satisfied until we’ve deconstructed the last phoneme a new reading project as well." --Nathan Bergstedt. The reviewer is the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the Grand Rapids (MN) Herald Review. He is also a gifted poet, playwright, story-teller and actor.
For the full review, see: http://www.grandrapidsmn.com/grand_people/reviewing-night-train-red-dust/article_822f12b4-e2ab-11e3-b60e-001a4bcf887a.html

And also thank you from Editor Jean Cole for this feature article in the Hometown Focus in Virginia, Minnesota!


Thanks to Tony Potter of the Hibbing Tribune for this interview:
 "Through the use of research and words, an Eveleth-born poet paints images of life and death, success and struggle, hope and despair from the early days of the Iron Range."

Mesabi Daily News: 
"If you have experience with immigrants, you know the extreme change they make in language, culture and landscape,” she said. “It’s difficult and often perilous.”
Packa said she is continuously inspired by the rich history and culture of the Iron Range.
Read more at http://bit.ly/1AS68Kc

Mesabi Daily News:

And this from the Midwest Book Review Small Press Book Watch 
at http://www.midwestbookreview.com/sbw/jun_14.htm

Night Train Red Dust
Sheila Packa
Wildwood River Press
2 Chester Parkway, Duluth, MN 55805
9780984377770, $15.00, 98pp,
or Barnes & Noble:  http://bit.ly/1n6sIsD
or through your independent bookstore!

The Iron Range is an informal and unofficially designated region that makes up the northeastern section of Minnesota in the United States. It is a region with multiple distinct bands of iron ore. The far eastern area, containing the Duluth Complex along the shore of Lake Superior, and the far northern area, along the Canadian border, of the region are not associated with iron ore mining. Due to its shape, the area is collectively referred to as the Arrowhead region of the state. Sheila Packa has a blog (www.nighttrainreddust.com) featuring essays about people and places to be found in the Iron Range and which serve to inspire her poetry anthologized in "Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range". The themes of her extraordinary and highly recommended free verse poems range from accordion music and strong women, to coal mining, unionizing, and radical politics. 'Grouse': Along a deserted road, at the edge / of October / a grouse between shadow and light arrives / with tentative steps -- / as if to say to fox or wolf or husband with a gun: / I've come this far -- has it all been a waste? / In his sights the bird / bolts into flight.

In a review published in the Summer 2014 issue of New World Finn, Julie Gard says: "Altogether, these poems vividly capture personal and collective experience and serve as a powerful example of how a writer can help to shape the identity of a place. The collection ends with haunting traces, silence, and smoke. Language emerges from and disappears into wind, “[e]ven after all the ink” (“Dictate of Wind’), yet Packa’s words leave a lasting impression. As in “Consanguinity,” “Her incantations come.' " For the full review, subscribe to NWF http://www.newworldfinn.com/ or read the review at:

New Interview published on June 30, 2014 by Minnesota Post Amy Goetzman: "Range Poet Sheila Packa Mines Region for Forgotten Stories"

And thank you to Garrison Keillor and Writer's Almanac for featuring the poem "Rhubarb" on June 30, 2014 and "North Star" on September 3, 2014  http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2014/06/30