December 2, 2017

Neruda: Wheels That Have Crossed Long, Dusty Distances

Pablo Neruda (from an introduction to his own work) wrote: 
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. Selected Poems. Grove Press. Translated by Ben Belitt. 1961.


November 6, 2017

Poetry as Technique: Strange and Wonderful

Poetry is all details. It's physiological. Poetry is breath, and poetry is perception. Schlovsky writes about the technique in art of defamiliarizing the familiar and slowing perception. He also applies this to poetry. Here are excerpts of Victor Schlovsky's essay "Art as Technique:"
And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object…
In my article on plot construction I write about defamiliarization in psychological parallelism. Here, then, I repeat that the perception of disharmony in a harmonious context is important in parallelism. The purpose of parallelism, like the general purpose of imagery, is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception - that is, to make a unique semantic modification.
In studying poetic speech in its phonetic and lexical structure as well as in its characteristic distribution of words, and in the characteristic thought structures compounded-from the words, we find everywhere the artistic trademark - that is, we find material obviously created to remove the automatism or perception; the author's purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception. A work is created "artistically" so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of the perception. As a result of this lingering, the object is perceived not in its extension in space, but, so to speak, in its continuity. Thus "poetic language" gives satisfaction. According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful; and, in fact, it is often actually foreign: the Sumerian used by the Assyrians, the Latin of Europe during the Middle Ages, the Arabisms of the Persians, the Old Bulgarian of Russian literature, or the elevated, almost literary language of folksongs. The language of, poetry is, then, a difficult, roughened, impeded language. 
As Schlovsky writes, "...the general purpose of imagery is to transfer the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception," and "the language of a difficult, roughened, impeded language."  This brings to mind the multitude of object poems and figurative techniques that take imaginative leaps.  Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" comes to mind with the lines

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. 
And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, 
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, 

gleams in all its power. 
. . . . . . . .

This is a torso only, and yet the eyes are like ripening fruit, and the gaze "gleams in all its power." It is not entirely strange to refer to an all-knowing, all-seeing god, but the sense of perception coming from the marble statue is wonderful and unsettling. Aren't museums and statues meant to be seen and not seeing?  The up-ended expectation reverses the direction of perception. This creates a shift in self-perception, in consciousness:  a knowledge of being seen by Apollo. The narrator can no longer bear his old way of being. He speaks not in second person point of view as if the force of encounter has already removed him from the "I."  The poem ends with the memorable lines "for here there is no place / that does not see you. You must change your life."  The repeated words "you. You..." are nearly stuttering.  This new vision, mentioned by Schlovsky, or a "semantic modification" has haunting results. 

Readings & Book Signing

Poetry Reading  Nov 13, 2017 at 6 pm
Knights and Ladies of the Kaleva
Aallottaren Tupa 15, Duluth
Kenwood Lutheran Church,
2720 Myers Ave., Duluth.

Book Signing
Night Train Red Dust
November 25, 2017 2:00-3:00 pm
Zenith Bookstore
318 Central Ave N, Duluth, Minnesota 55807

Celebrating Our Common Ground
Saturday, December 2, 2017 7:00-9:00 pm 
Duluth Township Hall, Homestead Road, Duluth 55804
(This is a Community Arts and Heritage Event) Images, Words and Music.
Photography Exhibit, Drawings by students at NSCS, Music and Storytelling
I'll talk about writing about place and read a few excerpts of Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range and new work in progress.  

November 5, 2017

Diane Jarvenpa, Poet: The Way She Told Her Story

I wrote this blurb for this forthcoming book of poems:

From the land of the midnight sun, deep forests, and rye fields comes a girl, a shape-shifter. In The Way She Told Her Story, Diane Jarvenpa explores Finnish women's history, immigrant stories, and the mother/daughter terrain: "...a shifting place/ not a country/ more a continent with moving borders." These poems were forged in the context of the Finnish Kalevala and also another text of the same era, a collection of ancient runes sung primarily by women, the Kanteletar. Jarvenpa comes to poetry through song, and through her own mother, poet Aili Jarvenpa. She has searched archives and found forgotten stories breathing with life, and she has blended these with her own. In one poem, a grandmother smokes a pipe and says, "in the center of the heart/ is a lie and a truth." This might be true of all women's stories. Past the stereotype of women who tend the home, marry and bear children and past the stereotypes of those women that refuse the domestic roles, we glimpse the true ways that women create their lives and their communities. The women in these poems are witches, mothers, housekeepers, artists, journalists, vagabonds, and revolutionaries. Genealogy is here, but also "an inheritance of common things" that transforms into a new language of lyric, script, potter's wheel, poetry, and flight. The immigrant undergoes difficult passage. It takes courage to leave everything behind to enter a new landscape and a new language. This is a testament to creativity and resilience that this poet puts in the reader's hand. I love this book! Diane Jarvenpa, like her poem The Rune Singer, "sleeps a different breath of notes/ until dawn is strewn with magpies." (Publisher: New Rivers Press (scheduled for late November 2017) ISBN-13: 978-0898233667

--Sheila Packa
former Duluth Poet Laureate
author of Night Train Red Dust and Cloud Birds

About Diane Jarvi's album of kantele music, Bittersweet.

“Bittersweet is a fusion sound and a melding of both Finnish and American folk traditions; the album embodies both musical landscapes. Jarvi has taken the Nordic sound and also brought it into American folk, sometimes evoking mountain music and café accordion sound. Her voice is resonant, rich, and she uses it like an instrument. Many (but not all) of the lyrics are in Finnish, and this lends an aching and beautiful element. Her skills as a poet are also present in her music. She evokes the flight of a sea bird and sparrow and the feeling of wandering in the first snow amid falling stars. Even if one does not follow the exact words, her expressive voice carries the meaning. There is a mystery that she weaves from the landscape, the sounds, and the stories. Buy this album. Not only will you support this strong musical and poetic voice, you will cross untravelled regions of your soul and be glad for the journey.” -Sheila Packa and Kathy McTavish –New World Finn

See her website

October 28, 2017

Finnish Writers

The First Lady of Finland, Jenni Haukio hosted a writers' luncheon in Minneapolis on September 22, 2017 at the Hilton Hotel during the Finnfest 2017.  Her most recent book, Sinä Kuulet Sen Soiton. (You Hear That Music) is published by Savukeidas Kustannus.

Here is an excerpt from her book in Finnish:
Laakakatajat, haahkat, tyrnit, 
rahkasammalta kasvavat kalliot
vanhan meren loppumaton kohina
Vain tämä silmiini kivettyvä maisema
jää jälkeeni maailmalle,
veteen heitetyn kiven synnyttämä aaltoilu,
kaarenkestoinen onni, täydellinen...
In conversation, we explored the question of how all of our writing might relate to Finnish identity. It is an interesting question, and the answers were diverse. They are elusive. In the culture, people might say Finnish-ness includes independence and determination, a quietness or reserve, a connection to nature and landscape, and also inexpressible longing.

In the photo from left to right: Suzanne Matson, Diane Jarvi, Liisa Virtamo, Jenni Haukio, Ann Tuomi, Beth Virtanen, Christina Maki and Donna Salli in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Elbows of reeds, hawks, gulls,

the moss-faces of rocks
in the endless noise of the old sea

Only in this eyed landscape
I'm behind the world,

a ripple caused by a stone thrown far into the water,
a concentric orbit of luck, widening

(Translated by Sheila Packa)

Migrations: A Cantata

This is a 2 minute preview of the cantata Migrations, composed by Olli Kortekangas with poems written by Sheila Packa.  This is the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland, Oct 19, 2017.

October 6, 2017

A Poem's Capacity

What is the difference between poetry and prose? Poems rely on figurative language. In metaphors, the writer can reach more meanings. As Mary Oliver said, a good poem casts more than one shadow. In addition to the ability to evoke more, poems also seem to use voice somewhat differently. A poet throws her voice into other things, animals, plants, and beings. For instance, Denise Levertov wrote:
When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
Poets leap into figurative language, and figurative language has more imaginative capacity. Here's an excerpt by "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath:
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
Other writers have written about the difference between poetry and prose. Irish poet Seamus Heaney said poems are melodious and true. French poet Paul Valéry said that poetry is physiological. Connected to the breath, poetry is a little machine made to recreate the experience in the reader. The language is memorable. In prose, the words are not meant to take any focus away from the story. The words dissipate once meaning is delivered. Gertrude Stein found another difference between poetry and prose--nouns. She said:
Poetry is I say essentially a vocabulary just as prose is essentially not. And what is the vocabulary of which poetry absolutely is. It is a vocabulary based on the noun as prose is essentially and determinately and vigorously not based on the noun. Poetry is concerned with using with abusing, with losing with wanting with denying with avoiding with adoring with replacing the noun. It is doing that always doing that, doing that doing nothing but that. Poetry is doing nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns. That is what poetry does, that is what poetry has to do no matter what kind of poetry it is. And there are a great many kinds of poetry. So that is poetry really loving the name of anything and that is not prose.
This is from her essay, "Poetry and Grammar," in Lectures in America (1935). Stein's experimental prose sheds light. There are many 'object poems,' and these essentially center upon the use of nouns. These noun poems are personas. Like in Plath's poem, the object is voiced. Louise Glück, in her beautiful collection Wild Iris projects her voice into the irises, poppies, violets, and other blooms in the garden. She speaks also as if she were the creator, God. As if in dialogue with other poets, Charles Simic goes inside a stone and makes it more capacious:
Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.
This is not all the poetry can do. Sound becomes is an important element: vowel assonance, consonance, and repetitions. Melodious, as Heaney said. The voice also can be direct, from the poet to the reader. In the following poem by Antonio Machado:
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship's wake in the sea.
The words traveler, road, walk, path, no, never weave back and forth in the poem's lines and weave an interesting net around the reader that takes away the ground where we walk. The world of poetry is a different world; things are not as they seem. In the following excerpt of John Haines poem, "If the Owl Calls Again," there is yet another technique, a shape-shifting, when the narrator in the poem becomes an owl: "I'll wait for the moon/ to rise/ then take wing and glide to meet him." The boundaries are more fluid in poetry.

These are one of many changes that poems can create, and in this way, they become fascinating, flexible, and charming mechanisms. Agency and voice can change in a poem, and a poem can enact changes in both poets and readers. Gertrude Stein is right; they are created by loving the names of things and loving the language that we speak. They are perhaps the closest thing to magic. Poems are enchanting beasts.

September 8, 2017

Upcoming Poetry Readings

If you are in the area, please come!


November 4, 2017 at 5 pm: All Soul's Event at the Duluth Depot.

November 13, 2017 at 6 pm : Ladies of the Kaleva, Duluth, Minnesota

September 22, 2017 at 1 pm:  Finnfest 2017 at the Hilton in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Friday and Saturday reading events will occur in the sunny glass Atrium in Orchestra Hall.

September 9, 2017 at 2 - 6 pm:  A Finland Celebration!  The Crown Ballroom, Hibbing, Minnesota

In Finland: Sibelius: Kullervo and Kortekangas: Migrations

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence!

Migrations will have its premier in Lahti, Finland this fall.  October 19, 2017:

Migrations (Finnish Premiere), Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo-soprano, YL Male Voice Choir, Sinfonia Lahti, cond. Dima Slobodeniuk

The music is composed by Olli Kortekangas, the text is written by Sheila Packa. The Minnesota Orchestra Symphony is conducted by Osmo Vänskä.

Arts Express Workshop September 30 & October 7, 2017

I hope you can join us to do creative work in a supportive healing community!

Arts Express - For area cancer survivors & caregivers

Join us for one or all of our upcoming Arts Express activities this year! From a brief intro to a multi-day workshop in Duluth, our artist/teachers can guide ANY body into arts. Poetry writing, sketching & collage, movement, even video-making.
Arts Express Workshop:
Join a small group for this two-day workshop of expressive writing, drawing, and moving. Art for anybody guided by experienced artist/teachers: Sheila Packa, Elizabeth Kuth, and Lisa McKhann. Plus extra video component at UMD with Joellyn Rock, for 9 lucky participants who want to bring it all together in digital re-mixing!

Workshop - 10 hours of Creative Time
Saturday, September 30 and October 7
10:00 am - 3:00 pm
At Duluth Art Institute's Lincoln Center
2229 West 2nd Street, Duluth

Optional Video Collage Session
Tuesday, October 10 or October 17
3:00 pm - 7:00 pm

UMD - Motion & Media Across Disciplines (MMAD) Lab

There will be a $20 registration fee. Space limited to 18 for the workshop.

Here's the link:
Register Now
Your spot in the workshops will be confirmed upon receipt of the registration fee.
Send $20, payable to Project Lulu, to:
Project Lulu, 2109 Minnesota Ave., Duluth, MN 55802
For more information about this Arts Express workshop, please contact Jeanne Riese,

August 19, 2017

The Pleasure of Getting Lost

Valéry wrote in his “Discourse on Aesthetics:”

      Poets enter the enchanted forest of Language with the express purpose of
      getting lost, getting high on being lost, looking for crossroads of significance,
      unforeseen echoes, stranger encounters; they fear neither detours, nor
      surprises, nor the dark. But the man who comes here excitedly running
      after “truth,” following one single and continuous road...not wanting to lose
      either his way or the road already covered, risks capturing only his own
      shadow. Gigantic sometimes, but still just a shadow. 

To engage with poetry brings a writer into new regions, not necessarily a new landscape but a new attention to possibility, a new consciousness. In time, a good poem will continue to evoke new meanings and, in doing so, refreshes perception and experience with its power. 

May 18, 2017


Ann Carson's new book promises to be interesting. As always, she provides both amusement and food for thought as she explores form. There is no designated order for reading the parts, it is as she suggests "a free fall."
Float, her most ambitious publication since Nox (2010)... a boxed collection of twenty-two individually bound chapbooks in a sleek plastic case, it includes some traditional lyrics, some translations, some plays and scenes from plays—what readers might think of as lyric-dramas. It also features essays, lists, and loosely structured meditations. In fact we might say the pieces “float” in a loose network of relations, interchangeable in order and readable as individual projects, but connected by a strand of interrelated themes—the problem of representation, translation as an act of creation, and the idea of “network” itself. The book, if we can call it a book, contests not only conventional understandings of genre and readership, but, through its collective disjunction, the classificatory modes by which we comprehend our realities. Float urges us, at least implicitly, to reconsider the essential divisions we fashion between subject and object, self and other, bodies and the spaces they inhabit.

Read the full review at

On the other side of the spectrum, Robert Hass book recently came out, A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry.  It's 400 pages.  He orders the manuscript starting with poems of one line, couplets, triolets, quatrains, and in ascending order and he considers the history of the particular stanza and its effect in a poem. The book represents an accumulation of years of notes, and he also makes lists of poems for the reader to investigate.  It is a thorough analysis.

As he notes in the brief introduction, this has been a work in progress for two decades. His modest goal is to explain how the “formal imagination actually operates in poetry,” the “way the poem embodies the energy of the gesture of its making.” Hass begins with analyses of a single line, then two, three, and four, which take up the book’s first 100 pages. Next, he moves on to form (blank verse, sonnet, etc.) and genre (ode, elegy, satire, prose poems, etc.), finishing up with stress and rhythm. Along the way, he draws on hundreds of examples of lines, stanzas, and complete poems from the history of poetry, which he carefully selects to illustrate his points. 

The full review is at

Lately, I've been contemplating the past year's work on my desk, poems, prose, and memoir.  Both of these book offer thoughts about structure.

April 23, 2017

Cecil Taylor: The Attempt to Levitate

Cecil Taylor, jazz musician and poet:

“So poets who perhaps attempt to levitate—the process to achieve that, the thing that all poets have in common, the internal material—is the development of the senses to respond to the particular media you’re working in. And since that kind of work has no basis in commercial reality, then the activity must be about developing those monuments to the flowering of the senses.”

This exhibit was at the Whitney Museum, NY in 2016.

February 24, 2017

Sibelius Kullervo Kortekangas Migrations: Minnesota Orchestra

I'm thrilled that Kortekangas set my poems into the music.  "Migrations" is well matched to the driving and intense Kullervo, composed by Sibelius.  The Minnesota Orchestra performance, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, recorded here on CD, is stunning and beautiful.

Here are awesome reviews:
The Guardian:

Helsinki Sanomat:

San Francisco Chronicle

Klassik Heute (Germany)

Pizzicato: Remy Frank's Journal about Classical Music (Luxemburg) / TransCentury Communications

MusicWeb International (United Kingdom)

Finnish Music Quarterly

Crescendo Magazine (Belgium) Apr 7, 2017

The CD is available anywhere, but also at:

To get the poems:  The four poems are drawn from the books Cloud Birds and Echo and Lightning.

RondoClassic Magazine. (Helsinki, Finland):