inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #0 of 140: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 27 Sep 11 06:08
    
Our conversations online are often linear, literal, meaningful - too
rarely simply beautiful. However poets, like the rest of us, have found
their way online; google "poetry" and you get 313 million hits. Among
our members here on the WELL are two accomplished U.S. poets, Jane
Hirshfield and Mary Mackey. We've invited them to Inkwell for a two
week poetry festival, starting now. They'll be posting some of their
poems, and discussing the craft and process of thinking and writing
poetry. Jennifer Simon, host of the WELL's poetry conference, will lead
the discussion.

Jane Hirshfield is the author of seven collections of poetry,
including the just released Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011),  After
(HarperCollins, 2006), which was named a 'Best Book of 2006' by The
Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England's Financial
Times and shortlisted for England's T.S. Eliot Award; and Given Sugar,
Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001; finalist for the National Book Critics
Circle Award). Author of a now-classic book of essays, Nine Gates:
Entering the Mind of Poetry, Hirshfield has also edited and
co-translated three books collecting the work of women poets from the
distant past and recently published a best-selling Kindle Single, The
Heart of Haiku, on the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho.

Hirshfield's honors include The Poetry Center Book Award, the
California Book Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller
foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the 40th Annual
Distinguished Achievement Fellowship from the Academy of American
Poets, an honor previously received by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop,
and William Carlos Williams. She has been a fellow at MacDowell, Yaddo,
and Bellagio. Her work has been featured in six editions of The Best
American Poetry and appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times
Literary Supplement, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, Orion,
McSweeney's, and elsewhere. She has presented her poems and lectured at
festivals and universities throughout the U.S. and in China, Japan,
the Middle East, the United Kingdom, Poland, Lithuania, and Ireland.

For more information about Jane Hirshfield, including the full
schedule of readings this fall for Come, Thief, please visit
http://www.barclayagency.com/hirshfield.html or
www/facebook.com/janehirshfield 

Mary Mackey received a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Comparative
Literature from The University of Michigan. Her published works include
six collections of poetry, including “Breaking The Fever” (Marsh Hawk
Press, 2006) and “Sugar Zone” (forthcoming from Marsh Hawk Press,
October 1, 2011); a short novel (“Immersion”—the first novel published
by a Second Wave feminist press); and twelve other novels (“McCarthy's
List,” Doubleday; “The Last Warrior Queen,” Putnam; “A Grand Passion,”
Simon & Schuster; “Season of Shadows,” Bantam; “The Kindness of
Strangers,” Simon & Schuster; “The Year The Horses Came,” Harper San
Francisco; “The Horses at the Gate,” Harper San Francisco; “The Fires
of Spring, Penguin,” “The Stand In,” Kensington Books, “Sweet Revenge,”
Kensington Books; “The Notorious Mrs. Winston,” Berkley Books; and
“The Widow’s War,” Berkley books.)  Her two comic novels (“The Stand
In” and “Sweet Revenge”) were written under the pen name “Kate
Clemens.”

Mackey’s poems have been praised by Wendell Berry,  Dennis Nurkse, Ron
Hansen, Dennis Schmitz, and Marge Piercy for their beauty, precision,
originality, and extraordinary range. Three times Garrison Keillor has
featured her poetry on his program The Writer’s Almanac. Her work has
appeared on The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle  bestseller
lists and has been translated into twelve foreign languages including
Japanese, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, and Finnish.

Former Chair of PEN American Center, West, she has served on the
Governing Board of PEN Oakland. A fellow of the Virginia Center for the
Creative Arts, she is an active member of  the St. Mary’s College
Creative Writing Program Advisory Board, the Poetry Committee of the
Northern California Book Awards, the National Book Critics Circle, and
The Authors Guild. In Spring 2009, the San Francisco Branch of the
National League of American Pen Women established the Mary Mackey Short
Story Prize. Mackey was one of the founders of the CSUS Women’s
Studies Program. She also founded the CSUS English Department Graduate
Creative Writing Program along with poet Dennis Schmitz and novelist
Richard Bankowsky. In 1978 Mackey founded the Feminist Writers Guild
with poets Adrienne Rich and Susan Griffin and novelist Valerie Miner. 
From 1989-1992, she served as President of the West Coast Branch of
PEN American Center involving herself in PEN’s international defense of
persecuted writers.

For the last twenty years she has been traveling to Brazil with her
husband, Angus Wright, who writes about land reform and environmental
issues. At present she is working on a series of poems inspired by the
works of Brazilian poets and novelists. Combining Portuguese and
English, she creates poems that use Portuguese as incantation to evoke
the lyrical space that lies at the conjunction of the two languages.
More of her poetry can be found at www.marymackey.com. A full schedule
of her readings and workshops is posted on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/marymackeywriter?sk=info

For more biographical information please see: www.marshhawkpress.org 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mackey 
http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Mackey/e/B000APXUQ6/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 

An extensive biography is also available in the “Contemporary Authors
Autobiography Series,” Volume 27, published by Gale Research, Detroit,
MI: 1997.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, our discussion of poetry will
be led by Jennifer Simon, who also writes poetry, hosts the Poetry
conference on the WELL, and is a long-time fan of Jane Hirshfield and
Mary Mackey. 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #1 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 27 Sep 11 12:39
    
What a lovely introduction, Jon -- thank you!  That I use poetry to
think may reflect my own nonlinear bend of mind, or perhaps it's my
upbringing that is responsible, for my parents seemed to have a poem
for every occasion.  First it was Milne: for separation anxiety there
was the patent silliness of "Disobedience" and for bullying, "Bad Sir
Brian Botany" was a gleeful consolation.  Later, Lear's "The Owl and
the Pussycat" shaped my earliest visions of romance, and Carroll's "The
Walrus and the Carpenter" gave me my first glimpses into the moral
complexities of meeting basic needs.

From such beginnings, a word-greedy chick grew into a poetry hen whose
friends are long accustomed to hearing the words, "That reminds me of
a poem..."  Two of the poets to whom I most often refer these days are
Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey.  I've lost count of the number of
times I've offered Mary's "When We Were Your Age" (from Breaking the
Fever) as an explanation of an era beyond the reach of experience for
my younger friends, and Jane's "In A Room With Five People, Six Griefs"
(from After) has allowed me to speak of empathy in a way no ordinary
language affords.  Poems like these and others are not only gifts of
beauty and expressions of thought.  They can also serve as a means of
feeling our way through life.

Since this is a poetry festival, we will begin with "readings" (or as
close as we can come to them here) by posting a series of pieces from
each of our poets.  I'm looking forward to the ensuing discussion, and
readers who are not WELL members are welcome to join in the fray, too. 
If you would like to contribute comments or questions, please send
them to Inkwell@well.com, and we will post them for you.  
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #2 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 27 Sep 11 20:32
    
"Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead."

  -- W. H. Auden

If you read poetry through the ages, you soon discover that authors
are talking to one another, and not just with the dead, either: Auden
talks back to Eliot, who was just having a word with Yeats, and on it
goes.  Whatever else it may be, poetry is a way of communicating.  Even
if you shove your writing in a drawer, you have said something to
yourself.  Show it to others, and you're in a conversation.

This sense I have of overhearing a conversation causes parallels to
converge in my mind, even with authors working separately and
simultaneously, as our contributors here have done.  One poem leads to
another, which leads to another, lines of thought forming a web strong
enough to hold an understanding of the world.  Having been given
license to make my own selections for this festival, I will lay the
poems out in a way that shows how this works.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #3 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 10:16
    
The Conversation


A woman moves close:
there is something she wants to say.
The currents take you one direction, her another.
All night you are aware of her presence,
aware of the conversation that did not happen.
Inside it are mountains, birds, a wide river,
a few sparse-leaved trees.
On the river, a wooden boat putters.
On its deck, a spider washes its face.
Years from now, the boat will reach a port by the sea,
and the generations of spider descendants upon it
will look out, from their nearsighted, eightfold eyes,
at something unanswered.


 -- Jane Hirshfield
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #4 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 10:16
    
The High, Hard Mountains


The high, hard mountains write letter by letter
the story of how we met in a dense
forest    on a deer trail    in a column of light
charged with dust and pollen

the wind rose
shadows rushed across your face
like flocks of small birds
taking flight

you said something to me
  something urgent
(perhaps you warned me)

but I had gone deaf    I saw your lips moving
but I could not (did not want to)
read them


  -- Mary Mackey
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #5 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:13
    
The Lost Love Poems of Sappho


The poems we haven’t read
must be her fiercest:
imperfect, extreme.
As it is with love, its nights, its days.
It stands on the top of the mountain
and looks for more mountain, steeper pitches.
Descent a thought impossible to imagine.


  -- Jane Hirshfield
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #6 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:14
    
The Kama Sutra of Kindness:
Position Number 4


you claim you long for me    the way
a drowning man longs to breathe

poised above me    tortured as a saint
you pause then descend     speaking
with a tongue that tastes of honey
and salt

reason be damned

look
even the light around has
changed


  -- Mary Mackey
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #7 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:15
    
Critique of Pure Reason


“Like one man milking a billy goat,
another holding a sieve beneath it,”
Kant wrote, quoting an unnamed ancient.
It takes a moment to notice the sieve doesn’t matter.
In her nineties, a woman begins to sleepwalk.
One morning finding pudding and a washed pot,
another the opened drawers of her late husband’s dresser.
After a while, anything becomes familiar,
though the Yiddish jokes of Auschwitz
stumbled and failed outside the barbed wire.
Perimeter is not meaning, but it changes meaning,
as wit increases distance and compassion erodes it.
Let reason flow like water around a stone, the stone remains.
A dog catching a tennis ball lobbed into darkness
holds her breath silent, to keep the descent in her ears.
The goat stands patient for two millennia,
watching without judgment from behind his strange eyes.


  -- Jane Hirshfield
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #8 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:16
    
Discussing Catastrophe


Up on the hill    in the white villa
with its carved stairs and Moorish windows
we are sitting on wrought iron chairs discussing catastrophe
how the earth shook              the volcano erupted
the hurricane blew in       the plague swept through
leaving stones like rows of articulated bones

our sweet drinks    are bitter
we suck  limes  and cherries and taste
dust         moldy cardboard           the acrid backwash
of burned flesh

the sun is scorching the horizon      tipping the knife
blade line of  clouds with arterial red       some
think we should send money    or go down to the city
and dig through the rubble with our bare hands
the rest of us just want to admire the view
  
to our left    the ocean is turning black  
above the slate-like calm    a funnel of pelicans    slowly rises
over the unsuspecting    fish


  -- Mary Mackey
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #9 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:17
    
Pompeii


How many houses
become a living Pompeii,
undusted, unemptied.

Catastrophe is not only sudden.
Hearts stop in more ways than one.

Sometimes the house key is lost,
sometimes the lock.
Sometimes an ending means what did not knock.


  -- Jane Hirshfield
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #10 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:18
    
Hunting Season


this is what will take
us all sooner or later
something that comes
loping suddenly
out of a white fog
its hot breath on the back of our necks    a quick blow

a broken sky
the smell of a hunger so raw
it feels like love


  -- Mary Mackey
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #11 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:18
    
Fourth World


A friend dies.
A horse dies.
A man dies over and over again on the news.

Without them,
the fourth world continues.
Waking fox-red on the flanks of the mountain.

Absence, anger, grief,
cruelty, failure –
The fox walks through them.
 
It wants, as she had, to live.

All day it is cool in the shadows, hot in the sun.


  -- Jane Hirshfield
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #12 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:39
    
Erased


shoes without feet to wear them
liquid snail smears on a pane of glass
the watcher being watched
(learning laughter as a foreign language)

after tests
that short silence before the doctor speaks
that says it all
  
you will be erased
this is no joke
  
leave on a light    I can no longer
sleep in a dark room
the walls are bending around me
gnawing slowly at my body
like a pack of dogs

erased?    must you repeat?

me?
      
            but not you, right?

never you


  -- Mary Mackey
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #13 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 28 Sep 11 16:56
    

What a fascinating alternation of poems, Jennifer. I think Jane and I should
do a live reading like this some time.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #14 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 17:51
    
If you ever do, I hope I can be there to see it -- I heard these in
your voices, like a call and response, as I laid them out.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #15 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 17:52
    
Have you and Jane ever read together, either at a festival or group
reading?
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #16 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Wed 28 Sep 11 20:58
    
I'm not sure that we have--but we've each been to each other's readings, and
for a while I was on the PEN American Center West Coast steering committee
when Mary was its chair--those meetings, plus the Well, were the birth of a
longstanding friendship, filled with admiration and pleasure-filled
conversations.

I'd like to say how much I like your comment about thinking through poems--
this is exactly what I love to do as well, both seeing how certain
constellations of a life glimmer through different poems and different
poets, but also, as you described, finding a way to think about something
that might be difficult to think about by turning to poetry. Poems do that:
they think more capaciously and complexly than linear thought does. So if
something won't yield to regular thought--death, or love, for instance--it
will unfold to a poem. And unfold differently in the next poem. Poems do
lots of different work in a life, but for me that's one of the main things
they do, one of the main reasons I turn to them. When I look at Mary's
poems, I see the same thing--but I don't know if that's how you think about
it, Mary. As someone who also writes novels, I am guessing you have a very
clear sense of what each kind of imaginative writing does--and since you've
taught film, what that does differently (or the same) as well.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #17 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 28 Sep 11 21:47
    

I think you've said it beautifully, Jane. I see poetry and more non linear,
more capable of moving into the difficult corners of life, more direct in an
emotional sense, and more likely to be in touch with the great mysteries of
existence. Novels come out of a much more rational part of my brain. They
unfold like stories. Poems appear in my mind like flowers coming slowly into
bloom. Screenplays are another matter altogether. Writing a screenplay is
more like writing a blue print for someone else to turn into a building.
Everything is very efficient and pared down to the nub. I love the way
poetry can expand, unfold unexpected parts of existence, and contain
ambiguity. Neither novels nor screenplays do that as well, although--of
course--they have other virtues.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #18 of 140: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 29 Sep 11 18:20
    
If you have questions or comments and you're not a member of the WELL,
just send to inkwell at well.com and we'll be happy to add your words.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #19 of 140: Therese Flanagan (therese) Thu 29 Sep 11 18:37
    
Thanks so much for having this Poetry Festival! I'm a long time reader
of Jane's poetry and prose; I was introduced to Mary's work here on
the Well. I always look forward to your book announcements.

I'm interested in the way poetry creates space. As my attention span
shortens in this media rich world, I return to poetry, again and again,
finding in it a reliable source that brings me to a center of
concentration. In the process of writing, are you surprised by what
your poems yield...do you experience the wonder, the insight, you
deliver to a reader?
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #20 of 140: William F. Stockton (yesway) Thu 29 Sep 11 20:01
    
Great question Therese. As a follow on - in the revision process, do
you ever lose track of the original inspiration?

Jennifer, I also liked the alternating posting of poems. A round robin
reading format can be really fun. I was at a reading on Tuesday where
three poets - Camille Dungy, Marie-Elizabeth Mali and Melissa Stein -
took turns, with each selecting a poem brought to mind by the previous
readers choice. It made for a lively evening. 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #21 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 30 Sep 11 00:10
    
That does sound like fun.  I would love to see this format done in
person.  Great questions, too, Therese and Bill, thanks! 
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #22 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 30 Sep 11 07:53
    
I am always surprised by what comes when I write a new poem--for me, it's
never an act of transcription of the already-known, always an act of
exploration, discovery, permeability. The closest parallel might be
dreaming--we are the dreamer, yet we discover the dream, and don't feel
ourselves driving it. But poems are more focussed and shapely than dreams--
some collaboration of the permeable and unpredictable unconscious and the
more magnetized conscious mind creates a middle path. Robert Frost famously
said, "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." In one way
poems are alchemies of surprise (I wrote an essay on this, but it's
published in a place accessible only to members of AWP, as I gave it to
their Chronicle to publish, sorry!). And yes, sometimes they do take the bit
in teeth and head off in some completely new direction. Then it's up to the
revising stage to figure out which the truer center is--where it started, or
where it went--and turn the poem more deeply toward that version of itself,
without ever making it too smooth, too predictable or pat.

Making--an interesting word. Sometimes neutral, sometimes coercive. The word
"poet" is derived for the Greek word that means "maker." Poets make free-
standing worlds that have an umbilical cord connection to the world we
ordinarily live in, drawing from it, bringing something new into it too.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #23 of 140: Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 30 Sep 11 11:57
    
What a wonderful range of imagery and ideas, Jane!  That's a great
line from Frost.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Mary has to say
about these questions as well, but I believe she's tied up with
book-launching duties at the moment.

For those of our readers who couldn't catch it live, there's a radio
interview with Jane reading some of her work from Come, Thief available
online:

http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201109281000

Mary has an interview coming up Monday, and I'll post a link to that
one, too, as soon as it's available.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #24 of 140: Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 30 Sep 11 12:24
    

Like Jane, my poems always come as a surprise, but for me they also feel
like a revelation of a connection between the inner and outer self. I never
know exactly where they come from or how they will develop, so the process
of writing is very organic and essentially mysterious. A phrase will appear
in my mind and keep repeating itself or I will see an image of something
that looks slightly shifted in space or time, and that will become the seed
of a poem.

I write my novels with a very different part of my brain. The initial ideas
come as poetry comes--suddenly and mysteriously--and like poetry, they are
accompanied by a feeling of exhaultation and joy. But the novel itself takes
many months of rational planning and up to three years to complete. Novels
record the world; poetry reinvents it.
  
inkwell.vue.421 : Poetry Festival with Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey
permalink #25 of 140: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 30 Sep 11 12:34
    
Mary, surely novels do more than record the world, don't they? And not only
those that obviously invent new ones-- Marquez's novels, for instance--or
imagine distant ones--your own The Year the Horses Came--or Finnegan's Wake.
I know this is a topic about poetry, but since you practice both forms, I
would be curious to hear you say more about, for instance, the difference
between a narrative poem and a fictional narrative. The last question was
about how it feels to write them--I'm asking about the work you see/feel
them doing, in the psyche, and in the community/world where each is read.
  

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