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Letter From Elizabeth Alexander, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Our Poetry & Meditation Group began meeting again in January. We celebrated new beginnings with the poetry of Ruth Stone (the poet mentioned in Carolyn Flynn’s piece An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott). This Friday we’ll read the work of Pablo Neruda.

It’s hard to believe it was over a year ago when we gathered to learn more about poet Elizabeth Alexander. We went around the circle and read her poems. Then, in gratitude, sent a card thanking her for her work. A few weeks later, she would be reading at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

A few of us met in South Minneapolis that historic Winter day to watch the inauguration on the big screen at Sabathani. When Elizabeth got up to read, we knew a little about her life; we had read her poems. We never dreamed the poet would write back. Then, one frosty day in March, her letter arrived in Teri’s mailbox. We passed the parchment during poetry group:



My dear friends in Minnesota,

Thank you for your lovely card and my apologies for my late reply. I’ve found myself in an unusual whirlwind for the last few months.

It was indeed an honor to speak at the inauguration. One of the wonderful gifts that comes from reading is hearing from people like you. What a precious group you have! I hope it continues to flourish.

Yours,

Elizabeth



Last week I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation. At the end of the segment Henry Louis Gates Uncovers ‘Faces Of America’ I was surprised by the voice of Elizabeth Alexander. She was responding to what Gates had uncovered after he traced her ancestry back to Edward Honeywell and Esther Power and King John of England. I thought of Elizabeth at the presidential podium. And I thought about her taking the time to respond to a card from a small Minnesota poetry group. How a letter from a young poet transcended the political. It meant the world to us. The card, the letter, the poems — the poet’s lineage.


Elizabeth Alexander At The Inauguration, Yale University, Letter From A Young Poet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January & March 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

-related to posts:  Got Poetry? (National Poem In Your Pocket Day), The Poet Writes Back — Gary Soto, Which Came First, The Grasshopper Or The Egg?, The Poet’s Letter — Robert Bly, Postcard From Billy Collins — Kicking Off National Poetry Month

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Industrial Strength Clean, pen and ink on graph paper,
doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




I went to a laundromat today
14 quarters per load
white towel with colors
it was my only white

Like the mom
and the boy
who likes to put the quarters
into the machine

They’re the only
whites in the place
Two women speaking
Spanish
sound like they’re
cussing out
the spin cycle

A black man
with white hair
A black woman
looks to be his daughter
select the washer next to mine

Mostly there are
Indians
eating French fries
between
folding sweat pants and Wrangler jeans

I like it here
like church on a Sunday
morning
the machines hum
a white noise

Like parishoners singing
a low hymn
cleansing our
lives
washing the sand out
of our pants
and the stains
from our panties
and my heart

Industrial strength clean
is like mass
or the world as I see it
bigger than I am
no bleach required
whites and colors

spinning round
together
faithful
forever faithful



-Related to post Got Poetry (National Poem In Your Pocket Day)

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Boo!, All Hallow's Eve one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Boo!,  All Hallow’s Eve by the fire, one year ago, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2006, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




 

North

pumpkin-faced Milk Duds
Willy Wonka candy corn
12 tricks for a treat?


South

Dead flash toothless smiles
2 Grandmothers walk the earth
Spirits dance on fire


East

gloved hands wipe chafed lips
crooked teeth eat twisted stems
shadows swim through oaks


West

hollow frosted rose
Hunter’s Moon drops the sky
veils the Evening Star





-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED, The Great Pumpkin Catapult

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The Gleaning, outside the Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The Gleaning, Rainpainting Series, outside the Parkway Theater in the rain, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



The Gleaning

skirting the edges
of a blustery fall day
diving for spent dreams




-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, October 6th, 2007

-related to post, Somewhere Buried Deep

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First Thoughts, Rainpainting Series, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Somewhere Buried Deep, Rainpainting Series, outside the Parkway Theater in the rain, September 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



First Thoughts

somewhere buried deep
within the fire of second choices,
first thoughts



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 28th, 2007

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Beach Grass In Winter, Duluth, MN, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Beach Grass In Winter, walking along Park Point Beach on Lake Superior, near Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

It’s a beautiful Fall Sunday in Minnesota. I’m feeling reflective, pensive. Like the perennials on the deck that I need to transplant, my body is beginning to prepare for the long, dark winter ahead.

Fall is my favorite time of year. The diminishing light leads me to take long walks along the trail by the house, then settle in to write. I anticipate large pots of soup simmering in crocked earthenware, and bits of flakey ice dotting the windshield. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m heading out to the garden after this post to dig a few holes for planting. Ted Kooser is on the table beside me. The native Nebraskan would understand the restlessness and listless turn toward hibernation that implants itself in Midwestern souls this time of year.

I started out wanting to post two of his poems on art. But as I’m writing the introduction, I’m drawn to a monotone photograph taken while walking a cold, windy beach in Duluth last winter. So I’ve decided to include his poem, Memory. It harkens to the land and the associative connect-the-dot qualities of memory that lead writers to write the things they write.

Below is his poem from Delights & Shadows, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The book is set in New Caledonia, designed by William A. Dwiggins in 1939 after the Scottish faces of the 19th Century. It is printed on archival-quality Glatfelter Authors Text. The book design is by Valerie Brewster. The cover art, August Night At Russell’s Corners, by George C. Ault.


Memory

by Ted Kooser

Spinning up dust and cornshucks
as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields,
it sucked up into its heart
hot work, cold work, lunch buckets,
good horses, bad horses, their names
and the names of mules that were
better or worse than the horses,
then rattled the dented tin sides
of the threshing machine, shook
the manure spreader, cranked
the tractor’s crank that broke
the uncle’s arm, then swept on
through the windbreak, taking
the treehouse and dirty magazines,
turning its fury on the barn
where cows kicked over buckets
and the gray cat sat for a squirt
of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed
the chicken pen, undid the hook,
plucked a warm brown egg
from the meanest hen, then turned
toward the house, where threshers
were having dinner, peeled back
the roof and the kitchen ceiling,
reached down and snatched up
uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa,
parents and children one by one,
held them like dolls, looked
long and longingly into their faces,
then set them back in their chairs
with blue and white platters of chicken
and ham and mashed potatoes
still steaming before them, with
boats of gravy and bowls of peas
and three kinds of pie, and suddenly,
with a sound like a sigh, drew up
its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel,
and there at its tip was the nib of a pen.

-poem by Ted Kooser, from Delights & Shadows, Part II: The China Painters, Copper Canyon Press, 2004

 

-about Copper Canyon PressThe Chinese character for poetry is made up of two parts: “word” and “temple.” It also serves as pressmark for Copper Canyon Press. Founded in 1972, Copper Canyon Press remains dedicated to publishing poetry exclusively, from Nobel laureates, to new and emerging authors. The Press thrives with the generous patronage of readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, students, and funders – everyone who shares the conviction that poetry invigorates the language and sharpens our appreciation of the world.

 
 

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 9th, 2007

-related to post, What Happened to Orr Books?, Ted Kooser’s American Life In Poetry Project

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You Can't Go Back, Augusta, Georgia, June 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Go Back, one of the homes I lived in as a child, now abandoned, June 2007, Augusta, Georgia, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I spent two weeks on the road in June, researching my book. The second week was a road trip with my mother to Georgia, where I spent much of my childhood. Mom has been working on the family tree for at least five years. We printed out the whole tree (which ended up being about 4 feet wide and 5 feet long), taped it together, rolled it up, and carried it with us to the South.

To spur memories and aid my research, I asked her and my step-dad to drive me around to all the places we lived when I was growing up. I asked questions, took photographs, and taped their memories of love, land, and place. Not only was it a rich time with them, it was healing.

The demographics of the places we lived back then have changed. Many homes where I lived as a newborn, infant, or young girl, now reside in less desirable parts of town. The photograph is one of the homes where I lived with my mother. She said she used to rock me on the little side porch that is now overgrown with weeds.

I knew when I saw the Abandoned topic, I wanted to write about what it was like driving around, experiencing the past (some of which I was too young to consciously remember) through present eyes. I drummed up the memory of seeing this abandoned place, which was once our home, and wrote these haiku like a writing practice. They haven’t been edited.

I learned a lot on that trip. You can go back – but it’s not the same. And the death of one thing is the glorious birth of something else.




You Can’t Go Back – 15 haiku


rocking on the porch
imagining your soft lap
cradling my head


you can’t go back home
but you can peek through the past
as if it was yours


I raised the glass lens
sweat trickled down my armpit
let sleeping dogs lie


home was forsaken
covered with vines and green leaves
I opened the door


earth reclaims the past
memory doesn’t hold me
I am holding it


neighborhoods crumble
our memories are alive
long after we die


unraveling the past
identity cracks open
desolate and white


confederate flag
in the yard across the way
stops, pauses mid-air


the past is the past
never to be abandoned
as long as we live


grandmothers recite,
“go tell your stories, honey”
a dog barks nearby


running through puddles
along the wide Savannah
I dive but no splash


sultry and humid
I remember my last name
forgetting the first


time is elusive
batting flies against the rain
through leaky floor boards


pounding the pavement
emaciated memories
sparkling in the sun


the jewels of the past
backseat drivers one and all
remember, you are


-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – “ABANDONED”

-posted on red Ravine Friday, August 17th, 2007

-related to posts:  Excavating Memories,  Cassie’s Porch – Then & Now, (Geo) Labyrinth Finder, Duck & Cover

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