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Singing the lines: Interview with Leonore Hildebrandt

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Leonore Hildebrandt grew up in Germany and teaches writing at the University of Maine. Living “off the grid” in Harrington, Maine, she is a member of the Flatbay Collective and serves as an editor for the Beloit Poetry Journal. Her poetry has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Poetry Salzburg Review, and the Quercus Review, and Cabildo Quarterly, among others.  

 
Rock Me
 
I have always done things the hard way––
cutting through razor wire, sitting in protest
until the cops yanked us by the hair.
 
After turning down the millionaire,
I boiled the baby’s diapers on the wood stove––
but in summer I danced into the pale light of morning.
 
There were men, there were women––
mostly I lived more fiercely than that,
my head full of road-songs, the secret of seeds,
 
Masters of War. Once I climbed an oak tree
I had planted thirty years before. The leaves,
like orange hands, pulled me high and higher.
 
When I went fasting in the woods,
the hours would open their mouths wider,
the verge of the pond carried on endlessly.
 
I know of padded cells and stifling nightmares.
But age is ageless. So rock me––like glass,
we are sharp, molten, shattered, redone.
 
It’s like the death penalty––
once you have handed it down,
then do it, already. Don’t let it drag on.
 
-Leonore Hildebrandt

 

*

 

Here, Leonore is interviewed by Lisa Panepinto.

 

Lisa: I’m excited that you have a poetry collection coming out soon, The Next Unknown.  Can you give us a preview into the book?

 

Leonore: In 2001, I began writing poetry under the tutelage of Constance Hunting. The Next Unknown gathers poems up to 2010 when the manuscript was accepted for publication by Pecan Grove Press. Many of the poems are inspired by my experience as a traveler––between the German and English language, between city and country, between my joy over life on the earth and sorrow about its decline. My hope is that the poems are imaginative, that they speak through specific images while evoking questions about larger themes––nature and power, art and knowledge.

 

Lisa: What are some other projects you’re currently working on?

 

Leonore: I am moving toward a second book-length collection. As far as I can tell, this one will have fewer autobiographical references and more of an eco-feminist feel. I don’t really like using this term; it implies a narrow, didactic agenda, which is not what I am interested in when I write poems. But I do feel passionate as a woman about a less exploitative relationship with all life-forms, and this passion finds expression in the poetry.

 

For last summer’s Belfast Poetry Festival, I teamed up with the painter Heidi Daub. We presented The Shelter, a series of poems with corresponding landscape paintings. Heidi and I were surprised by the intimacy inherent in the work, and we are hoping to keep this collaboration alive. We will be performing The Shelter at the University of Maine at Machias (probably in the fall of 2014) and are looking into publication.

 

More recently, I have written a few new songs, and my pianist/writer/friend Brian Stewart and I are working on these and some of his new material. Also, inspired by my grandson’s arrival, I just recorded a CD of German children’s songs. As my 93 year old mother put it: “Germany has made many mistakes, but the folk songs it has produced over the past centuries are something truly beautiful.” It felt great to remember this lovely tradition.

 

Lisa: Your poems portray both the destruction of the environment and the denigration of women.  Do you see these themes as linked?

 

Leonore: Common ideas about the affinities between “Nature” and “Woman” have in the past too often resulted in disrespect for both, which is convenient for those looking to justify domination and abuse. I would be careful of a classification of man as perpetrator and woman/nature as victim, because it ends up stressing difference in our perception of man versus woman. Still, a patriarchal value system tends to take for granted a sense of entitlement to take, and take, and take. It is my hope that a more “feminine” age is in the making, one in which both men and women value caring more than controlling.

 

Many writers have spoken to that shift. Currently I am teaching a course in American Women’s Literature. Among the stories we are reading is “A White Heron” (1886) by Sarah Orne Jewett, in which a boy demonstrates his passion for birds by shooting and stuffing them. This sets in motion the conflict for the young heroine: should she be loyal to him or the great bird?

 

In “Annunciation” (1935) by Meridel Le Sueur, a woman in dire poverty becomes pregnant, and in spite of her partner’s wishes, she goes through with the pregnancy. She contemplates a pear tree growing behind the dismal boarding house: “The leaves are the lips of the tree speaking in the wind, or they move like many tongues. The fruit of the tree has been a round speech, speaking in full tongue […], hanging in ripe body…“ This sense of ripening and fullness coming out of the depression era is remarkable.

 

By asserting themselves as women, the protagonists of these stories come to notice also the integrity and beauty of other species. Our speech can be “in full tongue” even when writing poems of witness.

 

Lisa: You live off-the-grid on the coast of Maine, where you have raised a family.  It seems to me your poetry expresses a counterculture mentality of giving up capitalist concerns in exchange for an allegiance with the earth.  Does this connection seem accurate?

 

Leonore:  My choices in lifestyle have tended toward the simple, resourceful, and natural––and I am glad that you find these values in my poetry.

 

Off-the-grid requires a degree of self-sufficiency. My husband and I get electricity and part of our heat from the sun. We grow our own fruit and vegetables. We thin the forest to obtain firewood. We buy mostly used clothes. And so on. The willingness to pay attention to one’s small actions lives on in our children. While our daughters now have moved to urban areas, they are, each in her own way, connected to nature and committed to its protection. They have chosen to work in a way that does not feel alienated.

 

Striving for a gentler environmental footprint is not hard for me. The earth is generous, and I feel refreshed while working on the land. Harder than these lifestyle choices, I find, is to change my mind, to think about the value of money, power, and entitlement outside of the prevailing paradigms. For example, does less consumerism make for a shrinking economy which means more global poverty––or not necessarily? In spite of the justified rhetoric against the richest 1%, should we hope that wealthy people will help implement a more egalitarian system, also in regard to non-human life?

 

Poetry is a place where I can imagine “what if.” I can circle around things that puzzle me, try out different voices and positions. If I had a plan, if I called myself a Buddhist, or a Marxist, or a Naturalist, I may not be driven to write poems.

 

Lisa: Can you discuss the importance of place in your writing?

 

Leonore: Recently I wrote a longer poem inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s invention of geodesic domes. It’s called “Where You Happen to Be,” and it starts with a quote by Fuller: “The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the Earth that revolves around the sun. Then teach them the concepts of North, South, East and West, and that they relate to where they happen to be on the planet’s surface at that time. Everything else will follow.” In a few words, Fuller connects the larger space (and our orientation in it) with our individual presence. Everything else will follow––in my poem follow impressions of hiking in the Southwest, interwoven with geometric concepts and natural shapes. Place is not merely a backdrop––along with time, it makes for our experience, offers a perspective, molds our voices. The challenge for the writer of poetry is to choose significant and fresh images as a stand-in for all that space so that a reader, too, may imagine a specific place where we happen to be.

 

Lisa: Your poems feel highly lyrical, chant-like and are often referential of song.  Could you talk about music in relation to your writing?

 

Leonore: I came to poetry from songwriting, or perhaps I should say, poetry found me while I worked on lyrics. Since the early 1990s, I have been playing music with other songwriters, and we perform mostly our own songs. During practice and musical performance, one incessantly repeats the same material while trying to improve its presentation. I think this shaped my critical sensibility. If I want to keep enjoy singing the lines, they have to roll off the tongue.

 

Song lyrics may be simpler than poetry, especially if they are meant for performance. The music will add interest. But to be singable, they must be smooth. No harsh clusters of consonants. Repetition of sound, be it full rhyme or near-rhyme. Rhythm. You see, song lyrics compare well to poetry in fixed form, like the balled. One counts the meter,  the number of lines. Free-verse poetry offers more formal freedom, which I enjoy. And still, I always read poems in progress out loud, listening for an underlying pulse over which flow the words’ cadences.

 

Lisa: Who are some of your literary influences?

 

Leonore: Writers whose work I keep coming back to include: Bertolt Brecht, Rilke, Goethe. Pablo Neruda, Garcia Marquez. Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson.

 

As a member of the editorial board of the Beloit Poetry Journal, I regularly read a selection of new submissions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see what my peers are doing. Additionally, reading and discussing these poems with a group of seasoned editors often brings the work more fully alive for me.

 

Most immediately and constructively I am engaged with the work-in-progress of my fellow writers in the Flat Bay Collective: Robert Froese, Tony Brinkley, Dick Miles.

 

Lisa: Who are you currently reading and what are you currently listening to?

 

Leonore: A recent post to The New Yorker is titled: “Is the News Replacing Literature?” I was taken aback––indeed, for me that may be increasingly true. I browse online content from NPR, the New York Times, and Deutsche Welle. I enjoy political satire, like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. I find that I learn things from The Atlantic, perhaps because it caters to a younger, more urban audience. I am just about addicted to the New York Review of Books which I read cover to cover.

 

Thankfully I am teaching American Women’s Literature! Presently we are reading literature from the turn of the century, an exiting time in women’s history, which produced many great writers, among them Kate Chopin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Austin, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton.

 

In music, I respond to syncopation, both in world music and jazz.  A few favorite artists in no particular order:  Salif Keita (Mali), Manu Dibango (Cameroon), Manu Chao (France/Spain), Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde), Gigi (Ethiopia), Ali Farka Touré (Mali), Baaba Maal (Senegal), Toumani Diabaté (Mali), Souad Massi (Algeria/France).

 

I grew up in Germany with folk music and the composers from the classical era: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Boccherini… This heritage still nourishes me and I turn to it at certain times with much appreciation.

 

In terms of films, here are a few recommendations for documentaries I recently saw: A Place at the Table (on hunger in the USA).  The House I Live in (on the war on drugs).  Last Call at the Oasis (on the global water crisis).  Inside Job (on the financial crisis of 2008) and Food,Inc (on industrial food production.)

 

Lisa: Your poems often juxtapose the beauty of nature and fragility of life with war’s shadow.  Do you see nurturing the earth as a means to protest war and violence?

 

Leonore: Poetry as protest––this is a powerful legacy, but I’m not sure I can claim that for my own work. But like everyone, I write from my place in history. My father was an officer in WWII, he spent five years as a POW in the Soviet Union and returned physically frail. My mother’s energies were at times more focused on him than on the children. But, to stay with your metaphor, war’s shadow also may cast the light in sharp relief. In their remaining years together, my parents strove for mindfulness and peace, at least in the family. Perhaps that primed me to become a young political rebel: I wanted to make things right. I joined the anti-nuclear protests that swept through Europe in the 1970/80s. We would “occupy” the construction sites for nuclear waste and power plants. (This movement led to the foundation of Germany’s Green Party.) During the course of it, my friends and I started a commune and learned about gardening and beekeeping…

 

The earth nurtures us, not vice versa. We may try to limit the harm we do. It is my hope that when we open ourselves and pay attention to the forces of life, to the land, the clouds, all that beauty, we will be able to do less harm. Of course, there is violence in nature as one thing feeds on another, but no mean-spirited revenge, no contemplated or organized destruction. Too long during our history, we have convinced ourselves that we are above nature, entitled to use and rule over it, just as leaders convince themselves that it is okay to dominate and exploit people. This attitude is changing, thankfully.

 

Lisa: Can you talk about your involvement with the Flat Bay Collective and being part of a community of artists in rural Maine?

 

Leonore: The Flat Bay Collective is a low-key, informal gathering of artists in Washington County, Maine. We support each other’s work and maintain a common website to present it (flatbaycollective.org). Most fruitful are the collaborations, which include feedback for writing-in-progress, co-translation, music, and design of books. Last but not least, we have produced letter-press chapbooks of poetry.

 

Writer’s groups have become common––they offer wonderful opportunities for learning, motivating one another, and building community. For us, the exchange with artists of different media is an added benefit.

 

Lisa: There’s so much to mourn and feel anger and despair about in this world; how do you keep your spirits up?

 

Leonore: I just saw The Square, a film about the uprising in Egypt. The documentary follows a number of very sympathetic protesters––their bravery, their eloquence, their effort of conscience are entirely admirable! I take with me the joy that I live in a world where these young people are active. I also take with me the devastating thought that they have not reached their goal of democracy, and that many of their peers have been killed, imprisoned, or silenced. The point is that my thinking is malleable––and feelings follow suit. I don’t have to repeat over and over the inner monolog of devastation to the point that it harms me. The world is not one bit better off if I insist on feeling angry or sad, however justified that may be.

 

When I find myself going “down,” I pay attention to things I can actively shape. I limit my intake of graphic cruelty. I take care of my body: good food, exercise, sleep. I alert those who love me. In quarrels, I attempt to see things from the perspective of the other and to ask open-ended questions in a spirit of generosity. Not that this is easy. But over the years, I have come to trust in the process.

 

Lisa: Is there anything you’d like to add?

 

Leonore: Thank you for the opportunity to think about your probing questions, Lisa. Your inquisitive mind, your gentle presence, and your sensitive poetry––all of these are admirable.  May you be very well.

 

 

“Rock Me” by Leonore Hildebrandt was originally published in Gemini Magazine.

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Filed under interviews, literature review, maine citizens engaged in resistance, poems, protest song ancestors, protest songs, truth speakers

James Koller: Crows Talk To Him

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James Koller, photo by Donald Guravich

James Koller lives in a simple cabin he and his friends built in the woods on the coast of Maine, the inside filled with few possessions but books, records, and photographs of his grandchildren.  He writes the way he exists, a bit of a trickster, like so many of the animals and people in his poems, oftentimes inhabiting several places at once, straddling dichotomies of chance and fate, domestic life and civilization, east and west.

James Koller’s poetry is often deceptively simple and free, using language that can easily be understood by anyone when presented orally, yet at the same time his poems often cohere to some kind of form, often of his own design, and musical devices such as couplets and stanzas, metered verse, syllabics, rhyme and internal rhyme are frequently used.

Koller’s poems reflect his desire for daily authenticity and meaning, as well as a spirituality that is very much rooted in ancient wisdom traditions.  He has an extensive knowledge of folk music and cultures, several titles of his works are derived from folk songs, such as “if you don’t like me you can leave me alone” and “didn’t he ramble.”  His writing also reflects his views on human and natural history, living simply and modestly, with compassion for other beings.  This is encapsulated in the following selections from Koller’s The Bone Show; the text is based on the I-Ching and contains Italian translations alongside the English.

FREYA
 
Be strong & friendly
tell it all, as it is.
Keep everything moving.
Don’t settle in, get on with it.
Give away as much as you gather.
 
 
COYOTE
 
It’s like the sky opens
& a wall of water comes down.
Nobody expects it.
Nobody can do much with it.
No reason to kill anybody –
just get the word out.
Get it all out–don’t hold back.
Tell it just the way you see it.
 
 
 

“Tell it all, as it is,” is a mantra James Koller has included in his writing, publishing career, and life since the nineteen fifties  – his poems read like film clips and soundtracks to his living – expressing images and feelings with simplicity and honesty.

Koller sees writing as record of a poet’s life, and he has been consistently making records for most of his years.  He is author of several books of poetry: Snows Gone By, Ashes & Embers, Looking For His Horses, Crows Talk To Him, Iron Bells, After Days of Rain, In The Wolf’s Mouth, This Is What He Said, Roses Love Sunshine, Graffiti Lyriques (w/Franco Beltrametti), Fortune (w/Franco Beltrametti), Openings, Give The Dog A Bone, Great Things Are Happening, One Day At A Time, Back River, O Didn’t He Ramble, Poems For The Blue Sky, Bureau Creek, California Poems, The Dogs & Other Dark Woods, Some Cows, Poems of Civilization & Domestic Life, Two Hands; fiction: I Went To See My True Love, If You Don’t Like Me You Can Leave Me Alone, Shannon, Who Was Lost Before; prose: Close to the Ground, Road Work, The Natural Order, Working Notes, Messages; is publisher of “Coyote’s Journal,” “Coyote Books,” and, formerly, the review of books Otherwise.  Prolific as Koller is, he is also someone who refuses to force anything, believing that one shouldn’t make themselves write, everything will come in its own time.

A young man when the Beat Generation was in bloom, Koller has roots in that era’s innovative cultural scenes, the ecstasy of that time, and the longing to be on the move. He has been consistently at home in alternative cultures that defend nature and condemn war. He has lived and traveled extensively in the US and Europe and many of his poems have been translated into Italian, French, German & Swedish.

James Koller has long been part of the “bioregional” movement, which is based on the view that naturally defined geographical systems such as watersheds, are life regions, which both create and define local populations, provide a basis for cultural knowledge and are a primary source for life based solutions.

The following is a collage of conversations with James Koller, from interviews with the international journals New!, La Nuova Ecologia, Lato Selvatico, my own questions, and my readings of Koller’s writing.  –Lisa Panepinto

When did you first start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry when I was ten. The first poems were much like the folk songs I often listened to. The stories within these songs expressed lives that were of emotional interest to me and gave me some idea of what to expect from the world. Telling such stories covers it all: artistic, cultural and existential. Certainly my writings have served all these ends at one time or another.

A story: before I knew anything about poetry, I once walked with my father on a beach.  He pointed to a cabin situated to look out over Lake Michigan, and said, “This is the kind of a house a poet lives in.”  I’ve often wondered what exactly my father meant by the remark, but at the time I knew instantly I wanted to live in this particular way, wanted to be a poet, live as this man did.

The man who sometimes lived in that cabin was Carl Sandburg.  He was from the middle of America, Illinois, which is where I grew up.  He was interested in folk music and had a socialist point of view.  When I was ten or so, a substitute schoolteacher read one of his poems to the class.  It was about how fog moves into a place, on little cat feet, he said.  I liked the poem, started to read poetry, especially Sandburg, and to write poetry.

Would you talk about some of your socio-political roots?

I was born seven years into the Depression Era, hard times for many, including my extended rural family, an early “down home” introduction to economics. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, which brought the US into WWII, happened when I was five, & “the war effort” ended the Depression. Several in my mother’s family found themselves in the US army, including her little brother. Initially I was little concerned with what was happening beyond worries that my favorite uncle, who was captured by the Japanese in early 1942, might be killed. In the next few years I came to more fully understand the disasters of war, learned that there were economic causes for the war, as there had been economic causes for all the earlier wars the US had gotten itself involved in. As I grew I also noted when lies were told to serve government’s ends. Ultimately I learned that very little any politician said could be taken at face value – they were worried about keeping their jobs. Reading history I find one usually encounters several threads that need to be unraveled before real understanding can be made of any of it. You can only be patriotic, or nationalistic at the expense of common sense.

My sense is that one has a single life, which might be spent in many tolerable ways. The sole reason to put that life in jeopardy would be the intolerable. I will never seek military adventures as such. Were a war foisted upon me, I would fight as an individual or one of a group of individuals, never as a “citizen” of some country. There are many through history who I’ve felt akin to when learning of their struggles. Those who come quickest to mind include most all the native tribal peoples of the Americas who were driven from their lands & to near extinction by capitalist adventurers.

Ezra Pound came to my attention as a literary/political phenomenon years before I thought I had the background to read him. My understanding then & now is that he was imprisoned because he had spoken what he thought the truth, beliefs at odds with what was then & is largely still the US point of view. I understood that Pound was declared insane to make it possible to jail him without a trial. When I read about 1920s Paris I discovered Pound’s importance in that time & place, which led to my reading all of his own writings that I could find, then to the great many others he referred to. His ideas were & are of great importance to me. Like Pound I believe that things happen for reasons, i.e. “nothing exists without effective cause.”

How do your poems usually come about?

My life is lived as much in the present as possible, mostly a physical world, a world of natural process. My poetry and what I say come from this focus on my senses.

My poems are a record of my experience on several levels.  They are often built from images or bits of dialogue that have collected in my mind – a process, these bits seem to gather themselves with other fragments to finally express some complete “message.”

Much of my poetry is concerned with the spiritual, as I experience and understand spiritual: the love that one feels for other living beings, the love given by others, the sensuality others elicit and I experience, the messages that the natural world elicits, the messages that come from dreams.

Those I’ve known who have died appear with regularity in my poems.  They continue to live in both the poems and my mind.  Even dead their lives evolve from my knowledge of them as living folk – life, like identity, as long as any vestige remains, continues to change as that life or identity is experienced by others.

I don’t differentiate between the experiences of physical reality and dream mind in my writing – they do all create my reality, which is what I’m expressing.

You started writing poems in traditional forms based on folk song; would you say your poems have maintained an allegiance to some type of form throughout your life?

Poetry has both content & form.  Because each person experiences life in his own way, the content of a poem can only represent the individual who writes it, must be unique & true to the one writing that poem. A poet’s collected poems will represent when put together the best possible record of that poet’s perception, the most honest record of that poet’s insight & his or her ability to catch the unique moments of his or her personal interactions with the world s/he moves through.

The form of a poem, as Robert Creeley said, is inherent  in its content, should evolve from that content. Some perceptions make for songs, some don’t. Certainly one’s understanding of the possibilities form might take is a big help. Another quote from Creeley: when asked if he considered form when he wrote, he answered, I’d be a damned fool if I didn’t.

Sense of place seems to be essential to your “record keeping”?

Experience happens in a place. As one records experience, which is what I do as a writer, those places are brought in as part of the perception, to become part of the record.

As we move, we all carry with us the sum total of who we are: where we’ve been, what we’ve become, a record (like the collected poems) of the individual people we’ve known, the families or groups we’ve been part of, & what we’ve done in these places with these people. We even organize our thoughts, perceive what & how we do what we do, because of who we’ve become. The idiosyncrasies of the language systems we’ve learned become relevant as we use a language, as we think, as we write – we have, for instance, our sense of past & future, our concerns for whether a thing is male or female, for example, from the Indo-European languages.

The natural world has a large role in your poetry?

The natural world has created me, someone with little interest in the affairs of today’s people, beyond their real news, their hungers, the babies, the deaths.

Those who refuse to limit their views, who desire to include all of the intense world surrounding them, need to understand the natural world as primary, with all else evolving from it.

The poet perceives the world, & selects images drawn from his or her perceptions, with them recreates as s/he is able, with them describes the details s/he has perceived, nature as it made itself known to him or her.

Poetry becomes the “record” of the poet’s perceptions, giving his or her readers an opportunity to recognize & acknowledge that they as humans are each & all part of the same web of evolving & interconnected life systems.

Considering what remains from the human past is also important because through examination of that past we can more clearly realize where we’ve got to, how it has happened, what does in fact remain, has been sustained – maybe we can discover a way to the future.

Can you talk about animals and your poetry?

All animals have power; it is the power that I see.  Birds are like rosaries, a link with natural power, with natural spirits. Magpie & Raven were the Ghost Dance messengers.  They are all also fellow travellers.   When I look at another animal’s eyes, I find we are the same, they have the same problems we’re having, often more of them.  Even insects.  Once, walking into a room, I saw an ant walking toward my path, but it stopped suddenly on seeing me, such a big monster, then as I waited for it to make its move, it zoomed past me.  Clearly insects can relate noises from those passing to their own staying “out of the way”.

When I use “animal lore” in my poems it is because the animal is integral to the story or line of thought, & that information as such is what is happening – it’s not in the poem if it isn’t part of the story. The poems with animals or birds in them grew from my first hand observations of those animals & birds.

Trees too are alive, have senses, react, turn and relate to heat and cold.  We often forget that the tree is part of a forest—the tree’s extended family—that the forest itself has its own relationships with other living forms and the energies that affect it.

I have a symbiotic sense of nature.  Reciprocity comes into it.   Everything is interconnected.  We allow ourselves to think that we can function in nature.  But the whole ability to be thankful for our food, to know who died to feed us, what contributes to our life, is not thoroughly understood by most western people.  On the same level, I can identify myself with the animals, the life I see when I go into the woods.  I am not different, I am part of the whole.

Themes of chance and fate come up a lot in your work?

Jacques Monod, the Nobel winner, wrote a book called Chance & Necessity in which he argued that once a chance event happened that event initiated a series of realities that would necessarily follow.

We can all begin only where we do begin, but we need to understand that what happens there happens because we allow it or make it happen.

My entire early life included, by chance, regular farm contact through my mother’s “southern” kin in central Illinois, while my urban life, by choice, included extensive boyhood exploration in most of the “forest preserves” & State Parks scattered through greater Chicago & northeastern Illinois.

That I began in Illinois, the middle of the country, with roads leading away in all directions, to other places, enabled me to become aware of differences, first a discovery, but subsequently, a mission, to pursue, understand both differences & similarities of geography & culture.

The point being that one needn’t follow anyone, or any group, that all choose to make their own lives.

Cause & effect functions on all levels, in all circumstances, providing perhaps the most inclusive lesson anyone can learn. The study of ecology develops from an understanding of cause & effect as they relate to the interactions of human & nonhuman systems in all environments. Such study is especially useful in educating those within their own home place, as the systems involved are commonly known, physical, not theoretical.

Can you talk about music in your poetry?

The sound patterns I use are generally enhanced natural speech patterns – enhanced in that they are recognized and added to, or eliminated, to effect what it is that the work seems to “want to say.”  Some of my poems evidence a determined and sustained focus, functioning much as thinking about someone intensively often does, by bringing response.  These poems are directly and consciously related to shamanic acts.  Repeated words and phrases, words that sound like the thing spoken of, sometimes find their own way into these poems, in patterns of sound and silence, creating a music which differs from my normal cadence.  When performing with a musician the poems take on still another reality, often a result of counterpoint.  I am very interested in folk music and many of my poems can be sung or at least musically spoken.

Would you briefly describe bioregionalism?

In the late 1960s and early 70s a great many people turned back to the land, back to tribal values, to religious understandings that better incorporated the reciprocal dynamics of life within nature, or were at least one’s own beliefs. Many of these people, instead of trying to take on all of the natural world, including humans, thought it far more useful to define and describe the area and inhabitants of one’s home space: one’s bioregion.

Ecology tries to make sense of the relationships within the natural world. That natural world includes mankind. “Human ecology” describes the intricacies of human behavior as it has evolved in response to the natural physical environment  including humans. Acknowledging that man is only a single part of a very complex system is essential. Understanding that everything happens in place, in context, is essential. Things and beings are what they are because of who their neighbors are, what their surroundings are. Change to any changes all.

Bioregionalists share the understanding that they live under unique natural & cultural circumstances. They share as well the desire to maintain & sustain what they share. Certainly shared sentiments have potential political force, especially within the bioregion itself, but the bioregional group is primarily directing itself by way of its own reeducation. You might argue that it functions as a learning group.

In recent years I’ve worked with the Italian Bioregional network and others in schools, national parks and elsewhere in Italy, promoting the ideals of understanding one’s life-place, of keeping what is good in that place for future generations, and of trying to educate the young as well as the misdirected.

I also wander extensively on foot around my own place trying to better understand and live with those (especially non humans) who live there with me.

How do you approach educating children about bioregionalism?

Kids are intensely interested in learning about the world they live in. Poetry, like song, provides an opportunity to express & learn with direct simplicity. The forms & devices of poetry & music are of  interest in & of themselves, making the mediums themselves, whatever the message, of potential interest. Because a simple formulation is easiest to present, the image, especially the image of the thing itself (Pound says), is easiest for all ages to grasp.

An agenda should be prepared for the schools, one which allows an awareness of the unique social realities of a bioregion, but also those physical realities that transcend the social, an agenda which allows unique one to one relationships within the natural world, & particularly within the bioregion.

In your book of poems Close to the Ground you say: “Poetry celebrates all the living beings, all that is alive and has been alive”. Do you think human beings of today have forgotten the value of life?

I don’t believe it’s a question of having forgotten anything. We have in fact more information available to us now than ever before. What is missing is the awareness that we need to focus – that we as individuals need to step out of the flow, discover where we’ve gotten to, analyze all we feel is relevant information, & then rejoin the flow, create for ourselves the lives we want.

Most of the planet’s population now tries to function with the economic model we know as capitalism. I understand capitalism consciously tries to confuse all of us about what life is, about what is actually necessary to live. Capitalism creates product, survives by spreading that product to ever-larger populations, who will necessarily have increasingly complex life styles. Whole populations are convinced to work for & buy what they imagine will allow them to “better” their lives. Advertising goes so far as to delineate groups, target & “offer” them goods & lifestyles that they are likely to accept & buy. While family life is touted in many “markets”, the ideal family unit for capitalism stays small because it duplicates needs – i.e. it creates need for multiple houses, more goods, more communication, more travel.

For me a “good life” means that true needs, food & shelter & healthcare, & family & social interactions, are adequately – not excessively met, & met in a manner that also allows for the time to observe & reflect upon one’s natural & social surroundings.

It’s been said that we become what we do. It goes further than that. Social behavior drives biology. What is the basis for choosing a mate?  What does it mean to have children?  Are we perpetrating tribal or religious relationships? Are we unthinkingly contributing  to the capitalist dream? The relationship of parents to children, children & parents to extended family & friends, all provide direction & support for the choices made, all contribute to the future & its genetic & social interplay.

You’ve said before that everything has a spirit?

I believe that everything that exists has a spirit, and that these spirits remain even as we change our shapes. I believe its possible to know these spirits.

I understand the planet to be a unified & integrated reality, a whole, with a spirit of its own.

I think it’s the business of humans to understand the spirits, to communicate & commiserate with them, for the well being of the planet.

Are you optimistic, in the long run, about the fate of the world?  Do you see potential to reverse global capitalism?

I see the return of control over their own places to indigenous peoples, and generally, a return of socially responsible folks to public office, as good signs that the capitalist experiment will eventually run its course. But whatever follows will for a long time suffer the ever more disastrous affects of “late capitalism.”

A “better world” will come from individuals rather than organizations or governments. Individuals can adapt, ad hoc and as necessary, while organizations are cumbersome, self-interested, need “funding” and generally arrive too late.

Appropriate early education regarding nature and bioregionalism seems to help kids avoid the traps of social milieu (race, class, economics), gives them an awareness of those realities that transcend the social, allow unique one to one relationships, and enables them to set priorities in line with their own futures as well as the future of the planet.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue, to keep doing what I can, where and when, in terms of writing, publishing, working with kids, reading my poems. I’d like to keep my life in order, new and old, home and away, simple, and in order.

*

SONG
(w/Stefano Panzarasa)
 
A river I couldn’t find
flows through my head.
A river I couldn’t find
leads me from my bed.
 
A river I couldn’t find
flows through my head.
A river I couldn’t find
leads me from my bed.
 
You’re standing on the river’s bank
below the cottonwood tree.
 
I listen to the wind
move the tree’s leaves.
I listen to the wind
the stories that it weaves.
 
I listen to the wind
move the tree’s leaves.
I listen to the wind
the stories that it weaves.
 
You’re standing on the river’s bank,
I can’t see your face.
 
Your long dark hair’s wrapt round you,
I can’t see your face.
 
Your long dark hair’s wrapt round you,
I can’t see your face.
 
Nov 08
 
 
 
LAST WILL & TESTAMENT
 
 
I want only blue sky over me.
I want the clouds, so many
of them, variations, passing,
changing as they pass.
 
I want the blackest nights
filled with turning stars.
I want birds to find me,
want the hot breath of animals.
 
The wind too will pass,
on its way to places
I have been.
 
                                                30 Nov 95                
                                                BATTLE MOUNTAIN
 
 
 
*
 
They keep moving the streets
picking up the paving stones
& moving them somewhere else.
We followed them around, watched the men work.
 
Things happen like that –
change quickly & many times.
 
We met then on steep steps, a narrow hallway,
hadn’t seen one another for years,
at first didn’t know one another.
 
Where would those streets be
if we went there now?
 
There is sand under it all.
 
                                                APR 1988
 
 
 
POEM FOR YELLOW HAIR
 
who did you come with, you asked
caw caw caw
 
                           high into the trees
I think I was too drunk to answer
 
yellow light & all the greens
yellow
 
               after the rain
grass & willows
out my window
& the apple trees in blossom
 
maybe time to know each other
 
I don’t know why I came
(not answering your question)
 
I followed the crows
(not answering your question)
 
on the beach
or in the mountains
maybe time
a few good moments
 
if you get to where you’re going
                                                         (follow
the crows)
I’ll be there
 
the horses fat from apples
 

–James Koller

*

Bibliography

Koller, James.  Looking for His Horses.  Brunswick: Coyote Books, 2003.  Print.

—.  Crows Talk To Him.  Brunswick: Coyote Books, 2003.  Print.

—.  The Bone Show.  Trans.  Giuseppe Moretti, et al.  Brunswick: Coyote Books,
            2004. Print. 

—.  Snows Gone By.  Albuquerque: La Alameda.  2004.  Print.

—.  Reciprocity comes into it: an interview with James Koller.  By Claire Millerioux.  New!  2 (2006): 88-93. Print.

—.  James Koller interview for La Nuova Ecologia.  2006.  Web.  8 June 2006.

—.  James Koller interview for Lato Selvatico.  2006.  Web.  May 2006.

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Filed under interviews, literature review, maine citizens engaged in resistance, manifestos, poems, protest song ancestors, truth speakers

Annaliese Jakimides Interview: kindness is the root of justice

Interviewed by Lisa Panepinto

Annaliese Jakimides is a freelance writer, poet and visual artist who lives in Bangor, Maine. Cited in national competitions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, her work has been broadcast on the radio and published in many journals, magazines, and anthologies, including This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men, Women and Beloit Poetry Journal.
 
 
 
by Annaliese Jakimides
 
 
 
FROM THIS SEPTEMBER DAY
 
All war, under law, will from this September day
on a dirt road in northern Maine where
Albertine Cyr flies her French mourning hands
into the night, often into the day, be conducted by women.
The sucklers will choose where to place the charge,
whose child to take, and what reason is good enough to send
Otto Schroeder’s daughter, Muzah Bozieh’s brother,
Albertine’s youngest son into the fire.
 
She enters the room where her Freddie slept,
palms the feathered pillow’s sack, the one
that rubbed his night cheeks.
Experienced witness to vulnerability,
spooner and changer, cradler of whole bodies,
her big heart swells in the cramped air
of this dark curled into its own cell.
Cap on the dresser. Church shoes by the bed.
Red fishing jacket on the doorknob.
 
She bruises a war cry from her tongue to slash
bayonet, napalm, missile from her vocabulary,
and smoke shadow-writing up from the merciless
shine of bones onto the moony walls: blood, Earth,
broken hearts, supple hands, hunger, a milky mother,
hope, and open-mouthed bass in the morning.
 
-by Annaliese Jakimides, from The Café Review, The Other Side of Sorrow
 
 
 
The following interview took place at Jakimides’ apartment in April 2012.
 
 
 

Interviewer: When did you discover writing and art?

Jakimides: I came to writing much sooner than I came to any visual work. I’m always in awe of people who have been able to have families and continue with their creative work. I married really early on, and we moved to the land, in Patten, a hundred miles north of here [Bangor], had three kids. At that point in time life was grow everything you eat, make everything you eat, build the house, knit the mittens, and I know that many creative people do all of that and their own work, too, but I could never figure out how. So most of that part of my life is scraps of paper, backs of napkins, envelopes, a paragraph, a phrase, maybe a whole page, maybe an idea for a short story, but very little brought to completion. Once my kids were in high school, I found a way to make somebody want my work, which allowed me to continue to make it in a more focused, public way. The editor at the weekly newspaper in Houlton hired me for $10 a pop to write a column about the weather. As it turned out, it was about the external and internal weather, and that laid the groundwork for much of what I have written since. I know this sounds really limited and sort of controlled womanhood, but it was almost like I had to feel that I had permission, from myself even, that this was a valid thing to do.

Although I know it means I won’t have written all I could have in this life, it was not a negative thing. I’m not saying it’s true for all writers, but I think that sometimes when you’re a writer, and you’re a writer who’s a parent, you see your life and what’s going on through the lens of a writer as opposed to being present for what’s going on. I see it very much like people who are walking around with their camera phones and they’re at all these events that they could be totally present for, I’m here, as opposed to I’m catching this image. I’ve known a fair number of writer women who have watched their lives unfold and seen what was unfolding almost as subject matter. And I don’t ever want to live my life as subject matter. Coming to my life later as a writer, I am very aware of not doing that.

I’ve been writing from the time my kids were in high school. The artwork has come to me in a much more convoluted way. I had no money for materials when I lived up north, no paper, no paints, there was no money for that. It was a very back-to-the-land life. There are many people who live back-to-the-land lives that have an inherent economic support structure, whether they acknowledge it or not. That’s an easier back-to-the-land life. I’m not saying one’s better than the other, but ours was not easy. There was struggle, and a vocabulary of experiential struggle that enables you to transcend judgment and boundaries in a small town; a small town is a beautifully magnified community, and you can sense those connections or disconnections. So since there was no money, I started gathering roof slate from buildings that were being torn down. I pressed flowers and ferns and grasses, skeletonized leaves I found buried in the spruce forest across the road, beside the old five-person graveyard in my woods, in the fields and gardens. I pressed them in newspaper, because there wasn’t anything but newspaper, between plywood, because there wasn’t anything else but plywood, with bricks on top, because there wasn’t anything else but bricks, and I would create collages out of pressed flowers. I did that for quite a while, until I began to trust my vision. Now I also work in fibers and fragments, feathers, wire, paint, bark, photographs.

Interviewer: When you say you got sort of permission, where did that come from?

Jakimides: Me. I’ve not had a restricted life in which the world has walked around telling me I needed permissions. Although on some level I believe we are working through our origins, consciously or not. I was a first generation American although I never even recognized that until recently. My brother was the one who was seen. Not me. Old-world values. I was the first in the family to go to college. Those kinds of things. Once I was in Mt. Chase, I had so many responsibilities and obligations that to actually close myself off to do the work of writing or anything like that would have meant taking that time from the life that I had chosen. I had chosen to grow my own food, I had chosen to pump the water, I had chosen to be a vegetarian, to care about chemicals in food, water, air; I had chosen to have three children, and as a result of that, I’d also chosen to be an active participant in their lives. Once they went to school, I started volunteering in the schools and writing grants and getting artists and musicians to come in.  One could argue I could have used that time not to do that but to be home and write, but I didn’t. It seemed important that I be there.

Interviewer: You chose to pursue community service instead, getting art for the kids?

Jakimides: When you talk about speaking out or using what you do in an activist way, it comes in varied packages. Much of what is activist goes unlabeled, unnoticed. It is part of the fabric of a family, a community. Patten’s a really small town, and we actually lived in Mount Chase, which is population 160; Patten’s about 1,000. There are times that I haven’t always consciously known the thing that I was doing or the impact that I was making, it just felt like the right thing. I could have been home teaching my children various things, discussing issues of importance just with them, exposing them to jazz, blues. None of that was up there by the way, none of that was on the radio. We had no galleries. The library was in a small church with no Dewey Decimal System. What I chose was to write these grants to have musicians and writers and artists come into the school system, so that all the kids could have the same thing. Now that the kids are all grown and gone, other kids mine grew up with tell me that that’s the first place they read poetry, that’s the first place they listened to jazz, they’d never heard jazz before. To come to our house was the first place they had any sense of what organic food was or being a vegetarian. So oftentimes one is doing things because it’s the right thing inside, and you’re not aware of how impactful it is going forward. I think that all of those foundational elements of my life inform the work I do now.

That was the time period where we had the first antidiscrimination referendum. The bulletin board outside the IGA on Main Street became this place where people were putting their posters up, “don’t let this happen, this will be awful, gay people aren’t entitled to ‘special’ laws.” I began to put hand-lettered counter-statements up on the board. The dynamics of the community allowed you to be at the bulletin board with people whom you love in other ways but you can’t love over this issue, and they love you in other ways but they can’t love you over this issue, and you could meet there buying groceries and you could agree to disagree and it would still be okay. It was a very interesting exercise in voice and democracy. But what is more interesting to me is that I run into kids all the time down here who grew up during that era, and they have often taken me aside, one kid took me to dinner, to tell me that I was the only reason he survived that period of time in his life, because he was gay, and nobody could know it, and he was wrestling with himself as to what this all was. His parents were Pentecostal, and the fact that I would fight on the bulletin board made all the difference. So you do it for everybody, not just your small nuclear family. *

Interviewer: How has sense of place and living in the country inspired and informed your work?

Jakimides: Sense of place and the country informs everything that I do. Silence and stillness and coexistence. You’re totally aware of having to interact with lots of living things. Black flies and mosquitoes and eagles and osprey, deer ravaging your garden, people under that magnifying lens of a small town. I think it informs everything I think about how to coexist in a larger world, a global world. I believe I learned how to listen on that dirt road in the woods, in that town. So many people are hell bent on the importance of what they have to say, and it may be important but I think that what one has to say is more impactful if you’ve really been listening to what somebody else is saying. That listening piece is a very underrated part of who we are.

I was a city girl; I grew up in Dorchester, which is working-class inner city Boston. I did a lot of inner city work, working in community organizations, teaching in after school programs in storefronts. To this day, people scratch their heads that I moved away—from the movement, from the music, from the dancing, from the diversity. I don’t know if I knew what I was getting into when I moved to the land. I had never been to the country. I was not exactly pining for dirt under my fingernails, a sky over my head, healthy food. I really thought I already had a great life. Would I go back and not have done it? Absolutely not. Patten is still home to me, people up there are still family; it’s a community where you cannot fall through the cracks. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt no matter what my story was, if I didn’t have a pot to piss in, that I would eat, I would be housed, I knew that no matter what happened that would be true. But after a divorce, I no longer had my land or house. And so it was time.

Interviewer: People take care of each other.

Jakimides: In a small town they truly do. I look back on that time, and they were just so accepting of all the little quirks, and the big quirks. You have a little town, most of the families in that town go back generations, a lot of mill workers, a lot of woods workers, that’s just the way it is. Then you have the hippies who move onto the Owlsboro Road and they’re building a house and they don’t really know what they’re doing, and they have no water, they have no electricity and they don’t want it. They’re going to have an outhouse—damn, everyone else had been glad to be rid of those things—and the power doesn’t even go up that far on the road so they can’t hook into power because there isn’t any power to hook into. They’re planting these gardens; they don’t know what they’re doing there either. They’re going to grow all the food that they eat and they’re cutting their wood.

The first winter we had a cookstove that we got out of somebody’s barn: the generosity of souls, it’s an exercise in the generosity of souls. So I have this cookstove, it’s a beautiful cookstove, I barely even knew how to cook to begin with, never mind on a cookstove, and the whole winter we’re bringing wood in from the outside, stacking it along the wall of the house, it’s frozen, it’s green, we’re baking it in the oven so that we can even put it in the firebox to heat the house at all, and it’s just crazy. They put up with all of that. They loved you no matter what. If I’m honest, they give me hope for our future—and a model for unconditional love.

I have three kids, two are black, and to watch this community love my children and love my family all those years ago, that was something. I’m not saying these things couldn’t happen in the city, but you see it so clearly in the country, the way people rise up to a challenge, how they handle change and difference. Whatever is there in a small town in the country you see, whatever it is, the good, the bad, the painful and the sweet, you see it all. And I’m not saying that it’s all roses. Really, sometimes when people were coming to my house, I knew that over the weekend they had been driving around with a state trooper locked in the trunk of their car, just for the hell of it [laughter].

That all drives the way I look at life, the work I make. I’m not trying to convince people that they have to come to my side. I’m telling my story, in poems or essays, in short pieces of fiction, and if something talks to you, you will take it in. The more voices one has out there speaking their truth, and the truth of their experience, the more opportunities people have to hear it, and you never know when one of those pieces will be the thing that they really hear. I intend to use my work to tell the important stories about not just war and destruction, about losses, but about how we as humans can allow ourselves our differences—because we will always have them—and access joy. I tend to do it in a quiet way, I think.

Interviewer: And your work has a reclaiming of life too, life-giving images and peace-giving images too.

Jakimides: If we don’t have that, what do we have? This is a really short run on this planet for each one of us. I don’t want to live my life full of despair, and yet it’s a fine line. Yes, there’s shit in the world. But I don’t want that to be what dominates my cells or I become that too. Life is good. I have a roof over my head, I’m present for every day, I’m not scrambling for food. I also know that that line is very close. One of my greatest fears when I moved to Bangor and left my support network up in Patten was that I could easily see myself as being homeless and a bag lady. There were many times in those first years after I left Mt. Chase in which I wouldn’t have eaten except for the generosity of other people, and many days in which I ate a lot of noodles. I know where that edge is, so I want to live my life not mired in negativity. It’s important for my heart, and if it’s important for my heart, it’s important for other people too, to get my heart right. To make a better world.

by Annaliese Jakimides

Interviewer: Your poems are real musical, jazz, I think; can you talk about music’s influence on you and your art?

Jakimides: Music’s huge to me. I grew up in a house in which there was none. We had only a few records in our house, Mario Lanza, some Brahms concerto, Sarah Vaughn, there was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I think that’s essentially it. Only played at holidays. But from the time I could control it, music has ordered my world. Where my ear and my body would go was a lot of jazz, a lot of blues, Motown stuff, and Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Gil Scott-Heron, like that. I am open. Don’t I love Meredith Monk! So many voices, actually. Sometimes it’s the sound, sometimes the message, sometimes both.

The people in my early adult life were musical people; they were people who were either involved in music, loved music, or they were actually performers, composers. Before I even knew what tofu was I was listening to Stanton Davis’s “Funky Fried Tofu.” Then once I moved to Patten all you had was WHOU out of Houlton, which was country for the most part, and you periodically heard some pop mainstream. Around that time was the birth of NPR and Maine Public Radio, so my family lived on NPR. They used to have a program called Songs Jumping in My Mouth, and it was music and stories, and then the Spider’s Web, which was read-aloud stories. We had public radio and a record player. All of my records were scratched and beat to death, I was not the kind of person who kept pristine records.

To this day, I write to music. I could probably give you the soundtrack of what I was listening to at various points of writing certain things. There’s really a soundtrack. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live without music. I dance around here all the time. There’s always music on when I’m making art. And I choose for the most part that it’s music that rhythmically invades my body and my work. Everything is energetically connected.

Interviewer: Your poems give voice to the oppressed, women, people torn by war, people from different cultures, what’s some of your inspiration for taking on the stories of these different people?

Jakimides: They aren’t different. We’re all the same. In a heartbeat I could be in any one of those positions, as could any one of us. So I feel as if I am telling these stories because they are mine too.

I don’t think our boundaries are all that hard and fast. I think that a lot of what we see as our edges, the end of us, the definitions that say separation, are not true at all. We are informed by others’ energies. We are all born, we all die, we all have the same basic desires in life. I really do believe that everything is motivated by love or fear, and that we all do want a life of love, but fear gets in the way. Then that drives certain people or drives a country or drives factions of a country to the negatives.

I’m never going to be accused of writing a “nature” poem. I write about people and their lives. Friends of Acadia Journal has a nature poetry competition and I remember a few years ago somebody was saying to me, Annaliese, you should submit to that. And I’m saying, have you ever heard me read a nature poem? Well, I completely forgot about it, then a few days before the contest deadline somebody emailed me again and said, oh did you do that? And I thought, oh fuck. So I went through my stuff and for some reason I followed through and I submitted this one poem that might be remotely considered a nature poem. It was a poem about my mother’s cremation and the fact that she lives in the water now because her ashes are in the water. I sent it off and completely forgot that I’d ever even done this, and then I got a letter in the mail, which I thought was a solicitation, and I almost threw it away without opening it. This particular prize comes with a check, and I took first place. It bought me tires when I needed tires. I’ve learned to not think in terms of the closed-offness of how we see things.

by Annaliese Jakimides

We’re all so interconnected that there’s something about the energy of my life that speaks to yours. I think that’s when writing is most impactful—that piece of writing is a conduit, an opening that allows you to enter someplace you might not have gone. Every one of us who does that kind of creative work is saying, here’s a way to go somewhere, welcome, come in, see where you go and trust the journey. You can have the best created, best engineered, put together, dynamically constructed, kick ass frickin poem with the intention of influencing the world and opening them to the destructive elements of every gun ever manufactured et cetera, whatever it might be, but if that piece does not have an opening, a place of life, a breath somewhere where the reader can get in, then it hasn’t been able to do its work. I figure if one of my anythings does its work on just one person, that’s enough.

Interviewer: I like the perspective of the unifying energy, and that it could all be part of you.

Jakimides: If we walked around with the awareness that we’re all interconnected, I don’t think we’d have this fractured world. How do you convince people that we’re all the same, and that there’s value in all of it? How do we not fight over property and boundaries and religious beliefs and the political? How does that happen? It’s scary times, as, I think frankly, it’s probably always been and may always be, which doesn’t mean we stop taking some action to affect change.

Interviewer: And getting people on board with thinking about interconnections, how everything affects everything?

Jakimides: Everything, everything. The truth is that everything makes us who we are, and I wouldn’t be rid of the heartbreak anymore than the joy because of that interconnectedness. If you get okay with who you are, then you have to get okay with everything that got you there.

Interviewer: In the midst of the suffering and destruction in the world what are some ways that you keep your spirits up and maintain resolve?

Jakimides: Music and dancing.

I am a person, clichéd as this is, who sees the cup as half full, not half empty, and with that I always see that we are capable of being better. I am capable of being better, and I believe that everyone else is also. I’ve always believed that, I don’t have difficulty with that sense of keeping my resolve or believing that there is possibility. Do I necessarily believe that we’re going to have a peaceful world? I don’t know, people have been fighting since there were people, there have been issues since there were people, the issues shift and change, although I think it is always about difference: accepting difference in someone, someone accepting difference in you. A different way you look, a different color of your skin, a different belief pattern, a different religion, a different place you came from, a different way you were raised. It is hard for me to envision a world in which all of that is now gone and everybody loves everybody, however, I do believe that if everybody were walking around saying, okay, I can accept you for who you are, I think we would resonate at a higher level and we would be closer to all of that.

So what can I do about that? The most important thing I think I do is to continue to believe and to continue to do what I do, because I’m the only person I can really control. I’m sort of, not Pollyannaish, but I certainly do see the silver linings in things, I just see them. I don’t ever think or believe or feel that we are beyond making a better life, making a better world. I know we are capable of that.

I love people. I don’t move in one particular circle of people, so my friend-acquaintance-movement-circle base of humanity is very broad. In a real way, I see everybody on pretty much the same level. Just because so and so has a PhD doesn’t make that person any different in my mind, really, than a homeless guy I talk to every few days on the corner, or some woman I know from up north who’s Pentecostal and her belief system’s pretty rightwing, but we’ve always clicked. It’s a big world I live in and I operate in. I have been, and probably will be, chastised many times for this observation, but one of the things I’ve always felt has been most problematic in like, the women’s movement, is the fact that for the most part women primarily operate within circles of women of like structure, mind, achievement, socioeconomic range, that’s who they are friends with. It’s hard to create a women’s movement if you don’t really have any friends who aren’t as educated or that kind of thing. We box ourselves off, so just open the box. I think it starts that simply.

Interviewer: Who are some heroes and people who inspire you to seek justice?

Jakimides: It’s really the nameless, everyday people in their homes, on the streets, living their lives. None of those people are looking for any kind of acknowledgment of what they do, they’re just doing the best they can, in their neighborhoods, at their kitchen tables, raising their children. Raising one damn child aware of kindness. Kindness, that’s the root of justice, okay, so raising one child who is aware of that and will carry that forward, that’s a huge thing. Not so easy, either. Kindness, politeness, respect, love. Respect yourself and in respecting yourself you respect others, and when you respect others, you really do approach them with kindness and love, and you see that for all our differences we’re the same.

Interviewer: Can you share a vision for the future, your ideal vision?

Jakimides: I want a world in which we’re not destroying the planet, I want a world in which we’re not shooting people just because they don’t believe the same thing we believe, I want a world in which we’re not at war all the time. I don’t understand a country in which we don’t provide health coverage for everybody—we all know we can. My ideal world would not have famine. There’s enough food on the planet for everybody. I want a literate planet; the vast majority of people on the planet do not read and write at a functional level. I want clean water. My ideal world would have none of those boundaries. I want you to be able to walk outside your door, walk down your street, I want you to be able to dance, hear music. I want you to respect each other, I want kindness. I want us to develop the things that are possible to be developed that allow us not to rape the planet, all of which is possible. I drove a cheap Ford Festiva in 1991 that got sixty miles to the gallon; if we could do that in 1991 with a cheap Ford Festiva, I’m sorry, the technology exists to give us 120 miles to the gallon now. I want us to do the right thing, and doing the right thing means treating everybody fairly and justly, and if we do that we’ll be fine. I think we’re here to experience joy, I really believe we are. Live simply, love seriously, care deeply, speak kindly. I read that somewhere and it made so much sense I taped it up on the wall in the closet where I write. It seems a very clear path to being all we can be. ###

*    (11/6/2012) Maine has just become the first state in the country, the first entity in the world, to legalize same-sex marriage by citizen initiative. We wanted it, we asked for it, and we voted on it. Thousands of conversations later by many people gay and straight, and it finally happened. Hundreds of volunteers all over the state, and I am honored to have been one. One of the things I told many people on the fence while I was making calls from the field office in Brewer was, I’m straight, my kids are straight, and I have two grandchildren, 3 and 1, and I have no idea who they will love when they grow up. I want them, too, to be able to commit no matter the gender of their love, I want them to be able to have that someone have their back in sickness and in health. I want that for everyone. -AJ

 
 
 
TENDING
 
Let us tend each other,
Sunni and Shi’a, South and North,
Kikuyu, Luo, the Blue
and the Red, the way a man tends
himself when he’s lost his woman,
and rattles through the hollow bones
of lonely nights,
ultimately surrounding himself
with those who will feed him
kindness, laughter, understanding, a feast
of palatable heart at every meal
until he comes again to woo mode, where
he can fall in love, see the new
woman of his dreams as extraordinary,
brilliant, beautiful, sexy,
all things sweet and
deep. He lifts himself up
onto the body of hope and forgives
every perceived indecency,
no matter the truth of the moment. 
 
-by Annaliese Jakimides, from Consequence
 
 
 
PUTTING OUT
 
She puts out a hummingbird feeder,
plastic and red, scarlet-high, up
outside her sixth floor window,
floating, wired on a
suction cup over streets
filled with people and cars
and half-filled trashcans.
 
But what she gets are crows. Three
scruffy crows of dull black wings on
the granite ledge below. She calls them
ravens, peeling pink-tinged transparent
wrap from a lump of bread, three
raisins, a cube of cheese she slivers.
 
The tip of a wing shushes against the pane,
delicate and wild. An abandonment to
desire. No complaints. No whining.
It beats into the air. Angles.
Folds against its body. Settles.
 
She leans her rouged cheek
into the glass, her fragile capillaries
anticipating the return of
the heat that is family.
 
-by Annaliese Jakimides, from Puckerbrush Review
 
 

Find out more about Annaliese here: http://annaliesejakimides.com

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Filed under interviews, maine citizens engaged in resistance, poems, protest song ancestors, truth speakers

Jess Housty’s poetry & environmental justice for Great Bear Rainforest survival

Stone

i.

Salmon scales, damselflies,
the tailfeathers of a hummingbird –

brittle barnacles, a mink’s teeth,
soft river silt –

some of the blood is mine.

Moss, scrub cedar, a deer’s jaw
bleached by pale sunlight –

Creekfoam, dark soil,
sparrowbones –

some of the blood is mine, love.

Starlight, starfish, starflower,
stone –

some of it is mine.

ii.

And I will move in centuries
over your body, in millennia, carving you
with my two bare hands like glaciers,

marking you slowly with my teeth
and my fingernails to build fishtraps
and rock art and sweet middens
across the landscape of your body.

And I will build villages in the crook
of your arm, and teach salmon to swim
in your veins of bright water,
and I will live and die in the deep inlets
of your soft body

with your hair like kelp,
with your hair like spruce roots,

wrapped around us both as we sigh
into the rain and the slow bleed.

Some of the blood is mine, love,
none of it is yours, some is the sky’s
and it will paint the brief story of our love
into the stone from which stories and blood
will someday be washed away,

washed into the sea like the bones of people
and the bones of birds.

iii.

Night slept on, and the shadow ocean
was like the taut, stretched breast
of a skinned jay,

like the inner surface of a mussel shell
when the meat is stripped away.

You sank your teeth in, love, my love,
and some of the blood was mine
and some was the ocean’s

and none of it was yours.

iv.

Some of the blood was mine, love,
and none of it was yours, and some of it belonged
to the little wrens with their fragile beaks
and their precious claws that harmed nothing
in this frail world.

-Jess Housty

 

Jess Housty’s poems remind us that we share the same blood air water music seeds & magic, and that what cuts the land sky & animals cuts all of us.

Her poems personify the earth – likening the creatures of wilderness to herself, contrasting the lyric joy of being in nature with spilled blood caused by human greed & carelessness.  “Stone” likens the narrator of the poem to the earth – a generous lover who shares her salmon, river silt, mink’s teeth and the stars – who are also me and you.

Housty’s youth, honesty, femaleness, indigenous North American heritage, and roll as a librarian place her on top of knowledge & righteousness.  She’s working to build the up and coming matriarchy of benevolence and justice – extending love even towards those who would like to destroy her for profit:

Some of the blood was mine, love,
and none of it was yours, and some of it belonged
to the little wrens with their fragile beaks
and their precious claws that harmed nothing
in this frail world.
 

Housty represents us new generation of leadership who are rising up from coast to coast as a fantastic symbol of hope and resistance and resilience.

Specifically, she’s using art genius & ecstatic beauty to protect the Great Bear Rainforest & protest Enbridge’s plan to dump oil thru the most holy places.  She’s in the thick of the struggle for justice, working for both sides – First Nations and environmental groups.

 

Great Bear Rainforest

 

Corporations like Enbridge are eager to drill thru fragile North American ecosystems such as the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia and bring huge tanker ships through the pure waters for oil money, but some of the blood is mine.  We don’t want our lifeblood sliced out & filled with parasites that seek to fatten off the sacredness of our existence while we waste away to sickness.

Housty’s poems give an essential voice to a place and a people who are one in the same.  As Housty herself has said of her poems, “They’re just about relationship to place. If they do anything, they give people who have never been to the GBR a window into what that relationship looks like in its most intimate terms. And I think maybe the poems demonstrate that for some people (like my people), identity is not separable from place.”

And as she has said about her environmental justice work, with its focus of stopping the Enbridge pipeline from destroying the Great Bear Rainforest, “This project has become a national issue in Canada. It has the potential to be an international one. Certainly the Tar Sands are creeping into the North American imagination and culture in ways we’re only just beginning to understand, and all I’m doing is giving a voice to a place that’s become a threatened symbol of pure wilderness and deep history – a real voice, from someone on the inside, whose roots in the GBR go back to time before memory.”  And time before money.  Housty understands that what happens to the land happens to each of us, and she’s spreading the word.

On October 22 there will be a solidarity event in Victoria, BC to defend the wilderness from tar sands and pipelines: http://defendourcoast.ca

And to learn more about the GBR / pipeline issue please go here & here & here.

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Filed under literature review, poems, protest song ancestors, protest songs, truth speakers