Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Muse: Kansas' Poet Laureate

The Poet Laureate of Kansas is Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, appointed in July 2009.

The position of Poet Laureate, established in 2004, has been held for two-year terms by just two other poets: Jonathan Holden, who served from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2007; and Denise Low, who was the incumbent from July 1, 2007, until June 30, 2009. 

Guidelines for the position, which is not compensated, are the responsibility of the state arts commission. The appointee must be of "exceptional talent and accomplishment", be willing and able to promote and encourage "a broad appreciation of poetry" through personal "educational outreach", and participate in the Kansas Arts on Tour initiative. 

As Poet Laureate, Mirriam-Goldberg not only appears at official state functions and gives readings, talks, and workshops; she also participates in the project Poetry Across Kansas: Reading and Writing Our Way Home (described here), appears on a monthly radio show, "Write for Your Life", on High Plains Public Radio, and writes a monthly column on writing, "Writing Across Kansas". She also posts a weekly column at ideas; the magazine of yoga. In April of this year, she launched the Poetry Pen Pal Project. which runs until the end of her appointment on June 30, 2011.

* * * * *
I write in the field . . . it is always the field
that surrounds me, that I remember when I'm apart
from it, the field that teaches me most about how to write.
In the field . . . I have the sense that everything
I need to know about poetry is right here.
Just listen. Just stop.
~ Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg on "Writing From the Earth"

A poet for more than three decades, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., who founded and is the coordinator of Transformative Language Arts at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, also is a fiction and non-fiction writer. Her collections of poetry include Landed: New Poetry (Mammoth Publications, 2009), Animals in the House (Woodley Press, 2004), Reading the Body (Mammoth Press), and Lot's Wife (Woodley Press, 2000); poetry anthologies she has edited include A Circle of Women, A Circle of Words (Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority/Mammoth Press). Among her other published writings are a memoir, The Sky Begins at Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Press, 2009); a writing guide for young adults, Write Where You Are: How to Use Writing to Make Sense of Your Life (Free Spirit, 1999); and a critical biography, Sandra Cisneros: Latina Writer and Activist (Enslow Press). 

Mirriam-Goldberg no longer looks out the windows of apartment buildings in New York  or central New Jersey, two places where, according to her biographical notes, she spent time as a child. She lives now amidst green-punctuated fields and wind-swept grasses, in an area of Kansas that has nurtured generations of her husband's family and provided her with plenty of space to do the stopping and listening that finds its way into her poetry. In describing her writing, Mirriam-Goldberg references "this humming, this vibration, this frequency of sound that draws me to the page. The words drop in to hold up the rhythm, and the rhythm carries forth the voice of the poem, the essay, the story." The humming, she writes, "is everywhere" and  the rhythms of place "give us a deeper sense of where we truly are and who we truly are." People, too, are part of her landscape, reflected influences of her work with the Kansas City Latino community, poetry classes for Native American students, and writing workshops with at-risk teenage girls, low-income mothers, women in recovery from addiction and abuse,  and the elderly. (See the essay "From Poetry to Poetry Therapy: Swimming in a Pool of Words".) 

The land — both what harbors and gives up to one willing to receive — and a deep sense of place and belonging are evident in a poem such as "Door of the Grass":

. . . Just walk.
Just stop in this surprise of clearing
where some other has stopped before you.
Listen to the careful tremble, the heavier rushing
tumbling upward and out from the tops of
bordering cottonwoods. Let it sweep back
over you. . . .

And also here, in "Self-Portrait as Wind":

. . . give me a palette
of grass, or the shimmering coiled tops 
of trees. Give me rain or heat,
the slice of space between skyscrapers,
the way wings make me, and I make wings,
weather too. Give me nothing
and I'll use it. . . .
. . . I make 
the opposite of time. . . .

Here's another example of how exquisitely attuned Mirriam-Goldberg is to nature and place:

. . . 
This land dreams sky, a shifting infusion
of shadow on cloud, despite the unreliability
of rain or clarity. . . .
. . . The horizon never stops dreaming,
its sleep a progression of filtering color through space.

The dream always dreams possibility
juxtaposed against decay. . . .

The sky dreams light rolling away from dark. . . .
~ From "Dreaming Land"

If you have only a few minutes to read some of Mirriam-Goldberg's poems, don't miss these, which I found to be especially beautiful for their imagery and depth of feeling: "Self-Portrait as Woman Who Loves Her Body for a Moment", "Life You Could Be Living (If You Weren't Living This One)", "Landed", and "Advice for the Material World". 

Mirriam-Goldberg teaches in the MA in Individualized Studies Program at Goddard College and also operates, with blues singer-songwriter Kelly Hunt, a business called Brave Voice; through Brave Voice she and Hunt conduct collaborative writing and singing workshops, retreats, consultations, and performances.

Among other honors, Mirriam-Goldberg has received a Kansas Arts Fellowship in Poetry and the City of Lawrence Phoenix Award; she also has been Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain National Park.


All Poetry Excerpts © Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's Blog

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's Poetry on PoetrySpeaks (Both words and audio are here.)

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's Website

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's Write From Your Life Columns, Podcasts, and Broadcasts

Interview: "Memoir Author Speaks of Spirituality, Religion, and  Cancer", Part 1 (October 7, 2009) and Part 2 (October 14, 2009), Memory Writers Network

Article: "Jewish Woman Becomes Kansas Poet Laureate", Kansas City Jewish Chronicle,  July 3, 2009

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg on Twitter

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg on LinkedIn

Kansas Arts Commission

Kansas Arts Commission Poet Laureate Page

Kansas Arts on Tour Program

Kansas Poet Laureate FAQs (This is a compilation of questions to which Mirriam-Goldberg has responded.)

Kansas Poets Page for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg  (with Poems)

Mammoth Publications Page for Kansas

Survivor's Review Page, "Write Now!", for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Transformative Language Arts Network


Anonymous said...

i like the idea of the
poetry pen pal. interesting.

and the words of place and
from place.

Brian Miller said...

nice. thanks for the primer on her...i like th verses you chose to share as well...will look more into her...

A. Jay Adler said...

The PoetrySpeaks site that hosts your recommended poems of Mirrian-Goldberg is another wonderful find, Maureen. I've followed it on Twitter.

signed...bkm said...

I love your series on Poet Laureates...hope you continue with many others....thanks...bkm

Friends and Family of Weedle/Donna said...

Just found this -- thanks so much for posting so much information about me. This is a fabulous blog too, and I will list it in some of my resources for people. Wishing you all the best,