Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday Muse: Virginia's New Poet Laureate

Poetry (for me) is about essentials, about distilling the attar
of an experience, figuring what matters most, 
and letting go the rest.
~ Sofia M. Starnes, Interview with Asian Journal

Succeeding Kelly Cherry, whose term ended June 30, 2012, Sofia M. Starnes has assumed the position of Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Starnes was appointed to a two-year term on August 3. Starnes was born in Manila, the Phillipines, and educated in Madrid, Spain. She became a citizen of the United States in 1989.

As Poet Laureate, Starnes has established The Nearest Poem Anthology project, described as "creating a testimony to the immediacy of poetry and its closeness to everyday life." The anthology, which Starnes will edit, will contain between 50 and 100 poems, each selected and submitted by a citizen of Virginia. (Information relating to queries, nominations, and submissions of poems is here.)

Information about the uncompensated position of Poet Laureate is here.

* * * * *
. . . The only way to know something is to know what something
is for, and this, I think, is why my poems constantly seek what we
are for. . . This search for purpose follows the route of naming,
finding the word for a thing, a moment, a verb—and doing so
with the heart. Hence, my poems often involve the act of calling. 
It is what I do, what I am called to do. . . .
~ Sofia M. Starnes on the Act of Writing

The 16th Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Vrginia, Sofia Molina Starnes has published Love and Afterlife (Franciscan University Press, 2012), a limited-edition chapbook; Fully Into Ashes (Wings Press, 2011); Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh (Wings Press, 2008; available on Kindle), a Whitebird Poetry Series Prize winner published as a limited-edition chapbook by Wings Press Chapbook Series; The Soul's Landscape (Aldrich, 2002), a co-winner of an Aldrich Chapbook Poetry Award; and A Commerce of Moments (Pavement Saw Press, 2003), named Editor's Choice in the 2001 Transcontinental Poetry Book Prize competition and Poetry Honor Book in the 2004 Library of Virginia Literary Awards competition. Her Four Virginia Poets Laureate, 2004-2012: An Anthology and Reader's Guide is to be published next year by Cedar Creek Press.

Speaking about her own poems, Starnes told an interviewer, "Because of the departures in my life, which have taught me to say goodbye repeatedly, I find myself recreating a kind of intangible place in my poems. Paradoxically, it is a spiritual place with very physical attributes." The large subjects of love, life and death, grief and loss, identity, memory, the power of voice, and faith are found throughout Starnes's lyrical poems, which are notable for their evocative imagery that grounds the spiritual and abstract in physical detail that sometimes startles in its immediacy and beauty. For example:

Hardly a way to find the window and the lock,
the bellied casement with its screen,

ironskin of evening. We have not
mastered the equation: this is remembrance

and the past, the odd aroma and a jar
of pickled mangoes. The tongue recovers

first the sugar, then the treetop,
then the fruit; one for one, what is

memory turns portent [. . . .]
~ from "First House" in Fully Into Ashes

A lease of cloud, the afternoon's a scarf—
a lightweight thing to write
about. [. . .]
~ from "The Scarf" in Fully Into Ashes

      It happened thus: a woman's shiver
under a veil's surface, translucent hand,

pull of thread up and above a froth's turmoil;
a woman's hour shearing

off, all the way along her incandescent skin,
as when the moon follows its skin

through cloud and star-burst. [. . .]
 ~ from "Generations" in Fully Into Ashes

This is a poet who observes with wonder and deep feeling and awareness and responds with "the tongue that tastes" and a voice "racing to tell us / what things are like" ("A Way Through Words"), making connections, establishing relationship.

Starnes's poems (she has published more than 250 poems) and literary reviews have appeared in Blackbird, Christianity & LiteratureGulf Coast, Hayden's Ferry Review, Laurel Review, Notre Dame Review, Pavement Saw Magazine, Pleiades, Potomac ReviewSouthern Poetry Review, and  scores of other literary journals and magazines. Starnes's work also is in a number of anthologies, including Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets (edited by Luke Hankins, forthcoming from Wipf and Stock), 80th Anniversary Anthology of the Poetry Society of Virginia (2003), and Hawai'i Pacific Review Best of the Decade (2007).

In addition to awards for her poetry collections, Starnes has received a Christianity and Literature Poetry Prize (2004), a  Marlboro Review Editor's Poetry Prize (2002), and a Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Prize (1997). She has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize and was given a fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Starnes, who holds an advanced degree in English philology, is poetry editor for Chicago-based The Anglican Theological Review, in Williamsburg, Virginia. In addition to guest-lecturing at colleges and universities in Virginia and elsewhere, she judges literary contests and mentors and provides writing tutorials and editing services through Creative Writing Critiques.


All Poetry Excerpts © Sofia M. Starnes

Profiles of Sofia Starnes at Blackbird,  Fall for the Book (2011), Here Comes Everybody: Writers on Writing, Poetry Society of VirginiaPoets & WritersWings Press, ZoomInfo

Sofia Starnes Poems Online: "Nightlife" at Blackbird; "The question" at The Christian Century; "The House That Bled" at The Marlboro Review; "The Soul's Landscape" at iWriteHampton: Local Authors @ Hampton Public Library; "The Soul's Landscape", "Shadows of Innocence", "The Armoire", "Provinces", and "One Food", All at Sofia Starnes Website; "The Soul's Landscape" at Notre Dame Review; "A Mode of Permanence" at The Cresset

In this video, Starnes reads in 2011 from Fully Into Ashes:

Sofia Starnes on Her Poems and Act of Writing

"A Lesson About Essentials", Interview, Asian Journal, August 17, 2012

Reviews of Corpus Homini at Wings Press

Reviews of Fully Into Ashes at Wings Press

Videos: Sofia Starnes Reads from Fully Into Ashes (2011),

Letter from Poet Laureate Sofia Starnes: Call For Submissions, Write by the Rails,  September 4, 2012

Poet Laureate of Virginia Information Page (Poetry Society of Virginia)

Poetry Society of Virginia

Virginia Writers Club

Cedar Creek Publishing (Virginia Publisher of Virginia Books)

Aldrich Press, Part of Kelsay Books

Pavement Saw Press (Starnes's A Commerce of Moments is available for purchase here.)

Wings Press

Wipf and Stock Publishers

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