Three Questions for Robin Matthews

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That
is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

When I was first writing poetry (which was shortly after I started
reading poetry) my poems were very imitative. I used rhyming a lot, and
precise forms like sonnets. I’ve done a lot of moving around in my
life, and most of those early poems I lost long ago. But I still have
some of the later sonnets and rhymed poems, and I think they are quite
good. The effort of conforming to an imposed structure was very useful
in channeling creativity. Of course in the best such poems the reader
(or listener) does not even realize that there is a structure.

That said, I no longer write that way. I suppose I still could write a
sonnet, but I prefer to let the words find their own structure. Which
is not to say that I just sit down and write a bunch of words on paper
and say okay, there’s the poem. Sometimes I can work for days on a
poem, then get disgusted with the effort, put it aside, come upon it
days or weeks or years later and finish it. There is a short poem called
“Transfiguration” which I wrote in 1965. It involved an image that came
to me suddenly, as I was walking through the woods, and demanded to be
expressed. I wrote it down immediately, but it did not seem right. I
worked on it on and off, and then I arrived at a version that I thought
was the best I could do. And that was that, I thought. Almost forty
years later, in 2014, I revisited the poem, and in a couple of hours
rewrote it into what I now consider the really final version. And I
consider it among the better poems I have written.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human
body? Or between your writing and your body?

I take a walk through the woods most mornings. Sometimes I just walk,
breathe the air, exercise my lungs and heart and assorted muscles, but
on really good days ideas come to me for poems. I usually write myself
a note, or make a journal entry, as soon as I get home. Later,
sometimes much later, I will come back and try to turn it into a poem.
Away from home I also find that solitary walking is most conducive to
poetry. I feel that the rhythm of my walking is reflected in the metre
of the poem.
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3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Well, it would be nice if you could earn a living doing it. It would be
nice if people did not look at a loss for words when they hear you are
one. It would be nice if words followed words more easily on the page.
But it is what it is.
Brief Bio:

Life has been varied and good. It has included growing up in rural New
Jersey, becoming a printing pressman (always something to fall back on
for money), a blessedly brief stint in the Vietnam-era army,
establishing and co-editing a poetry magazine called Sanskaras in New
York during the late 1960s, a spell as a hippy in northern New Mexico
and Albuquerque, followed by creative writing at Goddard College, a try
at organic farming, a long, happy spell as a computer programmer in
Washington, DC, and nowadays a comfortable retirement in an old
farmhouse on 40 acres in Virginia. I have two daughters and two
grand-daughters, all deeply loved. Recently and most pleasingly, Amador
Publishers in Albuquerque has published a collection of my poetry,
“Another Spring” as part of their Worldwind Books Poetry Series.

Here is a very recent poem:

Tally

A very large oak sits
northwest of the house
on the hill above the driveway.
It was once the smallest of three
growing very close
and forming one crown together
until a freak summer storm
eighteen years ago
took down the other two
and left this one still leaning
away from the missing two.

The measured girth today is
slightly over eleven feet
and it leans now more than ever.
I can see where the earth
is lifted somewhat
on the side away from the lean.

The other two went down
directly across the drive
and blocked it for weeks
while being cleared away.
This one leans toward the house,
but if it fell it would reach
perhaps the edge of the lawn
and maybe take down the magnolia
without threatening the house.
It would leave a big hole
in the green canopy were it gone,
so I will not mess with it.
It may well outlive me,
still leaning.

When we bought this place
there were three huge pines
shading the front lawn.
I thought they would live forever,
but two are gone.
Drought and beetles, partly,
but I think mostly old age.
The huge hickory in the backyard
went down in a gust of wind,
luckily falling away from the house;
I counted ninety-seven rings.

Well, it is sometimes surprising,
the things, and the people, we outlive.

There are about thirty acres of woods
that I treasure or neglect,
depending on your point of view.
I mostly leave them undisturbed,
except to abolish kudzu and poison ivy,
and to maintain my paths.
They reward me by changing slowly.
Right now they are poised on the brink.
The maples are red-tipped,
the beeches still bear last year’s leaves
and stand about like a ghost forest.

Close to the house
spring is moving along.
The daffodils are already flowering
and the tulips are up, not quite budding,
the azaleas and rhododendrons are primed.
Both the birds and the frogs
have become very vocal
in the last few days.

There is apparently something
very major that Einstein predicted
about gravitational waves
that is now confirmed.
I take it on trust, it is beyond me.

A friend I met at Spence Springs —
this was two years ago —
believed that Gravity was God.
It perplexed me,
but now he tells me it is proven.

I no longer doubt it.
Robin Matthews
Charlotte County, Virginia
March 2016

What’s Real? Green River, Utah and Beyond

Seen from the highway, Andrew Roger’s land art pieces–Ratio and Elementals:

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https://rogerdhansen.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/elements-new-monumental-artwork-in-green-river-ut/

In the Tamarisk Restaurant, a representation of Ratio:

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In parking lots, a little low rent stone sculpture:

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A town of melons, but not the season for fruit:

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Extraordinary Barrier Canyon style ancient paintings:

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Looking for My Novel on the Colorado Plateau

I wanted to take this road trip on the Colorado Plateau…to be here. But I also had another reason. I’ve been working on my futuristic utopian novel (yup, used to be a novella, but it is getting longer). In it, a society loosely based on the ancient cultures of the Plateau, mostly Anasazi, exists in a non-technological future. Hope this isn’t too confusing already, because there a lot of levels of time travel in the book. But as speculative writer Suzy McKee Charnas says: a new story needs new ways of telling it. So, I’m trying.
But I wanted to see the landscape, right now, freshly. It’s only a few thousand years in the future, there is less water in some places but the terrain is close to identical. I’ve been jotting down notes of things to add, and writing chunks of description. Here are things that the landscape has reminded me of that ought to go in to the book.

So far:

dead trees, species die off among pines etc.
a dog bitten by a rattle snake
chalk formations like the White Place
cactus, and a needle in the palm
cap rock
sand
natural bridges
dry stream
abandoned ruins
herds of mule deer
the feminine curves of the earth in canyons and crevasses

I don’t have to add petroglyphs, however, as they are a focal point in the story, and I’ve been studying them for a long tie.
I hope to have a rough draft by summer.
It’s gotten clearer and clear to me. It was funny when I realized I was writing about a community of artists, fairly egalitarian, gossipy, not into organized religion, pro-women, where people love children and dogs, a comparatively secure class in a world where the edges are menaced by war, starvation, and fanaticism…and realized I was actually writing about a social strata in Santa Fe.

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Walking Crippled in Butler Wash–Miriam Sagan


“Crippled” isn’t a polite term—probably it never was. But it’s the term I privately prefer with myself. About three times in the last year I’ve done something I thought I couldn’t do physically—and yesterday was the fourth. And I did these things crippled.
I did the “easy” mile round trip to Butler Wash in Utah to see the far view of ruins in a cave. Easy for obviously out of shape tourists. Easy for kids in flip-flops. But difficult for me. Up. Down. Sheer rock. Difficult. I took my three legs (my good leg, my bad leg, and my cane) and my 1 1/2 lungs and off I went through the scent of sage. Had to sit on all three benches en route—both there and back. Had to remember that walking, dancing, weight lifting, and thera bands all done on flat terrain don’t exactly prepare for this.
Saw the far view. Made it back. Was it worth it? Well, I’d seen a nice far view of ruins across a river earlier down a totally flat road. And a cave dwelling off the shoulder of the road. And later walked a ruin that was practically in a parking lot. This part of the world is riddled with kivas, towers, ruins of 14 or 15 rooms, buildings in caves.
But yes, it was worth it. Not the view, the walk. The fear, the trouble breathing, the clear air, the trail. It’s better to experience it than not, for as long as I can.
I had Rich take a photo, but I just looked too goofy in my plastic orange sunglasses, my polka dot top, and my hiking boots—not a big surprise! Here’s the ruin instead. Not a polite term, ruin, but in its own way a noble one.IMG_1659

Monday Feature: A web of hand-me-downs by Michaela Kahn

A web of hand-me-downs –

 Earlier this week I got a text from a friend of mine, someone I’ve known since Middle School, about a song she thought I’d like. She recommended the whole album, actually, but steered me to Ane Brun’s YouTube music video for her song, “Do You Remember.” It’s a great song – very strange and simultaneously sad (the lyrics) and yet happy (the music). The video itself is like its own universe, sort of Steampunk meets the the Dust Bowl.

 The exchange got me thinking about all the art that has been passed on to me over the years by friends, family, teachers, even strangers.

 There’s my step-sister, so much more worldly-wise than I at thirteen, who made a whole 90- minute video tape of various MTV videos she thought I needed to know (being MTV-less, myself). Another friend introduced me to most of the Pop music that I am still listening to today. There’s an Uncle (in-law) who introduced me to the Le Mystere des voix Bulgares and the movie Duck Soup. My husband introduced me to Wim Wenders movies, Miles Davis, and the paintings of Leonora Carrington (no wonder I fell in love).

 For literature, there is another list of great books and poems that have been passed on to me by others. Whether it’s the teacher who told me to read Gregory Bateson or the stranger at the Boulder Public Library who told me to read his book of poetry, “Tony the Bricklayer.” But with literature I’m more often the one trying to pass along favorites. Over the years I have passed on the names of dozens of writers and works to friends, colleagues, family, strangers. I become part of their web of hand-me-down art.

All this thinking about where the art and music in my life comes prompted me to look a little deeper into my experience of this passed-on art. I realized that when I listen to a favorite song, one that was shared by a friend, my own memories and emotions surrounding the song are also layered with memories of the person who gave it to me. It’s richer for having that connection. It got me wondering whether, in some ways, this is an essential part of what art is all about –that intricate web of interconnections that develops between the people who love it.

Colorado Plateau Nerds

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Driving west of Bernalillo, looking for the fault line. Rich and I have become Colorado Plateau nerds—and interested in where it starts and stops. Just ahead, beyond a red sign advertising WELDING in red caps I see the plateau’s uplift—formations in white rock, red rock, and in uranium rich yellow.
The traffic sign reads HILL BLOCKS VIEW—which Rich points out should be posted frequently all over New Mexico. It’s the first day of Daylight Savings. We’re on the checkerboard of the Navajo Rez, skirting the boundary, passing chapter houses. Watertower, tiny town, butte—could be anywhere in any desert—but the name is in Navajo, printed on the tower. In Arizona, the state is on “God’s Time” (i.e. Standard Time) while the Rez is on Daylight Savings (i.e. to line up with Utah and New Mexico.) Today Arizona is the only one of the Four Corners we’ll miss.
We pass a very long army convoy, and debate a picnic lunch. It’s about 50 degrees F., windy. Rich finds this perfectly acceptable picnic weather—I’m less sure. We head towards Dad’s Diner in Farmington. We can be entertained—and are—by a giant chicken or rooster on the roof of a store. Or, more oddly, a truck lifted on a pole—with its bed carrying a large crucifix. Maybe best not to parse this one too closely.

snow-capped mountains
seemingly reflected
in the clouds

Dad’s is a Starlight pre-fab, built about twenty years ago, I think. We sit at the counter beneath the pressed tin ceiling and above the green and white checkered tile floor. And eat a lavish meal, which includes both salsa and pancakes. The teenager next to me is reading THE LAST UNICORN, and she’s charmed when I say I love it.

red bluffs seem to flow but it’s the green river that streams by us

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My fear is that I have a terrible fault that I am totally unaware of but that everyone else notices—sort of like a wart on my nose. By Miriam Sagan

I’m haunted by a weird—no doubt foolish—fear. My fear is that I have a terrible fault that I am totally unaware of but that everyone else notices—sort of like a wart on my nose.
Now, I—and everyone else in my life—am aware of my regular faults. I’m rude. I eat with my fingers. I can’t get through TSA without a fight or weeping. I’m impatient. I’m a careless housekeeper and an overly cautious driver. People honk me. No one says they can eat off my kitchen floor. I’m territorial. I like to tidy up and throw out other peoples’ things. I tend to leave apples cores and cooling cups of coffee in my wake.
On the deeper potentially worse level, if you believe in that kind of thing, I’m somewhat judgmental, have been known to gossip, and curse violently at the slightest provocation. I’m bossy, and usually think I’m right. Okay. This really doesn’t look that bad. It looks pretty average, pretty human. But what if I’m missing something?
My fear really took off when I started to write fiction more seriously. Fiction, story, after all is character driven—and usually that character has a flaw. I think my flaw is fear, but I find that more of an emotional illness—anxiety—than a fault. I don’t like it either. It’s been hard to change, though God knows I’ve tried. But it is the only flaw I even attempt to work on.
The truth is, I do nothing about my actual faults. Basically, I accept them. I like throwing things out. (As long as those things aren’t apple cores). I like cursing. I secretly believe rudeness is appropriate at TSA. Fits of self improvement don’t last very long. I don’t have any real intention of changing.
And quite possibly I don’t have a secret to me but known to others flaw. Maybe I’m an egomaniac who wonders what people are thinking of her when they are most likely thinking…ABOUT THEMSELVES. Wondering if I find them loud or rude or oddly dressed. But maybe not.