Selfie Interview on New Poetry Book: Me, Myself, and the Cosmos by Miriam Sagan

Me: Hi Mir! What’s new?

Me: Well…as you are probably are keeping up with world events I’ll focus on something personal and positive. I have a new book of poetry out. STAR GAZING from Cholla Needles.

Me: How did that happen?

Me: Well, last autumn I gave a reading in Joshua Tree. I love the Cholla Needles magazine. The whole poetry scene there felt great—so grassroots and homey, but full of interest. And editor Rich Soos is a quintessential small press publisher with a lot of heart. The whole thing just took me back to my roots in community and to a lifetime in independent publishing.

Me: Sounds nice! I bet you wanted to send them a manuscript.

Me: I did, but I couldn’t figure out what. Finally my husband Rich Feldman gave me the idea—a collected book of my poems about astronomy.

Me: Great idea! Did Rich realize it would all be about him?

Me: Maybe not at first. But he loves the sky, and has shown me a lot, so he has an, excuse me, “starring” role.

Me: The poems go back to the 80’s?

Me: Just a few. And I wrote a lot of new ones. One for each planet, in fact. But not following the usual archetypes. For example, Venus is “The Warrior.”

Me; Was it hard to pick what went in?

Me: Well, I discovered that the moon, or Venus, seems to rise in most of my poems! But I stuck to ones with a real astronomical theme, including observatories, model solar systems, comets, and yes, my famous cousin Carl.

Me: How can people get a copy?

Me: Well, Mir, there are copies stacked up in the study…oh, you mean OTHER people! For a signed/review copy just write me at msagan1035@aol.com.
You can get a freebie from me for just a tiny review.

On Amazon: https://amzn.to/2EmPiBt

Me: Are you happy?

Me: Usually I get nervous when a book comes out. But this volume has a really nice vibe—feels good, looks good. People seem to like it! So, yes.

Me: And what are you wearing?

Me: A Cosmic Shirt.

Me. Did you get that just to promo the book?

Me: Yup.

Poem by Leroy Quintana

Although I’ve anthologized his work, I was unfamiliar with the poems about Vietnam.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/vietnam-five-poems-about-vietnam/

Armed Forces Recruitment Day
Albuquerque High School, 1962

After the Navy,
the Air Force, and
the Army,
Sgt. Castillo,
the Marine Corps
recruiter,
got a standing ovation
when he walked up
to the microphone
and said proudly
that unlike
the rest, all
he could promise
was a pack,
a rifle, and
a damned hard time.
Except for that,
he was the biggest
of liars.

Interview with Ya’el Chaikind: Counting the Omer / Revelations of the Heart

Editor’s note: I’m always interested in time and counting. And I follow Ya’el Chaikind’s Omer poems. Given that the pandemic may be altering or relationship to time, I interviewed her about her process.

What is your Omer poetry project?

Counting the Omer is an ancient Jewish custom where each spring you intentionally immerse in the spiritual Kabbalistic qualities of lovingkindness, boundaries, harmony, endurance, awe, foundation, and dignity for 49 days. The 50th day corresponds to the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, and is known as a time of revelation.

Counting the Omer begins on the second night of Passover. Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates freedom from slavery. Could it be that we need to free ourselves from old stories, beliefs, or habits that enslave us in order to receive these revelatory teachings? With the freedom of seven weeks to intentionally interact with these spiritual qualities, what new insights and perspectives will be revealed on the 50th day?

These are the intriguing questions for me. So, eight years ago, I decide to follow this cycle. I write a poem each day for 49 days and directly experience the potency of this sacred technology. Some days I have an hour to write, others, only fifteen minutes. The daily exercise of surrendering to my muse, writing a poem without
censoring myself, and then walking away without editing myself, has become a transformative spiritual practice that I repeat each year.

My book, Revelations of the Heart: A 49-Day Journey of Poems and Prompts to Write Your Way to Revelation, is a writing guide and poetry book that helps readers along their own transformative journeys, no matter what time of the year. It’s available on Amazon in soft cover and kindle. Check out my website for more information or if you want a personal guide on this journey. (yaelchaikind@gmail.com / yaelchaikind.com )

PS: An “omer” is a unit of measure. On the second day of Passover, in the days of the Temple, an omer of barley was cut down and brought to the Temple as an offering. The next day, two measures of barley were offered. This continued for 49 days. The idea of counting each day represented spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Torah on Shavuot (the 50th day). (Leviticus 23:15).


How many years is this of the project?

This year marked my 8th year of Counting the Omer through poetry. That’s 392 poems!


How influenced by the pandemic were you? 

Each year my poems chronicle the intimate details of daily life, and this year was no exception with regards to the pandemic. Each year, I get more and more bold in my willingness to share my vulnerability with others, offering my Facebook friends a daily offering of my heart. Another revelation, to find strength and mutual support when practicing vulnerability! Like all art forms, the Omer provides me an outlet for creative expression. The pandemic definitely influenced me, but there is always something deeper to explore under every event, like universal themes of fear, sadness, finding joy in times of pain, where am I going to buy toilet paper, you know, that sort of thing.


Bio note
Ya’el Chaikind is a licensed psychotherapist, educator, book coach, author, poet, and storyteller living in Santa Fe, NM. Please visit her website for more information: yaelchaikind.com.

FIRST POEM:

APRICOT BLOSSOMS

i call upon the indwelling
presence of a she-god, he-god,
me-god

searching for a vaccination
to innoculate me against
the darkness

skewing my vision as I search
the horizon for better days
to come and my hope

waxes and wanes in the fullness
of the moon holding up
the sky that might fall

what else can I do but remember
there is only love
there is only kindness

and sniff the freshly blossomed
fragrance of apricot flowers
tender and fleeting

like love, like kindness, renewing
their vows to have and to hold
my heart, forever.

Ya’el Chaikind
April 9, 2020 / 15 Nisan 5780

Omer Day 1:
Chesed Shebe Chesed
Lovingkindness within Lovingkindness

***

LAST POEM:

CLOSING THE LOOP

Closing the loop,
dotting my I’s, and
crossing my heart before I die
for tonight I tie the knot
with the Beloved.

Another journey ends,
only to begin again.

Each poem a prayer
that poked holes
in my inner hot air
ballon.

Instead of deflation,
elation,
rising above
the Things That Do
Not Matter on
raven wings.

Tonight I step
towards you
another an inch
and watch as the gates
burst open, wide
enough for a chariot.

Those welcoming arms
that hold the world.

Loving you is
the revelation.

A dignified path that
helps me radically accept
and love myself.

Ya’el Chaikind
5.27.20 // 4 Sivan 5780

Omer Day 49:
Malchut Shebe Malchut
Majesty, Dignity, & Nobility within Majesty, Dignity, & Nobility

Poem by Levi Romero

Levi Romero, poet laureate of New Mexico, has a Facebook page I follow as it reads like a poetry blog, with particular emphasis on our state. Reprinted by permission, one of his dynamic poems below. Please enjoy!

Tres Copas de Chanate, Black and Sweet

¡Orale! Saludes de la calle cuarta
South 4th spicy street overflowing
With creamy joy and scornful sorrow
Resembling a faded watercolor painting
Rotting under the sun and growing tangled
‘Neath the billboard bosom signs of a new frontier

I have felt you waking up sweating
To the sounds of 3 A.M. trains
Rolling in on greasy tracks
Spreading across your innocence
Like melting butter on a hot tortilla

Your gold tooth mouth of prominence has gone silent
Under the weight of rusted steel and faded brick
Where cash registers on sang like Christmas chimes
On you black heeled streets bleed tattooed backs
In blue-ink penance for your soul
Proud, Puro Barelas~13

Your chapped dusty sidewalks kissing the calloused souls
Of homeless saints rising out of trash bins
In the red eyed dawn
Are fed by the black vein freeways
Dripping diseased America into your dirt alley dreams

Your complaints become rheumatoid groans
Of aching feet sliding across linoleum floors
Towards clock radios weeping Mexican ballads
Into the trumpet gold haze of memories
Too strong to stick or sink into the Río Grande mud

Me llamo Manuel Leyba but they call me manual labor

Behind the soot-screen windows and padlocked doors
of the Red Ball Café
Sit chrome and metal flake countertops
Frozen in the chewy silence of a Catholic Sunday ringing sad
A billion more still yearn to be served

And pickup trucks once danced
into the Royal Fork Restaurant parking lot
from Gallup and Farmington
Slipping through the honeydew sweetness
of ripening September

Oh earth goddess of asphalt and grime
Let me hear your hearty laugh
Flapping heavy
Like El Cambio’s storefront window adds
That fill my salty visions
With sweet-roll promises
Crumbling onto the dry tongue
Of my worn-out shoes

Levi Romero
(In the Gathering of Silence, WestEnd Press)

Interview with Mary Oishi

Full disclosure! I asked Mary Oishi to do an interview with the blog just a few days before the announcement was made–she is Albuquerque’s next Poet Laureate! I could claim to be psychic, but I’m not. I’ve just followed and admired her work for many years. 



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

There are two distinctly different poetic lines in my poetry, depending whether I am writing a poem filtered through my Japanese ancestral DNA, or through the many hours each week of my early life spent in a Pilgrim Holiness Church, with the cadences of a “holy roller” preacher and the lofty old English of the King James Version. If the former, the lines are stark lines or perhaps simple brush strokes that require the readers’ or listeners’ participation to identify the emotion and fill in the details with the people and experiences of their own lives. If the latter, the lines have a musical cadence, building somewhat hypnotically into a trancelike song. An example: “women when we rise” (Spirit Birds They Told Me, West End Press, 2011).

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

The first connection between my body and writing is that I always write poetry with a pen and paper, never on a computer. I have boxes and shelves of poems in their original forms, most written in blank books or sketchbooks, because I love the freedom of no lines. Often in the course of writing the poem, I scratch out words, phrases, or whole stanzas and scribble new words above, below, or curving into the margin space. It feels like a connection to the lineage of ancient writers. And since I’m left-handed, the heel of my hand is usually blue by the time I’m done. But it’s well worth it. Writing with a pen on a completely blank page is completely grounding, yet creatively liberating.

The ongoing connection between writing and my body is when I read or “perform” the poetry. Although I had my first poem published when I was 13 in Read (a national magazine for high school English students) mostly I considered my poems to be soliloquys that needed my voice to animate them in front of a live audience. Since publication of a chapbook and two collections, plus many individual poems, I still love what happens organically when I read poetry in person. I love to lift both hands like an invitation when I say the last line, “when women, women, rise!” or do a few dance steps at the end of another poem when I say, “you should have died, but here you are, still here, still here, still dancing.”

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

I have heard other more formally-trained poets scoff at this idea. But for me, to be a poet is to be a mystic, not necessarily as intentional study but just by allowing the mystery to flow through. I once audited a graduate class in poetry. The instructor said, “A poem is never done. It’s just given up on.” I can’t relate to that at all. Most times it feels like the poetry comes through like a new life through the birth canal. Yes, it has elements of me in it, but it has a life of its own that came from beyond me. That’s honestly how it feels. I may read it 86 times over once it spills out, clip the cord, and wash the extraneous away to get it down to its clear essence. But the building it cell by cell—that’s already done in the womb of poetry that I hold within me—where it grew its shape and most of its attributes until it was ready to come out. How can I dislike anything about that? It’s a precious gift and for me, one of the greatest joys of being human.

However, I have at times lamented how seldom a production/profit-driven society recognizes the role and value of its poets. Thankfully New Mexico, perhaps owing to its Latin American origin, seems to esteem its poets. I am grateful to be here.

4. How has the pandemic been affecting your creativity?

At first, I wrote with the starkness of haiku, or just a brief stanza. It seemed best suited to capture the solitude, my longing to be around other human beings—especially my daughter and my closest friends. The very first one:

we must stay apart

now when we need each other

most, shelves bare of touch

But as the isolation went on, from weeks to months, I became more acclimated to it. The poems came more as responses to outside stimuli, like hearing the taps being played at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base, or reading the news that we crossed the milestone of 100,000 deaths, or a Facebook post with pictures of Albuquerque’s deserted and boarded-up downtown, or facing another holiday eve knowing there would be none of the usual social rituals the next day. In the midst of this long stretch of solitude, getting the news that I was to be named the next Poet Laureate of Albuquerque jolted me into the reality that I would suddenly be forced into the public eye from the long near-hermitage to which I had grown accustomed. That prompted a flurry of poetry—so far only a portion of which I have shared. I hope the inspiration continues through and well past the pandemic, and I certainly hope there is the ability to share more of its gifts—along with other poets similarly inspired—in many public performances before the end of my two-year tenure.

***

pusher

are you out there in the stealth night on the edge of blue?   listening.
are you loving me for sending you this fix of heartbreak
slid down metal, taut and wound. electric. are you?
are you dancing with the spirits of those who left us
forty fifty sixty eighty years ago? dancing. in a jukejoint.
in R.L.’s living room. are you in the field picking cotton in the broiling sun?
wishing for shade. any shade. a toothpick. anything.
can you feel it? the sweat. the thirst. blur between slave and sharecropper.
slave and chain gang. can you? are you out there in the stealth night?  listening.
understanding. coming closer in. becoming. blues surging through?

Mary Oishi was named Albuquerque Poet Laureate on July 1, 2020. A familiar figure in New Mexico’s thriving poetry scene, Oishi is the author of Spirit Birds They Told Me (West End Press, 2011), and co-author with her daughter, Aja Oishi, of Rock Paper Scissors (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2018), finalist for the New Mexico Arizona Book Award. She is one of twelve U.S. poets in translation in 12 Poetas: Antologia De Nuevos Poetas Estadounidenses (La Herrata Feliz and MarEsCierto, 2017), a project of the Mexican Ministry of Culture. Her poems have appeared in Mas Tequila Review, Malpais Review, Harwood Anthology, and numerous other print and digital publications.

Oishi worked professionally and as an on-air personality in public radio for 25 years, hosting blues shows at four radio stations in New Mexico and Colorado, currently at KSFR-FM Santa Fe, where she hosts a weekly blues show, Wang Dang Doodle.

Her involvement in the work of community and social justice is life-long. She served as lead facilitator for an LGBTQ youth group for seventeen years, produced Peace Buzz, an event of art-as-protest in 2003, and was an NGO delegate to the UN World Conference Against Racism in 2001

Jane Brody on Breathing

The Breath Lesson
Miriam Sagan
1982

Color the lungs blue
Because breath
Is a blue ribbon unraveling
From sky to mouth.
This is the lesson of breath:
The meaning of counting to ten
Before touch. Breathless.

I found the article below a welcome reprieve from the continuous refrain of “just put on a mask.” In fact, I am going to get some breath lessons from a professional later this week! As a person with one working lung, I often use breathing techniques–alternate nostril, full exhalation, three part breath, and even Lamaze to create a breath I can be in sync with.
It’s always good to be reminded again that inspiration means to bring air into the body.

Jane Brody: “Doctors who study breathing say that the vast majority of Americans do it inadequately,” James Nestor, author of a new book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal. “How we breathe matters,” he said, “and our attention to it is long overdue.”

For example, Mr. Nestor noted, “nose breathing is better than mouth breathing” because it’s protective; the nose filters, heats and treats raw air. “Inhaling through the nose stimulates the release of hormones and nitric oxide, which helps to regulate vital functions like blood pressure and increase oxygenation throughout the body,” Mr. Nestor said in an email.

Given that most of us take about 25,000 breaths a day and breathing properly is critical to how well our bodies function, we should try to get the most benefit we can from this life-sustaining activity, with or without a mask.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/well/live/breathing-masks-coronavirus.html

Field Notes by Michael G. Smith: Back Country

Yellowstone backcountry, early July. Green abundance. Snow remnants in north-facing mountain peak ravines. Blue sky. A poem from A Zen Forest: Sayings of the Masters sparks a realization.

No sharp sword
can cut it open;
No iron hammer
strike it out.

Our destination six miles down the trail is a rare campsite in one of the park’s Bear Management Areas. Extensive tracts of wilderness with many elk and bison carcasses the large number of grizzly bears feed on, BMA’s intentionally have few trails to protect bears by minimizing conflict with humans.

Grizzly sighting –
four-inch claws
rake dry mud.

The trail climbs and weaves through meadows and forest understories teeming with wildflowers, Gifts freely and unselfishly given by earth, air, waters and sunlight. Patches of wild iris in lowland sagebrush meadows. White phlox, blue flax, maroon-red Indian paintbrush, stinky Bob, prairie smoke and late spring’s remaining arrowleaf balsamroots in higher elevation, wetter meadows. Shooting stars, purple larkspur, lupine, and summer’s first yellow columbine cluster into the spaces left by pines and firs.

Deep snow
fills yellow pollen
shaken
from pinecones.

Glacier lilies, late spring flowers, surprise us at our campsite along the Gardner River. The bear scat in the tent area doesn’t. Black bear? Grizzly? The size of a salad plate, Bonnie says the scat pile is a little small for a grizzly.

I would know
if only
impatient feet
stopped sooner.

We hang food, cooking gear and toiletries – anything with a scent possibly attractive to a bear – fourteen feet above the ground from the bear pole suspended between two firs a hundred yards from the tent area. Bear spray – a ten-ounce canister of highly pressurized capsaicin designed to spray twenty-five feet or more – is always kept within reach. Tents are pitched. River water is purified to drink. Sweat and trail dirt washes off our bodies into the chill river. We find sunny spots in the meadow to relax and read. We try to fend off voracious mosquitos.

Drunk Ikkyū’s stone buddha
collected birdshit.
This wolf scat is
a corkscrew of fur.

Our backpacker’s simple dinner consists of miso soup, noodles and lentils. Desserts of port and chocolate follow. We brush our teeth. Hang food, cooking gear and every scented item, including chapstick, again. Grabbing our bear spray, we walk up-trail through dense forest to look for wildlife – elk, deer, fox, moose, bear – in meadows away from camp. An old wooden sign nailed to a pine reminds us we are in a BMA. No off-trail travel is permitted. One does not want to surprise a grizzly feeding on a carcass or a sow with cubs.

Hey bear! Hey bear!
Quaking aspens.

We cross a creek at a bridge of deadfall trees stripped of bark. The bare wood slick, a thick branch serves us as a third point of contact with the Earth. Our feet dry, I lay the branch against the logs to use on the return crossing. Minutes later we reach the Gardner River, decide not to splish-splash a trail through it, and return to camp having seen no wildlife.

This year’s
swiftest full moon
fills my tent.

Sunlight summitting the eastern ridge tunnels through my eyelids. I unwrap myself from the sleeping bag, shimmy into pants, long sleeve t-shirt and jacket, and unzip the tent’s door and rainfly. A female elk grazing in the meadow near tree line becomes aware of a new presence and lifts her head. Our gazes meet. I blink. Dark green grasses and firs remain.

Foresight –
drainage to the south
off limits.
Wolf pups.

Author notes: A Zen Forest: Sayings of the Masters, translated by Sōigu Skigematsu, is a collection selected from Kuzoshi (A Zen Forest Saying Anthology), compiled in the late 15th century by the Japanese Master Toyo Eicho Zenji, and from Zudokku (The Poison-Painted Drum), edited by Genro Fujita in the 20th century.

And, with deep gratitude to Bonnie Rice, my dear friend and backpacking buddy, who generously and untiringly teaches me about the ways of bears and the names of flowers, the latter of which I need reminding of June through August, summer to summer.

Poem by Marietta Leis

Studio 2020

Sunlit and ready
Linda Ronstadt singing
her talent oozing
over my space

Outside quiet and still
with spring tentative
and virus stirring
amongst the wind

Me, lackadaisical
with exhibits canceled
and deadlines obscured
and inactivity seductive

By habit I’m here
years of discipline
and passion and purpose
quelled but not forgotten

I pick up brush
I smell the paint
I feel the wood
and my hand responds

Another afternoon passes
with focus and work
gratefully my art
has saved my spirit again

Maybe contributing also
to some peace for a
world in need
and silence to my fears

ONE MORNING DURING THE PANDEMIC A Poem for Earth Day, 2020 by Bobby Byrd

ONE MORNING DURING THE PANDEMIC
A Poem for Earth Day, 2020

“Revolutionary consciousness is to be found among the most ruthlessly exploited classes: animals, trees, water, air, grasses.” —Gary Snyder

One morning during the pandemic
springtime
the city silent with the fear of death
a hedgehog cactus from among its dangerous spines
gave birth to a single luscious pink and white blossom,
the size of a man’s fist,
its sexual core bright yellow and gooey―
“the promised one,”
as stated in the prophecies.
The blossom, once born in the sunshine, began to preach
the gospel of the earth,
its dance through the wide blue sky,
the sermon explaining
exactly
how and why humanity is not needed,
if it ever was, thank you,
for the earth, sun, moon and sky,
the great boundless universe,
to flourish
in the truth of love.
All day long the flower preached,
interrupted from time to time
by a pair of black-chinned hummingbirds,
seasonal migrants from south to north,
who kept coming by
greedy for communion, the body and blood,
take this and eat, take this and drink.
There was that one black bumblebee too,
squat little beast,
ravaging the delicate core of the flower’s being.
The flower continued its sermonizing
unperturbed
while attending to these duties.
Neighbors and friends,
walking up and down the street,
stopped by to experience first-hand
the flower’s message.
What they learned, only time will tell.
We’ll see, won’t we?
The flower preached until sunset
and during twilight it slowly
closed those delicate petals into itself,
packed its bag and disappeared
forever. The cactus
didn’t seem to mind. It had small buds
already perched among its spines,
each with its own truth to tell
―in its own time, of course,
the long hot summer, the winter to come.

―Wednesday 22 April 2020


Photograph by Lee Merrill Byrd

The poem will appear in The Corona Transmissions: Alternative Methods for Engagement with COVID-19
edited by Richard Grossinger, published by Inner Traditions

Tiamat by Miriam Sagan and Isabel Winson-Sagan

Here is our most recently completed project as creative collaborators Maternal Mitochondria. It is a series of photographs Isabel and I took of each other. Text is added to the images. The muse is Tiamat, ancient Near Eastern goddess of primordial creation, goddess of where fresh water meets salt.

We had a potential gallery space for these, but the pandemic put an end to that. Interestingly, the project then grew larger. It is a paper sculpture, based on a screen.

The photographs have been altered, scratched, and collaged.

The hanging knit pieces reference the net that a god threw to catch and entrap Tiamat.

turns out
you also
want something