Monday, June 11, 2007

Poetry Monday: Lorna Dee Cervantes



Back in the early 1990's, Lorna Dee Cervantes was a guest speaker in a class I was taking at San Jose State. I was moved by her passion for life, for poetry, for social justice--and her tender-edged images of California. I still have my signed copy of her first poetry collection, Emplumada. So much great poetry in that book--and I especially love the pairing of "Barco de Refugiados" with the English version "Refugee Ship."

In April, Lorna Dee and I--along with a number of other poets--read at an SJSU poetry event (for more about that, read here). I remember thinking it was too bad she no longer lived in the Bay Area. But now, amazingly, she's in the process of moving back! She talks about that below.

Also below she riffs on her creative process and the writing of the two poems featured below: "Untitled (Pfeiffer Beach)" and "Untitled (Monterey)."

Lorna Dee says:
These two poems are a pair. They come out of the same place, literally and existentially. I wrote them last week, on a trip "home" after 20 years away, returning to Pfeiffer Beach where my ex of that many years and I used to camp. The whole Monterey Bay, point of first contact with the Europeans, my native land. And now the smell of the invasive alien eucalyptus penetrating my senses and taking me back to there with the sound of pounding surf, to it all, an early lifetime of living--and loving.

I was seeing and hearing it all for the first time again; a whole shelled pecan returning to the nutcase; a state of just looking and not even attempting to remember and re-present it, to try and jump back in, to try and fit into it.

I'd gone to a used and rare book store in Monterey, a narrow walled high-ceiling place with trippy antique wall-paper with drawings of frustrated writers, or so they seemed to me. I found a copy of Zbigniew Herbert, a poet I had read in a literally translated version without stanzas or form when I was a teenager, and love him. It seemed to fit this state of returning (I'm planning to relocate "back home" to the Bay Area.)

After 20 years away ("kantum sung"), the Colorado transplant never quite took. I'm still in a rootball and easy to pull. These are very much poems of place, in that homing wolf sort of way of Brother Antoninus (William Everson) by way of Robinson Jeffers by way of the women of Point Lobos, the native and Californio women — like me.

I was back in a land where I know the names of things. "A product of affection and imagination." Robert Hass, Bob, my "guru" of many years said this in relation to the economics of certain types of free markets involving predilective labor. I believe he intends it to apply to poetry, the magic of a good poem that just happens; happens upon you, rather than you making it or making it happen. Ouija board poetry is how I sometimes think of it. Not exactly automatic writing, or channelling. As Bob says of poetry, "poetry is much wilder than that" and I'm not in charge nor are there dictates. Just a state of free dwelling in affection and imagination, and a rhythm, a cadence, a voice and a voicing — as a constant, for how ever long it lasts, like setting the top to spin, then sitting back and observing it.

If there's anything I learned from my gurus, my poetry teachers: Rose Higashi, Sylvia Gonzalez, Virginia de Araujo, Robert Hass, Naomi Clark, Stanley Kunitz, it's: pay attention.

Every poem discovers its own process.

That line came to me just now the way the first line of the first poem came to me, with the (seeming) power of a visionary dream: Every ending finds its own beginning. This had enormous personal meaning to me regarding my own state of mind and circumstance as a being at a crossroads, and conscious of it. I decided to sleep on it, and write the poem the next day. And I'm glad I did. It would have been a different poem, then. Before the influence of the Herbert, his 3 poems of heart poem in particular, it would have been a lesser poem, I think. But like a choice of lovers, who knows? Eh? I guess you just have to live with it, the final choice, with affection and imagination.

Someone said the first line and a half, (my catalytic line!) and the last line and a half (my attempt to save my line from triteness) were trite, and not worthy of the rest of the poem. Ouch. That might be true. It's like having an ugly child, I imagine. Mine has always been beautiful, so, who knows? It wouldn't be the poem it is without it, I think. Maybe, like falling in love with someone a bit unsuitable, too late now.

I had been working on the final form of my new 220 page collection of love poems, Una poca de gracia/ Bit of Grace, and conscious of how I wanted these new poems to fit in, like filler for the holes in the dike. I had found a poem of mine from my second book called Point Lobos and now, in the rereading and reconsidering, it seemed convoluted, and I pulled it from the book. But I needed a Point Lobos poem. Or, poems.

I was riffing on some earlier Santa Cruz poems, and earlier love poems that were published in my first book, Emplumada, published when I was 24. A good year for loving the love of your life. Both poems were written in a day, a day apart, and all in a single sitting. Something else's hands were guiding the pen, someone else's voice was speaking through me. I wrote what I heard and broke the line when I was led to it. Then I typed and carved like the sea does to the land at Point Lobos, especially at the first which didn't seem "it" until I broke it into quatrains, unfinished, and unresolved, in the end.

I tried to sustain this state of consciousness, of seeing, into the week with a series of poems, but there was too much to do, too much to say and people to say it to, that I wrote no more. I wrote one I started the next day, "Untitled (Whaler's Cove)" (which is the title), and tried to finish it yesterday, thinking of it, and these poems, and this bit of writing here.

Y'all tell me if it was successful. Maybe these poems are just the pair.

Both poems are being submitted to Ocho #10, "Untitled (Monterey)" at the request of Didi Menendez, so it might appear in there soon. Otherwise, the pair were posted on my home blog and and at the CafeCafe blog at facebook. Hosted by Didi, it includes lots of very good poets, with very good comments, and that inspires me. It always inspires me to read good poetry. Besides, they also offer monthly challenges, and I like the practice of writing to form or writing occasional poems inspired by something outside of me.

I've spent so many decades writing out of another way, out of Frost's perpetual "lump in the throat" that I like it, it's a form, a practice of not-doing. As Kunitz says, poetry is a kind of order/a kind of folly. Yes. And, a way of saying, "YES".


Untitled (Pfeiffer Beach)

Lavender clings to the cliff.
I left this long ago. Yellow
lupine slings her slipper, small moss
hands shiver in the stilled wind. Hello
past. Goodbye fading future into
now. The eternity of the sea waves
her saludos. Sometimes something slips
and the cracked pawl skips, the sawing
away at my face slows for an instant
and I see. Summer sludges up the hill
as the sun burns through until
frost. And here I am. Not hurrying.
Breathing in the medicine breath of eucalyptus
as the hillsides burst into the many erections
of horse chestnuts, their flagrant white
penises trumping the bees. We called them
Coyote Trees, Trickster bushes, always changing
shape. The shape-shifters along this path I'm on
beckon. The whole world beckons. And I'm traveling
on.

6/1/07

* * * *
UNTITLED (Monterey)

Every ending finds its own
beginning, the broken beetle curled
into its hovel, the leaves and leavings
of the world gone crisp. All of it

in a loop of sense, the still burning,
and its ash. The seed in me
bears wings, nubbins to the last.
I take the last oranges on the wiry stem,

the then and now expurgated in its scent.
And remember you, my face, my mirror,
my tunneling in the remembrance — a sprig
of bouganvillea, vibrant and calling

the memory home: a memory of home,
or some kind of smoke, a haze
over days, and, the dissipation.
I believe that the butterfly finds

its lost scale, all the scuffled dust
that keeps it aloft. I believe that what
sleeps in its hollowed den wakens
and feeds, and needs the nuzzlings

it finds there. I believe that the sea
in its spiral cage looks out the cephalopod's
wake. All of spring in its burgeoning fate
repeats. And I am. Repeating. I am.

And I'm not. And I wait.

5/31/07

Lorna Dee Cervantes (visit her blog here) is a Chumash Xicana poet/printer/professor now living in Berkeley, preparing her book of new and selected love poems for publication, and finishing a screenplay and writing a novel this summer. She is also completing a nonfiction book, Ganesh's Tusk: Towards a Pedagogy of Poetics on writing, writing practices and the theories of teaching creative writing. The recipient of numerous awards, honors & fellowships, Lorna Dee is an Associate Professor of English at CU Boulder where she teaches Chicana and Black Studies courses for Ethnic Studies, and mentored 45 creative writing students in 18 years.

1 comment:

Joan McMillan said...

I was honored to read with Lorna Dee Cervantes many years ago when In Celebration of the Muse was held at Louden Nelson Center. What a wonderful poet, then and now.