Julie Iromuanya will have a reading and Q&A session at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Saturday, September 30, 2017, 10:00am at the Seedboat Gallery. Iromuanya’s Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is a novel about Job and Ifi, an immigrant couple in an arranged marriage, and the outrageous lie that brought them together. After a short reading, there will be an open discussion about writing craft and the writing life. Iromuanya will also participate in the Round Table with Writers on Sunday, October 1 at 1:00pm at the Seedboat Gallery.
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya (2015 Minneapolis: Coffee House Press)
Reviewed by Mary E. Hotvedt
An inherited Nigerian Dream meets a fractured American Dream in Julie Iromuanya’s stunning debut novel. The aptly-named Job has gone to Nebraska from Nigeria to pursue his father’s plan for him to become a doctor. Job’s older brother, the family star, was to have fulfilled that ambition, but he died in the Biafran war. Job returns to Nigeria to take a wife, Ifi, in an arrangement made by their families. The marriage starts with a lie on each one’s part: Ifi pretends to be much younger than she is, and Job passes himself off as the doctor that he has never become.
The mismatched couple return to Nebraska to pursue the dream of upward mobility and success that will allow them to return home one day as substantial citizens. They will open a clinic and Ifi will be Job’s nurse. But life in Nebraska is hard-bitten and far from the America imagined by many immigrants. Job is actually a nursing assistant on the night shift at the local hospital and later a worker in one of Nebraska’s many meat-packing plants. He hides his real work from Ifi for years, or thinks he does. Ifi joins in the deceit by writing letters back home about their glamorous home.
As we follow Job’s and Ifi’s lives, we meet Job’s best friends from Nigeria, Emeka and Gladys, who have climbed higher up the economic ladder—although not without problems. And then there is Cheryl, Job’s first wife, a green-card marriage with consequences, and her bum of a brother; a nosy neighbor; and a thief who turns into a friend to Ifi.
There are wonderful convolutions in Iromuanya’s novel, the kinds of sudden twists that real life takes. Some are funny, some painful and heart-wrenching. All are fascinating. The author describes her scenes well and treats her very human and flawed people with understanding for their complexity.
We discuss immigration on a national and international scale. Border walls, quotas, travel bans, boats washing up in the Mediterranean are daily subjects in the news. We debate what it means to be an American, whether our country is to be an open or closed society. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor takes on those issues in a small and subtle way, a personal way, which makes it a powerful book.
What does it mean if you let go of the Dream, either Nigerian or American? Who is Job if he is not the successful physician? Who is Ifi when she can no longer support his fantasy? Which of them becomes more “American” as their lives progress? I recommend that you savor this book, watch the unfolding of each person as they work out their place in a far less than perfect America.
Julie Iromuanya is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Debut Fiction. She earned her B.A. at the University of Central Florida and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she was a Presidential Fellow and award-winning teacher. She is an assistant professor in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Arizona. Learn more about Iromuanya at julieiromuanya.com.
Ron Hamm will participate in a discussion with Stephen Fox at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 2:00pm at the Silver City Public Library. The two distinguished historians will discuss the art of writing biography. Their conversation will include the challenges of research, what to include and what to omit, and how to bring to life characters from the distant past.
Sharman Apt Russell reviewed Hamm’s history Ross Calvin: Interpreter of the American Southwest:
Ron Hamm has created a wonderful portrait of a writer’s life and of the writing life. His Ross Calvin: Interpreter of the American Southwest includes intimate and (for this reader) new details about Calvin’s personality and family relationships, thoughtful and intelligent analysis of Calvin’s books, and an exploration of Calvin’s legacy. Particularly interesting and original are the comments made by authors and scholars, as well as environmental activists, living in the Silver City area today—where Calvin lived for fifteen years and the locale of his River of the Sun—which illumine how a book’s influence can ripple down through decades. This connection to present readers was an impressive reminder of the length and depth of our cultural conversations.
I came to Silver City in 1981 and have lived in the Gila watershed since then. Both Calvin’s River of the Sun (1946) and Sky Determines (1934) were important sources of information and inspiration, books that helped me root further into place. Calvin’s understanding of how much climate—sun and weather and sky—influences a landscape and thus influences a people and thus influences a history was compelling. His skill at weaving together science and natural history and human history and reflection likely influenced me, too, in my own writing.
Hamm has done readers of Southwestern literature a real service by bringing together the details of Calvin’s literary and actual life into a compact and engaging book.
Ron Hamm began writing biography with obituaries (the genre in brief) as a copy boy on his Indiana home town newspaper. Since he believes one learns to write biography by reading it his bookshelves are packed with biographies, among them favorites Doris Kearns Godwin and David McCullough. Following the Marine Corps, Hamm’s United Press/Associated Press career allowed him to write profiles of major news figures. That segued into public relations followed by teaching and finally writing biographies on New Mexicans. Hamm’s latest work on Ross Calvin was a Finalist for the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
On the third Saturday of each month, TranquilBuzz Coffee House, in collaboration with poet laureate Beate Sigriddaughter, will host a Words and Music event, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. with featured authors followed by open mic. Featured authors for July 15, 2017 are novelist Chris Lemme and poet Mary O’Loughlin. TranquilBuzz Coffee House is located at 112 W. Yankie Street on the corner of Texas and Yankie Streets.
Adrienne Celt will speak at the 2017 Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Saturday, September 30, 2017 at 11:30am at the Old Elks Lodge. The topic will be “Mining Fact for Fiction: Using research & personal history in your writing.” Celt explains: “As fiction writers, we get conflicting advice – and sometimes have conflicting impulses – about how much of ourselves to put into our work. We’re told to ‘write what we know,’ but what does that mean when our goal isn’t autobiography? How do we reconcile the desire to make something totally new with the need to interweave personal thoughts, sensations, and experiences into our writing? In this session I’ll discuss the intersection of my own personal and literary history, and how I’ve used inspiration from my life and from my family’s past in the creation of books, comics, and stories.” Celt will also participate in the roundtable of writers on Sunday, October 1 at 1:00pm at the Seedboat Gallery.
Melanie Zipin has graciously shared her review of The Daughters by Adrienne Celt with us:
The Daughters is the perfect amalgamation of fairytale and personal journey toned with an alluringly lyrical quality, drawing the reader deeper with haunting melodic prose, through an emotionally enchanting tale.
Each piece, deliberately and skillfully crafted, compels you into the life of the character so effortlessly you feel as though you were always there.
JJ Amaworo Wilson reviews Adrienne Celt’s Apocalypse How? An Existential Bestiary:
This book is about as offbeat as it gets. Apocalypse How? sits somewhere between Beckett, Sartre, and an Aardman Animations cartoon, and the good news is it’s brilliant.
The book consists of stand-alone cartoon strips, four panels each, starring all the animals of the ark. The twist is that they talk and think as if they’re the guy or gal next door going through an existential crisis. So you get a Heidegger-influenced ostrich contemplating being and non-being; a newly hatched chick pondering, “I’m new. What does it mean to be new?”; penguins riffing on the perils of jogging; depressed donkeys; paranoid turtles; and polar bears envisioning their demise.
Occasionally, shafts of poetry break through. A giant black bear says, “The wind is telling stories about me. The grass retracts when I try to walk on it.”
But mainly it’s talk.
I have no idea whether Celt made up these dialogs, but many of them sound like something you overhear on the street, in a laundromat, or at a bar – snatches of conversation picked up, out of context, on the antenna of a writer with an impeccable ear. So much in this book skirts the thin line between profundity and absurdity, and contemplating that line is part of the reader’s pleasure. At times, I found myself thinking, “I don’t get it” and then I realized that’s the point: our innermost thoughts aren’t always “gettable.”
The cartoons themselves are pleasing black-and-white line drawings in ink. There are a few sparsely rendered background details – a branch, a splash of water, a dark sky – but the animals take center stage.
Anthropomorphism has a long, noble literary history stretching from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm through Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, all the way to Orwell’s Animal Farm. Unlike those works, Celt has no narrative here, but these vignettes contain hints of backstory, and the animals – often paired up – sound like long-married couples.
As with Orwell, the effect of Celt’s work is that by having the dialog come out of the mouths of non-humans, she perversely sheds light on our humanity. Our preoccupations, vanities, and splendor are all here, and the humor is as dry as a stick. This is as it should be. Existentialism can’t laugh at itself, but it does deadpan like a dream.
Adrienne Celt’s novel The Daughters won the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award. Her work has appeared in the 2016 PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Ecotone, Esquire, The Kenyon Review, Epoch, Prairie Schooner, and many other places, and she publishes a webcomic (most) every Wednesday at loveamongthelampreys.com. Her second novel will be published by Bloomsbury in 2018.
The Southwest Festival of the Written Word has received a generous grant award from the New Mexico Humanities Council. The award is in support of ten of the more than thirty writers who live and work in the southwest and who will be presenters at the 2017 Festival, which takes place Friday-Sunday, September 29-October 1, in historic downtown Silver City, New Mexico. All Festival events are open to the public free of charge.
The ten writers are Jesús J. Barquet, Andrea Cote-Botero, Stella Pope Duarte, John Fayhee, Dick Gerdes, Ron Hamm, Tim Z. Hernandez, Roger Metcalfe, Sharman Apt Russell, and Laura Tohe.
Each of these individuals has been named a “New Mexico Humanities Scholar” by the New Mexico Humanities Council and will participate in sessions focusing on “Southwest Stories—The Word in the World.”
In keeping with the 2017 Festival theme –Word Travels Fast– the Scholars will discuss their artistic journeys and the ways in which these have helped to shape how they express their ideas through words and send them out into the world. Their Festival sessions will create cultural mixes that reflect the multiple realities of the southwest, both in terms of the background of the writers and their work which includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
Click here to view the Festival schedule. The Festival sessions that feature the New Mexico Humanities Council Scholars are as follows:
Evolution of the Poet and the Poem
Cuban-born poet Jesús J. Barquet, now a Professor Emeritus at NMSU, will read from his latest collection, Venturous Journeys. Elise Stuart, Silver City’s second Poet Laureate, will join him for a discussion on the development of poets and their poems. Barquet, who is the founder of a poetry imprint, La Mirada, will also participate in a panel about the challenges and opportunities of setting up small publishing houses.
Capturing the Past
Biographer Ron Hamm, author of Ross Calvin, Interpreter of the Southwest, will discuss biographical/historical research and the art of choosing what to include and what to omit in the final manuscript. He will be in conversation with Dr. Steven Fox, himself a published biographer and historian and one of the 2013 Festival’s New Mexico Humanities Scholars.
Writing Across Languages
Two renowned translators and scholars, Roger Metcalfe and Dr. Dick Gerdes, will converse on the art of translating other authors’ work into English, and discuss their personal journeys into this field. Gerdes, an award-winning translator of several Latin American novels, will also be part of the Three Wise Men panel with Mark Medoff and Paul Andrew Hutton.
Off on a Tangent
Outdoors writer and author of a dozen books, M. John Fayhee will discuss the theme of tangents in life and writing – how getting sidetracked can take us onto alternative paths that lead to a deeper understanding of the word around us.
The Poetry of Laura Tohe
Laura Tohe, current Navajo Nation Poet Laureate for 2015-2017, will read and discuss her work with Bonnie Maldonado, the first Poet Laureate of Silver City.
From Tragedy to Art
Tim Z. Hernandez will read from his latest work, All They will Call You, a novel based on the Los Gatos Canyon plane crash. Hernandez will describe how the accident, which killed deported Mexican farmworkers, inspired him to create this work.
The Poetry of Andrea Cote-Botero
Cote-Botero, an award-winning poet originally from Colombia and now based at UTEP, will read some of her poems in Spanish and English and discuss her writing process.
Keynote address: Stella Pope Duarte
Stella Pope Duarte, a Humanities Scholar at the 2015 festival, will focus on the way in which her childhood in urban Phoenix in a largely Mexican American barrio has influenced and inspired her writing. Duarte will also participate in the Three Wise Women panel.
Three Wise Women
Stella Pope Duarte, Sharman Apt Russell, and Laura Tohe will be in conversation about the writing life and the influences on their work as Southwest authors.
Three Wise Men
Dick Gerdes will discuss the writing life with Mark Medoff, author of the play CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, and Paul Andrew Hutton, historian and television presenter.
Two sessions will be held each day with several authors who will interact freely with the audience and with each other. These roundtables are informal opportunities for writers and audiences to discuss the craft and business of writing. The Humanities scholars will also be Roundtable participants.
Melissa Sevigny will be appearing at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word on Sunday, October 1, 2017, 11:30am to discuss her book Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest. In a lyrical mix of natural science, history, and memoir, Melissa L. Sevigny ponders what it means to make a home in the American Southwest at a time when its most essential resource, water, is overexploited and undervalued. She explores a landscape literally remapped by the search for “new” water, where rivers flow uphill, dams and deep wells reshape geography, trees become intolerable competitors for water, and new technologies tap into clouds and oceans. Sevigny shows how recognizing the rights of rivers is a path toward water security.
The following is a review by Sonnie Sussillo of Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest, posted with her permission.
In Mythical River: Chasing the Mirage of New Water in the American Southwest author Melissa L. Sevigny has written a scientific survey couched in a memoir wrapped in a parable ending with an ethical challenge.
The el Rio de San Buenaventura is the mythical river of the title. Its history is the parable that Sevigny uses to share her personal history and memories as well as the scientific realities and ethical dilemma of water in the arid Southwest.
The Buenaventura River was imagined by the Spaniards who set out from Santa Fe in 1776, hoping to find an easy route to California. The Spaniards discovered an ephemeral river pouring out of the mountains and assumed that this river would lead them west. They couldn’t imagine the mountain ranges and crippling desert, not yet seen. Through the following decades of the beaver trade, the gold rush, and homesteading, the myth of the Buenaventura persisted in stories, on maps and in national politics.
The author uses the parable of the Buenaventura River throughout her book to illustrate the West’s expectations, romance and illusions about water. Her primary focus is the Colorado River, the huge basin that it drains and the demands on the water that the Colorado has – or in reality, doesn’t have.
Beginning with her childhood at her grandparents’ home on the western outskirts of Tucson, with stories continuing through her youth and into her professional life, Ms. Sevigny shares her love of all things water. From tales of waiting for the arroyos to flush after a monsoonal storm so she could go looking for tadpoles to getting lost in the weeds and brush along a river that no longer bent the way it used to, she says, at one point, “Call it grace: that I could spend a day here, filling my heart with wildness.”
Ms. Sevigny surveys the scientific history and events of the Colorado River and its basin. For example, she reviews the history of the Central Arizona Project and describes what’s required to provide water to the desert cities of Phoenix and Tucson.
“Every acre-foot…consumed 3,140 kilowatt-hours of coal-fired electricity to get to Tucson, twice the energy consumed to deliver CAP water to Phoenix and four times the energy consumed to pump groundwater.”
She discusses the dams that hold back the Colorado into reservoirs, and the impact the lack of natural flow of the river has on the bio-communities downstream. She contrasts the dropping water levels of the river and the reservoirs with the increasing demand for and conflict around the water provided. California vs Arizona? Cities vs agriculture? What are the answers to an ever increasing demand on a diminishing supply?
The myth extends to efforts to make “new” water in the Colorado River basin. Local, state and national government efforts to create additional water are the mirage of the title: everything from pulling vegetation in riparian systems, perceived as “stealing” the water, to expensive yet ineffective desalination plants, to seeding clouds in the hope of causing more rain or snow to fall. She makes the case over and over that there is no “new” water to be made; rather, the only answer lies in conservation.
To escape the stranglehold that the myth, represented by the parable of the Buenaventura, holds on us, Ms. Sevigny challenges the ethics of water use in the Southwest. Over and over, she comes back to the theme: “A great challenge lies ahead: to learn how to limit ourselves, for no other reason than the sweet inclination of the human species to keep company with other living things.” She prophesizes that “Left unchecked, the Southwest’s water woes will enforce human emigration one day…People have lived in the Southwest for a long time, but that history includes the collapse and dissemination of entire complex civilizations. Our modern society isn’t exempt, for all its technological advancement.” She says that, “Managing for the health of entire ecosystems means stripping away the stereotypes and labels humans have crafted and seeing what’s really there.”
Despite or because of the myth, mirage and miracle of water here in the Southwest, we have an ongoing love affair with the stuff. My own experience in my little high-desert town echoes Ms. Sevigny’s: “It’s an old joke…that you can tell the locals apart from the tourists by watching who goes outside when it rains.”
Melissa L. Sevigny grew up in Tucson, Arizona where she fell in love with the Sonoran Desert’s ecology, geology and dark desert skies. Her lyrical nonfiction and poetry explores the intersections of science, politics, and history, with a focus on the American Southwest. She is the author of two nonfiction books: Under Desert Skies, published by the University of Arizona Press, and Mythical River, published by University of Iowa Press and named a “Nature Book of Uncommon Merit” by the John Burroughs Association. She is currently the science reporter for Arizona Public Radio in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Tim Z. Hernandez will be appearing at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word at 3 p.m. at Old Elk’s Lodge in downtown Silver City on Saturday September 30, 2017. He will discuss his research and his book All They Will Call You, which focuses on the subject of a famous 1948 plane crash, in which the U.S. government was deporting 28 Mexican nationals. Hernandez’s book and research has uncovered who those people were.
The following is JJ Wilson’s review of All They Will Call You, reposted here with his permission.
In 1948 there was a plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon, California. In the plane were 28 undocumented Mexican workers who were being deported, and four Whites – the pilot, co-pilot, stewardess, and immigration agent. Nobody survived. The papers carried the names of the four Whites, but the Mexicans at first went nameless. The Whites were given a funeral service and burial. The Mexicans were interred in an unmarked mass grave and none of their families were notified of the service, let alone invited to attend.
Eventually, the Mexicans were identified, but the authorities confused their names so badly that the tall, stoic Guadalupe Ramírez Lara – a man – became Guadalupe Laura Ramírez, a woman. Tomás Gracia de Avina became Tomása. Tragedy turned into farce.
The whole episode prompted Woody Guthrie to write a poem that became a famous protest song, and the line “Who are these friends all scattered like dry leaves?” echoes like a chorus throughout the book.
Tim Z. Hernandez, a multi-award-winning poet and novelist, has brought the story back to life nearly seventy years on. He tracked down the victims’ relatives, old friends and lovers and asked them about those who had died in the crash. He traversed the U.S. and crossed into Mexico and the Navajo Nation to interview these ancient rememberers, knocked on doors, made phone calls, learned their stories.
He spoke to Casimira, an old lady in a wheelchair (her name means “almost sees”). He spoke to Dottie, who remembered Frank, the pilot of the fated plane. He found eyewitness accounts and delved into the archives to dig up historical records. He even visited a 94-year-old Pete Seeger, who’d made the song “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)” famous, and played him the earliest recording of it on his MP3 player.
What Hernandez has done with all of this material is astonishing. Rather than presenting only the facts, he has re-imagined them with a novelist’s eye for detail.
On the fateful day, we see Bobbie the stewardess adjusting the strap on her red high heels. We watch as Maria and Lupe snuggle up on the cramped plane. José Valdivia pulls a baseball cap down over his eyes. Chaffin, the surly immigration officer, snaps, “son of a bitch” when the plane lurches. Bar the names, all of this is fiction, made-up stuff. But fiction can sometimes tell the truth better than facts, and the best fiction always does this.
The chapters are short. Some are in the style of a diary, with dates and times, while others are vivid vignettes, re-imaginings of old scenes. Yet others are straight non-fiction narrative describing the interviews.
Towards the end, we find ourselves hurtling, with the plane, to the inevitable, and suddenly Hernandez’s writing bursts into life with a terrible, focused energy. “Luís gripped the armrests, but the plane bucked again.” “The wing sailed down like a shimmering leaf.” Tomás “somersaults across the morning sky.” “Liquefied metal hissed on a nearby digger pine, and the tree went up in flames.”
Then, finally, the names of the dead flutter down the page like men and women tossed from the heavens.
This section is a tour de force. Its grim, visceral poetry makes real the unimaginable. Above all, it is earthy. Men of the soil come to clean up the remains of other men of the soil and find nothing but charred body parts and detritus strewn across the valley.
Later, as the victims descend to their final resting places in the earth they toiled upon, a great pathos sweeps over the narrative. It is an unbearably sad story, yet the sheer act of rescuing it has also rescued the men and women from the long void, the nothingness that accompanied their deaths. How apt that Hernandez uses Studs Terkel’s “In their rememberings are their truths”as his epigraph.
This is a wonderful piece of work, a book that honors the dead and the living, and reminds us of the fragility of life and the durability of memory.
Tim Z. Hernandez is a writer and performance artist. He is the recipient of an American Book Award for poetry, the Colorado Book Award for poetry, and the International Latino Book Award for historical fiction. His books and research have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Public Radio International, and National Public Radio. Named one of sixteen New American Poets by the Poetry Society of America, he was a finalist for the inaugural Split This Rock Freedom Plow Award for his work on locating the victims of the 1948 plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon, the incident made famous by Woody Guthrie’s song of the same name. The result of this work is the basis for his newly released book, All They Will Call You (Univesrity of Arizona Press). Hernandez holds a B.A. from Naropa University and an M.F.A. from Bennington College. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas El Paso’s Bilingual M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing.
Everyone is invited to attend a four-way poetry reading at the Tranquilbuzz Coffeehouse on Saturday, June 17, starting at 2:00 p.m. The event will feature former poets laureate Bonnie Buckley Maldonado and Elise Stuart, and current poets laureate Beate Sigriddaughter and Jack Crocker.
* * * * *
In Canto 30 of Paradise, Dante
sings of the laughter of grass.
I am almost there now. Running
on Angel Loop, I rub shoulders
with tall mountain marigold
and goldeneye, a festival
of yellow, some blue
trumpet shapes, some red.
My favorite bald rock stretches
steep into the yellow. Yesterday
I tickled grass. I wanted to
hear laughter, but it was just
crickets rubbing legs in the wind.
I will likely never understand
why we need darkness when
we yearn and strive for light. I get
the concept of duality. Only my heart
is obstinate and wishes to believe
pure light is possible. Meanwhile
a lizard dives face first under
a ledge as I ponder scorpions
and roses. I wish the lizards trusted me.
To them I am one of the shadows
of darkness. Still I want to belong
to light, to laughter, to lizards
believing in love. Today
grass tickled me. There are asters too
now, yellow centers full of summer
scent and whispering goodbye.
* * * * *
“Angel Loop – September” was first published in Desert Exposure as a 2014 Writing Contest winning poem.
The house has stood empty fifteen years.
I’ve returned each summer for the peace I feel
Watching it lean against the absence
Of those who brought it to life.
I walk around it silently and think
I hear the sigh of nails ungrip, letting
The weary rafters and studs pull away
To gravity and the whims of wind.
The circumference of fence is a faint hint.
A few snaggled posts remain,
Useless fangs weathered and veined
Like the final years of my father’s skin.
It has held its ground as the tractors cut
The rows as close as they can get
To the front steps and side porch
That looks out yet on the seasons’ swing.
I could rent it out, just as I do the land,
But I prefer its future unlived, no thoughtless
Breaths fouling the space or strange feet
Disturbing the floors my grandfather laid.
I let it stand, crypt and museum,
Until the fire came. I took four charred
Bricks, a single disc blade, a faceplate,
And a scorched Old Grandad whiskey flask—
A leftover sin the flames unhid.
Now it’s an unmarked grave, all remnants
Bulldozed beneath the ground to free up
Another acre or so for cotton land.
Today I stand like a headstone where
The front steps were, feeling the memorial
Peace of vacant air, purified by fire,
The only movement my mind, ticking,
The way a watch holds time.
Elise Stuart’s debut collection shimmers in the rain, gets snagged on the cholla, frees itself in the night winds, and goes rolling down a flooded arroyo. This terrific collection couldn’t have been written anywhere but New Mexico, Stuart’s spiritual home. Her familial roots lie elsewhere, but her narrative voice and sensibility reside firmly in the land of deserts and cactus, coyote and bear.
These poems are distant relatives of the work of the Romantics: Wordsworth and Coleridge, Byron and Keats, but with a modern edge. Stuart isn’t entirely pastoral; there are echoes of Sexton and Plath in the hints of psychic disturbance under the surface: “Lightning splits me open” (Lightning); “the same miracle/that splits open the seed’s heart/splits open mine.” (Everything Begins in the Dark); “letting stars fill up/all the empty places in me.” (Reading the Stars).
While mountains, clouds, rocks, rivers and rain punctuate the work – metaphors for life’s mysteries – these poems are as much about the longings of the human heart as they are about the landscape of Stuart’s Eden. At one point I was reminded of the great confessional poet Elizabeth Bishop’s line: “Nobody’s heart is really good for much until it has been smashed to little bits.”
If much of the work, then, draws on the relationships between inner (mental) and outer (physical) landscapes, Stuart keeps us on our toes with small wonders and big surprises. My Dog Begins to Look Like a Wolf is about a domesticated animal subconsciously regaining its wild ancestral past. Attempted Relationship is about wanting to love and being unable to, and finding a way to let go: “You can’t hate an apple/for being an orange.”
Stuart’s grasp of rhythm and sound pattern is as fine as silk thread. The poems use short lines to build images one upon the other, crescendoing like waves breaking on a shore. And like all poets at the top of their game, she excels at endings, providing resonance through an unexpected image or verb.
Another Door Calls is a very fine debut indeed – a love song to New Mexico and to life in all its wild guises.
Elise Stuart moved to Silver City in 2005. Her heart opened to the desert, where trees and wildflowers grow with little rain, their only nourishment through water running underground.
In 2014, when she was chosen as Poet Laureate of Silver City and Grant County, she envisioned young people expressing themselves through poetry, so during the next three years she gave over a hundred workshops to youth. Another Door Calls, published in the spring of 2017, is her first collection of poems.
Elise Stuart will speak on Friday, September 29, 2017, 2:00-3:00pm at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word. She will read from her second book, My Mother and I, We Talk Cat, a memoir of prose and poetry that will be published in September 2017. She describes an uncertain journey with a woman who was unpredictable and troubled–her mother. The complex relationship between mother and daughter is narrated in riveting poetry and prose. In this session Elise will discuss how secrets revealed during research of her mother’s life profoundly changed her own. She will also take questions from the audience.
The 2017 Southwest Festival of the Written Word takes place on Friday- Sunday, September 29-October 1. As always, the Festival is open and free of charge to the public. This means that we must fund the Festival through grants and donations. As part of this effort, we are participating in “Give Grandly!”, our community’s annual day of giving, on Saturday, May 6.
On May 6, your Give Grandly! contributions will trigger matching funds that will help us continue our planning for the 2017 Festival. Our Give Grandly goal this year is $2,000.
There are several ways you can make your donation on May 6:
- Go to GiveGrandly.org and select Southwest Festival of the Written Word from the drop-down list for Grant County. Fill out the form and submit your donation.
- Text GRANDLY to 41444 from your cell phone.You will receive a text back that will provide the link to click on to complete your donation to the Southwest Festival of the Written Word.
- Visit our table at the Silver City Farmers’ Market on 7th Street and Bullard, from 8:30am – 2:30pm, where you can donate by credit card, check, or with cash.
From all of us who volunteer for the Southwest Festival of the Written Word: thank you!