Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poetry Festival, Part Two

This weekend, La Conner is the host of the 6th Biennial Skagit River Poetry Festival. Poets from all over the world (and fans) are giving (and attending) talks and workshops all over the town.

Due to the length of the original post, this is the second part of a series--which makes it easier to read. You can find the first one here.

The second set I attended was again at the Museum of Northwest Art, and was a conversation and reading about the theme: Inspiration from the Arts. Attending were Mary Cornish, Mary Lou Sanelli, Susan Rich, and Irish poet Tony Curtis (who is hard to find online).

All images are from the Skagit River Poetry Festival poet bio page. I claim no rights to them, and encourage you to see the original page to learn about the poets. 

Mary Cornish is an older poet that was an illustrator for children's books before an injury to her drawing hand. She teaches creative writing at the Western Washington University (hopefully I can have her as my teacher there). Mary said she is always inspired by art, and is a great supporter of spoken-word poetry. She recommended the audience to read several poets, including Mary Oliver, Valerie Worth, 16th US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Sherman Alexie, and Heather McHugh--for her use of sounds on the page.

Mary went on to explain how she admires Egyptian art, and the idea that the afterlife was "just like home" to the ancient culture. Also, the idea of poets writing poems about their life to "keep rescuing those memories." To illustrate this point, she read her own Tomb Painting: Chapter of Breathing Air.

The second poet was also a Mary--Mary Lou Sanelli. She too is influenced by art, especially music and painters, and she recalled being in a museum and painter Linda Okazaki caught Mary admiring one of her paintings. Okazaki said that when she needed inspiration, she would read poetry. Mary Lou told the audience this was a great compliment (not directly to her, but still), and that she uses paintings as inspiration--and actually used the painting of Okazaki's for the jump-off of a poem.  Mary Lou also named Lois Silver as another favorite painter. 

Being from a Greek family, Mary Lou explained (in a performance), the clash with her family over food (being a vegetarian), music (Motown), and dancing (Motown versus ballet), and her realization she could be with her family, and not have to be her family. She also included a touching poem about her husband's love and devotion, and the creation of a skylight for her (I think this might've been the Okazaki-inspired poem).

Susan Rich openly admitted that she took an art history class, but even though she liked it, the class was too challenging for her. It should also be noted Mary Cornish had a degree in that field (I believe, I might be remembering incorrectly, but Susan felt bad for saying it aloud in front of Mary). She said how she was in a museum one day when she admired a painting of a young girl at a table. Later that year, she couldn't remember the artist's name, and found that it was actually a picture she had admired. (Susan shared a handout of the picture with the group).

Inspired with the realism, she researched and found the artist was Mira Albert Wiggins, a photographer when the technology was "as new as iPods"--according to Susan. In order to compete with painters of the time, Mira created painting-like scenes that held as much symbolism as the master painters. Susan shared a poem she wrote about "Mr. Mira Albert Wiggins", who in that era, was irregular for supporting such a successful wife.

Last up during this set was one of my favorite poets, Irish Tony Curtis. For the rest of the set, Tony had sat in the front row of the audience, instead of at the table with the other poets. When he came up to the microphone, he explained why (in his awesome accent): "I'm a recovering Catholic, and I'd be too nervous [sitting with the women]."

He shared several poems, including one about his September-visits from his Muse, and poems about hummingbirds, scarecrows, and the nude painting of a large woman by Lucian Freud. Anytime I see Tony, he is usually accompanying Washington State Poet Laureate Samuel Green on his annual visit to schools around the state, and he usually has wonderful stories.
(I missed Sam this year, but probably because karma thought I had seen enough of him when we had dinner on Waldron Island last summer.)
This time seeing Tony was no different--he had excellent stories:

One time while visiting local artist Philip McCracken on Guemes Island (near Anacortes), Tony spotted a hummingbird, a creature not found in Ireland. Confused, he thought it was a very large bee. When he was told it was a bird, he thought of it "more of the reincarnation of a jazz-man like Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis." If you can find the poem Jazz by Tony, I highly recommend it (and imagine it being told in an Irish accent, like all things by him).

Another story was about when he wrote a book about Tibet, Three Songs of Home (to break away from the Pro-Ireland Fever striking Irish poets) and met Lama Doji, a monk in the mountains. The poem was In Darjeeling, and told of this monk who asked why Americans were so fond of the mountains. Tony told him they think the mountains are calm and beautiful. The Lama notes that every tourist he sees is a "circling fool" because everytime he greets them, they only say "hi." 

Thinking the foreigners are commenting on the mountains' height, he says a thousand prayers for their poor souls, for when they die in the mountains. Tony points out that "when they say 'hi', they mean 'hello'." The Lama then comments that he has wasted thousands of prayers, and the gods must be laughing at him.

Okay, parts three and four are expected for later this week. Enjoy!

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