I’ll be reading poetry to celebrate Maine-born poet Edna St. Vincent Millay this Sunday, February 23, 2020, 1:30PM at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME. The event will be held in the auditorium of the main museum building.
I’ll be reading poetry to celebrate Maine-born poet Edna St. Vincent Millay this Sunday, February 23, 2020, 1:30PM at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME. The event will be held in the auditorium of the main museum building.
This poem echoes in my head as a daily mantra, particularly the last stanza, in which Knight gives us two of the most beautiful poetic lines I know of:
And I ain’t never stopped loving no / one
O I never stopped loving no / one
These lines bring strength to my heart and remind me of my dignity. When I recall the lyric phrase, “I never stopped loving no / one” I think how that’s true for me–and gain a sense of reclaiming. Because if we can say that much for ourselves, maybe there’s hope for the world.
To never stop loving, to never cast anyone aside—is a revolutionary act. A society that teaches it’s ok to put ourselves above others—other socioeconomic groups, other races, other countries, other sexualities, other genders—is out of skew. So few of us receive unconditional love, yet it’s something all of us need. To forsake anyone is to forsake ourselves.
The speaker in this poem turns the other cheek. He’s saying he’s been beaten before, he’s been molested—but he refuses to cast such hatred and violence against another. He will not dishonor his brother, torture people, or drop bombs. He chooses love.
I admire the tightness and music of Knight’s lines, and the efficiency of his syntax. “Cause I ain’t screwed no thumbs” brings a visceral image of torture and a declaration against such brutality, in just six syllables. Subtle, sensual images like “The warm wine on my tongue” let us anchor ourselves in the slightly buzzed euphoria & lonesome soul searching of the narrator.
This poem begins with a primordial ceremony—the rising and setting of the sun, which ushers in all births and deaths each day. Reverence for the solar system is established, yet the speaker says there is nothing especially striking about this day–the anniversary of his birth. He has humbled himself to his place in the universe–his role in the “the corridors of the stars.” And he acknowledges the dead and eternity by celebrating his birth in a graveyard. Though lonesome under the stars, it’s consoling that the moon cannot judge him too harshly because he’s never turned to the wrongness of dropping bombs or ratting out a friend. He “never stopped loving no / one.” The lines sing.
The pause indicated by “/” after “no” accentuates the word “one,” and brings to mind oneness. I think it is the egolessness that comes to mind from “O I never stopped loving no / one”– the oneness, a power invoked by continuing to love everyone in our lives no matter what despair and torture the world faces us with—that makes the last stanza of this poem such a powerful mantra.
Leonore Hildebrandt grew up in Germany and teaches writing at the University of Maine. Living “off the grid” in Harrington, Maine, she is a member of the Flatbay Collective and serves as an editor for the Beloit Poetry Journal. Her poetry has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Poetry Salzburg Review, and the Quercus Review, and Cabildo Quarterly, among others.
I have always done things the hard way––
cutting through razor wire, sitting in protest
until the cops yanked us by the hair.
After turning down the millionaire,
I boiled the baby’s diapers on the wood stove––
but in summer I danced into the pale light of morning.
There were men, there were women––
mostly I lived more fiercely than that,
my head full of road-songs, the secret of seeds,
Masters of War. Once I climbed an oak tree
I had planted thirty years before. The leaves,
like orange hands, pulled me high and higher.
When I went fasting in the woods,
the hours would open their mouths wider,
the verge of the pond carried on endlessly.
I know of padded cells and stifling nightmares.
But age is ageless. So rock me––like glass,
we are sharp, molten, shattered, redone.
It’s like the death penalty––
once you have handed it down,
then do it, already. Don’t let it drag on.
Here, Leonore is interviewed by Lisa Panepinto.
Lisa: I’m excited that you have a poetry collection coming out soon, The Next Unknown. Can you give us a preview into the book?
Leonore: In 2001, I began writing poetry under the tutelage of Constance Hunting. The Next Unknown gathers poems up to 2010 when the manuscript was accepted for publication by Pecan Grove Press. Many of the poems are inspired by my experience as a traveler––between the German and English language, between city and country, between my joy over life on the earth and sorrow about its decline. My hope is that the poems are imaginative, that they speak through specific images while evoking questions about larger themes––nature and power, art and knowledge.
Lisa: What are some other projects you’re currently working on?
Leonore: I am moving toward a second book-length collection. As far as I can tell, this one will have fewer autobiographical references and more of an eco-feminist feel. I don’t really like using this term; it implies a narrow, didactic agenda, which is not what I am interested in when I write poems. But I do feel passionate as a woman about a less exploitative relationship with all life-forms, and this passion finds expression in the poetry.
For last summer’s Belfast Poetry Festival, I teamed up with the painter Heidi Daub. We presented The Shelter, a series of poems with corresponding landscape paintings. Heidi and I were surprised by the intimacy inherent in the work, and we are hoping to keep this collaboration alive. We will be performing The Shelter at the University of Maine at Machias (probably in the fall of 2014) and are looking into publication.
More recently, I have written a few new songs, and my pianist/writer/friend Brian Stewart and I are working on these and some of his new material. Also, inspired by my grandson’s arrival, I just recorded a CD of German children’s songs. As my 93 year old mother put it: “Germany has made many mistakes, but the folk songs it has produced over the past centuries are something truly beautiful.” It felt great to remember this lovely tradition.
Lisa: Your poems portray both the destruction of the environment and the denigration of women. Do you see these themes as linked?
Leonore: Common ideas about the affinities between “Nature” and “Woman” have in the past too often resulted in disrespect for both, which is convenient for those looking to justify domination and abuse. I would be careful of a classification of man as perpetrator and woman/nature as victim, because it ends up stressing difference in our perception of man versus woman. Still, a patriarchal value system tends to take for granted a sense of entitlement to take, and take, and take. It is my hope that a more “feminine” age is in the making, one in which both men and women value caring more than controlling.
Many writers have spoken to that shift. Currently I am teaching a course in American Women’s Literature. Among the stories we are reading is “A White Heron” (1886) by Sarah Orne Jewett, in which a boy demonstrates his passion for birds by shooting and stuffing them. This sets in motion the conflict for the young heroine: should she be loyal to him or the great bird?
In “Annunciation” (1935) by Meridel Le Sueur, a woman in dire poverty becomes pregnant, and in spite of her partner’s wishes, she goes through with the pregnancy. She contemplates a pear tree growing behind the dismal boarding house: “The leaves are the lips of the tree speaking in the wind, or they move like many tongues. The fruit of the tree has been a round speech, speaking in full tongue […], hanging in ripe body…“ This sense of ripening and fullness coming out of the depression era is remarkable.
By asserting themselves as women, the protagonists of these stories come to notice also the integrity and beauty of other species. Our speech can be “in full tongue” even when writing poems of witness.
Lisa: You live off-the-grid on the coast of Maine, where you have raised a family. It seems to me your poetry expresses a counterculture mentality of giving up capitalist concerns in exchange for an allegiance with the earth. Does this connection seem accurate?
Leonore: My choices in lifestyle have tended toward the simple, resourceful, and natural––and I am glad that you find these values in my poetry.
Off-the-grid requires a degree of self-sufficiency. My husband and I get electricity and part of our heat from the sun. We grow our own fruit and vegetables. We thin the forest to obtain firewood. We buy mostly used clothes. And so on. The willingness to pay attention to one’s small actions lives on in our children. While our daughters now have moved to urban areas, they are, each in her own way, connected to nature and committed to its protection. They have chosen to work in a way that does not feel alienated.
Striving for a gentler environmental footprint is not hard for me. The earth is generous, and I feel refreshed while working on the land. Harder than these lifestyle choices, I find, is to change my mind, to think about the value of money, power, and entitlement outside of the prevailing paradigms. For example, does less consumerism make for a shrinking economy which means more global poverty––or not necessarily? In spite of the justified rhetoric against the richest 1%, should we hope that wealthy people will help implement a more egalitarian system, also in regard to non-human life?
Poetry is a place where I can imagine “what if.” I can circle around things that puzzle me, try out different voices and positions. If I had a plan, if I called myself a Buddhist, or a Marxist, or a Naturalist, I may not be driven to write poems.
Lisa: Can you discuss the importance of place in your writing?
Leonore: Recently I wrote a longer poem inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s invention of geodesic domes. It’s called “Where You Happen to Be,” and it starts with a quote by Fuller: “The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the Earth that revolves around the sun. Then teach them the concepts of North, South, East and West, and that they relate to where they happen to be on the planet’s surface at that time. Everything else will follow.” In a few words, Fuller connects the larger space (and our orientation in it) with our individual presence. Everything else will follow––in my poem follow impressions of hiking in the Southwest, interwoven with geometric concepts and natural shapes. Place is not merely a backdrop––along with time, it makes for our experience, offers a perspective, molds our voices. The challenge for the writer of poetry is to choose significant and fresh images as a stand-in for all that space so that a reader, too, may imagine a specific place where we happen to be.
Lisa: Your poems feel highly lyrical, chant-like and are often referential of song. Could you talk about music in relation to your writing?
Leonore: I came to poetry from songwriting, or perhaps I should say, poetry found me while I worked on lyrics. Since the early 1990s, I have been playing music with other songwriters, and we perform mostly our own songs. During practice and musical performance, one incessantly repeats the same material while trying to improve its presentation. I think this shaped my critical sensibility. If I want to keep enjoy singing the lines, they have to roll off the tongue.
Song lyrics may be simpler than poetry, especially if they are meant for performance. The music will add interest. But to be singable, they must be smooth. No harsh clusters of consonants. Repetition of sound, be it full rhyme or near-rhyme. Rhythm. You see, song lyrics compare well to poetry in fixed form, like the balled. One counts the meter, the number of lines. Free-verse poetry offers more formal freedom, which I enjoy. And still, I always read poems in progress out loud, listening for an underlying pulse over which flow the words’ cadences.
Lisa: Who are some of your literary influences?
Leonore: Writers whose work I keep coming back to include: Bertolt Brecht, Rilke, Goethe. Pablo Neruda, Garcia Marquez. Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson.
As a member of the editorial board of the Beloit Poetry Journal, I regularly read a selection of new submissions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see what my peers are doing. Additionally, reading and discussing these poems with a group of seasoned editors often brings the work more fully alive for me.
Most immediately and constructively I am engaged with the work-in-progress of my fellow writers in the Flat Bay Collective: Robert Froese, Tony Brinkley, Dick Miles.
Lisa: Who are you currently reading and what are you currently listening to?
Leonore: A recent post to The New Yorker is titled: “Is the News Replacing Literature?” I was taken aback––indeed, for me that may be increasingly true. I browse online content from NPR, the New York Times, and Deutsche Welle. I enjoy political satire, like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. I find that I learn things from The Atlantic, perhaps because it caters to a younger, more urban audience. I am just about addicted to the New York Review of Books which I read cover to cover.
Thankfully I am teaching American Women’s Literature! Presently we are reading literature from the turn of the century, an exiting time in women’s history, which produced many great writers, among them Kate Chopin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Austin, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton.
In music, I respond to syncopation, both in world music and jazz. A few favorite artists in no particular order: Salif Keita (Mali), Manu Dibango (Cameroon), Manu Chao (France/Spain), Cesaria Evora (Cape Verde), Gigi (Ethiopia), Ali Farka Touré (Mali), Baaba Maal (Senegal), Toumani Diabaté (Mali), Souad Massi (Algeria/France).
I grew up in Germany with folk music and the composers from the classical era: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Boccherini… This heritage still nourishes me and I turn to it at certain times with much appreciation.
In terms of films, here are a few recommendations for documentaries I recently saw: A Place at the Table (on hunger in the USA). The House I Live in (on the war on drugs). Last Call at the Oasis (on the global water crisis). Inside Job (on the financial crisis of 2008) and Food,Inc (on industrial food production.)
Lisa: Your poems often juxtapose the beauty of nature and fragility of life with war’s shadow. Do you see nurturing the earth as a means to protest war and violence?
Leonore: Poetry as protest––this is a powerful legacy, but I’m not sure I can claim that for my own work. But like everyone, I write from my place in history. My father was an officer in WWII, he spent five years as a POW in the Soviet Union and returned physically frail. My mother’s energies were at times more focused on him than on the children. But, to stay with your metaphor, war’s shadow also may cast the light in sharp relief. In their remaining years together, my parents strove for mindfulness and peace, at least in the family. Perhaps that primed me to become a young political rebel: I wanted to make things right. I joined the anti-nuclear protests that swept through Europe in the 1970/80s. We would “occupy” the construction sites for nuclear waste and power plants. (This movement led to the foundation of Germany’s Green Party.) During the course of it, my friends and I started a commune and learned about gardening and beekeeping…
The earth nurtures us, not vice versa. We may try to limit the harm we do. It is my hope that when we open ourselves and pay attention to the forces of life, to the land, the clouds, all that beauty, we will be able to do less harm. Of course, there is violence in nature as one thing feeds on another, but no mean-spirited revenge, no contemplated or organized destruction. Too long during our history, we have convinced ourselves that we are above nature, entitled to use and rule over it, just as leaders convince themselves that it is okay to dominate and exploit people. This attitude is changing, thankfully.
Lisa: Can you talk about your involvement with the Flat Bay Collective and being part of a community of artists in rural Maine?
Leonore: The Flat Bay Collective is a low-key, informal gathering of artists in Washington County, Maine. We support each other’s work and maintain a common website to present it (flatbaycollective.org). Most fruitful are the collaborations, which include feedback for writing-in-progress, co-translation, music, and design of books. Last but not least, we have produced letter-press chapbooks of poetry.
Writer’s groups have become common––they offer wonderful opportunities for learning, motivating one another, and building community. For us, the exchange with artists of different media is an added benefit.
Lisa: There’s so much to mourn and feel anger and despair about in this world; how do you keep your spirits up?
Leonore: I just saw The Square, a film about the uprising in Egypt. The documentary follows a number of very sympathetic protesters––their bravery, their eloquence, their effort of conscience are entirely admirable! I take with me the joy that I live in a world where these young people are active. I also take with me the devastating thought that they have not reached their goal of democracy, and that many of their peers have been killed, imprisoned, or silenced. The point is that my thinking is malleable––and feelings follow suit. I don’t have to repeat over and over the inner monolog of devastation to the point that it harms me. The world is not one bit better off if I insist on feeling angry or sad, however justified that may be.
When I find myself going “down,” I pay attention to things I can actively shape. I limit my intake of graphic cruelty. I take care of my body: good food, exercise, sleep. I alert those who love me. In quarrels, I attempt to see things from the perspective of the other and to ask open-ended questions in a spirit of generosity. Not that this is easy. But over the years, I have come to trust in the process.
Lisa: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Leonore: Thank you for the opportunity to think about your probing questions, Lisa. Your inquisitive mind, your gentle presence, and your sensitive poetry––all of these are admirable. May you be very well.
“Rock Me” by Leonore Hildebrandt was originally published in Gemini Magazine.
Deeply inspired by the bravery, strength, vision and dedication of these righteous Passamaquoddy women…
“For native people forced assimilation and acculturation distort our thoughts, feelings and actions creating a disconnect with our identity and traditions. We start to believe that there is something wrong with us. The truth is our resilience, strength, humor and intelligence have saved us from extinction, will enable us to heal from generational trauma and will restore our culture so we may thrive as the distinct, unique, beautiful people the Creator meant for us to be.”
For more information on the groundbreaking, invaluable work these women are doing with the Maine-Wabanki TRC:
In these videos Willi Nolan speaks eloquently about why it’s abhorrent that oil and gas companies are trying to force their way into Wabanaki territories in New Brunswick. Fracking poisons the water and pollutes the sky and earth in the name of shortsighted greed. Nolan beautifully defends the earth, women and humanity and talks about injustice and oppression towards the land and first nations people that activists are working tirelessly to challenge. The truth is the light, righteousness is victory, “the forest and the water will be protected…no more poisons.”
Review: “Gift For The End,” by Mariee Sioux
Mariee Sioux makes gentle music that encapsulates the fierceness of the wild. Her latest album Gift for the End inspires the sensuous and provides instruction for returning to the earth and intimate realities of the animals. The first track titled “Homeopathic” is a perfect entryway to an album that cleans us with natural healing remedies and entrances us in melodies for the ride.
One of the most stunning aspects of Gift for the End is the visionary poetics of Mariee Sioux’s lyrics—the singsong cadences, refrains, fresh language, chant incantations, and truth telling encircles the heart with illuminated galaxies. Sioux knows about transformation. How a fawn can turn into a raven, creating the world. Her songs are sympathetic to the animals, insects, and trees, sensitive perspectives necessary to the survival of the planet.
Even if listeners don’t pay close attention to the messages in Sioux’s lyrics, they can still receive benediction thru the flying, seed-sowing, and animal sounds found throughout the album. Sioux’s style is acoustic folk—front porch dream roots blended with ethereal stargaze. Her sound is unique, but Gift to the Endbrings to mind other artists who are aware they arose from the sea and sand, like Death Vessel, Beachwood Sparks, and the Tallest Man on Earth.
A standout of Gift for the End is “Old Magic,” which describes a western world that’s replaced the old magic of cultures and creatures who live on the earth without destroying it for a world of plastic deer and tarps. This paradigm is articulated in the lines:
We ran through the mule shadows
Hand in hand sorrows in sorrows
Chased by plastic deer and tarp spirits
Tripping over tools and sleeping bullets
Years of dusty praying
You picked a pouch off of your dad’s tree
Poured it in my mouth to show me
How he’d saved all of your baby teeth
You said “Special fears they always win”
Like a river been robbed of its bend
A braid you just don’t want to end
Nature has been robbed like generations of dreams hanging from the tree of life, like a river that’s lost its bend because a dam flooded it, like forests replaced with coins, dead streams, bullet-riddled bodies and petroleum.
Mariee Sioux’s music is healing in how it parallels assaults against the earth with honoring the holy beauty of non-human creatures. The personifying of animals present in Sioux’s songwriting is a crucial truth. It leads the way for consciousness shifts in which our chants, poems, guitar playing and entering the bodies of fish & birds brings us back to reciprocal relationships and the ever present divine.
In giving voice to nature and envisioning the reclaiming of magic, Sioux’s music has the power to make sensual scenes from her songs arise in our surroundings. I saw a key hanging from a tree this morning.
As glaciers melt, fires burn, species go extinct, and numerous other human-led apocalyptic visions emerge, Sioux’s music is a prayer for the wild, a sincere gift for restoring a world where life is valued and protected, even as one sees a polluted horizon become nearer.
Mariee Sioux rebuilds the goddess rib by rib on Gift for the End and asks her to please take us back into her realm, we need her direly.
we can be forever blessed if we take the back roads. –mariee sioux
Review by Lisa Panepinto
Today, the Wabanaki tribes and the state of Maine implement the first United States-based Truth & Reconciliation Commission around Native American rights violations ever. It’s an exciting, historic moment for justice. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been used around the world—mainly in Africa and Latin America—to help victims and perpetuators of genocide, racism, war crimes, and other violence heal from wrongdoings and reach the truth of traumatic situations through restorative justice techniques.
The Maine TRC is centered on issues of Native children being forcibly taken from their families on reservations and put into white foster care families. Simply for being indigenous, tribal children were taken by the state and forced into foster care, where they were often physically and sexually abused.
These human rights violations perpetuated against Native Americans are not a thing of the past. Survivors are living out the trauma of such injustices right now—having to endure mental and physical wounds from state-sanctioned abuses—causing generational trauma to be passed down to descendants of victims in various ways.
Truth telling enables reconciliation and healing of life—when stories can be talked about, shared, understood and seen as truth by others, victims can move on from trauma and forgive.
There’s a documentary film about another Native American reconciliation effort, Dakota 38, here.
It tells the story of the 38 Dakotas who were hanged by the US government in Minnesota after a battle in 1862, the largest mass execution in US history. The film traces the journey of present day tribal members who take a journey from South Dakota to Minnesota by horses to honor the lives of the 38 murdered tribal members. The film is moving in how Native Americans involved seek the high road throughout, offering peace and accepting hospitality in the communities they travel through. Dakota 38 also highlights groups who continue to be heavily marginalized–the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is one of the most impoverished communities in the US. The riders in the story try to act with compassion & bring forgiveness to all they meet, hoping to spread reconciliation and healing.
this is where we live, the eye-balming place where water, air and plants feed and protect us, and birds and animals have the same hearts and eyes as us.
we support indigenous peoples standing up for human and land rights thru idle no more and other actions. we believe in protecting the earth–our precious mother, friend, and magic maker.
we feel it’s not okay to kill life for profit or fear; it’s never been okay. the haunted should be allowed to heal.
“what happens to the land and what happens to people is the same thing” said linda hogan. to pollute our streams puts meth in our veins. to separate ourselves from nature makes us go insane.
fracking, tar sands, clear cutting, dam building, pipelines, genocides, war and other assaults against the earth are unjustifiable desecrations that need to end now.
we plan to work together and make art, in order to recreate the world.
“whoever degrades another degrades me, and whatever is done or said returns at last to me” – walt whitman
Interviewed by Lisa Panepinto
Annie Finch is the author or editor of fifteen books of poetry, translation, and criticism, including her brand-new Spells: New and Selected Poems, available now for pre-order from Wesleyan University Press. Her other books of poetry include Eve (1997), Calendars (2003), and the long poems The Encyclopedia of Scotland (2002) and Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams (2009). Calendars was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award, and Eve reissued in the Carnegie Mellon Classic Contemporaries series in 2010. Other honors include the 2009 Robert Fitzgerald Award, the 2012 Sarasvati Award from the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology, and fellowships from the Black Earth Institute and the Wesleyan Writers Conference.
Finch’s music, art, and theater collaborations include the opera Marina (American Opera Projects, 2003). Her work has been translated into numerous languages, and she has performed her poetry across the U.S. and Europe. Her books about poetry include A Formal Feeling Comes (2003), The Ghost of Meter (1994), An Exaltation of Forms (2003), and the poetry –writing guides The Body of Poetry (2004), and A Poet’s Ear (2010). Finch holds degrees from Yale University, The University of Houston, and Stanford University. She currently lives in Maine where she directs Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.Gulf War and Child: A Curse He is sleeping, his fingers curled, his belly pooled open, his legs gathered, still in their bent blossom victory. I couldn’t speak of “war” (though we all do),
The following interview was conducted in April 2012 on a warm breezy day outside the Terry Plunkett Maine Poetry Festival in Augusta, Maine.
Interviewer: Has embracing meter been a form of resistance for you?
Finch: Yes I think that’s accurate. It’s been a way to assert my inner heart against resistance, because for me meter is physical and emotional, and very female, and connected with nature. Meter was difficult for me to embrace because I’m so progressive politically, and it goes against pretty much all the received wisdom about how you’re supposed to write as a progressive. So it’s taken persistence and self-validation for me to continue on that path. It has not always been easy, but it gives me so much joy that I just focus on that.
Interviewer: It’s been going against the grain it seems like.
Finch: Yeah. A lot of people haven’t had the exposure to it that I had pretty young, so I’m coming from a totally different place. I can understand why they feel the way they do about it, because if I were coming from that place I would also feel that way. My mother, who’s a poet, alerted me to it, and then in college I was lucky to study with one of the few people who was bold enough to teach it in the nineteen seventies, so I had an exposure that most people haven’t had. I take that as a kind of charge that I need to carry out to feel that I’ve done right by it, which is to spread the word so that other poets who want to learn about it can. It’s not really natural to me to do a lot of editing and criticism, but I’ve done it because I believe so strongly that this saved my life as a poet and I want other poets to be able to have it if they want it. Now that I’ve put everything that I know into A Poet’s Craft I feel I can kind of relax, because it’s all there pretty much.
Interviewer: I see the Stonecoast MFA program that you direct as a matriarchal society in a way; do you have hopes for a larger scale matriarchal society?
Finch: I totally do, yes. The first matriarchal society that I facilitated was the WOMPO Women’s Poetry Discussion listserv online, which I started in 1997. I remember once several years after I started WOMPO, which was the first poetry listserv that wasn’t male-dominated, maybe it was about seven hundred people at the time, and one of the few male poets said, I can’t believe how this community is just so civilized and kind and wonderful, I wonder why [laughs]. He had no idea that it was a matriarchy and that was why.
The most ancient and traditional societies worldwide are built around women and their extended families; women are the glue that holds things together. I think that’s a wise way for things to be run. Men are of course essential parts of the activity, but they’re not the central core of everything. I love the matriarchal aspects of Stonecoast, and it just kind of naturally evolved that way. The men who are there are an organic and crucial part of the community, but it’s essentially matriarchal in a low-key and healthy way.
I’d envision the whole culture being like that, the sooner the better, and the whole world, the sooner the better; I think it’s necessary for our economic and environmental and political survival, actually, to return to our matriarchal roots.
Interviewer: How important do you feel music is to revolution?
Finch: It’s everything, because it brings people together on an instinctive level. It reminds us that we’re all part of one body and one soul, and I think that’s what it takes to have revolution, the feeling that we’re all together, so that the actions that you’re taking are not for yourself individually but they’re for the community, the group.
Music is where the meter comes in. Meter in poetry really is the music; it’s the part that doesn’t have to be translated, that every language can hear.
Interviewer: You’ve often worked with other musicians, playwrights, and actors; how important is collaboration to you?
Finch: Collaboration is a survival tool for me. It makes me feel less lonely, and it makes me feel inspired by being part of a large aesthetic community. I need that to keep happy and writing what I want to write, to keep self-validating so I can write in my own way. I don’t necessarily feel part of any poetry movement or any group of poets, and that used to bother me, but since I started collaborating with people from other genres I never worry about it, because I have a very deep kinship with the musicians and the dancers and the composers and the visual artists who I’ve worked with. It feeds me, and it also satisfies all the other creative parts of me.
Interviewer: Your writing addresses women’s rights and the costs of war; would you say your poems have always been tied with issues of justice?
Finch: I think so. One of the first poems I remember writing was in seventh grade, and it was about a bullet. It was called “Joel’s Bullet.” It was only six lines long; I’ll recite it for you:Joel’s Bullet My hand looks transparent holding this thing of metal made by man. It is dead and loves death. It weighs heavily on my hand and my mind.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that I used the word “man” there. It shows that even at twelve, I was already passionate about pacifism and women. Yes, the themes have been there from the beginning: nature, dream and reality, fantasy, myth and peace, and women and feminism. They’ve been my themes all along. And I think they’re all sort of tied together.
Interviewer: How do you keep your spirits up and maintain resolve?
Finch: There’s a Tibetan saying that your heart is a second sun. I can always go inward and feel my heart shining like a sun.
Another saying I like to remember is something that the feminist scholar Merlin Stone said to my mother: I only do what I feel like doing. When I first heard that I was in my twenties, and it sounded radical and ridiculous, but as I’ve tried to follow it I’ve discovered it is very wise. If I’m doing something and it’s not what I want to be doing, it helps me be aware, and then sometimes I can make a micro-adjustment in the way I do it until it becomes something that I want to do, even if I’m not free to change what I’m actually doing.
I try to stay in the heart as much as possible, to live in joy. I do bodywork like Rolfing. I do yoga, I try to eat okay, I’ve started doing Zumba and dance classes, which is really great.
And then there’s seeing friends, being part of communities and circles. I have three different circles I meet with, a writer’s circle, a spiritual circle, and a coven. It helps to keep my spirits up, to recognize that I’m not really an individual person, not an isolated person, but I’m part of a group, a web of kindred spirits. I used to think this was optional; but now I think it’s essential. Especially because I’m solitary in my work and thought, I need to feel that connection.
Finally, it helps me to remember the people of the past, to remember so many wonderful brave heroes I can connect with from the past, whether it’s Emily Dickinson, Emma Goldman, Gandhi, Millay, Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, so many people, hundreds and thousands of people, I could probably think of hundreds, if I took the time.
Interviewer: Could you talk about your recent efforts to get Rush Limbaugh off Portland radio for his misogynist comments?
Finch: When I get involved in political campaigns I tend to get very involved, I treat them like poems and give them my all, go overboard really. So I’m very careful which ones I take on and I set firm limits, because otherwise I’ll put too much into them and the rest of my work will suffer. In this case I took a central role with a very specific goal, to gather signatures to pressure the Portland radio station to take Limbaugh off the air after his misogynist comments. We delivered over 5,000 signatures at the rally.
It was about language; that’s one reason I took it so seriously. It was about nature and language and women all at once. It was about using language in a way that I thought was harmful, that felt bad to me physically. It was damaging to the cause of women and also damaging to the air. I kept thinking about the air that we breathe, which is sacred to me as a Wiccan—the breath of the Goddess. I just hated that those hateful sentiments were being broadcast through the air.
A writer has such valuable skills for politics because we understand about organizing and communicating and we can write, and we know how relatively little energy it can take to motivate people when you communicate truthfully—which is one reason that writers tend to be political targets in repressive regimes.
Interviewer: Can you talk about poetry as healing?
Finch: I think poetry is healing on a physical level because of the meter, and on a spiritual level because of the way it connects us with other people in the moment.
This is a theme that keeps coming in: I think it’s so important for us to remember that we’re not isolated. Even though our architecture and our cars and our city planning and our TVs and our entertainment and our screens all conspire to make us feel as if we’re separate, we’re not separate. The Internet is a way of beginning to change that, but even physically we’re not alone, and telepathically we’re not alone.
We are a tribal species, meant to live in tribes. At this point, anything that reminds us of our connection with each other is healing, and poetry can do that, through the meter and through the language and through the imagery. The combination of those three things is literally magical, I think. It can change energy, it can change reality.
Interviewer: Can you share a vision for the future?
Finch: Here’s my ideal: people would live in communities built with a human-scaled architecture, sort of along the lines of Christopher Alexander’s work. We’d live in mixed-use residential communities, with public transportation, with shared green spaces and also wilderness spaces accessible to everyone through public transportation. There would be sustainable energy generated within the space [a bird sings happily], within the community, local organic food pretty much, but not entirely, maybe about 80% local organic food. The whole world wouldn’t necessarily have to be this way, but the idea is that anybody who wanted to live this way easily could.
I think humans really want awareness of each other as a global community and a global village, so that would be part of my vision. The communication and means of dispersal of goods and services and information would evolve as quickly as possible to where things are pretty equally shared and nobody has to feel like there’s somebody who’s miserably suffering anywhere. There would be a balance on the globe between all the nations so we wouldn’t have these ridiculous disparities. I was just in the Congo, and it’s clear to me that they need a third to a half of what we have in terms of material goods and we need a third to a half of what they have in terms of spiritual goods.
Women, and men too, would be free to express and enjoy and be proud of the feminine energy, and no one would feel ashamed of it or feel that they had to hide it or translate it into something else. Women would really be accepted as full human beings and female energy would be able to take its natural course in whatever systems and structures arose out of that, and be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone.
The arts would be honored, important. I went to the museum in Heraklion in Crete and the art was so amazing. That’s by far the largest and most thorough collection of art we have from a matriarchal culture. It was amazing, it was decorated in spirals, beautifully sophisticated, simple shapes, and the pottery was unlike anything I’d ever seen in any other museum or gallery. It felt so unfamiliar, like visiting another planet, that it made me feel in my gut how every museum I’d ever seen in the world before has been a museum of patriarchal culture. Minoan art looks a lot like where our contemporary design could be going, actually: sophisticated yet organic. I would like to live surrounded by design that has that sensibility to it.
In my ideal world, when you turned on the radio to listen to music half the time it would be by a woman composer, and by composers of a diversity of backgrounds; same thing with movies, everything. I think classical music is one of the last holdouts of absurd sexism.
All religions would be completely embraced and tolerated, and everyone would be able to respect any path including Paganism and Wicca and atheism.
Of course, the planet would be in healthy shape. The planet and the animals would be natural participants in any decision that was made by humans. The impact on the environment would be the first or second thing we would think of.
To learn more about Annie Finch, please visit her website: http://www.americanwitch.net
among the many benefits bicycling affords:
cycling through the rolling hills i am not separate from the blowing grasses, hawks in the sky, buttes rising up. i am so alive and connected with the land when i look around i can see the wheat breathing, the horses looking, the willows swaying, and know that i am a living part of it all—they are breathing me in as i am breathing them in. my body, mind, and soul live in connection with the body, mind, and soul of the land i ride through every day, receptive to the spirit, colors, sounds, and daily rhythms of all
*on this bike i can go through boulders i can move through cars i can go through people’s bodies i can go through trees i can fly without looking i can fly steadily without looking lifting like a crow without anyone on this bike i can rise above ditches bounce up from potholes ride over thick grass into river where light bounces white silver mesmerizes me in the lick of waves