Monday, April 24, 2006
Judith Skillman is the author of eight books of poems. She is winner of many poetry awards, including the Eric Mathieu King Fund from the Academy of American Poets, and has received grants from the Centrum Foundation, King County Arts Commission, and the Washington State Arts Commission. Her poems have appeared in Field, The Iowa Review, Northwest Review, Poetry, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Malahat Review, JAMA, and many other journals.
Skillman holds a Masters in English Literature from the University of Maryland, and has done graduate work in Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. She has taught Humanities courses for fifteen years at City University in Bellevue, Washington.
Read Judith's Ars Poetica.
David Robert Books, 2005
LatticeworkDavid Robert Books, 2004
Silverfish Review Press, 2003
Blue Begonia Working Signs Series, 2001
Silverfish Review Press, 2001
Blue Begonia Press, 1998
Beethoven and the Birds
Blue Begonia Press, 1996
Worship of the Visible Spectrum
Breitenbush Books, 1986
(REVIEW ABOUT STORM)
Seattle Weekly, published January 28 - February 3, 1999Poetry explodes our old habits of experience to make the world (and thus ourselves) new again. Some poems take us apart while putting us back together, enfolding our perceptions in the act of smashing them, and this is one of literature's great mitigations--the work of art that can possess its own chaos tells us we, too, may be able to hold ourselves steady. Look for no such mitigations in Storm, Skillman's new collection of poems. Her work tugs us into the maelstrom of being alive and strands us there, dust devils and curses blowing by, the ground buckling under our feet. Attention twitches, like tic douloureux, from Styrofoam replicas of molecules to memories of palsied Uncle Jake in the kitchen where the dog humped your red-faced mother's shin. A schoolgirl's briefcase holds "the stink/of instruments and limbs"; vision darkens in the "sackcloth of winter"; somewhere "between sewer and hedge" a turtle stalls. The nervous system is a scraped and shaken web on which moments crazily stitch themselves while "the earth gallop[s] closer." If we opened up, we'd feel this storm under the skin of even the sunniest picnic afternoon, but survival seems to require closing off most of our perceptions. Shall we open Skillman's book, then? Pricked and prodded by her restless, strenuous interrogations of the world we thought we knew, we'll shift uncomfortably, failing to find a place where the heart can rest. That's the point. -- Judy Lightfoot
Analysis of “Storm” by Judith Skillman
Skillman is a seasoned poet whose connection with life brings depth and insight to her poetry. This is particularly exhibited in her book Storm. Published in 1998, Storm is a collection of poems that revolve around the storms of life that inevitably come our way. Skillman carefully weaves a journey throughout her poetry, one that does not downplay that difficult times happen in life. Just as we cannot control the storms of nature, so to can the individual not control the storms that come with daily life. While storms may try to beat us down, it is possible to stand firm and weather the storm, to not let the storm wear us down, but to come out of it with life still in tact.
Skillman’s poems are divided into four sections within her book. Section I is titled “The Thunderheads” and centers on the reality that storms happen in life. This is exemplified in Uncle Jack, the nuclear physicist whose hands have been removed (“Rookery”, pg. 13), in the death that separates lovers (“Madrona”, pg. 16), and in a complicated pregnancy that resonates black and deeply grained (“Complications”, pg. 17). Section II, titled “The Spoils”, begins to rake through what the storm has left behind. For example, the sea sweeps the beach clean and years pass since the forgotten diagnosis (“Red-Headed Woodpecker”, pg. 34). There is a sense in Skillman’s poems that even after the storm passes life still exists, however mangled and hurting it may be. In Section III, Skillman’s poems focus on a recognition and desire to work past the storms. In “Paperweight”, the voice in the poem declares “I thaw from the center, but the house is wood and stone” (pg. 52) and in “The Indoor Garden”, the plant that is potted and repotted eventually becomes a tree (pg. 53). The idea that it is never too late to push past the storm and the spoils it leaves behind leads the reader toward Section IV of the book titled “The Robin”. In this section, it is clear that the storm has been weathered. The poem titled “The Robin” states that “The robin’s orange breast is a sign . . . In the round chest I see a little heat left over from the beginning of the universe” (pg. 67). There is life after the storm.
The natural flow of Skillman’s poetry leads the reader through the journey of life, a journey of weathering the difficulties that life brings. Skillman’s poems accentuate those experiences in life that we may not plan but that we inevitably are forced to deal with. Through it all, life can and does endure through the storms of life.
Throughout the book, Storm, some elements that repeat significantly throughout. The first of some of these motifs are of winter and snow, coldness and nighttime. These are all themes found in (“The Comet” p. 70) (“The Indoor Garden” p. 53) (“The Paperweight” p.52) (“Another Nutcracker” p. 51) (“Tic Douloureux” p. 44) (“Storm” p. 37) All of these among others show us darkness. We feel sensations and realize it’s the sting of death, of disappointment, of disaster; all things that aren’t necessarily what people want to talk about and feel and make reference to.
Other references that show up often in the book are animals, nature references like trees, and a holly bush. She talks about insects and bark. In all of the poems above and also in (“The Snags” p. 42) I think all of these are symbols of hope in something good, in resolution, and things that are hidden in our lives. The journey of life has all of these things literally speaking, but also figuratively speaking. From this book, nature and it’s inhabitants can show us the ups and downs and the way out. From a sunset to a sunrise, to potato bugs and centipedes, “even a centipede can feed the lost and hungry.” (“As Lot’s Wife” p.29)
I think the pivotal poem in this book and an obvious theme throughout, naturally, is “Storm”. This poem is a journey with nature as the guide to help us make sense of the importance of the struggles and getting out of the darkness. It speaks of “…lightening, storms, electricity, spiders, a fallen tree, wren, swift, and the barometer bird, grass, twilight, constellations, planets, stars, thunder, sun, moon, flower, lightening bugs…” All of these words are in the poem in this order, with much in between them, but even as you read them you can almost see the journey and feel the ups and downs that are conveyed so simply and clearly with these words as the structure and guide to the deep emotions and experiences that are hardly easy to find words to describe and to derive such a response from the reader as hers do.
Struggle; fighting with life and the world. The journey and the path that is taken. This is what she is showing and doing with so many images in nature. She ties them with experience just enough to not let a lot of information be straightforward, but rather more of digging through these images. It’s work, but it’s there in a big way.
Cliff’s Notes for Lost River Mountain
By Charles Potts
Charles Potts used these phrases in his lecture. “No person steps into the same river twice.” And “No person ever used the same word with the same connotation twice”. If you were to read Charles Potts’ books you would feel the same way. There is an underlying yet sometimes-blatant theme or motif of Idaho, and less obvious ones of his childhood and family. These things remain constant, yet the poems are never the same. Potts used the mountain that he grew up next to, Lost River Mountain, as the title of the book and as the subject in a few poems, yet they are so different. That mountain has so many different connotations according to Potts, that you could never even read the same poem and have it mean the same thing to you every time.
Potts uses some language tricks in his otherwise stripped-down poems. He uses alliteration a lot of times to make you feel like you can hear or see the object that he is talking about. For example: Bubbly bottom of Sapphire Spring, or Fearless Ferris, Ferris Frank, velveteen basalt. All of these things help to create a picture in the mind that is clearly visible. He also uses words that you would not normally connect with an object or place. For example: “Zigguratting the dammed, and Idaho is an intransigent verb, Idahoing”. These make his poems challenging and very interesting to read. They add a kind of icing onto the cake of what is Charles’s poetry. It is good without them, yet even better with these wonderful words added in.
Charles Potts has said this of his writing, “I write the poems that I need to read, they are somewhat entertaining, but they are not really written for entertainment.” He is writing what he needs to hear and for a lot of us it is what we need to hear also. Finally, and in closing he says this, “If you are fit for nothing, be a poet.” He started writing because of a strong combination of arrogance and humility. These qualities of his are shown strongly throughout both books.
From the beginning all the way through the end of Lost River Mountain, Charles Potts has motifs that convey his main theme. A motif is a something that repeats throughout the book. The main motif is places in Idaho (including the state as a whole), with other less obvious ones such as his family and times when he was young.
No poem describes what it means to be from Idaho better than "To Idaho," on page 21. It reads "No one would have ever been Idahoing If they could have thought of anything better to do." That really sums Idaho up, kind of boring, but with a lifelong effect that only comes from growing up in a small city or state can have. But he uses particular places and images within Idaho a lot to convey Idaho’s affects. For example, "The Way Up to Invisible Mountain" talks about the mountain he grew up by. He then ties the mountain into his life now, and how metaphorically the invisible mountain is how life can be looked at. It seems that he is saying some things in life take some looking and investigating before you see what is really there and how big it is. Through poems like these, Potts shows what Idaho has done for him, and what effects its memories still have.
When Potts’ memories fail, he imagines the making of the physical landscape of Idaho, millions of years ago. He likes to compare it to his on experiences and the human experience itself to strip away the importance we attach to it. In "Born in Idaho Falls," he wrote,
The people problem,
As the Lost River Mountains would never stoop to put it
When they raise and lower one another as they do
Every 10,000 years or so,
Is very small indeed.
As suggested by the last lines, he does not only imagine the making of the physical landscape in the best in his poetry, but he also imagines the changes that will happen in the future. Thus, another recurring theme of his is the end of civilization.
His family is also a motif that he uses. He talks of his parents often and of his feelings about his time with them before their deaths. In "My Mothers Depression," he says "How is your mother/ Since you kissed the classics goodbye/ Ever going to stop crying?" And then in "Mom and Dad," he writes about how the differences between his mother and fathers personality shaped him by saying "I am the predictable result of/ The underlying structure of my life." He must have been close to his parents, and it seems that their ways, ideals, and hardships are still affecting him to this day, possibly more so after their deaths.
He also uses his childhood quite often. But this motif is slightly hidden because it gets tied in with the larger motifs about places in Idaho and his family. In "The Kissing Tone," he shows how his childhood time affected him by saying "Learning who to trust/ And what not to/ Take for granted." This and other poems, such as "Bareback in the Gravel Pits" and "Back to Idaho" show these effects really well.
And when he is bored with his experiences of his immediate family and childhood, he talks about the family he as discovered through genealogy, or family history. There are several of these poems near the end of the book. He finds his well-documented family history fascinating as it connects him to a broader human history. For instance, in "The Gray Line Tour," he says, "My foremothers, less rude and less detailed,/ Are likewise carried forward/ With the inner glow of love they inspire/ Each ensuing breath."
In this particular book, Potts’ focuses on Idaho and how it has affected him. He speaks of his home state, where he grew up, and where he loves. Every poem in the book is about Idaho, which is what I believe was the aim of the book. The poems showed all different ways one can be affected by the place they are from, though some were more subtle than others. And the ways that Idaho has affected him can be augmented into our lives; they seem to be universal lessons or bits of helpful information. It definitely seems though that his big idea was to take lots of different memories, situations, and places of Idaho and show how they as individual instances had their different lasting affects upon him.
Study Questions for Lost River Mountain
1 Charles Potts grew up in Idaho, but didn’t start writing about it until the 1990’s, despite being encouraged to write about it at Berkeley. Why do you think he waited so long? How do his Idaho poems reflect his experiences in other parts of the world?
2 In "Hide," how does the poem reflect two different meanings of the title?
3 Charles Potts’ interests in pre-history and geology show up in a lot of his poems like "Back to Idaho." How does he combine pre-history of Idaho, with his own history in Idaho? What effect does he create comparing the vast spans of geologic change, with his relatively short stay in Idaho?
4 In the Lecture, Potts said there is no way back to nature, but he certainly tries to get close. Throughout Lost River Mountain, how does Potts try re-connect with nature?
5 How does the poem "I Raced the Rain Over Doublespring Pass," suggest the same apocalyptic themes in a poem like, "A Walk at the End of the World," without being so explicit. Which do you think is more effective?
6 Potts said, "If you can find poetry in poetry you’re lucky." Can you find poetry within Potts’ poetry? Why is it so difficult?
7 In "Blue Jays in My Rearview Mirror," Potts gives the two plant parasites a personified trait of kissing. Why does he use this metaphor? Why does he connect it with the title?
8 In "50 Years Ago Today President Truman Dropped In," what is funny about the last stanza?
9 Potts paraphrased Spangler in the Lecture and said, "Nobody ever used the same word with exactly the same connotations twice." Can you find examples of Potts using words with very novel connotations?
10 How does Potts use an event like farm auctions in "The Auction Block," to express his anger against economic injustice? Does he avoid sounding like a cable news political pundit in this and other poems? If yes, How?
11 Potts admitted in the lecture that Groucho Marx influenced him just as much as Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. Do you see comical Marxist influences in any of the poems?
12 In "The Gray Line Tour" and others Potts uses genealogy in his poems. As he explores him, what do you think interests him about it? Do these poems reveal more about Charles Potts than those he writes about his own experiences?
13 In "Mom and Dad" what does Potts seem to think about individuality and character? In other poems, what kind of things are we products of?
14 How is "Raspberry Redux" an appropriate ending for Lost River Mountain? Does the tone of the poem fit the overall tone of the book, or does it create a new one?
Charles Potts, famous poet of books such as Lost River Mountain, The Portable Charles Potts, and Kiot was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Potts began publishing his poetry in 1963, and has continued through the present. Potts graduated from the college of Arts and Sciences at Idaho State University in 1965, where he later was given the Distinguished Professional Achievement Award in 1994. He is well known as being the driving force of the Temple Bookstore in Walla Walla, Washingtion, where has lived since 1978.
Potts is the founder of Litmus Incorporation located in Seattle and Berkeley. He also founded Tsunami Incorporation, which published many Northwest poets. Potts is also the president and founder of Palaise Management Incorporated. Potts is a retired real estate broker. He has traveled all over the world, and spent some time in Japan, studying the language and culture. He devotes most of his time now to writing and spends a lot of time at The Temple Bookstore.
- Lesson Plan Week Five
Debrief Potts Lecture
Debrief Potts Reading
iii. Questions to ask any poem
iv. Imitation poem/story—with paragraphs
v. Cover/Broadside—with paragraphs
A couple other things about Potts.
Return materials from last week.
Update on video.
Kiot? Beethoven and the Birds?
Cliff Notes for Skillman.
My notes for Skillman.
For next week, Skillman wants us to bring an unfinished poem
That’s what we will be doing tonight.
Writing unfinished poems.
Title your piece, “What You Need to Know About Me” and end up with one page.
Here’s Langston Hughes asking and answering that question for his teacher. Look at how specific he is.
Like Hughes, you should avoid generic words like “I like music.” Instead, go for something like, Bessie bop or Bach.
If it helps, you can use this like a template and insert your specifics where his are now. But it might be better to a variation on the original, so it fits your voice.
THEME FOR ENGLISH B
By Langston Hughes
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: hear you,
hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me---who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American. Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me---
although you're older---and white---
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
Write about a place that ignites your need for words.
Describe it to someone you love. Point to things. Be specific. What stands out? What’s the story behind this place? Don’t talk about every summer. Write about one time.
Try an imitation poem based on Van Morrision’s “On Hyndford Street.”
The assignment is to be specific with the details, and to come near to sentimentality without going over.
(sorry. Gave up on the line breaks)
On Hyndford Street,
by Van Morrison
Take me back, take me way, way, way back
On Hyndford Street
Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven
On long summer nights
As the wireless played
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
In the quietness as we sank into restful slumber in the silence
And carried on dreaming, in God
And walks up Cherry Valley from North Road Bridge, railway line
On sunny summer afternoons
Picking apples from the side of the tracks
That spilled over from the gardens of the houses on Cyprus Avenue
Watching the moth catcher working the floodlights in the evenings
And meeting down by the pylons
Playing round Mrs. Kelly's lamp
Going out to Holywood on the bus
And walking from the end of the lines to the seaside
Stopping at Fusco's for ice creamIn the days before rock `n' roll
Hyndford Street, Abetta Parade
Orangefield, St. Donard's Church
Sunday six bells, and in between the silence there was conversation
And laughter, and music and singing, and shivers up the back of the neck
And tuning in to Luxembourg late at night
And jazz and blues records during the day
Also Debussy on the third programme
Early mornings when contemplation was best
Going up the Castlereagh hills
And the cregagh glens in summer and coming back
To Hyndford Street, feeling wondrous and lit up inside
With a sense of everlasting life
And reading Mr. Jelly Roll and Big Bill Broonzy
And "Really The Blues" by "Mezz" MezzrowAnd "Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac
Over and over againAnd voices echoing late at night over Beechie River
And it's always being now, and it's always being now
It's always now
Can you feel the silence?
On Hyndford Street where you could feel the silence
At half past eleven on long summer nights
As the wireless played Radio Luxembourg
And the voices whispered across Beechie River
And in the quietness we sank into restful slumber in silence
And carried on dreaming in God.
On Fremont Hills
after On Hyndford Street
Take me back. Take me way, way, way back.
On Fremont Hills where you could hear the sprinklers tick
at half past eleven on long summer nights
As my sister typed out the top forty, listening to the a.m. radio in the kitchen,
And the moths worked the lights on the deck
We heard the breeze rustle the aspen leaves before we felt it on our skin
and we were carried on
And sitting on our heels around the house and in the field
In the heat of the day
Making truck tracks or just digging holes
in the cool earth where the orchard stood
Pitching wiffle balls under the halogen light, which also ticked, until it was midnight
And meeting up at the fort
Hitting the dirt jump at the end of our street
Going up to Rimrock with dad
And walking out to the boat at the end of the dock
Stopping at The Cove for pie
In the hours before it got dark
Fremont Hills, Community Days,
Orchard, The Methodist Church,
And in between the nights were games
And wrestling and piano lessons and things felt too deeply
And tuning in to pink floyd at night
And Paul Harvey during lunch
Also Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway
And James Taylor albums on the marantz turntable
Just after dinner when we were loose.
Floating down the Yakima
And by the golden grass in summer and it all drifting
To Fremont, feeling wrung out and lit up inside
With a sense of things coming together
And reading Fear and Loathing and Frank Deford
And “Cat’s Cradle”
And “Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac
Over and over again
And trees quaking late into the night
And it always being nigh, and it’s always nigh.
It’s always nigh.
On Fremont, where you could hear the sprinklers
at half past eleven on long summer nights
As my sister, listening to the a.m. radio in the kitchen,
And the moths worked the lights on the deck
We heard the breeze rustle the aspen leaves before we felt it on our skin
And we were carried on
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Writers and Ideas poetry class returns this spring to Yakima Valley Community College.
But you don't have to be a YVCC student to attend....A portion of the class is open to the public and features free readings by poets who have been published in Yakima's Blue Begonia Press.
All readings are on Mondays at 730pm at YVCC in the Parker Room of the Deccio Higher Education Center, 1000 S. 12th Ave.
(This week's) reading will be by Charles Potts, a member of the 1968 Berkeley poetry explosion and author of numerous books, including an underground class "Valga Krusa."
A serious poet with a political bent and a smirking sense of humor, Potts can be found these days working out of an old Masonic temple-turned-Bohemian paradise--a place of literary and artistic worship--in downtown Walla Walla.
The remaining Writers and Ideas reading dates and poets are:
May 1: Judith Skillman, Seattle
May 15th, "Weathered Pages" editors, Yakima
May 3oth: Lynn Martin, Wauna, Wash.
April 17th: Charles Potts has had a dozen books of poetry published since 1996, the most recent: The Portable Potts from Albuquerque’s West End Press in 2005. Other new titles still in print include three from Blue Begonia Press in Yakima: Kiot: Selected Early Poems, 1963-1977, Lost River Mountain and Slash & Burn; Across the North Pacific from Slough Press; a reprint of Little Lord Shiva: The Berkeley Poems, 1968, from Glass Eye Books; and Nature Lovers from Pleasure Boat Studio. Other books in print include How the South Finally Won the Civil War: And Controls the Political Future of the United States.
Monday, April 10, 2006
First, I wanted to say thank you for your essay, broadcast Monday February 20th, on the NPR segment, “This I Believe.” I want to add that you should feel no obligation to respond to this letter or these gifts.
I have known of your work since 2002. After a reading a poem I'd written a friend asked if I’d ever read your poetry and suggested I do so. The poem I read deals with an accident. When I was 18, I was in a car accident that resulted in the death of a child. I am 37 now. It could be said that I caused the accident. Two versions of the poem appear in the books I am sending along with this letter.
I purchased both Poetry as Survival and The Caged Owl and have found your words comforting and reassuring. But I kept putting off sending you a letter of thanks. I don’t know all the reasons for this. Maybe not wanting to really let go of my story? Maybe not wanting to intrude? I don’t know.
Over the years, I kept trying to get away from the poem and the accident. But, as the introduction to the anthology I’ve sent in a separate package (Weathered Pages) makes clear, the story keeps finding me. Keeps coming back in unexpected ways.
This fall will be twenty years from the accident and ten from writing and publishing the poem that dealt with it. After hearing you read your essay yesterday, I was finally moved to respond. Our community is not small—anyone who has been to war is part of it, for example. But little has been studied or written about Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress, as it has been called in clinical terms. Even smaller is the circle of people who have attempted to articulate this experience in poetry or prose. Because of the reach of your poetry and teaching, I assume you have come into contact with others who share similar experiences, but as far as I know, there are less than a handful of poems. I have sometimes found solace through identification with stories about families who have suffered a loss. But, as an unrelated participant in the accident, this was always an uncomfortable leap to make. There was no support group to join. So, the sense of “human isolation” has at times been overwhelming. Your poems and prose help me overcome this feeling.
Thank you for continuing to talk about your accident, Mr. Orr.
- Review your notes and have one, two or three things to say about the lecture.
- General comments
- Terry Martin’s notes.
- General comments on reading.
- Assigned Responses.
- Imitation poem/story
- New Cover with paragraph
- Broadside with paragraph
- Letter to the poet
- Questions to ask any poem
i. Any offers?
ii. As a class
- Last thoughts
- Group work, conference time.
- Look over expectations
- Divide up the work fairly
- Make some deadlines
- An assignment, if there’s time…
- U-Haul North of Damascus
- My example
- Lindsay Brown?