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Meditation, Writing, and the Act of Deep Internal Listening

May 16th, 2017

Managing Editor’s Note: In the following post, Jessie Benjamin asks, “What is calling for my attention right here, right now? ” Meditation encourages this question, requiring us to sit and engage in “an act of deep internal listening.” It isn’t difficult to see the link between the “internal listening” of meditation and of writing. We must pay attention when we write, dig inside of ourselves, search for truth, and get it on the page. Enjoy Benjamin’s exploration of her own practice–a blend of meditation and writing.

–Amy

Creating the Space:

How Meditation Supports Writing

by Jessie L. Benjamin

Meditation creates the space, writing fills the void. I’m called to both.

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

For twenty years, my daily sitting meditation practice has nourished me. It’s essential, like oxygen keeping me sane and, hopefully, kinder and more compassionate.

I came to writing a bit later.

Many of the qualities that are cultivated in meditation are used while writing – receptivity, attention, curiosity and truthfulness.

Meditation cultivates receptivity.

The space it creates within the mind opens the field of awareness and my sense doors open.

The creative process of writing is nourished by receptivity. I see a recurring image or hear a phrase that replays again and again. A theme or a title appears. A story is born. I catch it before it gets away. The empty page fills. (more…)

Review of Dennis Hinrichsen’s Skin Music

April 18th, 2017

Managing Editor’s Note: This post features a review of poems exploring the nature of disaster, of suffering, of death. In his reading of Dennis Hinrichsen’s Skin Music, Kevin Holton discovers structure and free-form poetry that confronts and recognizes the desolate nature of catastrophe, yet finds both beauty and hope within the experience. As Holton writes, “its characters don’t blink or hesitate, as they recognize the way mortality balances mankind against its own tendency toward destruction.”

–Amy Grier

Review of Dennis Hinrichsen’s Skin Music.

Evansville: Southern Indiana Review Press, 2015.

by Kevin Holton

A book of poetry, more than a book in any other genre, has the unique power to switch from topic to topic, spanning continents and eons if the writer wishes, to capture a wide array of experiences. Skin Music, by Dennis Hinrichsen, does this well. With poems approaching the dying of fellow poet Paul Celan to an unnamed narrator catching catfish, Hinrichsen uses elegance and elegy to blend good tidings and grave misfortune, crafting an impressive collection.

This much is evident from the opening piece, “Variations on the Death by Drowning of the Poet, Paul Celan.” Working with a free-form structure, he throws a scattered array of evocative terms onto the page, separating each by an expanse of white. Some thoughts are fragmented, but with clear connotations, such as “in honor of urns,” while others are whole ideas, yet shrouded in mystery, as with “(now it is raining/ in all the rooms).” This has the odd effect of gazing at something familiar through a heavy mist, seeming simultaneously defined yet unknowable. (more…)

Landscape of Desire: Richard Cambridge Reviews Danielle Legros Georges’ The Dear Remote Nearness of You

April 1st, 2017

Managing Editor’s Note: In this post, Richard Cambridge asks us to consider how we can “chart the landscape of desire,” and concludes that we’ll “need something stronger than poems. [We] will need to make spells.” It is with this willingness to step right “across the border” and into the landscape of Danielle Legros Georges’ world that Cambridge offers his lush, complex, and thoughtful review. Enjoy this exploration of poetry that “yearns for the just and true.”

–Amy Grier

Landscape of Desire

by Richard Cambridge

Review: The Dear Remote Nearness of You by Danielle Legros Georges, Barrow Street Press, 2016, 61 pages

Winner of the Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize, 2016, (New England Poetry Club)

How to chart the landscape of desire? A pencil is a good start, a draft, a poem. But soon you’ll be dipping a pen in blood, your own blood, and the blood of your ancestors and your enemies. You’ll have crossed the border and entered the landscape. You’ll need something stronger than poems. You will need to make spells.

Danielle Legros Georges possesses the disciplines of a poet-warrior—spell, chant, ritual, theatre, incantation, painting, scholarship—to lead us through the landscape and catalogue the complicated geography of person, country (Haiti and the United States—Boston), and history, where we make home and how we find love, the consequences of colonialism, war, and race, the desire to make sense, and the necessity of beauty in our lives. (more…)

Writing as a Meditation Practice

February 26th, 2017

Managing Editor’s Note: Writing means many things to us–an escape or a chore, a creative challenge or a job, a craft or a skill, perhaps all of these at once. Some of us experience something of the spiritual, too, when we work; a fulfillment and insight into our own lives that we can’t get any other way. Our guest blogger today, Elaine Fletcher, describes writing not as an aid to meditation, but as meditation itself, an “internalized, felt experience of the Path.”     –Amy

 

WRITING AS A PATH OF MEDITATION

by Elaine Fletcher Chapman

The year my mother died, I claimed a desk for myself in the family room. I placed my notebook and the books that were my touchstones at the time on the desk. I bought a beautiful fountain pen from pennies saved, ink made from roses.

Nearby, my mother’s photo. Nearby, a bottle of the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, a blue postcard with the single word SOLITUDE printed on it. Nearby, a feather and rose quartz for healing the deepest wounds of the heart. I lit the incense and bowed with hands folded in prayer before I sat to write.

Now many years later, I still burn the same incense before I write. Sometimes though I depend on the lingering perfume to carry my words. I still bow. I sit with intention and invite mystery. I evoke the known and the unknown. When I sit, I know nothing and everything. I am the body. I lose the body. I lose time. I lose self. Self fades away and there is only the writing. (more…)

Fighting Mental Health Stigma: 7 Empowering Books by Black Women

February 6th, 2017

Managing Editor’s Note:

In this post, Lyndsey Ellis speaks to the challenge of coping with mental illness, especially in our post-election world, and finding the empowerment needed to fight its stigma. Any of us who love reading can’t help but nod emphatically when she writes, “A good read becomes the essential wellness tool for bookworms.”

–Amy

7 Books by Black Women That Empower Me

to Continue the Fight against Mental Health Stigma

Like many people, I’m still in post-election recovery mode. I’m shocked, confused, angry, sad, numb, yet somehow relieved that one of the vilest presidential campaigns in U.S. history is finally over.

Fortunately, there’s hidden triumphs in the bleakest moments. While the Internet, social media and half of America’s downtown districts are currently use-at-your-own-risk, a good read becomes the essential wellness tool for bookworms, especially the kinds of books that compel readers like me to broaden the discussion on the ultra-timely topic of mental health awareness.

As a person who’s experienced bullying and bouts of depression during childhood after her parents’ divorce, one of the only things I drew hope and comfort from were books. Lots and lots of them. With that, came a natural love for writing which has continued to feed my endless appetite for reading through adulthood.

As a Black woman, the urgency to explore and share the works of Black female authors is vital, especially during times like these when it’s easy to become hardened and defeated by the gross realities of bigotry and systemic oppression.

Here’s a few Black women whose books highlight mental health and in so doing, give me strength to heal myself and embrace compassion for all.

 

1) 4-Headed Woman by Opal Palmer Adisa

Opal Palmer Adisa’s 4-Headed Woman is a candidly nourishing poetry collection. Adisa’s work oozes with love, warmth, wit, awareness, and admiration for the complexities—and sometimes, the emotional and mental horrors—that often ring true for Black women. Her latest book is deeply matriarchal, weaving in food and humor to express relatable experiences. For me, it was a spiritual guide to womanhood that paid homage to mothers, sisters, aunts, mentors and endearing community elders who insist on keeping it real. (more…)

Listen and Look: Joyce Peseroff Reviews ask anyone by Poet Ruth Lepson

January 23rd, 2017

 

Reviewer—Joyce Peseroff

ASK ANYONE by Ruth Lepson, Pressed Wafer, 2016, 68pp., $12.50

Managing Editor’s Note:

Some reviews of poetry collections are not only insightful, but a pleasure to read. Reviewing poetry is a challenging task, given the art form’s sometimes slippery use of language and the subjective quality of interpretation.

Peseroff manages it beautifully. More than one of her sentences seems to sum up the entirety of the collection, including this: the poems “often dart between the mind and the world.” And this darting–isn’t this a wonderful description of the act of writing poetry?

–Amy 

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize, some questioned whether song lyrics qualified as literature. Some suggested that the committee was expanding the definition, first by anointing journalist Svetlana Alexievich in 2015 and then with Dylan in 2016. Others were reminded that the lyric poem originally accompanied a lyre. (more…)

Defining Diversity and Why #Black Lives Matter is a Statement of Unity

December 19th, 2016

Blog Editor’s Note: “Diversity” is a big word. To encourage diversity in the literary arts and beyond–even to begin a discussion about it–requires that we first define it and establish a common understanding around which we can rally. Then we can create ways to promote, engage in, and embrace its power.

Poet Kathleen Aguero explores this issue and more in her post below, “Verse and Diverse,” an account of a panel she moderated which featured our own Solstice editors. Read how difference can be “celebrated” and seen as “useful and edifying,” and why the phrase #Black Lives Matter means much more than we may think.

–Amy Grier, Managing Editor/Blog Editor

Verse and Diverse

The powerful grassroots movement, #BlackLivesMatter, is sometimes countered with the slogan “all lives matter.” Well, of course they do. That’s the point of #BlackLivesMatter—to demand we acknowledge the importance of lives, Black lives, too often treated as if they mattered not at all, with tragic results. So how do people of privilege and of whiteness learn to drop their defensive, “me, too. I matter too,” stance, as if respect and empathy were limited resources, and see themselves in relation to others? Why is diversity important? What does the term mean? And what role might a literary magazine play in constructing a space in which everyone can speak, be read, and engaged with? (more…)

Stories of Sexual Assault: Women, Men, and the Growing Community of Listeners

November 10th, 2016

Blog Editor’s Note:

Catcalls, unwanted touching, verbal harassment, bosses commenting on your body—sexually aggressive behavior and assault are so familiar to women that some of us are just beginning to talk about our experiences. Men, too, have their own stories to share.

In this guest post, Eileen O’Connor offers an insightful piece about the frequency of sexual harassment and assault in our culture. O’Connor doesn’t shy away from exploring her own past as both a victim of assault and perpetrator of microagression. Her ideas of how we can be complicit in preserving the status quo–by not listening to other’s stories, by laughing off our own experiences, and by staying passive in the midst of our sexist culture–are an important contribution to the conversation around this crucial issue.

Please note: We are seeking more voices on the topic of gender inequality—assault, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and more. Join the conversation and submit to the SolLit Blog! Read our guidelines here.

Cheers,

Amy Grier, Blog Editor


The Right Tweet at the Right Time

“Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”

sad_girlCanadian author Kelly Oxford’s tweet from the evening of October 7 was brave. Her call to women, “tweet me your first assaults,” was significant. It was the right tweet at the right time. By the next evening, Oxford was receiving up to fifty responses per minute. Millions of stories have since been shared at #notokay, and many of these tweets represent the first time someone has shared her story. Many note that, like me, they kept quiet for so long because of shame. It took me fourteen years.
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“Shifting Ground” and Hopeful Seasons in Wendy Mnookin’s Dinner with Emerson, and a Call for Submissions About Gender Inequality

October 19th, 2016

dinner_with_emersonBlog Editor’s Note: Today we feature Rebecca Hart Olander’s excellent review of Wendy Mnookin’s poetry collection Dinner with Emerson. Olander sums up her impression of these poems by writing that Mnookin’s readers are “on sure footing, despite standing on shifting ground and amidst transience.”

To me, this phrase offers hope in the fight against gender discrimination. Given recent events in the news, we may in fact feel that the ground is shifting beneath us as we push forward in this fight. A surge in the discussion surrounding issues of gender–discrimination, harassment, abuse, and cultural oppression–has revealed just how far we must travel to achieve the gender equality everyone deserves.

We at the SolLit Blog, as part of our mission to support diversity in the literary world and the world at large, want to do our part in facilitating that discussion by asking what you have to say about this important and highly relevant topic, one which occupies the minds of anyone concerned about gender rights.

Would you like to have your post featured here on the blog? I’m issuing a call for submissions dealing with issues of gender rights, including:

  • Gender Inequality
  • Hate Speech
  • Verbal/Emotional Abuse
  • Gender Violence
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Microagression
  • Gender-based Discrimination

Whether you’ve experienced, witnessed, or intervened in one or more of these situations, we’d like to hear about it. This includes discrimination against women, LGBTQ people, and the gender queer/gender fluid. Check out our submission guidelines here and send us your thoughts!

In Mnookin’s poems, Olander finds the message that “despite whatever we are slogging through, there will be another season.” Let’s seize this hope and allow it to fuel our thinking, our writing, and our speaking out for gender equality.

–Amy Grier

Blog Editor

______________

Dinner with Emerson by Wendy Mnookin, Tiger Bark Press, 2016, 108 pp/, $16.95

Wendy Mnookin’s fifth collection, Dinner with Emerson, is organized according to the four seasons. It begins with spring and runs through the year, followed by a fifth section, “Another Spring,” that features poems in a season that stretch beyond “Winter.” There is a sense of the ongoing about these poems, that life marches on, that we learn to turn the page, and that despite whatever we are slogging through, there will be another season. The poems in the final section continue to deal with change and loss, as some of the earlier poems do; this other spring is both new and renewing, and yet holds its fair share of hardship, as any season does. Balanced on the brink but not falling in, Mnookin’s book lives in the familiar terrain that most of us try to inhabit as our parents age and die, our children grow and change, and grandchildren and other renewals help us get back in the daily ring.

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Creative Strategies for Supporting Writers with Mental Illness

September 26th, 2016

Blog Editor’s Note: Recently, arriving at a writing workshop for my MFA, I noticed that a large, adjustable chair with wheels had been set aside near the blackboard. Taped on the back was a note with the name of one of the workshop attendants.

When this student arrived, her eyes briefly scanned the room and found the chair. She pulled it to the table and sat, and during the several hours we worked, she quietly twisted the chair right and left. I learned later that this was a necessary activity for controlling the pain in her chronically strained back. (more…)

Diversity and the Exploitiation of Adjunct Professors

August 26th, 2016

Blog Editor’s Note: A conversation with a professor inspired this piece by the poet Jennifer Jean. The issue of adjunct professors’ current struggle at universities–low pay, little or no benefits, not enough hours, pushback against attempts to unionize–pops up frequently in discussions about academic life. The failure of universities to fully diversify also remains a much-debated topic. Who knew a simple drive in a car could inspire such insightful, problem-solving ideas. –Amy

 

Grow Your Own

by Jennifer Jean

This past May, I drove Professor Gwendolyn Rosemond home after she attended one of the bi-annual artist retreats I co-direct with my husband—we traveled along scenic route 127, from Gloucester at the tip of Cape Ann in Massachusetts, to Salem which is further South, at the Northshore’s midpoint. We drove for about forty five minutes and in that span we solved both the adjunct problem and the diversity problem at universities. Well, we solved a key portion of these problems. “Grow your own!” Gwen said. And, she was absolutely right.

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Welcome From Amy, the New Blog Editor

August 18th, 2016

Hello! You have, for the first time, the tenth, or the hundredth, happened upon SolsticeLitBlog. We are the official blog of Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices. Welcome!

My name is Amy Grier and I’m the Blog Editor. First, thank you for stopping by. We love our readers and truly appreciate your support. Second, are you a writer? Do you have something you’d like to add to what our wonderful contributors have written? Consider writing a guest post for us!

Before sending something, be sure to first check out our guidelines for submitting blog posts. They’re important and will answer most, if not all, of your questions. We have been soliciting writing dealing with hate speech, but any topic is welcome if it fits our guidelines. (more…)

Interview With Lou Jones

August 5th, 2016

I was honored to interview the internationally known photographer, Lou Jones.

Lou also quietly serves on many boards to further photography and mentors multiple young photographers.  He is an artist who gives back, in his art and in his service.

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Richard Hoffman interviews Lee Hope

March 2nd, 2016

Due out on March 16th, you can order Horsefever today at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Like Lee Hope on Facebook. • MORE INFO: leehopeauthor.com

Who Sinks? Who Rises Up Again? An Interview with Lee Hope
(originally published at Fiction Writers Review)

Horsefever_Cover2.inddI have been an admirer of Lee Hope’s fiction for many years. Her widely published short stories are intricately balanced and fearlessly honest in their psychological and moral complexity. More than that, I am grateful to count her among my writer friends, those to whom I show work in progress, to whom I can go and yell “Help!” when I’ve written myself into a corner. For the past several years we have also been colleagues at Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, founded by Lee, and where she serves as editor-in-chief and I edit nonfiction. Not long ago, when my second memoir, Love & Fury (Beacon Press, 2014), was published, she interviewed me in the magazine.

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Announcing the Judges for our Annual Literary Contest

February 17th, 2016

The reading period for our Annual Literary Contest opens this Saturday (Feb 20th), and we couldn’t be more excited about this year’s judges!

Richard Blanco will be the judge for the Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry, Celeste Ng will be the judge for our Fiction Prize, and Michael Steinberg will be the judge for our Non-Fiction Prize.

Submissions will be open Feb 20th-Apr 20th, so polish your best work and send it our way!

More details on our esteemed judges are below. You can read last year’s winning pieces, and see guidelines for this year’s contest, on the Annual Literary Contest page.
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Review: Skin Music by Dennis Hinrichsen

February 10th, 2016

tn9781930508323Skin Music by Dennis Hinrichsen
Winner of the 2014 Michael Weaver Poetry Prize
Southern Indiana Review Press, 2015
74 pp., $14.95

 

 

One of the great pleasures of Dennis Hinrichsen’s award winning poetry collection, Skin Music, is watching the poet consider large questions and concepts while paying careful attention to the specific details of the world. The opening poem, “Variations on the Death by Drowning by the Poet Paul Celan,” starts with an almost professorial tone: “The heart in drowning must not be…” as if we were at an anatomy and physiology lecture, but the words that follow, “luminous/star-lit” move us into a more romantic realm which, in turn, is undercut by the next image—“but some porous leaf shape/knifing the current” and we’re back in a world in which the softness of “porous” co-exists with the violence of “knifing.” Such tonal shifts bring us up short making us pay attention, and Hinrichsen uses them to good effect throughout this collection. In, “Landscape with Desert and River,” for example, the speaker, with his acute eye, describes the riverbank, “New ice hangs from the roof of itself/and spikes/down—glacial, toothed­­—into the riverbed” (1-2) then, four stanzas later, observing the cold has drained blood from his hands, asks with an almost childlike curiosity “Where does it go—/the blood? How far backwards like vision/into the heart?” (14-16). Again and again the poet moves from observation to contemplation.

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Interview with Carmen Maria Machado

February 3rd, 2016

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press. She has been nominated for a Nebula Award and a Shirley Jackson Award, and her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New YorkerGrantaBest American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.

Managing Editor, Carissa Halston, interviewed Machado for Solstice about her forthcoming collection, writing as activism, and genre vs. style.

 

CH: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming collection, Her Body and Other Parties! Will you talk a bit about the overall project and how the manuscript came to be?

CMM: Happily! This collection has been an ongoing project since graduate school. My thesis, a collection with the same title, only shares 3 of the same stories. The majority of Her Body and Other Parties was written post-school. I’ve actually written a ton of work since then—enough for several collections, probably—but Her Body and Other Parties has a specific set of themes and concerns: the oppressed body, gender, sex and sexuality, media, myths and legends and ghosts and the uncanny. Some of the stories have been published online already, but there are a few that were print-only or are otherwise hard to find. And there’s a brand-new short story and a brand-new novella that haven’t been published at all. Overall, it’s a tight, sleek collection. I’m really excited to be working with Ethan Nosowsky at Graywolf; he’s a brilliant editor and really understands this project.

CH: In Los Angeles Review of Books, Sofia Samatar wrote, “Sex, capable of infinite variation, holds a prominent place in Machado’s fiction.” Last year, you published “A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity” (also at LARB), an essay that delved into your experience growing up in a religious community and how it affected your sexuality. Do you find those experiences informing your fiction? And, as a queer writer, do you view writing fiction as a type of activism?

CMM: Certainly, my experiences with my body—as a queer woman, as a fat woman, as a woman of color, as a woman who either wanted to or has had sex, as a woman, period—have shaped my concerns as a writer. Religion was certainly part of it, of course—especially when it came to navigating sex and sexuality—but I think we’re all marinating in a toxic societal stew of some sort, even if you’re not particularly religious. Slut-shaming and homophobia and transphobia can exist outside of religious contexts, for example. Also, we’re obsessed with weight and food shaming. And people of color experience their bodies being routinely devalued, set upon, and destroyed on a regular basis. Our culture hates bodies. Its only interest is making us hate them, and punishing us if we don’t. I love my body. But sometimes the stress is too much, and I wish I could just be a brain in a jar. (But you can’t drink dirty martinis or eat soup dumplings if you’re a brain in a jar, so… it’s tricky.)

As for the question of “activism,” I think that if you’re a woman, a queer person, a person of color, a non-cisgender person, a non-able-bodied person, etc., writing is inherently a form of activism because you’re staking a claim in a world that is not meant for you. When you try and put your work into the world, you’re saying “I think that what I have to say, in the way I say it, is so important that I am willing to try and get it to other people, no matter what it takes.” And that requires ego, in the best way possible. It requires that you take yourself and your craft and your voice seriously. When you’re not white, not male, not cisgender or straight or able-bodied, that ego is a radical act. So yes, the fact that I take myself seriously as an artist and do what I can to put my work out into the world is a form of activism.

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Interview with Poet Ruth Lepson

January 20th, 2016

Ruth Lepson is poet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music. She is the author of the poetry volumes I Went Looking for You (BlazeVOX, 2009), Morphology with photographer Rusty Crump (BlazeVOX, 2008), Dreaming in Color (Alice James Books, 1980), and editor of Poetry from Sojourner: A Feminist Anthology (University of Illinois Press, 2004).  A forthcoming book, ask anyone (Pressed Wafer), will appear with musical settings.

 

Consulting Poetry Editor Danielle Georges interviewed Ruth Lepson for SolsticeLitMag in April 2015.  Excerpts of this conversation appear below.

DLG:  Ruth, your name came up several times when I began gathering work for this issue ofSolstice Magazine. Can you talk a bit about why you feel your work is seen as “experimental” by others?

 

RL:  I would call it innovative as opposed to experimental because in a sense all poets are experimental. I’m interested in the poets who have been moving the language forward and thinking about language in our time.  That means Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, especially Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, George Oppen and other Objectivist poets, and some of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.  For me there is a strain of quintessentially American poetry other than Native American poetry that maybe starts with Whitman, and Dickinson, and then Stein, who was 100 years ahead of her time.

The first time I heard Robert Creeley read, that was it for me.  He’s been the essential person to me. And you know that he’s influenced generations of innovative poets. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets say they couldn’t have existed without Creeley and especially his book Pieces. It still seems pretty revolutionary. I am always trying to approach that, and I hope I’ve done that more in my most recent book. I think of Creeley as being half way between lyrical and what you might call a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet, and I think that’s where I am—trying to be honest through my own sensibility and still deal with the concerns that Creeley was dealing with because those are the ones that grab ahold of me in my life.

DLG: What are some of those concerns?

RL: What does it mean to be a person?  What does it mean to be alive, knowing that we are going to die?  What does it mean to live in the moment?  What is communication? Creeley was obsessed with, and examining, the whole question of communication.  What does it mean to try to convey something to somebody else? He was unsure whether you could teach anybody anything he or she didn’t already know. Well, how did that person come to know it?  Through experience.  There is another kind of knowing that comes from reflecting on that experience; and that’s part of what a poem is.

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