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Return to Mattie’s Pillow

January 2, 2016

Hello, friends of Mattie’s Pillow!

I’ve been on a couple-year hiatus from this blog, but, with some encouragement from friends who have been readers of Mattie’s Pillow, and with the enthusiasm that a new year brings, I’m ready to pick it up again.

When I first started this blog in 2009, I was on a semester-long sabbatical, working on readying both a chapbook and a book of poetry for publication, as well as teaching poetry for a charter school class called “Climate Change and Creative Expression”–an experimental mix of science, dance, and poetry. It was a regenerative time when I felt full of writing energy and wanted to explore some ideas about the intersection among the various directions in my life at the time (and still): writing, dance, gardening, horses, teaching. I also wanted to explore an idea–a daydream, really–that I had been turning in my mind for some time: to find a physical place that could bring all of those things together the way Jacob’s Pillow does for dancers, thus the name Mattie’s Pillow. I still have Mattie, my cranky black bay Tennessee Walking Horse mare, but my vision of a physical place is changing.

I began to slow down on blogging the spring when four significant people in my life–friends, poets, life models–died within a month of each other, and I didn’t want to bog down the blog with elegy after elegy. I pretty much stopped when I had to step in as chair of my university department rather abruptly–and stayed in that role for three years. For a while, work took all the creative energy I had.

But that’s over now, and, again, I feel the need to write and the urge to use this blog as a platform.

My intent is to change a few things in the way I’ve approached this blog. For one, I no longer feel so cagey about writing about my age or my location in Interior Alaska. As I approach retirement–still a fuzzy date, but I think about it every day–I’d like to write about what it means to go through this stage of life as a professional woman. In fact, I’d like to broaden this blog to include memories and reflections on current times–a little more honest take on the world around us.

I plan to keep the sections of the blog: Sam will still comment on the life with horses here at Mattie’s Pillow, and I’ll continue to post about the view from my home on the ridge and write about dance in our community and beyond. It occurs to me that this will make the blog somewhat unfocused, but bear with me. I think it will sort itself out.

I have also been writing about family history as a way to explore themes in American history–particularly the history of women in the 19th and early 20th Century. I’ll post some of this.

I may finally be willing to post photos–but this blog is still mainly about writing.

OK. I can see that this is all pretty ambitious. Be patient. Send me comments and thoughts. We’ll see how it develops.

John Haines

March 3, 2011

I just got word that John Haines died today–or the day that just ended.  An article on the Fairbanks Daily News Miner’s website says he took a fall in December and never really recovered.  He died with friends around him here in Fairbanks.

Here’s a link to some of John’s poems.

I used to see John at events and in the hallway at the university.  Once John started going profoundly deaf, he became cranky, convinced that he wasn’t getting his due as a poet.  I believe he wasn’t, in part because he made it difficult for those who wanted to get to know him and for those who wanted to be his poetic peers.  But he appreciated a few things–good whiskey, good conversation, someone to set the mike levels properly for a reading, a bonfire now and again, attentive students, and friendships that stretched back to the more rugged days before the oil pipeline.

He had a melodious voice–almost too much so, since his audiences could become lulled by it in a warm room on a winter night.  His deafness dulled the edges of that voice so that his consonants disappeared and a sort of bass rumble took over.  When I organized readings for the Fairbanks Arts Association years ago, I would have him come in and read a bit about a half hour before the reading started, so I could adjust the sound levels on his voice, bumping up the treble to catch the consonants and lowering the bass.  Every time I did this, people would say it was the best Haines reading they had heard.  I don’t know if there are any recordings of his readings around, but he had friends in the music world–most notably John Luther Adams–so I imagine something of his voice remains behind.

Volumes of poems and essays do, and many students carry on the work of putting down the essence of the land and capturing in it the essence of human experience in the North and in the wider world.

We Tempt Our Luck

September 21, 2009

The title poem from my new chapbook,  We Tempt Our Luck:

We Tempt Our Luck

Where we walk

there’s sun over everything:

a field of purple vetch,

yarrow, the peppery smell

of July.  Still heat, still

glinting light, still green

leaves–jagged, feathery–

but the day’s slipped

a little south now;

beneath all, a whisper

of cool.

We know what will come.

The fields lie mowed, the barley

raked in gray-green rows

for the baler.  The next field’s

plowed for seeding.  The mushroom

backs of cranes move

like shadows, dinosaur

necks stretch down

for bits of grain, insects.

A boy sits in the road

beside them, writing, dreaming

wanting his luck to stay.

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