Monday, August 25, 2014

Celebrate the Unexpected – Welcoming the Poetry of Place: A Guest Post by Wendy Erd

Independence Mine (photo by Mike Criss)

I lost my way on Raspberry Road, driving without good directions on a recent stay in Anchorage and turned into a side road to make a U turn. In the August sun, the bright glint of metal caught my eye as a man in shorts and a faded teeshirt slowly moved his real leg, then his prosthetic leg traveling toward me down the dirt road.  Maybe I was meant to take this turn after all, to witness such perseverance and unsteady grace.  We never met eyes, his focused on each step he took and yet he shook me awake from my small bag of thoughts.

Later that day I wandered along streets unfamiliar to me, though clearly home to many with their scatter of gardening tools and wicker chairs and overturned boats.  Kids' laughter bounced off a back yard trampoline. Geese veered over birch tops, while at my feet a beetle, lustrous in late light, clambered over a bent stalk with the same slow intentioned steps as the man I watched earlier that day.

When we are strangers to a place we see it with wide unexpectedness. If we are in love with words, we begin to set language and meaning to tell how the world comes at us and through us, intersecting who we are and what we bring to the moment.  Sometimes these small notes of attention find their way to become poems.

Poems in Place celebrates such poetry of place, language born both from the freshly apprehended as well as from old knowing engendered from deep rootedness in a place.

Over the next two weekends Poems in Place, a project that puts poems written by Alaskan writers on outside signs in Alaska’s state parks, will celebrate this year’s recently selected poems by Tom Sexton and Tim Troll with free public events and dedication celebrations.

On Saturday August 30th, from 11-1 pm at Independence Mine State Historical Park, Tom Sexton, Alaska’s poet laureate from 1994 until 2000 and the author of several collections of poetry, will give a talk on the poetry of place and the characteristics he believes define such poetry. He will discuss poems by Elizabeth Bishop, W.B. Yeats, Wesley McNair and several other poets. Audience members are invited to bring a poem about a place that they admire or one of their own composition. As many poems as possible will be discussed before lunch. The dedication of Tom’s poem in place, Independence Mine, August, will be celebrated from 2-3 pm. The workshop is free and open to anyone age 18 or older. Space at the talk is limited; please register in advance at

The following Saturday, September 6th,  from 10:30-12:30 pm at Lake Aleknagik, selected poet Tim Troll and Yupik translator Molly Chythlook will share their knowledge of Yupik place names, the original language linked to Lake Aleknagik and Wood-Tikchik areas. Tim produced a short weekly program for KDLG public radio called "Our Story," stories passed down in Yup'ik lore.  Together Molly and Tim conducted traditional ecological knowledge interviews and mapped the original names for local places. The dedication of Tim’s poem, The Wisdom of the Old Ones, follows from 2- pm

As writers and readers, please join us to celebrate the unexpected… poems of place published outside book covers and seeded on permanent signs in the embrace of the late autumn sun, fresh air and changing light. 

Poems in Place is supported by Alaska State Parks, Alaska Center For the Book, the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, Alaska Humanities Forum, the Usibelli Foundation, Alaska Poetry League and numerous generous individuals.

 As a preview to Tom Sexton's workshop (and inspiration for the drive to Hatcher Pass), here's one of Tom's poems:

Autumn in the Alaska Range

Drive north when the braided glacial rivers
have begun to assume their winter green.
When crossing Broad Pass, you might see
the shimmer of caribou moving on a distant ridge
or find a dark abacus of berries in the frost
on the boggy trail to Summit Lake. Beyond this,
the endless mountains curving like a scimitar.
And in the querulous mind, the yearning heart
a sudden immeasurable calm.

                                                Tom Sexton

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