Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Linda Martin: A Poetry Reading in Homer


The Bunnell Street Art Gallery faces Kachemak Bay and the southern sky. On May 21st, the light went on and on, shining on three musicians as they opened the evening, shining on the audience seated early in their eagerness to hear Eva Saulitis read from her latest book of poetry—Prayer in Wind (Boreal Books, 2015). The upbeat music featured Asia on washboard, Michael on guitar, Lasse on harmonica. The audience included many Homer painters, writers, musicians—and many, many students from Eva’s writing classes at Kenai Peninsula College. She has taught classes at KPC since 1999.

Eva and her husband Craig Matkin are marine biologists. They study whales in Prince William Sound. They spend winters in Hawaii. On this night in May, they had only recently returned from Hawaii and from a two-week research stint in the Sound. Many of us in the audience followed Eva’s story of metastatic breast cancer through her Caring Bridge blog posts. We knew that the lovely blonde hair framing her face was a wig made from her own hair, long and lustrous before chemo. 

Jo Going, painter, poet, and yoga teacher to whom Prayer in Wind is dedicated, stood to make the introduction. She is wiry and petite, whimsical in her multi-colored jacket. There were strands of pink in her hair. She glanced toward the bay before she addressed the audience. Eva began writing the fifty-eight prayer/poems that comprise her book seated in a window seat at Jo’s house, watching day break over Kachemak Bay. 

Then we had Eva before us. She is beautiful. She glowed with life as she prepared to read poems that confront death. But first, she thanked the Homer doctors and nurses who made it possible for her to stand there and read. Tears came, tissues were offered, she smiled through it and began to read Prayer from Christian Wiman’s book One Evening in the West. His prayer is for his readers, especially those whose minds are “blurred by anxiety or despair,” to find peace in his poems.

Eva explained how each poem in her book was written before sunrise, some in Homer, some in Hawaii. They came out of her daily practice of writing early in the morning, and out of her impulse toward prayer following the recurrence of cancer. The poems are numbered and dated. Eva began with Prelude: After Recurrence. Then she read Prayer 1 that ends with a plea from the poet for a delay. “Please don’t let anything/begin or be/just yet.” 

Time did seem suspended while Eva read seven more poems. On the wall behind her hung light-colored ceramic pieces by visiting artist Sarah Beaty, partial spiral shapes like motion temporarily stilled. The only extra sounds happened when a listener leaned intently forward in his chair to catch the words, or when particular end lines caused small gasps of admiration from the audience. “This is a love song for the cows,” Eva read at the end of Prayer 21, a list of ways she has wasted time. In Prayer 47 she pondered her childhood near Lake Erie, ending with “the oak-shady/creek bottom where all/my secrets are kept.”

Eva paused after Prayer 56, to let us know that the last poem she planned to read was dedicated to her Latvian mother who died recently. In Prayer 48, the poet remembers her mother teaching her to fold egg whites into the “yolk/sugar/flour” when making a sponge cake. “We were incorporating lightness into a deep bowl,” the poem declares, as daylight begins to show. The poem ends with the heaviness of love for the mother folded with “moonlight, the sound/of water spattered on leaves. . .The cake imperfect, but finished.”

There was time for questions and the audience responded with curiosity and with expressions of admiration. Asked about prayer, Eva defined the prayers in her book as “an engagement with reality.” Instead of prayer detaching her from the world, she became more deeply rooted in the world she loves. She turned the question back to the audience. “What are your definitions of prayer?” she asked. Some of us are still pondering our answers, pondering Eva’s answer and rereading the 58 prayers in her book, rereading her prelude and her final poem called After with these haunting words: “Shrouded . . . in swaths of fleabane, iris, hellebore. . . Mind changed into mind of meadow.”

Eva signed books and accepted hugs. The musicians played a little longer. The crowd dispersed. Love, not death, was the theme of the evening. Eva Saulitis is a poet dearly loved in her hometown.

Linda Martin lives in Homer, Alaska, where she and her husband own and operate a full-service glass shop. Her first book of poetry, I Follow in the Dust She Raises, was published in March 2015 by the University of Alaska Press.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, Linda. I would have loved to be there and hear those wonderful poems read aloud in Eva's singular voice. Your account is loving and gives a little feel of being there, as well as celebrating a fantastic new collection.
Also, I like this idea for future 49 Writers posts--a play-by-play of a literary event after it happened, from the point of view of someone who went. I know there are many of us across the state who miss events we'd love to have attended.
Christine

Nancy Lord said...

Very nice!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Beautiful--thank you, Linda. And Eva for all she's given us through the years.