Monday, January 25, 2010

Looking back: Belfast Poetry Festival 2009

Here is the first in a short series of posts to make up for my complete lack of posting this fall! A few really cool things happened this fall that I want to make sure to capture, for myself and anyone reading this. The event I want to write about here is the Belfast Poetry Festival, an incredible small town event that's been going on here for a few years now.

I had the honor of serving on the festival's committee this year, which was put together by our beloved poet laureate, Linda Buckmaster and gave me the chance to work with some wonderful other poets from the area. The Belfast Poetry Festival is, as far as I know, unlike any other, in that it pairs Maine poets with Maine visual artists in all mediums to create original collaborations which are then highlighted at the festival. The poets and artists can do whatever they want: sometimes the poets write about existing art; sometimes the artists make work about existing poems; sometimes they just create alongside one another; and sometimes they make something wholly new together. It's pretty incredible. This year the teams included a poet who read while accompanied by choreographed modern dancers, a poet who read with a jazz drummer, a calligrapher/book artist & poet pairing, etc.

Because I was on the committee, I got a little bit of an insider's advantage and had a hand in choosing the artist with whom I was matched. I got the painter/sculptor/installation artist Paul Oberst, and we immediately fell in love. We'd never met before, but when I visited his studio in Freedom, we had all these instant connections that I found in his work: grids, the idea of spirit and soul, quilts, folk art, tabernacle imagery, text/image juxtapositions, gold-leafing, and on and on. We had a long talk, and I took notes, and the result was a poem in which I tried to speak through Paul's work back at him. Much to my delight, he was thrilled with the poem, and used it to mirror my words back at me through new letterpress sheets and sculptures in response to my response! It was this incredible, trance-like loop of our shared inspirations. (Paul also reminded me a lot of one of my dear friends and mentors, the poet Michael Burkard.)

Paul also got hugely inspired to turn our collab into a public art work, and petitioned the town to allow him to post professionally fabricated lamp post signs of words from my poem all over the town, as if my poem was some sort of local marketing campaign. It was so cool. He also made "picketing signs" of my words and these were carried all over town during the festival, and cryptically put signs in the store windows of the downtown as well.

And then Paul had the brilliant suggestion of bringing in another element of collaboration: a local musician named Dan Beckman. So then Dan and I did this sound performance of my poem together, complete with samples and sound effects, live at both the festival and one "rehearsal" run. This was also a match made in heaven, and Dan and I had a great time (and later I became the childbirth education teacher for Dan and his partner and fellow artist Amy!). Maybe I'll figure out how to upload the sound file here sometimes.

You've got to come to this festival sometime if you can. This year also featured a jazz improv poetry brunch, where anyone could get up and try their hand at a Beat tradition; an "old home" night for poets from across Waldo County, and other fantastic events. Oh, and did I mention most events were PACKED?! With audience for poetry?! On a Saturday in a small town?!

I'm so grateful to all my fellow organizers, especially for putting me in touch with Paul and Dan. I love collaborative art-making, and am hoping to work with both of them again in the future.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One year since our arrival

I'm so sorry to have been away from this blog for so long, but my absence is an accurate reflection of our lives toward the end of 2009: too busy to fit in everything we wanted to do. As those of you with small children know all too well, it was just one illness/school vacation/Rob work trip/pick-your-mundane-disruption after another.

But there was plenty of wonder and beauty and joy in all that busyness as well. For example: we got really involved with an amazing group of folks who are starting a cohousing project; I started teaching childbirth education classes in the community; the Baby's First Year support group I started in September developed into a lovely and tight-knit little bunch of regular attendees; Willa went apple-picking with school and we pressed cider for the first time on an antique cider press; our winter CSA of root vegetables and squashes and things began, from our friends Maia and Jacob at After the Fall farm; we trick-or-treated around Belfast; we hosted a locavore Thanksgiving; we celebrated Chanukah as darkness fell around us; I read poetry in Belfast's New Year's By the Bay; I finished my first ever knitting project, a scarf, and took a rug-hooking class; and on and on.

And Jem learned to crack himself up, sit up on his own, and just generally is continually getting cuter and sweeter and funnier all the time. He's a social kid with an easy laugh and an eagerness for fun. He and Willa think the world of each other. When he pulls her hair (and he pulls hard!) or bites her face (and he bites hard! his third tooth is coming in now!), she just laughs with pleasure.

Oh, and I was a participant in (as well as on the committee of) the Belfast Poetry Festival in October--that was incredible. I'll have to dedicate a post just to that.

And jeez, did I really never blog about the Common Ground Fair back in September?! I'm heartbroken about that. I'd love to go back and try to conjure it up, because it really is just about the greatest thing on earth, to my mind. I will save that for another post as well.

Before I go for now, though, two observations about life here in small town Maine: first, the connection to the seasons continues to amaze and nourish me. When the winter solstice hit, wow, was it dark. (Literally, but also metaphorically: it was the second anniversary of our son Day's burial.) Everyone feels the darkness in a deep way. The snow came with it, and basically has not left since. But everyone gets out and cross-country skis and snowshoes and watches the ice on the ponds and it's pretty magical. And even now, in January, people comment on how it's still light at 4:30 PM, and what a gift that is, and how we really only have a couple more months to go, and isn't the snow beautiful, and it just seems like such a healthy and reverent attitude towards the season. Secondly, our interconnectedness with the community continues to deepen. Rob and I were thrilled when we came back from our winter vacation, went to the Co-op, and not only did the woman at the deli counter know us by name, but the cashier knew our member number by heart. We've really arrived!

And with this feeling of true "arrival," we've also started to think, bittersweetly, about our departure this summer. People stop us all the time and ask, "When are you going back? Wait, you're going back? What do you mean?" Today someone said to me, "I heard you're moving to Chicago!" No, I explained for the millionth time: we live in Chicago; we always planned to be here for a year and a half. But it's amazing to feel like our presence is so felt and might actually be missed. You don't really feel that so much in a city of three million people.

One last note: last night I skimmed through Amanda Soule's The Creative Family, which I got for a holiday present (thanks, Margy!). Soule is a Maine mama and blogger, and though the book is sort of a coffee-table thing in some ways (lots of gorgeous styling and photos), I still did find it genuinely inspiring. The slowed-down, mindful, small-pleasure-filled life she strives for--and seems to achieve: her family does things like keep track of "gratitudes" at the dinner table, hang up kids' art and postcards and leaves and things on an "inspiration wire," and use the top of one bookshelf for a seasonally-changing altar of natural, found materials--is one that appeals to me immensely. Maybe in 2010 I'll get a bit closer to it. I do feel like in some ways, for all our hectic pace and Jem's arrival and our never-ending overthinking, I got a little closer to it in 2009. Baby steps.

And here are a few photos for you, too, because I can't resist posting photos of my kids. Many more to come.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October begins

Just a quick post to report this exciting news: this weekend I canned my own baby food for the first time! Not only did I can it, but I made it from start to finish--other than planting the tree. We harvested pears from the tree in the backyard, ripened them, then I cooked and pureed them and canned them so that a few months from now, when Jem is ready, he'll have baby food fresh from our own yard! And it came out DELICIOUS, if I do say so myself: miles away from standard (even organic) baby food.

Hope to post about the Common Ground Fair soon. One thing I'm pleased about was discovering locker hooking, an Australian rug hooking technique that makes really lovely Berber-like rugs from wool roving or fabric strips. I got a kit. I'm also taking a traditional rug hooking workshop in November. I've been in love with folk art, antique hooked rugs for years, but they're expensive, and I thought it'd be fun to learn to make them myself. And now I am. Yay!

We all have colds here and are dealing with the change to chilly, rainy weather after a gorgeous, clear September. Yesterday was the Church Street festival in town, a long-running, grassroots parade put on by the woman who runs the children's playhouse downtown. It's apparently always been a goofy, hippie, magical event--you show up at Mary's house in the morning, get a costume out of her barn, put it on and walk! We were told it was not-to-miss, so we went out for it, even though it was raining and we were sniffling. It's just another one of the many enchanted Belfast traditions. Here's a photo of us. Willa is dressed as Pippi Longstocking--she plans to dress as Eloise for Halloween--and is carrying a sign made by the artist Paul Oberst, my collaborator for the Belfast Poetry Festival coming up later this month. More on that soon, too, I hope--we had a trial run performance of my poem with Paul's work installed all around us and live sound accompaniment by local musician Dan Beckman of Uke of Spaces Corners at Roots & Tendrils gallery on Friday evening as part of the Art Walk. Um, yeah: art walks, bands, sculptors. Belfast is pretty darn cool.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Willa's first day of school, 2009

Sorry not to have posted in awhile! Fall has come to Belfast, and we have all been happily busy getting into the rhythm of the new season. Willa is back in school in the 3-6 Chickadee classroom at Cornerspring Montessori, Rob is at work for various colleges and private high schools on new campaigns (with a little travel coming up), and I'm diving my time between book projects, the sabbatical project (the oral history of the new back-to-the-land movement), office work at Morningstar Midwifery, keeping in touch with Columbia College, volunteering for Citizens for Midwifery, various little poetry gigs (sending out manuscripts, readings upcoming at Bates and the Belfast Poetry Festival, at which I'm collaborating with a visual artist and a musician), and on and on. And Jem is learning to laugh and grab. To keep us all relatively sane, I've devised a household schedule that is timed to within an inch of all of our lives. But it's kind of working.

And part of the schedule (and point of the schedule) is to make sure we have enough time for reading, crafts, open play with the kids, and cooking good food. All of which are also happening, happily!

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Common Ground Fair, put on by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association and the social event of the season here in Waldo County. We are attending all three days of the fair, volunteering at tables and shopping for Maine-made goods and produce, attending workshops and lectures and joining in the contradancing and kids' vegetable parade. Every single aspect of the fair is so exciting to me, from the sheepdog trials to the spinning demonstrations, from the talks on social justice and permaculture to the workshops on baking bread, not to mention all the FOOD, all of which is organic and grown and made right here in Maine.

Below, some pics from the past month or so, including evidence of Ravit and Gabe's wonderful visit at the end of August, complete with country fair (and my first canning experiment: Ravit and I canned nine jars of blueberry jam made from wild organic local blueberries!); our friend Ava's Labor Day, outdoor wedding; our egg share from our friends at Fail Better Farm; and more.
Kids with the newlyweds Uncle Gabe & Aunt Ravit
Beautiful eggs from Clayton and Kendra at Fail Better Farm

With the Union Fair Blueberry Queen

Jem, also known as WonderchubBlueberry jam I canned with Ravit!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Jem, four months!

With Safta and Sabi.

Contradancing at the VFW.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer at last

Well, we had to wade (literally) through July, but August is now here and it's a doozy. Ocean breezes! Country fairs! Blueberries! Above is Willa on a ride at the Rockland Lobster Fest. Somehow lobster prepared in the middle of a hot day on a fairgrounds doesn't seem so smart to us, but thousands of fair-goers can't be wrong.

Here's Willa at the beach when we went to visit Josh and Rachel and co., who were staying on Cape Elizabeth.
This shot of Willa and Rob at a sheep farm in Union on Open Farm Day in late July gives a sense of our mostly gray, chilly summer. Still beautiful, though.

As is this guy, now 3 1/2 months, smiling and cooing and snuggly...

And then also often quite serious and thoughtful (I would not call him a jolly baby. Certainly calm, but not jolly.).

Family is coming soon to visit (yay, guests! finally!) and I feel very excited to show off our little bit of seaside paradise.

When are you coming?

Monday, July 6, 2009

July thus far

Rob and Willa canoeing on an ultimately stormy July 4th at the Sanborn Pond camp of our dear friends Donna and Ellie.

Willa picking strawberries from our own backyard by the bay! I made a strawberry rhubarb crisp for the 4th.

Jem has really been practicing this whole smiling thing and getting it down pretty well now. Here's the first time it was captured on film, sort of mid-grin.

I know I'm biased, but is this kid a looker or what?! Age 10 weeks.