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.