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Review by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
Christopher Nelson is a master's candidate and Jacob Javits Fellow at the University of Arizona. In 2009 his chapbook Blue House, selected by Mary Jo Bang for the New American Poets Series, was published by the Poetry Society of America. You can purchase a copy of Blue House at http://nelsonpoetry.blogspot.com. He is also a teacher of composition, creative writing, and literature. Click here to read Chris Nelson's recent interview with WordPlay on teaching.
Familial "troubles" are tricky to render. If the poems are too personal, they run the risk of being sentimental, melodramatic, and could easily alienate the reader. If they are too aloof or impersonal, they risk of being insensitive, not genuine, and leaving the reader wondering why s/he should care. However, Blue House is neither confessional nor distant. Nelson has crafted a meditative speaker who, even while employing the third person as a distancing tactic, manages to sustain an intense closeness to the subject--familial devastation--and a direct connection with the reader, and manages to leave the reader devastated.
Collaborative Poetry can push an experience and build group cohesiveness, validate feelings and foster confidence with words. My first experience facilitating a collaborative poem remains a model for my other forays into group writing.
In 2000, I was working with an inter-generational group of refugees from Central America in the Owl and Panther Program, a partnership of The Hopi Foundation and the Pima County Public Library. We started the workshop by viewing the poignant film If the Mango Tree Could Speak. The film documented youth who couldn't flee the violence in Guatemala and El Salvador as the families in this workshop had. We watched and listened as the youth in the film shared what they experienced and witnessed.
Interview by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
Christopher Nelson is a master's candidate and Jacob Javits Fellow at the University of Arizona. In 2009 his chapbook Blue House, selected by Mary Jo Bang for the New American Poets Series, was published by the Poetry Society of America. He has taught composition, creative writing, and literature for several years at Catalina Foothills High School and, most recently, at the University of Arizona. His interviews with poets can be read at http://nelsonpoetry.blogspot.com.
Elizabeth: What inspired you to teach to the Poetry Center's Reading & Lecture series?
Chris: There's a history to that inspiration that goes back ten years, which is how long I've been enjoying the Poetry Center's offerings. Actually, it goes back further than that, in a round-about way: as an undergraduate at Southern Utah University I had the privilege of being in a small writing program (directed by poet David Lee) that was visited by several talented poets: Samuel Green, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, and Leslie Norris, to name a few. During these visits I remember feeling something new to me: poetry as a living thing, as something that would inhabit the room and pass among us. These moments with living language were catalytic and quickening in a way that time alone with my favorite books was not. I remember hearing Joy Harjo sing her poems, and now when I read them, I can hear her vocal inflections and sense a poem's lilt and pulse. I remember Robert Hass's fascinating introductions to his poems; there was such seamlessness between the man and the poet that he was often well into reading a poem before I realized that he was no longer introducing it. I would draw inspiration for weeks from one such visit. So, you see, I'd caught the bug, the poetry virus.
By Wendy Burk
Wendy is the Poetry Center's Library Specialist, who works with Rodney Phillips to maintain the library and assist patrons in accessing the collection. She is a poet with an MFA from The University of Arizona, and is also a translator of Spanish.
During this past academic year, 1,100 people visited the Poetry Center for field trips and tours. Students of all ages, from preschool to university, come to the Poetry Center and it is our job to make poetry come alive for them with time to read, write, and explore the Helen S. Schaefer Building.
Molly Reed's first- and second-grade class from Borton Magnet Primary School was the first student group to try out a new curriculum designed and led by Poetry Center docent Sandy Szelag. Inspired by a visit to the Desert Museum and poet Pablo Neruda's "Odes to Common Things," Sandy developed a field trip that introduces the Ode/Praise Poem form to elementary school students with the help of a Pack Rat puppet named Pablo Neruda. A week after the Borton class visit, Rosalie Perales's first- and second-grade students from Miles Exploratory Learning Center experienced the same curriculum.
Interview by Sol Davis
Sol: As a child at a recent birthday party asked after being released from the coils of your tale spinning: "How do you remember the stories?" In other words, what is your process for storytelling?
Jordan: My process is pretty straightforward--I read or hear a story, and then I try to tell it to someone (anyone!). If it's written, I might read it again, but the best way for me to remember it is simply to tell it, as much as possible. I have a pretty good memory, so that helps. But more importantly is the fact that remembering stories is NOT the same as memorizing, as people often think. Rather, it is more akin to remembering life experiences. For the most part, people don't have to work to remember remarkable things that have happened to them in their life (or their day yesterday)--it simply happens, and when someone asks, "How was your day?" you don't think twice before telling the story of whatever happened. In the same way, if one imagines a story vividly enough (whether through hearing it, reading it, or seeing it performed), then it almost becomes like one's own memories, and simply telling the story becomes as natural as telling a friend what happened to you the other day.