Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Five Questions for a Poet Laureate: Joan Logghe

As part of our continuing coverage of Axle Contemporary's "Haiku Roadsign" display in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we've managed to snag a great interview with the judge of the haiku contest that generated all the poems now found in and around the town.  She's Joan Logghe, and in addition to being the judge of this contest, she's also the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe!  Let's see what she has to say...

1. The city of Santa Fe was founded back in 1610, making it the oldest state capitol in America.  How far back does the post of Poet Laureate go?  Do you still get the traditional "butt of sack" awarded to you?

We just had our big  Santa Fe 400 celebration and I was a poetry judge for the student poets who wrote about Santa Fe.  Their poems were placed in a time capsule.   I am the third Poet Laureate or as I call it PL so it began in 2006.  The term is two years and I was preceded by the amazing Arthur Sze and the fabulous Valerie Martinez.  No "butt of sack" for me, but ample opportunity for drink, a small stipend, and a full dance card.  I have attended more galas and awards dinners than ever in my life.  I think a nice case of wine or at least free parking downtown would be a wonderful addition to the PL life.

2. What sorts of educational activities are you involved in as Poet Laureate?

The educational aspect is one of the considerations in choosing the PL.  I have been in the schools for over 30 years, first as volunteer and then it evolved into various Poet-in-the Schools gigs and in one case, Santa Fe Girls' School, eleven years as a poet-in-residence teaching once a week over three years.  I am dedicated to enriching a culture of poetry in our community.

For this PL term I wanted to show young children how I fell in love with poetry and how much fun it is.  I selected poems from my youth and beyond and with composer and musician, Jeremy Bleich, made a performance piece called "Joan and the Giant Pencil" after James and the Giant Peach.  I used this name because I have been able to borrow a wonderful four foot yellow pencil called "Future" from Kathleen McCloud, a former writing student and awesome artist. The pencil comes to every school or museum or library with us, and I have two great poems about pencils that I found, one by US PL W.S. Merwin (enough initials for you?) and one by a Spanish language poet, Jesus Carlos Soto Morfin.

I move from poems I loved as a child to Frost and Dickinson and Carl Sandberg and my own poems. There are several bilingual poems as often our audiences have native Spanish speakers.  The program is about 50 minutes long and it keeps attention even of very small children.  They love Jeremy and the music, and it is interactive so they get to clap out gallops, or echo words as I read the poems.  Some of the teachers then write with the students, though they are mostly very busy.  We'll be at Santa Fe Children's Museum this July 14th and they are making a poetry festival there.

I have also done things as diverse as teaching poetry in the Community Gallery f the Santa Fe Arts Commission, at a show called "Mining the Unconscious" this past Saturday to speaking and reading at a variety of poetry or community events. Even if it is my upcoming Fourth of July appearance at the Pancake Breakfast on the plaza, I try and lure folks into loving poetry, or remembering they did as a child.

3. How did you get involved with the Axle Contemporary group?

I think I sat down in the Gallery/Van early on beside the Farmer's Market site.  I knew Jerry Welman vaguely, and then it progressed to casually, and finally it is dearly. Matthew I just met on the van.  Both of these men are so visionary and fun to hang out with.  Then they asked me to judge the contest, lured only by my new Poet Laureate outfit.  I had an insane schedule of things I had said "yes" to. I was feeling a slight 'No" welling up in me.

Once we met and talked, I knew it would be fun to work together and I could practice playing well with others (I tend to like being my own boss and co-conspirator). I have been to several of the Axle Contemporary openings, not as many as I would like as I live 25 miles north of town and value down time and taking a no-drive day every week.   But I was bragging about them to everyone in town, even before I got to know them.  i just think the step-van is the coolest idea and fits my art-for-the-people aesthetic, art in daily life ideal.  I am a devotee and a van fan.

4. What challenges do you face when judging a contest?

One reason is I don't like to judge art, though I can be judgmental.  I also have taught so many people and have many beloved students.  I didn't want to have to choose  and make people sad. I have been rejected as much as accepted in poetry. But the judging was anonymous, so that felt right.  And haiku is brief, so that helped.  The guys also did a preliminary read and sorted into two piles, but truthfully, there were ones in the pile they deemed not as strong that I loved, and so they are going to be on the sign.  I am also aware of the total subjectivity of our personal taste.

We have all the schools of poetry in Santa Fe. It is a thriving poetry scene, so we have  a wide range from the abstract language influenced schools to Slam and everything in between.  I can think of other haiku poets in town who deserve the job more than I do... Miriam Sagan, a stunning haiku poet for decades, and Charles Trumbull who edits Modern Haiku and is past president of the Haiku Society of America... plus John Brandi, who is another favorite of mine and has made a lifelong relationship with haiku.  Yet, I am glad I got the job, and we get to publish all of them which makes it a strong and varied group, from beginners to these seasoned haiku poets.

Once I got the poems, my husband and I went out to dinner in an Asian fusion restaurant and I ordered a margarita.  I read quickly through the entire pile and he reviewed them as well. They were on little strips of paper, some almost like large fortunes, and it was as memorable and pleasant a judging experience as I have ever had.   It felt good to do a drive-by reading, and then settle in at home and read carefully the next morning with a sobering cup of black tea.  I had them selected within 24 hours.

5. What are your personal feelings regarding the haiku?  

Do you mean "The haiku" as in all haiku, or the haiku submitted for Haiku Roadsign?  I think we got excellent work and I tried to choose poems that were crisp, imaged,  and respected at least one element of "the Haiku."

I have a large section of haiku books on my shelves and I am an aficionado, but in no ways an expert.  I once gave a friend pages and pages of my haiku and he said I had three true ones.  I have been reading these poets in translation and appreciation since the 60s and so that gives me an ear and a sensibility.  The thing that surprised me when I read the work submitted was how many poets ignored imagery and the natural world.  I felt as if senryu gave too much permission to just talk in abstraction, and missed out on the delicate feeling of a haiku.  I think of haiku is as much about heightening awareness, and hearing the reverberation as about what's on the page.  I think image is the way in, and the difficult turn, twist, or surprise element was rare in our submissions, but I love when it happens.  I also love what my friend Judyth Hill says in a great pantoum from her book Black Hollyhock, First Light:   "There's a secret in haiku, I'll tell you / the fourth line is silent."

Haiku is the form most often taught in schools because teachers see the formula 5/7/5 and mistakenly think it is easy to teach.  It is both subtle and sophisticated, and I was surprised that some of my friends whose poetry I love and adore, didn't have the sensibility of spare attention packed language.

We didn't count syllables, though I love Clark Strand's description of a dying haiku master, on his death bed, counting on his fingers.  I also taught a  ten year old friend who insisted on counting because it was more challenging.  I think selecting the poems we got, choosing 32 of them, was a blast and so much easier that I expected.

JOAN LOGGHE (Santa Fe, NM) is Santa Fe's third poet Laureate, serving from 2010-2012. She began teaching poetry as a volunteer in her childrens' school thirty years ago. She continues to bring poetry into the schools, serving our young people, and has taught everywhere and to all ages, from Santa Fe Community College to Zagreb, Croatia. This year she was the keynote speaker at Santa Fe High graduation. Her most recent books are The Singing Bowl from University of New Mexico Press and Love & Death: Greatest Hits, from Tres Chicas Books with Miriam Sagan and RenĂ©e Gregorio.

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