Welcome to our continuing blog series here on Poetry Fridays, Dodge Poet Spotlight. We are turning the focus over to the individuals who make our programming what it is in the schools, with teachers in Spring & Fountain, and on the ground at the Dodge Poetry Festival — the Dodge Poets.
Each week, a Dodge Poet answers some questions about themselves and provides a selected poem of their own work. We hope that this will be a way for you to get to know the Dodge Poets a little better, and you can get an idea of why we love working with them so much.
Without further ado, today’s Dodge Poet is Renée Ashley.
What are you reading?
I read too many books at once. I make myself nuts. Let’s see, right now I’m reading Robert Hass’s What Light Can Do; Faigley, George, Palchik, and Selfe’s picturing texts; Barthes’ Camera Lucida; Magnificence by Lydia Millet; Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine; Beckett’s Ill Seen Ill Said. And I think there’re at least three more left open on the seats in my car: the new book of short stories by Sam Lipsyte and a couple of brain science books I picked up at a library sale.
When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry?
My high school and community college experiences with poetry were toxic. My first meaningful encounter must have been in the 70’s at a Foothills College Writers’ Conference. I was there for fiction, had no interest in poetry, but I got bored so I wandered into the auditorium where John Logan was reading. I was taken wholly by surprise. I swear, I saw the light: poetry was one person talking to another—or even to himself! Literally, my life was changed by that reading. Years later it happened again, but differently: Pattiann Rogers at the Frost Place.
What is your favorite place to read?
I need either quiet or white noise. I’m infinitely distractible. The bathtub with the water running, or a hot tub that’s not too hot, or my bed, or a hotel bed, or curled up in the corner of the sofa with a dog on my lap. A zero gravity chaise is pretty good. As is the car. I’ve never found the perfect reading chair; I’ve been trying them out for decades. None are right. I’d love a good reading chair…
What are your favorite writing tools? Paper or computer? Are there special brands, papers, pens, etc. that are important to you?
I’m better at the computer because there’s less interference between me and getting the words down. And I can gauge the line in type; I can’t do that by hand. I begin poems, though, often, on scraps, but when I really want to first something out I’m at the keyboard. When I’m on a roll, lines come faster than I can write by hand—and I often can’t decipher what I’ve written under those circumstances. So, alas, I’m not the poster child of sitting-down-every-day-to-write. Then, again, writing is never out of my head. My mind’s always trolling for language and image.
Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
My friends won’t believe it, but I’m basically very shy and apprehensive—except on paper. So reading in public is functioning somewhat out of character for me. Until I start reading, I’m a nervous wreck; to get myself to the podium I have to put on my public face. Then once I start, I’m fine; the poems are wearing my real face, so the poems get me through it. My favorite reading experience is any reading in which I can tell the audience has truly entered the poem. There’s a type of silence that kind of listening manifests, as though the audience is suspended, leaning into the work as it rolls out over and into them. That’s pretty magical. Then it’s not about me; it’s about the poems. I can deal with that.
What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
Only one that I can remember, a very long time ago: A grade school student was sent out to meet me at the school office and to escort me to the classroom. When I put out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Renée. I’m here to do poetry,” he said, “POETRY?!!! Sh*t! D*mn! I can’t believe that cr*p! I thought we were doing pottery!”
For Brigit In Illinois
…………….(Come back.) Here the quiet moon burns
like hayfire over the mountain; the lush rose,
wild as milkweed, burgeons in the dark on the roadside
where, in daylight, you saw yourself in the stark yellow eye
of the grackle. (I never really thought you’d leave.)
Now, your words, dusky as bird wings, rise; you
reckon the distance between our lives―I can hear you
thinking. (What I know is: the good sober will burns
in you like insatiable fire. You never lost it.) The leaves
in May (do you remember?) burst from their delirious twigs
sharp as sawteeth in the generous sky. I
thought god had made his glorious point right there, outside
the body, in the visible heaven where the new green sighed
and the air shimmered like the coruscating pond. You
spoke of angels with bodies, the soul focusing its bright eye
on substance, the solace of a promised resurrection, the burning
need for the coming together again (I believed every word).
like spirits ourselves, two souls glad of understanding―
about us, above us like dreams. We thought: no one ever
In this life we were wrong. In this life the issue of where you
matters (I miss you ― the house finch, hungry and rose
colored, takes his thistle like alms; he is humble and strong.
would like that.) Now, all around me the bright tongue of god
…..unfurls and burns
―you must see it in the plains: the gold light of morning,
…..the violet dusk. I
trust we still share the vivid heavens; the idea of the
leave that to recall: the way they rise beneath god’s feet, the
…..way the leaves
that crown them catch the vast, explosive light, and burn
around and around the countless birds who live invisibly on the
(Nothing is the same. The landscape is too big without you.)
I imagine the flat land where you live: linear, predictable,
…..innumerable placid rows,
inexhaustible greens, lush golds keen as the level eye of the
…..grackle as he rose
and you saw yourself go with him. (We never understood the
…..birds, their cold eyes
like small stones, or like glass. The ambivalent fires rage inside
…..their hollow bones ―you
must understand that now, the way I understand, or think I do, the
of a place you love and the way sorrow, its quiet shadow ebbing,
…..one day subsides.)
Nothing is forever. (Come back. Tonight the night burns
in the thousand treetops and the fire leaps even from the pale
…..rose, its leaves,
its fine, myriad thorns; it springs from the eyes of the dark sleeping
…..birds, from the undersides
of their dark wings. You must close your eyes. Come home
…..-―we’ll watch the red finch burn.)
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