Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Best of 7:30 BELLS: Poet Linda Robertson on the Sense of Place

Occasionally I run the BEST OF 7:30 BELLS, to share past posts with new readers. This, originally from January 27, 2015 is one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Linda M. Robertson and I met near this bell in the Cape George Colony. She was walking down the road toward the beach and I was walking up the road. We smiled at each other. She asked, "Did you see the sea otters?" And friendship blossomed. We were both poets, had both had lived and loved the Methow Valley. Robertson's beautiful, fine press book, Letters to Julia: 1898-1899 is set there, as are my books Eva of the Farm and After the River the Sun. 

I'm so pleased to share her resonating essay: Sense of Place.




At the edge of the Salish Sea, there hangs a large bronze bell. Shapes of fish and stones are cast in the metal, as well as the words: “Our simplest wisdom is to follow the sea-bright salmon home.”


The idea of “home” makes me think of place. I am a writer that cherishes sense of place. It is place that makes me feel alive, that rings and resonates in my work. Place provides me with vocabulary, with narratives, with inspiration for image-making; with a landscape to discover and chart as I build word-cairns, poems. My poems act as time-capsules; they bring people, incidents, and places of the past into the present.

I don’t consider “place” to reference only outer landscapes. My poems and prose also illuminate emotions, visual art, and dreams. I have written about “the places of goodbye,” as well as spiritual journeys: “Walking the Edge of Heaven.”

In the essay “The Art of Finding” poet Linda Gregg recalls the landscape of her youth and writes “The elements of that bright world are in my poetry now…They are present as essences. They operate invisibly as energy, equivalents, touchstones, amulets, buried seed, repositories, and catalysts…” She refers to this recalled landscape as her own “resonant sources.”

As I reflect on the landscapes that continue to be present as “essences” in my work, I think of San Diego, where I was born and lived for the first 20 plus years of my life. My memories pulse with broad beaches, fishing boats, shorebirds and the sea’s salt-songs. I think also of the shrub-steppe eastern slopes of the North Cascades in Washington state—a remarkable place I called home for nearly 30 years.

In December I completed a Low-Residency MFA program at Chatham University, Pittsburgh. My Thesis “The Missing” is a manuscript of 51 pages of poems. As I review the work I crafted over the past three years while I was living and traveling in the US and the UK, I see how sense of place pervades the manuscript. No matter if I was writing about personal struggles, dreams, a painting from the 15th century, my son who died too soon at age 20, or my elderly parents—place is often present and resonant. The southern sea and the northern mountain world are with me as I sit at my desk and write. This poem, the final one in my manuscript— written while in England as I wrestled with change of place and home, is an example:

AGAINST LEAVING

Later I will say
the hills conspired: crowds
of balsam root and lupine
hindered my passage; my shoulders
bound by snow-thrift clouds.
Not one clock struck
the hour. I leaned
                                  toward
the broadest yellow pine, the flags
of prayer, where a male grouse
stood sentry. The maple tree
sheltered the bird-bowls sheen
a last offering. The distances before me
inscribed with raven wings.

In my writing, I find truth in the I Ching’s: “There is no going without returning.”


Linda M. Robertson is a recent graduate of Chatham University’s Low-Residency MFA program. Publications include “Letters to Julia: 1898-1899” by the Methow Conservancy, Visions of Verse, The Methow Naturalist, Mirror Northwest. A chapbook, Reply of Leaves, was published by Magic Mountain Press in 2002. Linda lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest and England and hopes to publish work from her manuscript The Missing in literary journals.






7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on April 12 for a guest post with author Kevan Attebury

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