Interview: Laura Hope-Gill on Soul Tree Solstice

Soul Tree Solstice

Laura Hope-Gill is a poet, teacher and author of Look Up Asheville: An Architectural Journey and Look Up Asheville II. She is a NCArts Fellow, founding director of Asheville Wordfest and Coordinator of M.A. in Writing Program at Lenoir-Rhyne University Center for Graduate Studies in Asheville. Laura was named the first poet laureate of the Blue Ridge Parkway following the publication of The Soul Tree: Poems and Photographs of the Southern Appalachians. On December 20th she will perform selections from The Soul Tree with musicians at the “Living Room” above the Asheville Visitors Center at 36 Montford at 7 p.m. There is a $10.00/sliding scale admissions cost. Laura graciously agreed to a short interview regarding the book The Soul Tree and the event Thursday night, Soul Tree Solstice.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

You recently wrote on Facebook that The Soul Tree poems “were the poems I had been preparing (… being prepared?) to write since I first fell in love with the music of language as a child…” If you would, please explain that statement and then tell how they developed into the book The Soul Tree.

Laura Hope-Gill

I view the Soul Tree poems as a miracle in my life. They were the “finishing touch” on a years-long journey to understand something. That something has its stirrings in my childhood. I was a very nature-bound child. I could sit for hours out there just watching, absorbing the air, the sounds, the presences of animals. These poems took me back to that, only it was with the knowledge of what felt like all I’ve read and learned and wondered about since that time. I felt all that wonder we can hold as children but lose as we grow older. Somehow the music of language opened it up in me again. What a gift.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

The Soul Tree poems were (still are?) healing and transformative for you. Explain that process and how these poems have grown you (or are continuing growing you).

Laura Hope-Gill

Still, when I read them, they take me back to that space of awe and wonder. They unjade me, and they bring me back to nature, back to my soul, and that’s where all the medicine is. They grow me because we don’t live in a world where we can walk around with that wonder and awe, that innocence and still work at the good we need to bring into the world. We need to shelve our innocence. We can’t check out and still be effective. What we can do is catch a glimpse from time to time of our divine state, that nascence. I think that’s our awe, the way we feel when a view of the mountains takes our breath away, when something deep inside us connects with something deep inside the earth. It’s a sort of recognition. Writing the poems was a submersion in that recognition. It taught me a lot, much of which I’m still learning to hear when I read them.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

The upcoming Soul Tree Solstice event on December 20th will be the second time that you and Doug and Darcy Orr will perform together. Share about the first time you preformed with them and what people might expect of the upcoming event.

Laura Hope-Gill

Doug and Darcy have invited Joe and Karen Holbert to perform in their place due to a family sadness. We do have plans to continue collaborating, the five of us. A mutual friend gave Doug a copy of The Soul Tree a few years ago. He has since given it to his friends. Recently, he forwarded a note one of these friends had sent to him, thanking him for the book. I was so moved. Also, at that time, I had just given a reading at Lenoir-Rhyne University, and I realized while reading that I was finally “ready” to collaborate musically. I remembered playing with Doug and Darcy in a circle on the grounds of Warren Wilson College at Swannanoa Gathering. That night I was supposed to read on stage with Doug but due to some motherhood scheduling problems I arrived late. We ended up reading and playing together much later, in a much less intentional setting, and there was a magic to it. It was like the poems were home. It’s taken some time, though, for me to be able to read the poems whole. I mean I could get up in front of people and say them, but I was afraid to embody them, because they hold stuff that’s enormous to me. I have long believed that poet has a responsibility when performing to hold the audience in a safe place. The poet has to be solid, to be strong. I can do that with poems written in a voice people are more accustomed to. But the Soul Tree poems had their own voice, something more core. Maybe they were a promise of what I would one day be able to hold. Maybe they were a challenge inviting me to grow into them, that when I did I would be fully standing in myself. I can do that now,and I can read the poems. And I’m thrilled to read them with this extraordinary group of musicians.

Asheville Wordfest – a reflection and a video

Asheville Wordfest – Reading at The Altamont Theatre, May 4, 2012

It was truly an honor to be invited to read a few poems at this year’s Asheville Wordfest. When I received the invitation I thought it was a mistake. So, I direct messaged the director using Twitter saying: “my twitter acct is wonky today. i received something from you re: wordfest… how can i help?” Previously, I had helped with audio during a previous Wordfest featuring the poet Li-young Lee. She direct messaged me on Twitter with a note of confirmation. So, I began selecting poems for the event.

Since I haven’t read my poetry publicly in more than a year, I was a bit anxious about the invitation to read at this year’s Wordfest. Last year was a busy year of readings at bookstores, [1] a literary salon, [2] and a featured guest at the Mountain Xpress poetry show. [3] Then employment for me became tricky and I endured the challenges of a transition to a new job, lay off, unemployment, and another job transition with a three-hour round trip commute. I kept writing new poems, but the new out-of-state job prevented me from participating in the active literary scene here in Asheville.

There were more than a hundred new poems I wrote last year to consider for the Asheville Wordfest poetry reading. I selected four or five new poems, but I didn’t feel confident enough in their craftsmanship to read publicly. One manuscript I have been developing for awhile had the strongest work that best fit this year’s Wordfest theme, “HOME: Place and Planet.” I started it when I took a writing workshop taught by Ashveille Wordfest Director, Laura Hope-Gill, a few years ago.

Two practices help me decide what poems to read. First, it is my practice to put a poetry manuscript in a presentation book with sheet protectors. That way pages don’t fall to the floor during a reading. You can usually purchase presentation books of that nature at office supply stores. I select a variety of poems on various subjects or themes. Further, it is my practice at an actual poetry reading featuring multiple poets to listen closely to the other poets. While the reading takes place, I select poems that speak to other poets’ work as a way to have a literary conversation. So, I brought four working manuscripts hoping that I might find a poem that might play off a poem read by Ronald Reginald King, DeWayne Barton, and Katherine Soniat.

As I walked to the podium after a very generous introduction by Laura Hope-Gill, I still hadn’t decided what poem would complete my reading. I knew the poem I would lead off with and I knew the one to follow, but the third and final poems I hadn’t quite decided. Improvisation is something I am developing in public readings, because each night the audience is different, with individual needs, interests and mood. A bar room poem might work in one setting and audience, but not work another night with a different audience. So, after I clumsily introduced myself, I knew by the time I finished reading the second poem where the narrative of the poem selection would lead. For better or worse, the reading was videocast and a recording is available. Here’s a link to the video [link here].

When I sat down next to my wife after completing my reading, I noticed a couple mentions on Twitter regarding the live videocast. One person [4] tweeted, “Goosebumps: poem dedicated to Jenny.”

NOTES: [1] As a member of the Rooftop Poets, I read with Barbara Gravelle and Brian Sneeden at Accent on Books in February. Barbara Gravelle and I read at the May 2011 Poetrio at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café. That was my last public reading until last Friday night, May 4, 2012. [2] After a very successful book launch and poetry event, the Rooftop Poets presented Poet’s on the Roof: A Literary Salon. [3] The Mountain Xpress invited Brian Sneeden and myself to read on behalf of the Rooftop poets as featured poets at the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Show [4] @anorawrites

How does one prepare for a poetry reading?

It’s less than two hours before the event and I find myself pacing the house with loose leaf pages of poems wondering if I’ve chosen the correct poems for tonight. I’ve been preparing for tonight’s reading all week. Reading poems I’ve written (and avoiding making additional edits). Selecting the poems I plan to bring to tonight’s reading at The Altamont Theater. I’ll read at the Asheville Wordfest event Voices of the City alongside Katherine Soniat, DeWayne Barton, Ronald Reginald King, Ekua Adisa and Roberto Hess. But I can’t help wonder, what do these fine poets do before a poetry reading? What rituals do they observe the day before an event like tonight?

Asheville Wordfest Kickstarter campaign begins

Mark Doty, Asheville Wordfest 2010

The Asheville Wordfest Director, Laura Hope-Gill, announced last weekend that the Asheville Wordfest 2012 began a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the poetry festival. Wordfest celebrates its fifth year of providing a space for poets of various cultures and contexts to share their work with enthusiastic supporters of poetry.

This year’s poetry festival features many local poetry luminaries as well as notable national and international poets. Various events are scheduled at the Grateful Steps Foundation Bookshop, the Altamont Theater and other locations in Asheville, NC  between May 2-6, 2012.

Here’s an excerpt from an e-newsletter that was sent last Friday night regarding the Asheville Wordfest 2012 Kickstarter campaign:

Please kindly help Wordfest by donating to the Kickstarter campaign through Poetry Month: Asheville Wordfest 2012 Kickstarter campaign.

Asheville Wordfest 2012: HOME: Place and Planet takes place from Wednesday May 2 through Saturday May 5, 2012. North Carolina Humanities Council generously funds the festival in part, and we need your help to really bring it to life.

Along with our stellar guest poets, Wordfest 2012 aims to present as many local voices as is possible within the scope of a few days. Because our local voices resonate with the global whole, we welcome the following guest poets: Choctaw scholar, author and poet LeAnne Howe, Guggenheim and NEA Fellow Arthur Sze; Egyptian-American poet Matthew Shenoda; American Book Award Winner Allison Adelle Hedge Coke of Cherokee and Huron Nations. Learn about these stellar poets at www.ashevillewordfest.com. Thank you for your help in promoting multiculturalism and community through poetry.

// just returned from the BMCM+AC poetry reading wordfest event… two hours until the next reading at jubilee…