Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Change of Season" by Stellasue Lee

I’ve not wanted to leave the house lately.
I’ve been content as grass growing,
wild with color
and deeply rooted
as an old tree with new growth for spring.

I long for nothing—
dream of just where I am,
worry over the indoor plants,
and the camellias coloring the front porch,
the roses gathering strength from winter.

Oh, did I mention the coyote
walking down the middle of the road
at four in the afternoon yesterday?
And that I woke to rain today?
Did I tell you that I put a log in the fireplace

and when the embers turned bright orange,
I added all the court papers,
all but the final decree,
and watched as the whole thing went up?
They burned bright as a sunny day.

Reprinted from After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events by permission of the poet. Copyright © 2008 by Stellasue Lee. “Change of Season” appeared in the After Shocks chapter Recovery from Divorce.

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Interview With Stellasue Lee

How did you come to write “Change of Season”?

Seventeen years is a long time to be married to an undiagnosed, unmediated bipolar. I could go out to weed the roses for an hour, let’s say, and come back to find my husband manic, when earlier he had been calmly working on his computer. I think after the divorce, I became very attentive to minuscule things: the red in my upholstered chairs that I had never noticed, shadows cast on the walls by a tree, how the wood grain in my desk ran, everyday details. I had time to think, and I grew to trust the calm atmosphere, to let the pen take me wherever it wanted, and I loved that feeling of saneness. I woke each morning knowing I didn’t have to take the emotional temperature of anyone. It was heaven.

I always start the way I teach my students, “…show up to a blank piece of paper with nothing on your mind and write. Start where you are, describe what you see until you come to a line that takes you outside the room.” It was raining and grey mist made the room soft. I wasn’t really awake yet and I felt happy, truly peaceful. It was a strange and wonderful feeling.

How did writing “Change of Season” affect your recovery?

Every poem I write is a clue into who I am. I’m a mystery, maybe most of all to myself. I’m an introvert, so it’s really difficult for me to articulate what’s going on in my head. The thoughts just keep rolling around in there until I’m able to capture them in a physical form, and in this case, it’s most often in the form of a poem. It’s always a surprise. I write something and say, “Now, where did that come from?” And the things that just pop out… sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are just wrong. That’s when I think I must have heard that from my mother.

Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?

For me, it’s about being present. It’s important to make time in my daily schedule to show up to the page. Writers write. I’m not saying it’s easy, but necessary, and it’s so essential to be open, not to think “Oh, this is a good subject for a poem,” or “I need to write about…,” Discipline, process, whatever you wish to call it, is key. Master cellist Pablo Casals told an interviewer why, at age 90, he still practiced every day, "Because I think I'm getting better." Had I not made the time, showed up to the page, and started where I was, this poem would never exist.

Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?

I think Raymond Carver is underrated. I was fortunate enough to have picked up a copy of Ultra Marine. I read it cover to cover, every poem, simply fascinated with his ability to be present. I couldn’t wait to get his next book Where Water Comes Together With Other Water. During the reading of that book, Carver died. 1989, his last book came out, A New Path To The Waterfall. I was lucky enough to read those three books in order, and saw what I thought was the growth of a writer. Since, his collected works have been released, All of Us, but in the early three volumes, I fell in love with this writer and his work showed me what it means to be present, live in the NOW, write, and to be unafraid.

With my students, I read their work (some of my students have been in their 90’s,) and marvel at such brilliant ability. I started a small publishing company to help them get their work out. Maybe I’m more judgmental than a larger publishing company would be, but these writers measure up. Jennie Linthorst has studied with me off and on for ten years. I just did a book for her called Autism Disrupted… a mother’s journey of hope in poetry. She’s doing readings around the country and is teaching workshops in healing poetry. Bob Buchanan will soon have a book out titled Beyond the Wall, what a wonderful writer! Most of my students go on to publish in literary journals. They are doing such wonderful work.

Of course, there are the well known. I like to pretend that if I got stranded on a desert island, there are 10 books I would need to survive: Ray Caver’s All of Us, Gerald Stern’s This Time, David Lee’s My Town, Philip Levine’s oh, anything by Levine, just anything at all, Stephen Dobyns, Velocities, James Dickey’s Poems, 1957-1967, Maxine Kumin’s Still To Mow, Yusef Komunyakaa,’s Neon Vernacular…. And, and I’d cheat too, somehow take more then ten, Szymborska, C.K. Williams, O’Hare, Neruda….. the list goes on and on. People who walk into my home, they always have a sharp intake of breath when they see my bookcase. It’s 10 ft. tall, and 15 ft. wide.

What are you working on now?

I did my last chapbook in 1996, Morning Comes With Its Bandages Of Light. I don’t remember how I came up with that title, but it’s a good one, I think. I have been encouraged by many people to put a body of work together from my father poems. I spent months agonizing over it. I finally got about 22 poems together. I’m working on a chapbook, 26 copies, numbered A through Z, plus 4 artist proofs. They are going to be printed on handmade paper, silkscreen cover and hand sewn. The title is Our Father, which since I have a brother, a simply marvelous brother, I thought that fitting. One of the two poems in Our Father was accepted for After Shocks. He returned from WWII with PTSD, and was riddled with survivors’ guilt. Imagine! A very young and artistic boy…I keep thinking of something he told me, “You live your heaven and hell right her on earth Kid. Better pay attention to the details.” So, to better pay attention to the details, I became a poet.

Stellasue Lee's work is published in numerous literary journals. Two of her books have been entrants for the Pulitzer Prize, Firecracker Red, a powerful collection of poems set squarely in the earth, and Crossing The Double Yellow Line, a journey of sharp turns and hair-pin curves. Her work has appeared in three more volumes, After I Fall, a collection of four Los Angeles poets, Over To You, an exchange of poems with David Widup, and 13 Los Angeles Poets, the ONTHEBUS Poets Series Number One (Bombshelter Press). Dr. Lee received her Ph.D. from Honolulu University. Now Editor Emeritus at RATTLE, a literary journal, she works privately with students all over the US. Stellasue was born in the year of the dragon.

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