Bird poets prepare for shorebird production

• Ninth-annual “On the Wing,” evening of poetry and music at the Homer Theatre May 10
By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Ela Harrison-Gordon, Sunrise Kilcher Sjoberg and Nancy Levinson prepare for On the Wing.

HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Ela Harrison-Gordon, Sunrise Kilcher Sjoberg and Nancy Levinson prepare for On the Wing.

“It was a terrible state of affairs,
And all because one greedy old man
Had gathered all the light–
Every single ray–
And locked it away
In a house with no door,
A house by the Nass,
A river that flowed
From mountain to shore.”

Those lines, by Poet Nancy Levinson, are in “Raven Steals the Light,” a poem she will be reading at On the Wing, an evening of poetry and music during the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival May 10 at the Homer Theatre.
Poetry is a funny thing. You need to write it with your hands, pen applied to paper.
“I find I need to write it out long hand. I use the computer for other things, but not for poems,” Levinson said.
A poet of another generation, Ela Harrison Gordon, agrees.
“Writing a poem is physical. It’s like a professor of mine once said, ‘Poetry is a way of paying attention,’” she said.
On the Wing, a night of poetry and music, is heading into its ninth year, an event fine-tuned and ushered along by Sunrise Kilcher Sjoberg. The line up of poets including Levinson and Gordon are Milli Martin, Mary Langham, John Seitz, Dotty Cline and Jean Steele.
The musical lineup includes the Seaside Singers (they’ve been singing together for more than 30 years now) the Homer Ukulele Group, Falcolm Greear, Jessica Aragones, Marjolein Cardon, Judith James, Ann Keffer, Louise Seguela, Lindianne Sarno, Tim Quinn and surprise guest dancers.
Sunrise launched the evening of entertainment as a forum for poets to read their works, in recognition that there aren’t a whole lot of options for poetry these days. The notion of bird poetry has evolved along with it – there are special considerations that go into a bird poem.
In Levinson’s case, ravens kept making an appearance as an image in want of poetic expression.
“A friend had brought me a raven wall sculpture, and then, I went to the Bunnell (Art Center) for the plate show, and there was a raven again. It hit me like a magnet – I wanted to do raven legends,” Levinson recalled.
For the past year, she has worked on the poem to be ready in time for the bird poetry event.
Gordon, who teaches linguistics at the Kachemak Bay Campus and is new to Homer, said it takes either an image or an experience to inspire a bird poem – both of which she has had in plenty. She was raised in London, with family roots in Israel – both very different landscapes from the one in view now.
“There is this huge shift in seasons here and the migrations that I am still getting used to. It’s almost like traveling, because of the constant changing of view,” she said.
In her case, a yellow warbler literally bumped into her.
“It was a wobbly yellow warbler newly arrived. It was the time of year when they just came back – it undulates when it flies. It has these stubby little wings and it was flitting and falling– they fly all the way from Mexico – and it flew close, almost grazed my chest,” Gordon said. “I am crossing paths with birds all the time because we live 18 feet from the edge of the bluff. This one flies and drops and flies and drops, dipping down – and I was wondering, how did it ever make it here from Mexico, flying like that?”
The result of these musings was a villanelle, a tricky 19-line poem Gordon wrote in the course of the past two years.
The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive stanza and form a couplet at the close. A villanelle consists of five tercets and one concluding quatrain.
“It’s a form that is asking themes of the poem to come together so they can refract,” she explains.
Gordon likes the challenge of adhering to tight form. “I think when I started writing poetry when I was young, there was a small distinction between poetry and music and song. With most forms there is rhythm, rhyme and repetition, which are very musical forms of writing a poem. Those are very attractive to me – the way they organize sound,” Gordon said.
Levinson has written poetry for several decades, and said the delivery is one of the poem’s most important tasks.
As a speech major in college, her voice was trained for public speaking and her poems are created to be read aloud.
“You can help your audience so much if you work on how you deliver a poem. Your delivery should be based on your understanding of the poem. It all starts there. Then you use your voice almost like a musical instrument to convey the meanings you find in the poem,” she said.
The forms or structures of poetry are secondary, she said. “I’m not going to pay attention that much to the layout of the poem. Indentations and spacing – I am more concerned about the rhythms and the sense of it. Where do you pause?
Where do you catch your breath? It can be in more than one spot – the poet doesn’t give you that many clues. I feel my own rhythms,” Levinson said. “To me there’s a musicality to poetry in its structure and beat.”

From “Bird’s Bridge,” by Gordon:

“Our Northern spring’s a sudden race of green.
And birds arrive, migrating from the south.
What’s constant is the shift. I live between.

Two spruces frame the path. Their new tips gleam
and point new ferns and nettles on the ground.
This Northern spring’s a sudden race of green.

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Posted by on Apr 25th, 2012 and filed under Music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses for “Bird poets prepare for shorebird production”

  1. Thank you for publishing this.

    It is like a balm to the soul to feel the vigour and promise of spring and new life returning to these frozen parts of the planet.
    Harrison-Gorden’s poet expresses this so well both in its beautiful sound and rhythm.

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