Christina Hutchins is the Poet Laureate of Albany, California.
She is also a musician, scientist, philosopher and a professor
at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
Her book, The Stranger Dissolves, will be released
in February 2011 by Sixteen Rivers Press.
You are a practitioner of so many things! Are you able to
integrate these separate realms?
These different facets: music, sciences, philosophy/theology
are becoming increasingly integrated in my life, due in part
to my teaching and mainly in the way I craft poems. I use lots
of multiple intelligences approaches in the classroom,
including music, sciences, and poetry to teach philosophical
concepts that are too dynamic to be understood through
ordinary subject-object syntax and abstract nouns. By far the
most integrating influence for me is the making of poems.
Increasingly, I am bringing my varied bits of knowledge into
relation within the poems themselves. Writing longer poems,
and letting the metaphysical meditations and the movement of
the musical psyche freely mingle by means of the diction,
rhythm, and images, drawing on the immensities of language, is
making something out of the oddly constituted spectacle that
is Christina. Maybe that kind of uniqueness is what brings
never-before poems into the world: the way each poet
constellates a different set of mobile facets. The motion of a
poet's life enters her or his work, and then, the motion of
the coalescing poem further integrates and makes the poet. It
is an extremely lucky and a sadly rare privilege in the
contemporary U.S., I think, to get to do work that entwines
the particular loves of a lifetime. To constantly reconstitute
oneself in relation to one's world, such that doing so is not
something to be feared but a means of engendering joy, that's
what poets get to do, and must do, to remain alive to the
coming of poems.
KJN: Have you always
CH: Yes, I have
written poetry basically as long as I've been able to write.
There are boxes of poems in the closet, some of them penciled
on that newsprint printed with two fat turquoise lines
separated by a dotted line. Even then, some of the topics were
the same: dew (I've always been a morning person) and blowing
grasses and a felt tragedy at the loss of each moment. I
remember a poem I wrote when I was seven , about monkeys on a
cattle ranch, and another about a pregnant cow that ends "And
even wurse [sic], that night he could give no milk." A little
gender confusion… maybe that's why I was drawn to queer
I was read to as a child, by both parents.
My father read Winnie the Pooh and every character
had a particular and much loved voice. He also read me
Heidi, Hans Brinker, Andy Buckram's Tin
, great stuff. Best of all, he
used to stretch out on top of the covers, rub his head with
both hands, and tell me a story he made up on the spot. What I
remember is the warmth in his voice. I could rest in it. My
mother's voice, reading to me, too, was more important than
what was read. I thought her voice was like oatmeal. I've
always loved to be fed that way by language, or warmed or
bathed by it, perhaps. I spent two years living in Germany,
attending Kindergarten there, so German is part of my home in
language, too. When I hear German ( I'm still pretty fluent as
an adult), it is like stepping into a warm bath. Language as
tactile, human, liquid.
There wasn't a lot of poetry in our
household, though there was a little, tucked among the many
of books. Somewhere along the way, I memorized some Mother
Goose and Shakespeare (from my mother's memory to mine, I
think), but I didn't get a real poetry book until I graduated
from Jr. High, and my mother bought me a gorgeous copy of
Leaves of Grass that was interspersed with black and
white photographs of intensely human moments: lovers on a
meadow, soldiers in Vietnam, really amazing alongside Whitman.
I read it over and over, and I know that his voice sweeps
through my own. I also read Song of Songs
many, many times,
starting in 4th grade. Mostly I was secretive about both
reading and writing poems. Now, when I realize that my mother
really saw me, knew me enough to give me Whitman, I am moved
and so grateful. My parents noticed much more of my diverse
humanity than I realized at the time.
KJN: What is it about poetry that
reached you? Is your response to poetry very different from
your response to music?
Yes, it is music and poetry together that enable feeling
to be celebrated, intensified, explored, and relational
connections to be fostered. Since intensity and width of
feeling (including feelings like compassion) are often so
anesthetized or narrowed by our technology-compelled consumer society, we
need them desperately, in order to remain human and open to
the motions of meaning through time. Music and poetry are
temporal arts (so is dance), and they require time in order to
unfold. I think that's why they are so able to traverse the
emotional psyche, which also is a temporally assembled
landscape. Music, particularly Beethoven, but really a whole,
huge variety: Renaissance composers, Baroque, Classical,
Romantic, Contemporary, folks songs from the 1960s, rock and
popular music from the 1970s, Puritan hymns, opera, are, for
me, better for experiencing the raw movement of feeling that
constitutes being alive. Poetry's movement is a bit different…
the movement and connections are made by gathering all sorts
of other bits of civilized humanity into the flow. Music and
poetry when really attended to, both widen and deepen what
Whitehead calls "the sea of feeling," that is, the vague
possibilities for meaningful creation that lurk between our
lives. I need them both, poetry and music, and I'm amazed that
we live in a time where they are so available to us. That
availability is an opportunity borne by the same technological
craze that can so dull the felt luster of being alive.
KJN: Tell me about your most recent
awards. (you'll have to brag a little here! )
CH: Oh dear. Yes, I am having a
lucky year. I am the 2009 recipient of The Missouri Review
Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize (after being a runner-up for
the past two years) for a group of poems that came out in the
Spring 2010 issue, of the 2010 Finch Prize of The National
Poetry Review for a poem called "Tintinnabulations Above the
Bay" that's coming out this month, and not long ago I received
a second Money For Women/Barbara Deming Award. I also won the
2010 Robin Becker Prize, and that chapbook, Radiantly We
Inhabit the Air, which was chosen by Eloise Klein Healy,
is coming out from Seven Kitchens Press in mid January. What
will be my second full-length book, World Without, was named by
Jane Hirshfield as runner-up for the 2010 Tupelo Press' Dorset
Prize. It's been a finalist or runner-up (too) many times. I'm
hopeful for it and will keep sending it out.
KJN: What has been helpful in your
development as a poet?
I've just written and read as much poetry as possible. I also
love to read essays on craft by poets (as well as painters,
dancers, mathematicians, composers…) I did, with great hope,
take a Poetry Workshop my first term as a freshman at UC
Davis. It was taught by a 1st year MA student (I later
learned), and he seemed to strongly dislike my poetry. He also
was no fan of Dylan Thomas, so I ought not to have paid too
much attention, but I did. I got a B, which was my lowest
grade ever in anything, and here it was in the art I thought
had secretly claimed me.
Anything else you'd like to add?
CH: Poetry is more than alive in
the Bay Area. I do think we've once again become another hub,
yet another wheel under that odd buggy, American contemporary
poetry. Every day I feel lucky to live here. And, joining
Sixteen Rivers Press, just as the new anthology was in
production, intensified my sense of a Northern California
enclave of poets doing quality work. The Place that
Us gathers so many local poets, present and past, and reading them together is, for me,
an amazing experience of community that extends powerfully into unknowable futures.
Such a diversity of styles and aesthetics is respected by nearly every poet I know
around here, and most of them mingle that diversity through their own poems.
Maybe a new renaissance is upon us….. Poets, at our best, are permeable people,
and in being with each other, sometimes I find a community that is, for me, sacred,
free, joy-inducing, and deserving of our time and tending.
Editors Note: Send us your story! We would like to know how you came
to be a poet. Below is a "Poememoir" from Novato writer Marilyn King. (
Please submit to
My life as a poet began back in the
seventies when I fell in love with a Catholic priest. Since
the feelings were mutual, but the usual avenues of expression
weren't open to us, he began penning passionate love poems to
me. To keep steam from exploding out my ears, I reciprocated
with my first baby steps towards poethood. After that love
gasped its last, I began exploring poetry at the Berkeley
Poets' Coop, which published my first loneliness poem,
"Hunger," in its tenth annual review. I learned what I wasn't
in that group, as, not having been an English undergrad major,
I was outclassed by the entirety of its membership. Later, a
few women friends and I put together a little one-time booklet
titled "Women Talking, Women Listening," that coddled
burnt-out housewives and recovering divorcees by immortalizing
our drivel in print. From there, I joined a diet group in
Berkeley that encouraged weight loss using Gestalt exercises,
eating our meals out of just one (rather small) bowl (I lost 37
pounds in 3 months!). Its founder, a Berkeley social worker,
later wrote a self-help book on the subject including my "Ode
to a Bologna Sandwich."
and I moved to Marin in the mid-seventies to live with my next
love. After 18 months of cohabitation, he decided he was gay,
an event that gave impetus to quite a writing surge, most of
it unprintable. My undergrad study had been in sociology and
social work. I didn't delve into literature and poetry until
grad school in'83. Up to that point, I'd been a social worker
with Head Start, and later as an advertising copywriter, I'd
dedicated the bulk of my writing to the proposition that
Breuner's needed to sell more furniture, and as director of
advertising for Just Desserts in San Francisco, that the
public needed more of the best chocolate cake I'd ever tasted.
I gained 40 pounds in 3 years there. Also weighing heavily on
me was a debt of $1,200 I owed friends. In thrashing about
seeking a money miracle, I hit upon an idea: Go to grad school
and use student loan money to pay back my friends! I gathered
up my meager poetry sample and submitted it to SF State's
Creative Writing Program, praying for acceptance. I was
accepted, my friends got their $1,200, and there was even
money left over for school! I did all my coursework, began the
novel that would be my thesis (yes, I'd decided to become the
GAN), studied up on Shakespeare's tragedies, Milan Kundera's
novels, and Wallace Stevens' poetry for my graduate orals, and
fell so deathly ill I had to leave my job and drop out of
school. I'd been working as a full-time English tutor at a
Community College and attending grad school at night, the
resulting workload for which trashed both my health and
scholastic goal. I had "chronic fatigue syndrome," a diagnosis
later refined to "chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV)
mononucleosis." I never got completely well. Recently, the
NIH, FDA, and Harvard University collaborated on a study
revealing that 2/3 of patients with a diagnosis of chronic
fatigue syndrome are suffering from a retrovirus in the herpes
family: XMRV. As the test for it costs $650 and is not covered
by Medicare, I still don't know if I have that virus, too. The
upshot is that I've been permanently disabled on Social
Security since 1987, and I never got my MA in creative
writing. Twenty-three years later, walking one night with a
friend, I passed the window of Dr. Insomnia's coffee house in
Novato and saw a flier for a meeting of "Poetry Farm."
Fortified by a defiant resolve, I took the poem I'd just
finished about my anguish over the Iraq war and read it to the
Poetry Farm folks. The applause was thunderous.
In the 2 ½ years since, I've learned a lot from those writers. And from
there I joined Marin Poetry Center, where I study with the MPC monthly workshop
to which the eight or ten of us bring ten copies of our latest iffy opus.
The moderator and the others respond with perceptive critique and wise counsel.
Under this group's tutelage, I'm starting to produce more worthy work and have
been published in several anthologies. My goal is to read enough, study enough,
write enough to produce a first chapbook that won't be an embarrassment.
Being surrounded by terrific writers whose imaginations run amok on a regular
basis is my best shot, I think, at becoming a worthwhile poet, and for that
I'm grateful to have moved to Marin to live with a boyfriend who turned out
to be gay. The experience gave me something to write about in a place famous
for nurturing artistic expression in all its guises. For me, community is a
requirement for productivity. No ivory tower, lonely loft writer, I can't
go it alone; I need the encouragement and feedback of poets better than I to
keep learning. So quite unwittingly, I'd moved to a place where my nest
mates turned out to be the likes of Robert Haas, Kay Ryan, 'Lyn Follett, etc., etc., etc….
Gaby Rilleau and I read to a group of seniors at Atria Tamalpais Creek on
a beautiful afternoon in September. There were about 20 folks in attendance
and they seemed to enjoy the reading, especially the poems that spoke to
their personal experience. Gaby read poems about her girlhood in Provincetown,
MA, and among the poems I read was one of my dad's favorites, the WWI standard
In Flanders Fields
. There were several audience members who were able to
recite the poem along with me from memory, probably some 60 years after
they had first learned it.
-Terry Phelan Scheidt
(‘Lyn) Follett, the current Poet Laureate of Marin County has
several poetry irons in the fire, but the most extensive
program just getting started is called ROAR (Reach Out And
Read). Several senior facilities and day centers have
expressed interest in joining with ROAR to bring poetry to the
Working with Sandy Jimenez at Whistlestop, and with
various program and activities directors, ROAR is
setting up quarterly poetry readings on site around Marin.
More than 50 poets and lovers of poetry have already signed
up to be readers, facilitators, and program arrangers. At
least a dozen programs are already happening and
others will follow. A new notice will soon go out to
facilities not yet included in the program.
The programs vary and include featured readers, or readers of old
and new favorites, but in all cases when appropriate, ROAR will
encourage the seniors in the audience to read aloud their own poems,
or particular favorites. Poetry is a wonderful connection between
people. Seniors, often restricted due to transportation or other
difficulties can stay in place or come to day centers and the poetry
will come to them. There is a great deal of enthusiasm about ROAR
on both sides of the ‘podium’. Watch out for programs in your area,
and if your residence facility would like ROAR to come to them,
let ‘Lyn Runes@aol.com
or the Marin Arts
High School Poetry Needs
assistance. Possible duties include updating the teacher data
base, contacting members, scheduling workshops in the schools,
and assisting with the annual high school poetry anthology and
contest. One person need not be responsible for all the above
tasks. Please contact Barbara Martin at email@example.com
Marin Poetry Center Reading Series 2010-2011
Third Thursdays @ 7:30 pm (unless otherwise noted)
Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission St. at E, San Rafael
December 16, 2010
Holiday Party and Read-Around
January 17, 2011 (Monday, MLK Day)
February 17, 2011
Discussion: "Is publication hurting poetry?"
Dungy, Dan Bellm, Gabby Calvocoressi
Sixteen Rivers Anthology Reading
April 21, 2011
and Alexandra Teague
May 19, 2011
New Voices: Askia Humphrey and Javier Zamora
For more information, visit www.marinpoetrycenter.org
or email Roy Mash or Becky Foust at firstname.lastname@example.org
Poetry Reading Workshop
Led by Roy Mash, this workshop will focus on the "craft" of reading poetry aloud. Topics include:
keeping the audience's attention from wandering;
pacing, intonation, eye contact; reading with meaning;
'scoring' a poem; visualization.
Workshop attendance limited to 10 people.
: $30.00, all proceeds to be donated to Marin Poetry Center's High School Poetry Program.
Tuesday Jan 25, 6:30 - 9 pm, Rebound Bookstore 1611 4th St, San Rafael.
Send a request to email@example.com
Do you have a favorite poet? Maybe a secret favorite poet? We would like to
hear about that poet you believe everybody must read! Please introduce us to a poet,
or remind us why we must seek out or rediscover a certain poet.
Please send your thoughts and inspirations to:
Open Mic/Poetry Critique at Falkirk
Cultural Center, on the fourth Thursday of each month (except
Dec.), starting at 7pm. Bring ten copies of your poem,
no more than one page in length. This event is free, and
is open to everyone. 1408 Mission Street, San
Marin Poetry Center Bookgroup meets at 7pm
the second Wednesday of each month, rotating among living
rooms of participants. In January Sharon Olds' The Unswept Room
will be discussed, and in February, Elizabeth Bishop's
For more information contact Roy Mash: firstname.lastname@example.org
Poetry Farm is a
monthly reading series held at Dr. Insomnia's Cafe in
Novato. This is a well-attended and high-spirited
reading series now in its fifth year. We feature one
published author each month. If you would like to
be considered for our "Featured Farmer" spot, please
send an email describing your work to Kirsten@Neff.Org.
Otherwise, come join the audience or sign up for open
Second Mondays, 7pm, Dr. Insomnia's
Cafe on the corner of Grant and Reichert in Novato.
Sunset Poetry by the Bay
has moved to FIRST WEDNESDAYS
of the month.
Wednesday, January 5 features Al Young, Indigo Moor and Donna Nieto.
Wednesday, Feburary 2 features Laura Oliver and Serard Sarnat.
Wednesday, March 2 Eileen Malone and Adam David Miller.
Located at: Studio 333, 333 Caledonia Street, Sausalito.
Marin Poetry Center Blog is now
online. Just click on the Blog! tab of the MPC website.
MPC members can now upload their own blog posts, receive
comments, and comment on the posts of others. An easy way to
start is to send in a poem or two for the 'Admired Poems'
section of the new MPC blog. These would be poems by someone
else that you particularly admire or that have meant a lot to
you or that you think of as overlooked. Send poems or blog
postings to email@example.com
. Comments can be made on the blog itself.
MPC Mailing List:
If you would like to be included in the Marin Poetry Center mailing-list events notification,
please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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Reply to: email@example.com.
MPC values your input! Comment, dream out loud, stimulate, unveil — this is YOUR newsletter, so use it! Please!
|BOARD OF DIRECTORS
|Paula Weinberger - Chair/Summer Traveling Show
||Calvin Ahlgren - Newsletter, Open Mic Workshop|
|Barbara Brooks - Recording Secretary
||Rose Black - Anthology Associate Editor|
|Rebecca Foust - Events
||Richard Brown - Marin Poet Laureate Liaison
|Barbara Martin - High School Poetry
||Joan Gelfand - Public Relations
|Colm Martin - Treasurer
||Kirsten Jones Neff - Newsletter |
|Roy Mash - Co-chair/Webmaster
||Gabrielle Rilleau - High School Poetry, Aegis Program
|Cathy Shea - Events
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