Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ojibway Poet Heid Erdrich and the Craft of Writing

Couplets: part of the National Poetry Month celebration at
The first time I heard Heid Erdrich read, I felt her quiet centeredness contained a powerhouse of energy and emotion. Her poems speak of the natural landscapes of the earth and our own bodies to widen our awareness of the intricate ways we are connected and that that connection has been severed by lack of reverence. Poetry, I believe, is one way to reweave that connection again. 

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibway, Heid Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. She earned degrees from Dartmouth College and The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. A recipient of Minnesota State Arts Board fellowships, awards from The Loft Literary Center, the Archibald Bush Foundation and elsewhere, Heid E. Erdrich is author of four poetry collections, most recently Cell Traffic: New and Selected Poems from University of Arizona Press. National Monuments from Michigan State University Press won the 2009 Minnesota Book Award. Heid directs Wiigwaas Press, an Ojibwe language publisher. Heid teaches writing workshops and has one coming up in May on Madeline Island
that will focus on the similarities between fine craft, such as beadwork, embroidery, quillwork, sewing, and the craft of writing.
To read more about Heid, including her reading her poems:

How does your heritage influence your poetry? Did you grow up with poetry?
My parents were both teachers so they valued writing, and both encouraged art of all kinds.  Dad would memorize poems and encourage us to do so as well.  I loved acting things out and putting on plays with my younger sister.  I think my poetry came from those early childhood experiences and from being a reader for Catholic Mass for many, many years. My Ojibwe grandfather was a great storyteller, so I had some of that influence as well.

Can you talk about the intersection between art and poetry?
It is all intersection these days--visual art, dance, poetry, music.  But I am not a painter, musician, dancer or other type of artist other than a writer, so I can only script these things. Collaboration is where I live now and I am so thrilled to be working on a large project with lots of artists who have influenced me.  Yes, there will be films.

Can you share how you will interweave crafting and the craft of writing?
Confession of a failed crafter: I am lousy with a needle.  My interest in handwork is in the way picking up a design is like poetry or good prose.  At some point the artist forgets the plan and goes the direction the materials take her.  I think this happens with writing, too. 

What makes your style of teaching unique?
Well, I do not take anything too seriously and I ask the participants to lead.  I'm open to change of plans and I make sure we move around, eat, do goofy exercises and otherwise appreciate one another as humans who do something other than write most days.

What is your greatest joy in mentoring other writers and are there any surprises?
There are always surprises, yes! Working with writers in an intense week-long setting is like mother love.  I am intensely drawn to each person, curious, motivated, determined to see where each one's work is headed. But then it is over.  A few folks stay in my life, but the vividness of each encounter fades quickly. Only the meaningfulness remains.

What is your next project?
Right now I am working on Artifact Traffic, a multi-disciplinary show that arises from collaboration with visual artists, film makers, poets, dancers, the whole shebang.  And I am writing a cook book from indigenous foods activists.  And I am starting a new book of poems on technology.  Happy times!

Last Snow

Dumped wet and momentary on a dull ground
that’s been clear but clearly sleeping, for days.
Last snow melts as it falls, piles up slush, runs in first light
making a music in the streets we wish we could keep.
Last snow. That’s what we’ll think for weeks to come.
Close sun sets up a glare that smarts like a good cry.
We could head north and north and never let this season go.
Stubborn beast, the body reads the past in the change of light,
knows the blow of grief in the time of trees’ tight-fisted leaves.
Stubborn calendar of bone. Last snow. Now it must always be so.
                             ---from The Mother's Tongue (c) 2005 Heid Erdrich 

1 comment:

Shakier Anthem said...

"making a music in the streets we wish we could keep."

I love this line. Thank you for sharing your work!