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"[These poems are] full of physical participation in the world, human involvement, and (as one might expect of this scholar of the senses) an eloquent eye." --Richard Wilbur
"Vivid, playful, abundant, these poems constitute a directory of colors, an assembly of weathers, waters, creatures, and a bold, brash, invincible vote of confidence." --Anthony Hecht
"[Ackerman's] poems express a sense of sheer joy in physical existence, which she explores in language that has its own intense life. The book is a pure pleasure." --Louis Simpson
|I Praise My Destroyer||4|
|When the Deep Purple Falls||13|
|The Sorrow Rangers||29|
|Where You Will Find Me||36|
|By Atoms Moved||39|
|The Summer Swims||40|
|Complaint on Her Cat||48|
|Flying Over Martin's Ferry, Ohio||50|
|Santa Anna's Surrender||51|
|Buying the Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis||54|
|The Consolation of Apricots||60|
|Some Would Marry Winter||66|
|You Will Think This a Dream||70|
|The Thief of Always||76|
|Searching for the Comet||78|
|Not Thinking of You||79|
|San Francisco Sunrise||80|
|Return to Charlottesville||85|
|On Location in the Loire Valley||88|
|City of Dreams||93|
|Hungarian Woman on Ellis Island||98|
Diane Ackerman: I am delighted to be with you this evening.
Diane Ackerman: Austin is the home of Bat Conservation International...No, poetry reflects the heart and soul of the people. That is as much true today as it was in the 19th century. It continues to help us understand the human condition better, our relationships, the panorama of emotions that we have inherited. Throughout the world and in the U.S., poetry continues to be a vitally important art form.
Diane Ackerman: All artists find it a challenge to make sense of a three-dimensional world in two dimensions or in something as abstract as music. But through the alchemy of art it is possible to see how art touches us. Language is human made, and how on earth can we use it to understand emotion? That is the great challenge for a writer. One way is to try to find the best metaphors, similes, images, etc. that in combination will overlap the empty space in between the words, that will help map the kingdom of human emotions and ideas; especially for the places where we don't have a workable vocabulary.
Diane Ackerman: Every day I make time to go out biking through the countryside. Usually the bike rides last about an hour. I try during that time to empty my mind of frets, worries, mind theaters, the talk radio station in the brain -- in short, all of the commotion of life -- and turn a bike ride into a form of active meditation. Biking is a great way to doodle at speed, live in the moment, and enjoy the sensations of being alive. That usually clears mmy mind enough that when I return, I am ready to let my mind fill up again. I am ready to be inspired. I think a nature walk would work as well.
Diane Ackerman: My muse is very miscellaneous. I may be setting out to write about the Antarctic or who the men really were who ended up at the Alamo, or the discovery of electricity, etc. and discover a certain amount of emotional spillage that needs to find form in a poem, that somehow doesn't belong in an essay, so that is one way that some of the poems come about. At other times, I might be just walking down the street, say, and see two people engaged in conversation, and something about the expression on their faces or a gesture that one makes might be powerful or unforgettable, but I am not exactly sure why. So I will jot it down in a notebook. Later it may may well prompt a poem when the importance of the observation becomes clear to me. Sometimes, life's events just send words down my spine. For example, in I PRAISE MY DESTROYER, there is a poem I write to Carl Sagan after his death. Carl had been a friend for almost 30 years, and even after I knew he was ill for some time, his death still came as a shock. There is another poem,"When the Deep Purple Falls," which is a 1,000-word sentence about biking around Otsego Lake in the lavender hours of the morning. In the summer, I often bike with a girlfriend, whom the book is dedicated to, and in these long bike trips, we solve all the problems of the world. That was true on that beautiful purple morning as well, and when the biking was over I found my imagination still in motion, so I sat down and wrote the poem.
Diane Ackerman: I haven't stopped writing nature essays. It is just that I love the idea of introducing children to nature. They are children's versions of two adult essays that I wrote, one on monk seals and one on bats. When I go out on expeditions, I am the camera, and I find that taking photos distracts me from focusing in a verbal way on the adventure that is unfolding, so I return home with word pictures, but no photos unless a photographer is with me, like when a National Geographic photographer joined me. It is especially fun to create children's books in which photos can accompany the text. In the case of BATS, the text is a short, modified version of the essay "In Praise of Bats," which appears in THE MOON BY WHALE LIGHT. However, Merlin Tuttle's extraordinary photos of bats accompany the text.
Diane Ackerman: I had the great privilege and delight of knowing Carl for almost 30 years. He was on my doctoral committee. Indeed, having him on that committee made it possible for me to work on both the arts and the sciences. My first book was THE PLANETS: A COSMIC PASTORAL, a book of poems based on the science (rather than astrology) of the planets, and Carl generously agreed to be the technical adviser for the book. That was in the early '70s in the innocence of the space program. At a time when it was possible to learn everything that people knew about the planets. Since then so much info has poured in that the task would be a lot harder.
Diane Ackerman: It has been six years since JAGUAR OF SWEET LAUGHTER came out. Between then I have been publishng prose books. Sometimes it is difficult for me to choose whether a poem will be put in a prose book as a prose poem or whether a poem will attain its autonomy and find its way into a collection of poems, but probably the main reason that it has been so long is simply that my contract with Random House since JAGUAR has been for a number of books, only one of which could be a collection of poems.
Diane Ackerman: Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. Books get written in a solitary mania, in small rooms, staring at blank sheets of paper, and an author doesn't know if they will touch someone. In answer to your question, sometimes I get to choose the cover. But more times than not I get to revise the cover. In the case of this cover, which I agree is very beautiful, I was able to have certain elements of it altered so it would look the way it does now. Bu the original photo and color the designer at Random House chose. I think all his books have been very wonderful. I am lucky that the disgns for all the jackets have been so wonderful.
Diane Ackerman: Unfortunately, I didn't study poetry in high school, and I grew up in a time when teachers encouraged students to make trees with realistic colors, they didn't encourage creativity. I think their motives were wonderful, they wanted kids to be as normal as possible and fit in. But now I know that students are encouraged to be creative, and they are offered wonderful works to read, and art is a dignified, respected profession. Many of these students I see as college students who already have a good background in literature and a skill in writing, so bless you for your work. When I was a college freshman I began reading poetry, and my favorites were Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, and Walt Whitman. I wouldn't necessarily recommend them for high school students. Here is one that you might like, a novelist friend of mine, Jeanne Mackin, and I recently edited a Norton anthology, THE BOOK OF LOVE, which contains about 700 pages of writings about love in different genres, and I've got a hunch that high school students might enjoy learning about poetry if it also was about romance.
Diane Ackerman: No, I think musicians are the modern-day musicians. It must be wonderful to be born into a world of sound. Most poets I know would love to be composers, but most composers I know would also love to be poets. Each of the art forms stakes out its territory and has unique contributions to make to our understanding of what our spectacle of art is all about. I don't see the two overlapping, except to the extent that there have been times in history when poems have mainly been sung, and humpback whales use rhyme to remember their longer songs.
Diane Ackerman: I have great admiration for fiction. But I think of it as a very high-class form of lying. If you ask me to describe a rose and spin off ideas about it and the psychology of the people who love roses for 300 to 400 pages, I will happily oblige, but if you ask me what a woman crossing a room did before I saw her I have trouble coming up with an answer. I don't have a fiction writer's sense. However, I am married to the fiction writer Paul West (his latest novel is TERRESTRIALS). Our creative habits are similar in many ways but compleley different in other ways.
Diane Ackerman: I am very optimistic about the future. We still have a lot of distance to cover before we become responsible stewards of nature, and it is a shame that we are better able to transform the world than to understand it. We happen to be at the top of the food chain, buy we jumped the line. Other animals can't keep up with us. All of that is a shame. However, what encourages me is how concerned we are, how concerned even children are about the future of the natural world. When I talk with teens and elementary school kids, I don't need to inspire them about nature, they already have summer volunteer jobs working with the environment and a determination to make a difference. I find that extremely hopeful. We must continue fighting this battle. We must be vigilant, but I think in the end we will prevail.
Diane Ackerman: This book of poetry is divided into five books: one section about love, one about life and death, one section contains natural history poems, one section is set on a cattle ranch where I had signed on for a year, and one is about psychotherapy. Timed talk is a "metaphor" I use for the therapy hour.
Diane Ackerman: I am a grat fan of the Universe. All of it interests me, and it interests me in detail, so for me there is no separation bewteen science and nature. It all happens on the same continuum. In one sense the Grand Canyon is the same as the great wilderness of the city. All of it is nature. All of it is how life on our planet expresses itself. So I love studying animals, but of course humans are my favorite animal. In a book like A SLENDER THREAD, out in Vintage paperback, I write about nature and human nature, science , technology, the dark night of the soul and the daily lives of squirrels. In my mind all those things fit together.
Diane Ackerman: I would just like to wish you all a sweet and sunny spring.