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"Places in Our Poems" at the Woodstock Writers Festival 

Three Local Poets Discuss Crows and Foxes

click to enlarge Sophie Strand
  • Sophie Strand

This panel, on Saturday morning, April 9, consisted of three poets: Sophie Strand, Tamas Panitz and Robert Kelly. All three are associated with Bard College. Sophie is a senior there, Tamas graduated two years ago, Robert Kelly has been teaching at Bard for 45 years. The three poets began by giving readings: first Sophie, then Tamas, then Robert. Each has a different style, but all their poems share a certain elusiveness, and sincerity.

After reading, the poets discussed the importance of location in writing. All three live in the Hudson Valley: Tamas in Hudson, Sophie in Tivoli, Robert in Annandale-on-Hudson. (In one of his poems, Robert mentioned a pump, and afterwards I asked him: "Is that the pump that 'don't work cause the vandals took the handles'?" [from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"]. "Yes, it's right across from where I live," he replied, somewhat embarrassed.)

Sophie said that she begins each day with an early-morning walk, when she often encounters birds and animals. ("If I'm lucky, I'll see a red fox.") Her poetry is the process of "translating" those morning walks into words. Robert Kelly said that his poems are often instigated by the calls of crows. "If there were no crows, I'd have no poems."

Is this mysticism, or just the peculiar technology of poetry? Or both?

Near the end, an audience member asked: "How do you find an image that conveys the emotion you're looking for?"

Tamas replied: "Every image evokes an emotion; there's nothing you can do about it." Robert Kelly said: "'Image' is a strange word. It comes from the Latin imago. We are the image of God; that's what the Mosaic religions teach." Sophie said: "I try to create an image that is open enough for the reader to fill in."

After this discussion, everyone in the audience was uniformly elated. It felt like we were all levitating. I went to this panel instead of attending synagogue (as I often do on Saturday mornings) which was a good choice. Three poets equal one rabbi, almost exactly.

[All quotes are approximate.]

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