Laura Kauffman-Carolina Clay

Editors at Whale Road Review were kind enough to feature my interview with the ridiculously talented Laura Kauffman. Here is “Grounded in Poetry” from WRR’s online journal, March 2020

Carolina  Clay by Laura Kauffman Dustlings Press, 2019

Laura Kauffman is a poet and writer from the Loess Hills of Iowa. She is the author of Carolina Clay: A Collection of Poems on Love and Loss. Her writing gifts also include the creative work of Typeset Poetry: Words for Your Wall, a collaboration with Emily Queen. She had some remarkable responses to my questions.  Her fresh take on language shows up in this interview as well as in her book.

I’m learning to love the ground that lies
beneath my feet in the fallow season:

the ground of the dormant, of sleeping life
that carries no promise of certain production

the ground of the nourished, fed by the death
of the things that once bloomed

from “Use-less”

Jody Collins: Tell us about the title of your book. Why Carolina Clay?

Laura Kauffman: Perhaps I’d been thinking too much about creation; I couldn’t get the phrase “Carolina Clay”out of my mind after we’d buried my grandmother. The day was beautiful: gentle breezes, rippling ponds, chirping birds. But what I remember most was the dirt—mounds of bright red, North Carolina earth. That’s when I thought of Adam. He was shaped from the soil of Eden; was I shaped from Carolina Clay?

Often, when you create a title for a book, it’s the last thing to happen. But I think I jotted down the words “Carolina Clay” before I’d written a single poem. Little did I know that it was not a title, but an invitation.

My grandmother was from North Carolina, but I was not. In fact, I was remarkably absent most of her life. Some of that was due to distance, some to the disease of dementia. I wondered if there was a role I could play in her death that I had not played in her life, so I decided I would write my way into knowing her and the ground beneath her feet.

Collins: Readers will find several of your poems deal with soil, ground, or dirt. Is your place on a farm and as a gardener part of what informs this, or was there more?

Kauffman: Earth-imagery runs deep for me. John Muir once wrote that the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. I feel that statement in every fiber of my being.

A survivor of the suburbs, I now live in the wild places of the Loess Hills in Iowa. My husband and I staked our claim on 20 acres there and filled it with children and chickens, cats and dogs, wild blackberries and weeping willows. We bought a house of windows…we’re addicted to the light.

As with most of my writing, nature does most of the heavy lifting in Carolina Clay. On the night before my grandmother died, a freak tornado descended on the April plains. The day she died the temperature dropped 80 degrees; the roads froze over in a crippling ice-storm. I watched it all from the windows and thought, “The earth is grieving in poetry.”

Collins: Your degree is in counseling—how did this inform your writing of these poems, particularly dealing with grief?

Kauffman: The ways my counseling education has enriched my writing continue to surprise me.

I used to sit in an office with armchairs and clipboards writing treatment plans and referrals. Now, I work in my living room, plopped on my raggedy couch with a laptop on my knee. That’s a pretty drastic career change. But I’m finding the things I learned from counseling weave their way into my words.

Of course, there is the obvious: counseling has softened my heart, taught me to dig deep, cultivated my perspective. But the greatest of these is presence, being present to pain.

A helper by nature, I want to fix, console, to rush the redemption. Counseling taught me to slow down and face emotion without fear, for there is a holiness to sorrow. Poet John Blase warns against a Picardy third—the major chord resolution at the end of a modal song. Sometimes we must learn to sing in a minor key.

My education taught me how to dwell in irresolution. Patience with pain leads to stirring songs, as well as well-lived lives. It makes for decent poetry, too.

Collins: Your writing reveals a wisdom beyond your years. Tell us about your training or education in writing poetry.

Kauffman: If I use words like “self-taught” or “autodidact” to answer that question, do I sound more legit? Because when it comes to formal literary education, I’ve got nothing.

I guess that’s not completely fair. In the fall of 2018, my youngest son skipped off to kindergarten, and I found myself alone during the day. Though my master’s degree is in counseling, “writing” has always been the specter of my life, patiently waiting for me to notice I was being haunted in a way. Billy Collins says poems are simply words that “say less and mean more,” so I intentionally began experimenting with poetry. Falling in love with the genre was merely an accident. To educate myself, I read. Actually, I consumed poetry: Oliver, Collins, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Neruda, Berry. I would read entire books in a single sitting, hungry for more. I took Billy Collins’s master class. I e-stalked local poets into friendship. I scribbled poetry quotes on sticky notes and plastered them on my walls.

Then one day, when someone asked me what I do for a living, I answered without thinking. “I’m a poet.” And it turns out I was. 

We Were Made for Connection

IMG_20200605_130201Last week I wrote about#loveinthetimeofthecorona–illuminating what or how we can embody love in the world in these very challenging times, especially as believers in Jesus. (And? Did you know, #loveinthetimeofthecorona is actually a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. If you are on either of those social media platforms, type in the hashtag and be inspired.)

I was originally going to title this wrap-up, “Thank you Al Gore for the Internet” (which is partially true. Thank you Wikipedia). People all over the globe are working and connecting and chatting via Zoom and Facetime, Facebook live and Marco Polo videos and so on, all thanks to the world wide web.

How starved we are for the sight of our friends and loved ones’ faces! And a voice–who knew how we would miss that? I was serenaded last week via Voxer by a friend on the opposite coast as she sang “It is Well” in her lovely alto voice and tears rolled down my cheeks as I harmonized with her.

Our church has live streamed “services” from an almost empty sanctuary (with stuffed animals in the audience) and the attendance last Sunday was nearly double what we have on an ordinary Sunday. This week our pastor shared a message about Jesus calming the storms, with a painting on the living room wall behind him as spoke from his home. Viewers were given his cel phone number to text in answers to trivia questions from the Bible and even the young kids got to play along. Necessity is the mother of invention, yes? Virtual or not, is a great way to be connected with those we know and love.

In that vein I’d like to share some of the goodness I’ve found online with you–a quiet word on how to deal with sadness or fear, and talk to your kids about their feelings. Orchestral music via Skype, a library tour with poet Malcolm Guite, the Quarantine Song from two very talented Grandparents, never before seen photos of crystal clear canals in Venice, Italy and opera singers and everyday folks serenading from their balconies and plazas.

I hope you’ll take some time to listen and watch; maybe you’ll find a way to connect just a little bit more with the beauty and goodness around you.

What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.      –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

–Susan Magnolia

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-Japanese Stewartia

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-Shindishojo Maple

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-Lonicera (Honeysuckle)

Five Female Poets of Faith

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One thing the world needs is for more people to read poetry. Especially from female writers of a certain age who identify as people of faith. I hope you enjoy this small round up and hope you’ll take the time to read more of their work via the links provided. You will be richer for it.

–Abigail Carroll

Photo:  Julian Russell

That I Might Dwell

That I might dwell in warbler
song, in fields of sorrel, fields
of stars, that dwelling in your
house I’d know, I’d rest, I’d play
at wonder. Oh that I might dwell

in pine-branched shade, among
the sway, among the praise of oak-fern,                                                                                        granite, jay nest, spruce—
among the shadow-dance of leaves,
the breeze unpinning doubt, all

apathy, all hollow hours, all fears.
Oh may I dwell in reverence here,
and dwelling in your house, I’ll
wait, I’ll pray, I’ll lay this body
down on what you’ve dreamed,

on what you’ve sung, spliced, spun,
twined, embroidered, breathed.
And dwelling in your house I’ll
know the peace of moss, the moth-                                                                                                  winged hush of unhinged awe,

musk of sage, gaze of deer. Oh let
me lose myself in rooms of fox-                                                                                                      glove, cowslip, wild plum, wren—
that I might taste the sleep of loam,
that I might tenant beauty here.

from Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (Wipf & Stock 2018)

Abigail Carroll is a poet and author whose most recent book, Habitation of Wonder (Wipf & Stock, 2018), is an offering of poems that travels the intersection of the natural landscape and the landscape of spirit. A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim (Eerdmans, 2017), has been called “sparked with joy and stitched with whimsy” by the Chicago Tribune, and Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal (Basic Books, 2013), was a finalist for the Zocalo Public Square Book Prize.

Click here for Abigail’s website.

The Joy of Poetry-Megan Willome

“What if there were no poetry?  What if all life were prose?
 Some people wouldn’t mind. One friend told me her son didn’t know how to do imaginative play. He lined up his action figures and then shrugged and walked away.  He didn’t know what else to do.  Poetry gives you an idea of what to do, or at least the idea that something more can be done.” 
Megan Willome, “The Joy of Poetry” p. 138
When I mention to people that I’m reading a book of poetry the response is often, “I’m not into poetry. I just don’t get it.”
If I tell them I WRITE poetry, they look at me as if I said I ate blue crayons for breakfast and quickly change the subject.
I just finished reading Megan Willome’s user-friendly volume “The Joy of Poetry” (TSPoetry Press) and I can say with confidence—this book introduces poetry in a way that will make you swear off eating crayons forever—and might entice you towards a richer life of reading what you’ve been missing all this time.
The next to last chapter is my favorite, aptly titled, “Why Poetry?” Willome (pronounced, ‘willow-me’) illuminates the answers to this question beautifully. Here are the reasons that spoke to me (in no particular order):
     1)    Why poetry? For Kinship—when a writer shines a light on something that speaks to you, there is a connection, an ‘aha! I get that’ feeling.  Poets, in their succinct style, pack a lot of meaning into fewer words; many of those words go straight to our heart.
Illustration: Willome weaves the story of her mother’s very long bout with cancer and the last years of her life struggling with the disease. Megan and Merry Nell’s relationship was not all sweetness and light during this time; I can relate. My own mother died of cancer very young (55, I was only 33) and we also had some rough edges in the way we related to each other in her last few years.
Two lines in Megan’s poem ‘Blue Moon’ are underlined and circled in my book:
“we talk as only mothers and daughters can—
Speech as rocky as the lunar surface.”
There’s a kinship woven into those words.
      2)    Why poetry? For Delight—Certainly you’ve read Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” or something by Shel Silverstein? These delight in their nonsensicality (yes, I made that up).  Willome mentions a yoga class and a discovery of the delight of  ‘poetry’ in her instructor’s directions as she uses metaphors to illustrate different poses. There are so many poems I’ve read that just plain leave me smiling—they’re accessible, readable, relatable, beautiful. Poems can delight us in simple ways.
:)
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