The Book Worm
Cutting Edge Poets Speak Out
I’m writing a novel. It’s about Mary Shelley. You know Mary Shelley, she created Frankenstein. Though a brilliant and amazingly innovative writer—the mother of science fiction—Mary wasn’t the best judge of men.
At 16, she eloped with the very married Percy Bysshe Shelley. A great poet, sure, but a real rat with women. That wasn’t the end of it either. One of Mary’s closest friends was another literary luminary, Lord George Gordon Byron.
Byron is the poet who penned, “She walks in beauty like the night.” Ohhhhh! Don’t the sound of those words make you sigh? Don’t they convey you to some never-never land, a romantic, magical world?
But let me tell you, entering Byron’s magical world was dicey. He died at thirty-six leaving behind a trail of babies and broken hearts. Think of a wild one, a real bad boy and you might politely describe him as Byronic. Just think of it: for nearly 2000 years a man’s name has been a household word, a synonym for naughtiness in the extreme.
So what is it about these poets? What drives them? Must they be “bad” in order to be good? I used to have a theory about that. Might that very badness not be like the grain of sand that creates the pearl?
That was before I heard some straight talk from a couple of highly acclaimed modern poets.
Sonora’s Kathie Isaac-Luke, author of the exquisite poetry collection, “Crysalides,” dismissed my theory completely. She finds the notion of the wild and abandoned poet highly romanticized, pointing out: “Every generation has rebels trying to change the status quo. Poetry seems a good venue for that kind of energy. In the fifties the beats used poetry to experiment and channel their dissatisfaction.
` “In the sixties there were protest songs and many songwriters fused very creative poetry with their music. Bob Dylan has called himself a poet. Leonard Cohen was a poet before he became a songwriter
and musician. Today I think Rap, whatever one may think of it, channels that same kind of rebellious energy.”
Anything goes in poetry, Isaak-Luke believes. “I love the way you can play with language. It’s satisfying to be able to complete an idea in short form. That’s why I’m drawn to read poetry and why I like to write it.”
Isaak-Luke believes that rhyming has gotten a bad rep in recent years. “I like it when done subtly. Poets now are trying innovative patterns that are really the new sounds of our language.”
“Crysalides”, the newly released poetry collection published by Dragonfly Press, takes its name from the title poem about a butterfly’s life experience. Isaak-Luke’s poems center about emergence, childhood, coming of age, flight, and the final circling back to domesticity and subsequent creation.
The collection has been nominated for the 2011 Independent Book Award in Poetry. Isaak-Luke was formerly program coordinator for Poetry Center San Jose and edited the journal, cæsura. She and her husband, Charles Luke, moved to Sonora in 2005. They have a daughter, Anya, living in Seattle.
Isaak-Luke, a drama reviewer at the Union Democrat, is currently assembling a short story collection. “I tend to work slowly,” she laughs ruefully, predicting, “I’ll be 90 by the time I get around to my first novel,”
Monika Rose of Mokelumne Hill is another pragmatic poet who feels that the creative output and lifestyle of Byron is overrated. Founding-editor of Manzanita, a literary magazine, and director of Manzanita Writers Press, Rose feels that the Bohemian romantic view is more trouble than it’s worth.
“We try to escape into that idyllic realm because our world is always with us,” she believes, adding, “but such a disconnect from reality can’t be satisfying for long.”
Rose no longer assigns Byron to her high school English classes. “Young people want meaning not escape. They’re looking for realism, something that
strikes to the core of their lives.”
“River by the Glass,” Rose’s first volume of poetry has just been published by GlenHill Publications. It spans two decades of her life experience.
“I see the river as the universal life source,” she says. It is the flow of life experiences that make up our memories. We are constantly viewing life through glass—glasses or contacts if we wear them, plus windshields, cell phones, windows, TV screens. Everything is once removed and not always what we think it to be. Life is a kaleidoscope, little bits of things that come together for an instant.”
Rose has been drawn to poetry since childhood. “I loved nursery rhymes, their sounds were a kind of puzzle that fascinated me.”
She wavers now in regard to rhyming. “Of course it can be over done, but I also love the rhythm of sounds and the mismatching of them. It’s fun to play with that paradox between situation and sound.”
Rose and her husband, Gary, have two daughters, Kati and Erika, and a son, Brennan. Rose and Brennan are currently at work on a new creative project, a CD encompassing music and photography with voice-over poetry.
“Let me tell you about Brennan,” Rose adds with a smile. “We almost named him Byron. I thought long and hard about it. Byron was a hero to me as a young girl. But this was my son, my little boy. I didn’t want to drive traffic in the wrong direction.”
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Kathie Isaak-Luke and Monika Rose will read from their new poetry collections Friday (April 29) evening at 7:30 at the Mokelumne Hill Library. The event will be emceed by Sally Ashton, Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County and editor of the DMQ Review.
This is an open mic evening, free and open to the public. The reading of other original poems is invited.
All three poets will lead workshops in both prose and poetry at the Gold Rush Writers Conference April 30 and May 1 at the Leger Hotel in Mokelumne Hill. Call 286-1320 for additional information.