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Artist Interview

Poet Dora Malech

April 11, 2017

                                      Photo credit: Chattman Photography

Dora Malech might just be Ode's spirit poet. She loves wordplay as much as we do; She cares deeply about her participation with the world through art; and she can't say no to the perfect blazer. She is the author of Shore Ordered Ocean and Say So, with her third book on the way. Speaking of "on the way", soon-to-be-mother Dora Malech will be making her way to Ode for a Night of Poetry on Friday, April 14th, from 6-8PM, also featuring poets Debora Kuan and Amy Dryansky. Join us in celebrating National Poetry Month!

What poem have you read recently that we should be reading?
At this time of year, I often find myself re-reading Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poem “Easter” from the January 2011 issue of Poetry. I love her sense of pacing and phonic echo throughout, and I’m always moved by what the poem can pack into such short, spare lines. Like many poems I love, I revel in the paradox that the author’s poem about feeling alone in a certain season actually makes me, the reader, feel less alone in that season.


is my season
of defeat.

Though all
is green

and death
is done,  

I feel alone.
As if the stone

rolled off
from the head

of the tomb
is lodged

in the doorframe
of my room,

and everyone
I’ve ever loved

lives happily
just past

my able reach.
And each time

Jesus rises
I’m reminded

of this marble

they are not
coming back.

     Jill Alexander Essbaum, Poetry, 2011

If you could make one word a piece of gum, what would you be chewing today?
The word “orrery” has been stuck in my head lately, and saying it out loud even makes the mouth move a bit like it’s chewing the word. It means, “a mechanical model of the solar system, or of just the sun, earth, and moon, used to represent their relative positions and motions.” It was named after the Earl of Orrery. I like the word’s “mouthfeel,” but I also just like very specific vocabulary like that. I finally worked the word into a poem recently, which I look forward to reading out loud, especially since I surrounded it with other “or” sounds (“ornery” and “orbit”).

Favorite line of poetry about Spring:
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Spring” is another darkly satisfying take on the season, like Jill Alexander Essbaum’s “Easter.” It begins:

     To what purpose, April, do you return again?

And it ends:

     It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
     Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

I also love the first lines of Phillip Larkin’s poem “The Trees”:
     The trees are coming into leaf
     Like something almost being said . . .

Give us a writing prompt (please).
Inspired by Essbaum and Millay, write a take on the month or the season that Hallmark would refuse to publish. Like Millay, who speaks to “April,” include a direct address to something that is not a person. While you can, of course, include beautiful details too, don’t hesitate to describe both things and emotions “as they are.” Bonus points if you go outside and gather specific details from direct observation. 


Artist Interview

Poet Debora Kuan

April 11, 2017


In the Artist Interviews we sent to our three featured poets, we ask for a favorite line of poetry about Spring. Well, we might just have ours. It's a line from Debora Kuan's poem "Pastoral". And although it may not have been intended to refer to Spring, it somehow feels perfect for it:

                             To shepherd. To pause. Where things begin grazing.
                             This is some silo for storing. This is some green. 

Debora is a poet and writer who works at an educational nonprofit in New York City. She is the author of Xing and the newly published Lunch Portraits. We're so happy Debora Kuan chose Northampton as one of her stops on her book tour. Join us for a Night of Poetry on Friday, April 14th, 6-8PM. Debora will be joined by poets Dora Malech and Amy Dryansky. 

April is:
National Poetry month!

What poem have you read recently that we should be reading?
Any poem by Anais Duplan or Danez Smith.

If you could make one word a piece of gum, what would you be chewing today?
I hate gum, so probably Trump..?

Favorite line of poetry about Spring:
“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote.” I totally butchered the spellings, sorry!

Give us a writing prompt (please).
In my new book, I wrote a list of 121 memories of my American childhood. Write 121 of yours!

Artist Interview

Poet Amy Dryansky

April 10, 2017

                                   Photo Credit: Trish Crapo

Amy Dryansky is not only a poet, teacher, mother, and blogger, she is also the newly crowned Poet Laureate of Northampton! (Or, as she likes to call it, "PoLo of Noho.") Award-winning author of two books, How I Got Lost So Close to Home and Grass Whistle, and supporter of so many of the organizations and causes that Ode holds near and dear (Center for New Americans, Northampton Arts Council, and The Literacy Project, to name a few), Amy Dryansky is the perfect poet to be helping us celebrate National Poetry Month. Please join us for a night of poetry on Friday, April 14th, 6-8PM at Ode. Amy will be reading alongside poets Debora Kuan and Dora Malech.

What poem have you read recently that we should be reading?
I’ve been rereading Laura Kasischke’s book, Space, in Chains, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. I feel the book is an amazing inquiry into our state of human frailty, and as Linda Gregg says, “all things huge and their requiring.” Or maybe it’s the “we are here,” of Horton Hears a Who, our tiny voices calling out in the enormity of existence, hoping someone hears us. In any case, the last poem I read from the book is, “At the Public Pool.” 

At the public pool
by Laura Kasischke

I could carry my father in my arms.
I was a small child.
He was a large, strong man.
Muscled, tan.
But he felt like a bearable memory in my arms. 

The lion covers his tracks with his tail.
He goes to the terrible Euphrates and drinks.
He is snared there by a little shrub.
The hunter hears his cries, and hurries for his gun. 

What of these public waters?

Come in, I said to my little son.
He stood at the edge, looking down.
It was a slowly rolling mirror.
A strange blue porcelain sheet.
A naked lake, transparent as a need. 

The public life.
The Radio Songs.
Political Art.
The Hall of Stuff We Bought at the Mall. The plugged-up fountain at the center
of the Museum of Crap That Couldn’t Last
has flooded it all. 

Come in, I said again. In here you can carry your mother in your arms. 

I still see his beautiful belly forever.
The blond curls on his perfect head.
The whole Botticelli of it crawling on the surface
of the water. And
his sad, considerate expression.
No, he said. 

--from Space, In Chains
Copyright © 2011 Laura Kasischke

If you could make one word a piece of gum, what would you be chewing today?
INTERSTICES. It’s a word I never get tired of having in my mouth. And I always have to think before I say it, even to myself. Also, I have a thing about negative space--what’s not there, the pause—so it’s also a great idea word.

Favorite line of poetry about Spring:
“Keep still, just a moment, leaves.”
--Robert Penn Warren, Deciduous Spring

Give us a writing prompt (please).
Write about the first anything: marriage/divorce/flight/accident/molecule/mountain/insect/whale, etc. 


Artist Interview

Todd Lynch of Ecotropy Landscape Design

March 7, 2017

Photo Credit: Erin Long 

We always love bringing a little wilderness into Ode. But landscape artist Todd Lynch brought us a forest. Literally. He bolted tree branches to our floor, bent and braided them up to the ceiling and around our ducts. He hung chandeliers made entirely of strung leaves and individually glued Queen Anne's Lace. He collected root systems to which he attached culled and foraged findings. To call him a landscape designer and artist is accurate, yes, but he is more than that: nature's magician; sorcerer of sticks and stones; visionary of the wilds. Meet Todd Lynch of Ecotropy Landscape Designs this Friday, March 10th, from 6-8pm, where he will help you imagine and create your own natural, living art piece.

What’s your spirit plant?
My spirit plant is the white oak. There have always been oaks in the many places I have lived that I could go to when feeling either down or joyous. Oaks are my favorite trees to climb and their branches have held me and given me the perspective I’ve needed to see my way through difficult straits. On walks, they are companieros when I see them, their stout girth and joyous canopy surrounded by the jostling, fast-growing pines and birches. I identify with their presence – quiet, generous, and resolute, slowly growing and thriving amidst the constant dynamism of their ecological context. Getting lost in the dark cast of a pine and hemlock tangle is a metaphor for the kind of mind I experience sometimes. Arriving at a clearing where the oak thrives is miraculous and life-affirming everytime.  

Their medicine has been used to treat gastric problems, inflammation, wounds and, in some cases cancer. I’ve never used the medicine of the oak in that way, or eaten its plentiful fruit…but it gives me something richer and more dynamic… a living reminder to take it slow, to be generous, and to always spread my arms to shelter those I love when they need it.

What’s in your tea?
The tea I brought tonight is mint, nettle and tulsi. We grew these at our home and they form the base for our everyday tea in the spring time. I love the robust, earthy flavor of the nettle combined with the spice of the mint and the balance of the tulsi. Part of the magic of growing and drinking our own teas is feeling a sense of gratitude for the plants. That gratitude comes from being in relationship with each plant from seedling to harvest to preparation as tea, tincture, salve or honey. This kind of folk medicine is the most amazing way to integrate the external landscape into our own internal landscape.

How does nature speak to you?
I like this question, but it is hard to answer, because there are so many voices to be heard when out in the landscape…I try to listen and be as quiet and respectful as I can and gradually I become immersed. I always think of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) when I take walks. More than anything, I am always astonished by the range of new stories and expressions that I encounter each time I return to honored places in the land or waterscape. One of my favorite ways to listen is to swim in open water…where I can physically be immersed and have my conventional way of being in the world up-ended…places like The Bend in Chesterfield or the DAR in Goshen are especially magical. 

What’s a dream art project for you?
I’d love to create a woven installation of plant material (like the photo below) that takes over an abandoned building – blurring the lines between spontaneous plant growth and man-made art. I’d have help from local students who would be participating in a school program on ecology/hydrology that I would teach in the same city where the installation would be located. Sharing how natural patterns and processes work in the landscape and making art inspired by those experiences with school groups energizes and inspires me. It’s the direction that I’d like to pursue more with my art-making. Part of the joy of art making for me is to witness people connecting seemingly disparate strands of their experience into a whole understanding because of something I have shared with them.

Best sound:
Other than the singing of my children, my favorite sound is found when I sit next to frozen streams and listen. It has to be that window of time where there is deep cold without snow, so I can witness the lava-lamp effect of the air bubbles moving through and against the ice. The music that the water and ice generate reminds me of the throaty bass of a tabla, hit directly in the center of the drum head. It makes me smile and laugh because that sensual vibe is not something I’d expect to hear in the midst of the winter forest’s austerity.

Who inspires you?
My grandma Jean is one of my inspirations. I used to love visiting her in Evanston, Illinois. She and I would adventure all over Chicago – not to museums, but to places where we could find free books, or listen to street musicians whom she had befriended. It seemed to me that she was the patron saint of alchemy. She could find enchantment in the humblest of materials – crushed beer cans or dried worms – and make others (even my grandfather) see how beautiful and poetic they were. Knowing that she lived her truth in such a way, in the era in which she did, compels me to honor her gifts to me and the world. When I integrate something unconventional into a composition it’s my way of thanking her for her brilliance and to ensure that there is space for all kinds of beauty to be celebrated.  

Photo Credit: Erin Long

Words to live by:
For some people, what they are is not finished at the skin, but continues with the reach of the senses out into the land. -- Barry Lopez

Hopefully there will come a time when I have no words, where I can honor and hold that kind of stillness that I so need, crave and desire in the natural world…One day the landscape will take the language out of me. --Terry Tempest Williams

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. -- John Muir

Favorite poem or book:
My favorite book is A River Sutra by Gita Metha. I had loaned it to friends so many times that I give copies away to folks instead. I love that it is a collection of stories that somehow all intertwine and that the unifying element is the River. A theme of connection and engagement in our lives is especially poignant for me during this time we live in currently.

What do you think is the most fascinating natural occurrence, plant, color, or design?
I’d probably say something different every day, but since we’re still in the grips of the winter, I’d say ice formations are an obsession for me. Again, that time when there is no snow, but just profound cold (also great for ice-skating on open water), there is the best ice. In particular, I love places where bubbles form and freeze. Over time, there is this spectacular layering effect of accumulated frozen air (when does air even accumulate?). These arrangements are spontaneous and joyful…I can almost hear the voice of the stream in each of these compositions. Someone else’s time defines our lives every day. Schedules, and having too little or too much time, can be overwhelming. A healing element of nature for me is that it is on its own time, and witnessing these bubbles reminds me of that…and challenges me to define my own sense of time and attempt to inhabit it.

What are the first signs of spring you notice?
The first signs of spring I notice are the songs of the red-wing blackbirds, the dances of the woodcocks, and the flush of exuberance of the willows up the hill from our house. I also love the earthy smell of the first warm rain and how it somehow summons mass salamander migrations across our roads as they seek places to spawn. 

Artist Interview

Love in the Key of Kimaya Diggs

February 10, 2017

Kimaya Diggs has got heart. It's warm and welcoming, palpable and catching.  She's just the kind of person you'd want around on a rainy day.  Cellist, vocalist, guitarist, ukulele-ist, she's her own accompanist. Rings are her thing, as are the songs she sings; both of which she's been collecting and culling since a child. When she lets go in a song, her voice is acrobatic with with lilts and lifts. When she dances (she requested The Pointer Sisters at our photoshoot), it's with a goofy abandon. Kimaya Diggs, Be Our Valentine.

Ms. Diggs will be performing her love songs at Ode on Friday, Feb. 10th, from 6-8pm. Come join us and celebrate the love!


What sings to you?
Sunlight! There’s definitely some sunflower and some housecat in my genes, because there is nothing as life-giving to me as being in the sun.

Talk to us about Valentine’s Day.
It’s my favorite holiday--as a homeschooled youngster I never grew out of the little-kid thing where you make valentines for everyone you know. Even now I handmake valentines for my friends every year. I love getting the opportunity to tell people that I love them, and I wish there were more moments in life that facilitate the re/affirmation of love. Since there aren’t many moments like that built into our culture, I try to create or expand those spaces whenever I find one.

You’re not only a singer/musician/songwriter, but you’re also a teacher. What’s your teaching philosophy?
I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by music and my own voice grew in a beautiful, natural setting. I have many students who didn’t have that privilege and who struggle to see their voices as extensions of their emotional and powerful selves. My teaching is rooted in my belief that singing is healing, empowering, and an essential part of community-building--and that everyone can contribute, meaningfully, with their voice.

What breaks your heart? What mends it?
Racism breaks my heart, man! Growing up in the valley not thinking about how you aren’t white, moving away, growing up, learning, seeing, coming home with a president who’s pulled the curtain up on a whole culture of repressed racism that’s just been waiting for the chance to explode is like biting into a perfect mango to find it teeming with maggots inside—

but what mends it is to sing, and it’s hard—at first it comes out shaky and weak and I want to quit right there, but my breath keeps pumping, my amazing, miraculous lungs, my lips move, my tongue slopes, my head rings and resonates and I vibrate a little more love into the air.  


First musical memory:
I used to accompany myself on a little drum, and I remember just wailing my heart out, feeling like I sounded just like Ella Fitzgerald, which was far from the truth.

Favorite lyric or line from a song or poem:
Every sorceress is
A pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can't
Face limitation. If I wanted only to hold you

I could hold you prisoner.

— From “Circe’s Power” by Louise Gluck (from her book Meadowlands)

What makes a love song work?
I like a little melancholy. I realize more and more how lasting love is a choice, and not always an easy one. I love me a passionate new-love song, but I also like when you can tell that a love that seems whole is actually a hundred pieces taped and patched together.


What’s on your Valentine’s playlist?
What You Don’t Do - Lianne LaHavas
Love on Top - Beyonce
Aventurera - Natalia Lafourcade
Gatekeeper - Feist
Like a Star - Corinne Bailey Rae

How would you describe your style?
I wear lots of flowers, lots of “sweater-robes” (do those have a real name? long sweaters?), and I almost always have some sort of long wrap, like a pashmina or a kimono shawl, something like that. My body is shaped like a kebab skewer so I like to break up the line with flowy layers and loose silhouettes.

Favorite word to sing:
Woah--I’ve never thought about this. Maybe “farewell.”

What’s a perfect day with your Valentine?
Anything involving soup, haha. I love soup, especially in February. Other than that, giving valentines to our friends, giggling excitedly about this being our last v-day before we get married in June, and probably watching The Mindy Project.