Opening the Heart

Today, students in my Washington & Lee University Spring Term 2018 class in Prose Poems & Hybrid Forms were fortunate to participate in an hour-long conversation with poet and artist Sam Roxas-Chua 姚 whose book Echolalia in Script we have been reading and studying as part of our course reading list.

Sam very generously got up early (he’s in Eugene OR and we are in Lexington VA!), but everyone felt warmly connected to him through our FaceTime session.

He devised a short “program” of poetry reading, conversation, and both semic and asemic writing, which culminated in the entire class doing a group asemic (each contributing a couplet) on a beautiful red sheet of calligraphy paper that Sam had sent us in the mail last week.

To set the tone, Sam chose as opening poem William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read to Each Other;” and I chose as our closing poem Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Shoulders.”

It was a simple but beautiful and profound experience for everyone.

Sam wrote a poem dedicated to my students; and here is the poem I wrote in class today as a response to his “Inner Wiring Exercise.”

Here is the prompt he gave us:
“If the heart had a mouth, what would it say? If the mouth was a door, what shape would its room be? Circle, square, or triangle? What shape are the windows? If a window has a taste, what would it taste like? If the heart had a tongue what would it say?”

Following my poem below is the poem that Sam wrote, dedicated to my students.

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The heart would say please,

lay a trail of milk pearls

it can follow; a sheen that,
like the hand on the heart,

helps it see in the dark.
Who led it here into the well

of the wood, afraid it could
no longer call it child?

The houses and farms know only
of splintered skin that sang

away from the lip of a blade,
panes of frosted sugar laid

in place where the eyes could
no longer trust the weather’s

dictation. A fox runs sometimes
through the hills, stippling

the grass with the hair on its tail
as it goes. It pauses under a moon

that looks from afar as small as a heart:
it calls with its spiraling call until

the silver in the sky rains down,
until the spirits hear and gather

the coins it has spent to buy
your passage back from the dark.

~ For Sam Roxas-Chua 姚; and for my Spring Term 2018 students at W&LU ~ LAI

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Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.

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