East by Southwest

Two writers cross paths through poetry

By Tempo staff
Posted 8/9/18

If it is true that there is magic in numbers, then Saturday (Aug. 11) at 7 p.m. a magical evening is planned at SOMOS when local Taos poet Joan Roberta Ryan and Philadelphia poet Rachel …

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East by Southwest

Two writers cross paths through poetry

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If it is true that there is magic in numbers, then Saturday (Aug. 11) at 7 p.m. a magical evening is planned at SOMOS when local Taos poet Joan Roberta Ryan and Philadelphia poet Rachel Blum come together to read poems about family, love and loss that are both personal and universal.

Commencing her Southwest book launch in Taos, Blum, in "The Doctor of Flowers" (3: A Taos Press), tells a story about mothering and loss in poems that reflect her experience of losing a 10-year-old daughter to pediatric cancer and of accompanying her younger daughter in grieving. "But these poems also tell a story of spirit, of sacred experience lived and contemplated within the context of the poet's diverse family and spiritual background," a SOMOS press release states. "The themes of these poems inform each other so that sorrow is imagined through the lens of sacredness, and spirit expands to accommodate and to comfort human broken heartedness."

Blum has taught creative writing to patients at Goldwater Hospital in New York City, at PATH Community Mental Health Center in Philadelphia, and to children at the Philadelphia Center for Grieving Children, Teens, and Families.

She is a longtime reiki practitioner, working in private practice and as a volunteer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, after many years serving as a volunteer in the reiki program of the Abramson Cancer Center of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in literary journals including American Literary Review, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art.

When asked whom she hopes her readers are, and what she hopes they can take from this book, Blum replied, "I can best answer this in relation to the responses I've gotten to the book since its release. The ones that have touched me most deeply, and surprised me too, have been from readers who are grieving and have found comfort in my book. My poems are being shared at memorial services, as ashes of beloveds are scattered, and as a way to include the sacred in these moments in a multifaith way. It is being given as a gift to the newly grieving. Knowing this, my hope for my book is that it will continue to be a source of comfort and spiritual connection for anyone who can find it there."

In Ryan's first collection, "Dark Ladies & Other Avatars" (3: A Taos Press), the real and the dream world converge in a wonderful array of poems about -- and often narrated by -- the "bad girls" and other mysterious or misunderstood women from art, literature and life. Many offer new takes, some witty, some chilling, on the shrews, courtesans, schemers and liars we know from stories and paintings.

During this reading, Ryan will illuminate the real and imaginary figures who people the poet's own world--from a mad sister she sees in her dreams to the enigmatic mother who slipped away "memory by memory, word by word" until "when the final syllable left, you followed." And a scattering of love poems blends all these encounters into a celebration of a many-faceted, long-term relationship and allows Ryan's sensuality to blossom into a joyous eroticism.

Before moving to Taos in 2009, Ryan headed her own direct marketing studio where she created magalogs, commercials and direct mail packages for clients ranging from Dow Jones to Lenox Collections to AOL to Rodale Press. During this time, she also served as president and chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association and as a speaker on writing that sells. Her recent poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Nimrod, The Sow's Poetry Review, Naugatuck River Review, Ekphrasis, Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, The Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art, and other literary journals.

When Ryan was asked, "How truthful are your poems?," she answered, "In the poems about my husband and other close relatives, I stay quite close to what I've actually heard, seen and remembered. However, the truth of a poem is not limited by biographical fact. And as a piece takes shape, it often demands that I bend places, events, objects or actions a bit to match its own version. On the other hand, in poems where the speaker is a character I've invented or adapted from literature or art, I often find myself revealing more shocking personal truths, feelings which I might hesitate to express so openly in my own voice."

The headquarters for the Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) is located at 108 Civic Plaza Drive in Taos. Call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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