The poetry of Pattiann Rogers pauses me in mid-thought, turns me reflective, appreciative, and full of wonder. What follows are a few words from Pattiann Rogers on her art and practice, and a life of creative exploration. You’ll also enjoy my interview with Rogers.
“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.”
― Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers
“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
― Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science
“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”
― Werner Heisenberg
The three quotes above from Werner Heisenberg are among my many favorite quotes. I like these three and return to them, because they set my imagination whirling, whirling with freedom. What can be stranger than I can think? What question can I ask that will further expose the essence of nature? What is the “first gulp of natural sciences”? What is God “at the bottom of the glass”?
The majority of my poems I regard as quests. The poem begins when I ask myself a question or propose a supposition or an hypothesis about an experience or an image that has moved me, engaged my curiosity, but I don’t know why or how. The poem proceeds by my offering responses to the initial question, imagining and exploring possibilities by using language and its music. The music of the poem, its cadences and sounds, is of utmost importance to me. Music reinforces the experience and power of the words. Music is felt; it belongs to the body. If, as I’m working on a poem, it goes awry, then most often the music will falter, and my body’s reaction will indicate the failure. I don’t aim for certainty or answers in my poems. I aim for discovery, seeking a new perception that surprises or pleases me or seems to fit in the puzzle. I seek for new perceptions in my poems of celebration and in my love poems, as well as in my poems of the physical natural world. This is my primary method of creating poetry, but not my only method.
Here are two poems that are examples of what I’ve attempted to describe above:
The Significance of Location
The cat has the chance to make the sunlight
beautiful, to stop it and turn it immediately
into black fur and motion, to take it
as shifting branch and brown feather
into the back of the brain forever.
The cardinal has flown the sun in red
through the oak forest to the lawn.
The finch has caught it in yellow
and taken it among the thorns. By the spider
it has been bound tightly and tied
in an eight-stringed knot.
The sun has been intercepted in its one
basic state and changed to a million varieties
of green stick and tassle. It has been broken
into pieces by glass rings, by mist
over the river. Its heat has
has been given the board fence for body,
the desert rock for fact. On winter hills
it has been laid down in white like a martyr.
This afternoon we could spread gold scarves
clear across the field and say in truth,
“Sun you are silk.”
Imagine the sun totally isolated,
its brightness shot in continuous streaks straight out
into the black, never arrested,
never once being made light.
Someone should take note
of how the earth has saved the sun from oblivion.
(Published with the permission of Pattiann Rogers)
Suppose Your Father Was a Redbird
Suppose his body was the meticulous layering
of graduated down which you studied early,
rows of feathers increasing in size to the hard-splayed
wine-gloss tips of his outer edges.
Suppose, before you could speak, you watched
the slow spread of his wing over and over,
the appearance of that invisible appendage,
the unfolding transformation of his body to the airborne.
And you followed his departure again and again,
learning to distinguish the red microbe of his being
far into the line of the horizon.
Then today you might be the only one able to see
the breast of a single red bloom
five miles away across an open field.
The modification of your eye might have enabled you
to spot a red moth hanging on an oak branch
in the exact center of the Aurorean Forest.
And you could define for us, “hearing red in the air,”
as you predict the day pollen from the poppy
will blow in from the valley.
Naturally you would picture your faith arranged
in filamented principles moving from pink
to crimson at the final quill. And the red tremble
of your dream you might explain as the shimmer
of his back lost over the sea at dawn.
Your sudden visions you might interpret as the uncreasing
of heaven, the bones of the sky spread,
the conceptualized wing of the mind untangling.
Imagine the intensity of your revelation
the night the entire body of a star turns red
and you watch it as it rushes in flames
across the black, down into the hills.
If your father was a redbird,
then you would be obligated to try to understand
what it is you recognize in the sun
as you study it again this evening
pulling itself and the sky in dark red
over the edge of the earth.
(Published with the permission of Pattiann Rogers)
A Short Biography (2018)
Pattiann Rogers was born, raised and educated from elementary school through high school in Joplin, Missouri. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Missouri, Columbia, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and a minor in Zoology. She holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Houston.
Pattiann Rogers has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently Quickening Fields, (Penguin, 2017) and Holy Heathen Rhapsody (Penguin, 2013). She has published two books of prose The Dream of the Marsh Wren, and The Grand Array, Writings on Nature, Science, and Spirit.
Rogers’ book of selected poems, Firekeeper (Milkweed Editions), was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award from the Academy of American Poets and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1994. Her collected poems, Song of the World Becoming, New and Collected Poems, 1981-2001 (Milkweed Editions, 2001), was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.
In 2018, Rogers received a special John Burroughs Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Nature Poetry. She has also received two NEA Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fellowship and a Literary Award in Poetry from the Lannan Foundation. Among other awards, her poems have received five Pushcart Prizes, two appearances in Best American Poetry, five appearances in Best Spiritual Writing, the Tietjens Prize and the Hokin Prize from Poetry, the Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest, and two Strousse Awards from Prairie Schooner.
She has taught as a visiting writer at several universities, including Montana, and Texas, Washington University, and Pacific University, and was Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas from 1993-97. In May, 2000, Rogers was in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy. Her papers are archived in the Sowell Family Collection at Texas Tech University.
Rogers is the mother of two sons and has three grandsons. She lives with her husband, a retired geophysicist, in Colorado. To contact Rogers, send a note to email@example.com.
List of Published Books
The Expectations of Light (Princeton University Press, 1981)
The Tattooed Lady in the Garden (Wesleyan University Press, 1986)
Legendary Performance (Ion Books, 1987)
Splitting and Binding (Wesleyan University Press, 1989)
Geoentric (Gibbs Smith Publisher, A Peregrine Smith Book, 1993)
Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems (Milkweed Editions, 1994)
Eating Bread and Honey (Milkweed Editions, 1997)
A Covenant of Seasons (in collaboration with Joellyn Duesberry, Hudson Hills Press, 1998)
Song of the World Becoming: New and Collected Poems, 1981 – 2001 (Milkweed Editions, 2001)
Generations (The Penguin Group, 2004)
Wayfare (The Penguin Group, 2008)
Firekeeper, Selected Poems, Revised and Expanded Edition (Milkweed Editions, 2010)
Holy Heathen Rhapsody (The Penguin Group, 2013)
Quickening Fields (Penguin/Random House, 2017)
Poetry, Limited Editions
Lies and Devotions, 160 copies (Tangram Press, 1994)
Animals and People, The Human Heart in Conflict with Itself, 100 copies, etchings by Margot Voorhies Thompson (Knight Library Press, University of Oregon, 1997)
Summer’s Company, 151 copies, (Brooding Heron Press, 2009)
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