Nadia Colburn reading from The High Shelf


be here it’s wonderful to see so many
friends and people that I care about from so many different parts of my life
and also people who care about writing and you know our world so I’m gonna
forget to say this if I don’t say it now so I put together a whole collection of
supplemental material to go with the book especially for when people buy it
this month and I was supposed to have an email list when you bought the book you
could sign up for it and of course I forgot so you can if you’re interested
in getting that and you bought my book just go on my website if you want and on
the book page sign up for the supplemental material and it will just
give it to you or you can just come up on this table and write your email
address and I’ll be sure that you got that supplemental material it’s leading
questions to go with the book like it sounds like leaders guide recording of
my reading ton of the poems meditation and writing session with a prompt from
one of the poems those of you who know my work I often lead meditations and
then gave people time to write so I do that with one of my poems and then also
a pack of ten of my new poems so I just wanted to give you as special thanks for
buying the book and supporting me and rounding out the experience of the book
so I will put this and if you didn’t buy the book but you want to be on my email
list and you’re not on my email list already also you can give me your email
address and your name as most of you know I send out a lot of free resources
for writers men tations and waiting pumps and lots of
things so I’ll put this year and okay so I quote out a little bit of things to
say because this book represents a lot of work I’ve probably been over every
word in this poem countless time in this book in every poem in this book
countless times and it also has been a very long time in the making so first I
just wanted again thank you all for being here I give a special thanks to
Eric for supporting me and so many different ways thanks to Simone we’re also supporting
me and for being my muse in many ways thanks to Gabriel who isn’t here for
also supporting me in my news I want to give a special call out to Kari for your
support as well and thanks for believing in this book and to so many of my
friends and also my students teaching poetry and teaching writing really helps
me keep that passion for writing alive and I’m so inspired by the work that my
students do so thank you and thank you all for being here my friends and so
many ways so I vote the majority of this book more than fourteen years ago I
thought I would publish it pretty quickly the poems are getting published
pretty regularly I send it out to book contests which is pretty regular like
normal way to get your book party book published and it was a
finalist which is again and again and again and again etc but it was just
there were a lot of near misses and it just never happened and eventually I
just put the book kind of off the high shelf into the drawers and I went on to
other things I rode a lot of clothes I wrote other
poems and then I took it out and I sent it off to a publisher and they accepted
it so here it is and it’s very exciting to have it in my hands so I guess the
moral of the story is be persistent don’t give up maybe the times caught up
a little bit with the book it’s I’m not sure that some of the themes were as understood twelve or fourteen years ago
I think there are more people writing about motherhood now I think more people
are talking about trauma more people are talking about environmental destruction
we these are all themes of the book and um some what can I say I’m just ahead of
the time okay so I’m gonna read the first poem from
the back into time any moment the red door then the leaves the many leaves all
yellow now they are so thin I think I can feel them ready to fall one breeze
and you there walking or standing alone what what do we not become so the book is very much about becoming
and I wrote these poems as a young mother inspired largely by pregnancy and
motherhood and wanting to kind of acting the question of how do we make a home in
this world create safe places not only in our homes but in our bodies and
ourselves for our children despite the violence the destruction the uncertainty
and having balanced those more challenging aspects of the world with
our wonder our appreciation and our joy and the experience of pregnancy and
motherhood really broke me open and made me come to those hard questions in a
deeper way and listen I was in a ph.d program I’ve been kind of awarded for
being intellectual and the answer to those questions wasn’t really found in
the intellectual world and certainly it wasn’t my intellect that hid maybe you
know pregnant in the first place or you know who those babies are took care of
them so I was really trying to like access other parts of myself and other
ways of knowing and getting beneath the surface and listening to the silence so
these poems came to be very much about kind of stripping language away to see
what I could get to underneath and this poem is a nine part poem called
plenitude pregnancy which I vote when I was pregnant with Simone when you spent
that summer in in Greece I was pretty pretty pregnant and the landscape of
Greece really inspired me because it was so beautiful and elemental and had been
stripped down largely actually because of the destruction done to the
environment through you know civilization but there was this rock
beauty they are so plenitude pregnancy part 2 as the golden cup of emptiness
inside little legs kicking up against my side your little lump now by my navel
the stones of the hillside had been gathered into walls stripes along the
hillsides middle towards which the Sheep their legs hobbled close together walk
eager for shade the world into which you will come is a waiting bowl hear the
high echo three so everywhere anticipation now I
make ready the tight constraint a subject from subject leading to verb for
the view of the land the light that changes the reverse hollow of the hill
made of likenesses even in difference far off thistle like thirst rock like a name
called out in the dark a single tree blown against a wall seven across the terraced hills more
terraces the olives the only green and the spindly broom with its bright
yellow blossoms the land made to support them the donkeys at evening carrying
water and below the aquamarine of the sea now smooth as glass that brings back
open mouthed black plastic bags Oh little one all this that is not mine to
give you what will I give you eight their leaves a thick dark unguent green
their fruit to dry to eat the thick trees brush all night one against the
other in the breeze sound like the sound of rain in our own country when you were
born may I recognise the unseen in my arms nine came into the world at center a
silence activity a cry too high to hear a rent in the sky a single cloud then
will come continuity the sky looks like something
unspeakable about to be sad then doesn’t say it in the world look how many things
are in it and we like prairie dogs that make it through the burning last year
the trees on the hill in the forest were trees until they weren’t they give gave
in for three months straight 50,000 acres taken by this year’s weeds from
the fire blackened earth elsewhere always in the same place east white
geese one day I stopped and counted 33 how life imitates the grace of thought
the next day they were still there in the water though all along the path
their white feathers were strewn white white as the sky is today and my
thoughts the geese never leave the water the prairie dogs come up in the first on
among the weeds the glow from the burned down forests the smallest girl runs
singing through the grasses left unknown at the end of the season and my thoughts
what isn’t there counts so I wanted to think about our relationship
to the natural world and to the things we make to keep ourselves safe and
sometimes in making things that we think are going to keep us safe we end up
inadvertently destroying things or our world so as I was kind of working with
this paradox I worked with a series of poems about boxes because we kind of
again create things with the intention of helping ourselves and then sometimes
those very creations turn out to be entrapments and it was also kind of a
traumatic trope which I’m not sure I fully knew at the time but now looking
back it seems like it can be bad in lots of different ways which is the cool
thing about kind of stripping the language down a little bit from
narrative is that there are many different narratives that we can give
about these poems so you tell me what they’re about the feeling of trying to express the
feeling I can’t even name we assembled it we made the coroner’s type a box that
might hold all of us safe from everything we wanted to escape and
creating the idea of escape itself what nature cannot make so I was thinking
about so you understand the poem while I’m reading it the straight lines that
we have all around us I mean everywhere we look there are pretty straight lines
and geometrical geometrical shapes but in the natural world it’s really weird
that we see straight lines even if we look out the horizon the ocean there’s
like a little curve so I was thinking about our perception and what’s natural
and what’s been shaped by our own creations what nature cannot make
one lime touching lime touching lime touching line four points at the four
corners where nothing penetrates to closed off as not even the deepest
forest and the most lush days of summer as not even the edge of the walk lined
lake closed off with intent as not even the cat who cleans herself who walked so
assuredly along the edge of the balcony who tilts back for ears at the call of
the cardinal leaps as not even she with her wives her elegant ways would of her
own trace 3 nor would the sky trace not even along the fields horizon so
everywhere in nature the inescapable escape the branches thin delicate
fingers reaching out to embrace the air that everywhere everywhere once touched
is away for but what for but with what only the human can make I enter then we
enter then shut the door to this well-ordered space into which I fold
first one limb and then the other then the four-chambered heart in the space
that might be contained held in place by wood that has been sanded and
nail together with little nails that do not break namelessness in the box I put the body
there were no words for what had happened outside all the other boxes and
some no movement at all and some dancing the colour like a deep blue lake
reflecting the color of sky who could say which was original which the
interior which the exterior or like the colour of the sky at dusk opposite the
Setting Sun all silver and the lake beneath all silver as if something were
about to happen or had only just occurred so so I created all these boxes for myself
and I was partly inspired by the work of Joseph Cornell who’s a visual artist who
made these really amazing boxes which he assembled from kind of found objects and
I just found his work really inspiring he also had a brother who had cerebral
palsy living at home and he was very close to his brother and his brother
obviously was wheelchair-bound and had these real physical limitations and I
always think of Cornell’s work as kind of an expression of limitation and
belonging for freedom and and I think I was kind of attracted to that that kind
of sense of limitation and longing that I think Cornell’s work is coming out of
so this is a poem explicitly after there’s a Cornell and there was the
office it’s called the physical world there was the opposite house not lit by
the Sun and the trees all dead like by the frame and we were lying there trying
to keep ourselves trying to keep the other and the other trying to keep the
other that was just the same with some little variation and the brown shingle
and the brown shingle next to it the world in latched of its self-made and
the boxes the little boxes each one just the same with some little modulation and
in the boxes little partitions and in the partitions littler partitions and
they are in one a bird so when I was first thinking about the
cover of the book I was going to use a Joseph Cornell box but then I decided to
liberate the birds and just have them flying in the sky instead so obviously a few poems in the end of
the buck and then a few new poems and then if you anyone has any questions I’m
happy to answer questions now not the box not the high shelf but the breath
leaving coming back I lived in the suspension caught by what I did not know
now summer comes again again the heat of the Sun again the children’s voices
rising from the sprinklers in the park everything I wanted to say is taken off
in their voices and dissipates a squirrel comes down the fence and moment
is in the basil eats one leaf then another and runs back up the tree where
it has its own nest high in the branches neither caught nor unsupported and
tomorrow tomorrow that the squirrel knows how to gather for gathering not
too much nor too little tomorrow that the squirrel does not even try to name what can’t be held gone endlessly and I
toward the future like a sailboat to wind like wind to the far no Shore where
everything turns like and like and like to the unlike as before me what sings so I guess I’ll add that I also when the
book came out I I cheat when the book was accepted I didn’t want to change it
too much because I wanted it to well it was what it was and it had its own
coherence I think I was writing the book in part out of a kind of namelessness
some of the things in my own story I didn’t fully know at the time when I was
writing and I wanted to keep that sense of suspension in that sense of not
knowing because so often we don’t have all the pieces of the picture and when
those pieces come in the language changes and I think we’re all living
with this sense of uncertainty on many different levels all the time
so I wanted to keep that but I also wrote an afterword so um I’m not going
to read from the afterward but I just want to draw your attention to kind of
like me now adding another note to the book in the afterward I’m thinking about
about that so I have also three new poems that I want to share with you
because they’re really quite different um this is a poem I wrote I think this
week by dark yeah three days ago another poem about birds why not call them
starlings chickadees more dances yellow tailed hawks Warblers great blue herons
striped kingfishers barn owls but I don’t I call them birds who soar
together into the spaciousness in my imagination free from names free from
classification the heavens that we will never enter receive them they do not
speak they sing oh yes we project our imagination
outward but doesn’t the imagination come back
teach us to to let go of what defines us to lift a little higher in ourselves to
fling ourselves into the wind trusting that it will take us that we will not
fall that our own wings might with a bit more exercise propel us gladly towards
the wider yeah Symone Enola this sounds for you what my
heart desires and I hope I’m not giving away a secret at night when it is hot in
the dark at my daughter’s camp the girls take off their clothes by the docks at
the wide mouth of the lake for special swimming I want to take off my clothes
on the page the way I came here for special lighting I want to feel utterly
safe in a dark that is soft and the water that will hold me or is that what
I want I think the question over and over when I cannot sleep when my mind
will not turn off what will the next years of my life if I am lucky hold the
waters of the ocean creep up the shore the temperature slides up a half degree
then more the high glacial shelf and the Arctic breaks off I would be lying if I
said this is what I see when I cannot sleep in bed instead I see the clear
water the wide mouth of the lake waiting to hold me the way I know I am safe held
in community my body still a girl’s with the whole world before me and utterly
free and my mouth open in song the words already written on the page so thank you
for being my community and one more you who are so quiet didn’t
you know there was a great symphony in your heart didn’t you know that you were
composing the trumpets are so glad and the French horn and it’s great deep
beckoning resounds you who are so quiet didn’t you hear the calling from your
stillness as if you had looked out over Stillwater to see the geese rise up in
unison in front of the Setting Sun such a squall of color and your whole being
given over to the one name to the one who West’s in the great up flapping the
geese mounting higher and higher into the growing into the evening growing
brighter and louder still

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