Thursday, June 11, 2020 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. — Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for connection information.
Susan J. Rogers’ poetry weaves the personal with mythic tales, including those of Goddesses from Tibet to the British Isles. Rogers, a choir director and musician who has lived near Chicago’s Lake Michigan, in New Mexico’s desert, and in South Central Texas, draws metaphor from these landscapes.
Rogers’ first poetry collection, In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman, was published in 2018 and contains illustrations by her partner, artist Luisa-Maria Potter. Other recent publication credits include the di-vêrseˊ-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and the anthology Enchantment of the Ordinary (Mutabilis Press, 2018). Rogers has been interviewed about her poetry on Texas Nafas, a poetry-centered public access television program, and her musical compositions (with poems as lyrics) have been performed at the University of New Mexico and at Chicago State University.
Cindy Huyser hosts; an open mic follows.
CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you first become interested in writing?
SJR: My first memory of poetry was in the first grade. Our teacher had us make cards for events like Mother’s Day, but gave us a verse with a blank word at the end of every other line so we could fill it in. That was magical to me.
CH: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?
SJR: I started thinking of myself as a writer when I was nine years old. My primary identity is as a poet.
CH: Your poetry has long been interested in the mythic, from the Tibetan Tara to goddesses of the British Isles. Tell us a little about your connection to Goddess myth.
SJR: I have a thirst for knowledge about the Goddess and relevant mythology. It is about untangling the lies I was taught and standing proudly as a woman in the reflection of the divine.
CH: As a musician and choir director, what is your take about the role of music in poetry?
SJR: When I choose music for the choir, I always look at the lyrics first. When I write poetry, I listen for musical elements in words and phrases to inform line breaks, stanzas breaks, alliteration, and internal rhyme so the poetic techniques support the meaning.
CH: You’ve lived in a variety of climates, notably near Chicago’s Lake Michigan and in the desert of New Mexico, as well as in south central Texas. How does place figure in your work? What has changed in your work as you’ve moved locations?
SJR: The environment of a place is deep inside me even when I am not aware of it. Moving is always a loss, like missing a person. For example, I wrote most of my New Mexico poems after I moved from there to Texas. My relationship with nature has evolved also. Luisa says that painting a landscape is like saying a prayer. Writing poetry with natural images is similar in some ways. It is about seeking the wisdom reflected in the web of life.
CH: You’ve been busy in the last couple of years, with a debut poetry collection in 2018, and another forthcoming. How have you managed to make room for this work? What is your writing life like?
SJR: I don’t have a writing schedule. I write when I feel an image or have an insight so strong it needs to be written down and then I work it into a poem. My goal is not just to have a poem emerge, but to somehow make the world a better place. For example, I wrote the title poem to In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman because I met a young woman struggling with self- esteem in the company of young men. It made me upset that this was still going on, so I wrote about women in control of their own image and that of the Goddess in ancient times.
CH: Tell us a little about your first poetry collection, In the Beginning’ an Egg, a Mask, A Woman. What inspired this book, and how did it come together? How was it to collaborate with your partner, Luisa-Maria Potter, for the book’s illustrations?
SJR: Luisa is a talented artist and I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with her. In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman started as a place to collect several poems about Tara. She was the first goddess I encountered who was not a truncated personality or actively being humiliated by male gods. Instead, she has 21 wonderful qualities we can all emulate, and has a fully formed personality that responds to a variety of situations. She is also fiercely protective to all who call out to her. I decided to poetically invite her into my own history and that of others I knew. I included other goddesses and stories later. I believe that when we rewrite our own history, it has the power to transform us.
CH: Tell us a little about your forthcoming book, Landscapes of the Mind. What’s been different for you in this project, as opposed to your inaugural book?
SJR: My new book, Landscapes of the Mind is longer and more diverse than my first book. It includes poems about contemporary themes, for example about COVID-19. It includes several poems about place, including a series of New Mexico poems. It also includes more poems about the goddess and mythology from Kuan Yin and Nerthus to the original story of Eve.
CH: If you were to recommend three “must-read” poets, who would they be, and why?
SJR: I would like to recommend three directions of inquiry instead. The first is to find a poet from history who you admire, in my case, W.B Yeats. The second is to find someone who speaks to you, who understands who you are. In my case, this is Judy Grahn. The third is to find a poet who challenges your experience and expands your horizons, in my case, Audre Lorde.
CH: What are you reading now?
I am reading books by poet laureates of the U.S.: Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and Richard Blanco’s How to Love a Country. I appreciate the fact that poet laureates are now as diverse as this country. Joy Harjo is from the Muscogee Creek Nation and Richard Blanco is a Gay Cuban-American.