their work Win­ners of the an­nual po­etry se­ries’ Col­lege Con­test read from

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin

Ba­sia Miller be­gan writ­ing po­etry shortly af­ter re­tir­ing from a 20-year teach­ing ca­reer at St. John’s Col­lege. She was trans­lat­ing some French po­etry when she de­cided to do more than dab­ble with her own cre­ative urges. She started au­dit­ing classes at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege and got in­volved with the lo­cal po­etry scene in town by at­tend­ing monthly open-mic nights at Teatro Paraguas. “It’s a won­der­ful, warm com­mu­nity,” Miller told Pasatiempo . “I’m happy to be a mem­ber of it.” Now Miller and three other as­pir­ing po­ets who at­tend higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in Santa Fe have won the Muse Times Two Po­etry Se­ries Col­lege Con­test. On Sun­day, March 29, Miller reads at Col­lected Works Book­store with Dara Elerath, a sec­ond-year stu­dent in the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts’ Mas­ter of Fine Arts pro­gram; Ser­afima Fedorova, a fresh­man from the Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign’s cre­ative-writ­ing pro­gram; and Sa­man­tha Ar­doin, a ju­nior at St. John’s Col­lege.

“The win­ners seem to rep­re­sent their in­di­vid­ual schools in some ar­che­typal way,” said Carol Moldaw, co-co­or­di­na­tor of the po­etry se­ries. The in­spi­ra­tion for the con­test, now in its sec­ond year, was a sim­i­lar con­test held among the Five Col­leges of West­ern Mas­sachusetts (UMass, Amherst, Hamp­shire, Smith, and Mount Holyoke). “Hold­ing a con­test like this here seemed like a great ad­di­tion to the mission of Muse Times Two, which we do with a grant from the Wit­ter Byn­ner Foun­da­tion for Po­etry. I feel like all the col­leges have stu­dents who are in­ter­ested in writ­ing, but the pop­u­la­tions are very sep­a­rate; they all have their own lit­tle cul­tures. It’s won­der­ful to be able to bring them to­gether this way.” Each col­lege has its own in­ter­nal se­lec­tion process and then sub­mits three fi­nal­ists to the con­test. Moldaw and Dana Levin, founder of the se­ries and a pro­fes­sor at SFUAD, se­lect the four hon­orees. To avoid any con­flicts, Moldaw reads the en­tries from St. John’s and SFUAD, while Levin reads those from SFCC and IAIA.

Of Miller’s work, Levin said, “What I liked about th­ese po­ems is that they were re­ally at­ten­tive to the an­i­mal world, and there was at­ten­tion to the sound of words and to slant rhyme” — words that al­most rhyme, such as “or­ange” and “sy­ringe.” It seemed to Levin that by med­i­tat­ing on the an­i­mal world, Miller learned about her­self and about life cy­cles. “I just ap­pre­ci­ated that mode. She has a great sense of im­age. One of the po­ems, ‘Stray Cat,’ be­gins, ‘She haunts the twi­light, like phos­pho­rus/haunts empty places where fish have passed/leav­ing only a skele­ton of mem­ory.’ ”

“My sub­ject mat­ter is pretty much all over the place,” Miller said. “I’m only just learn­ing, so I take it where it ends up. I have a mood or an ex­pe­ri­ence that I want to turn into some­thing, not just cap­ture and record it. I want to shape the ex­pe­ri­ence and put it into words so it’s ac­ces­si­ble to other peo­ple.”

Elerath, Levin said, also fo­cuses on na­ture and an­i­mals and has a gift for im­age mak­ing. “She has a long poem called ‘Self-Por­trait as Div­ing Bell Spi­der.’ It’s a per­sona poem writ­ten from the voice of the spi­der that also en­gages the reader. I loved the ti­tle and the con­ver­sa­tional way it be­gins: ‘Maybe it’s un­re­mark­able/ the life I’ve lived/It’s true not much has hap­pened/ In spring I an­chored my web/in a tan­gle of eel­grass/ What­ever en­tered I ate/or mated with/But tell me, what kind of story/were you ex­pect­ing?’ It just goes on and on about this weird spi­der that lives un­der­wa­ter in a bell of air. I thought it was cool, and she has the abil­ity to sus­tain a long poem about one thing and keep it in­ter­est­ing, which is hard to do.”

Elerath, who grew up mostly in Al­bu­querque, holds a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in vis­ual art from the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico and a bach­e­lor’s in graphic de­sign from the South­west Uni­ver­sity of Vis­ual Arts. “I’m some­what of a late­comer to po­etry,” she said. “Writ­ing was some­thing I did as a pri­vate out­let. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve deep­ened my as­so­ci­a­tion to writ­ing and taken a more pur­pose­ful ap­proach to de­vel­op­ing my voice.”

“I didn’t re­al­ize Ser­afima was a fresh­man,” Moldaw said of the SFUAD win­ner. “I thought her work showed a great deal of orig­i­nal­ity and am­bi­tion. There’s a sense of so­lid­ity and a sense of shape. She’s work­ing well with the line and the stanza.” Fedorova sub­mit­ted a long poem called “Time: The Orig­i­nal Mo­tion Pic­ture Sound­track,” which con­tains an over­ture, pre­lude, crescendo, ca­denza, and coda. It was writ­ten for a high­school as­sign­ment in slam po­etry, which Fedorova didn’t think she could write or per­form. “But it’s so in­ter­est­ing how you could give some­thing more depth by how you say the word,” she noted. The idea for the poem came from won­der­ing what kind of sound­track could be put to time, cre­ation, and the uni­verse. Fedorova was born in Moscow and grew up in Miami. In high school, she

said, it was easy to win small con­tests and get pub­lished, but when she got to col­lege she started sub­mit­ting to lit­er­ary jour­nals and was re­jected. “Th­ese po­ems were re­jected by 10 mag­a­zines be­fore Muse, so it’s nice to have this val­i­da­tion that there are peo­ple who un­der­stand what I’m try­ing to say.”

Ar­doin is the only win­ner not tak­ing cre­ative-writ­ing classes. At St. John’s, she reads a set cur­ricu­lum of “great books” that doesn’t leave much room for work­ing on her own po­ems, but what she reads per­co­lates dur­ing the aca­demic year and blos­soms when school is out. She spent last sum­mer work­ing in a restau­rant in town; tak­ing the bus there each day be­came her writ­ing time, as well as a source of in­spi­ra­tion as she got to know the other pas­sen­gers on the route. The re­sult is sev­eral long, prose-block po­ems with a sur­real bent. “She showed a lot of orig­i­nal­ity and in­ter­est­ing tone — a com­bi­na­tion of con­trol and wild­ness where you think the poet is tap­ping into some­place deep but also knows how to work with and use lan­guage. I thought her work was lovely, in­ter­est­ing, and un­ex­pected,” Moldaw said.

Like Elerath, Ar­doin found in­spi­ra­tion in spi­ders. “I’m made of minia­ture cities, shards of glass you look/into that look back out at you like a mil­lion spi­der/eyes. Touch me on the hairy spi­der leg. My bones/be­come wires and twist to cra­dle you. My arms are a/mil­lion mon­sters danc­ing,” she writes in the short poem “Mother/Spi­der.” “I think my sur­re­al­ism comes from my re­la­tion­ship with my dreams,” Ar­doin said. “I pay a lot of at­ten­tion to them. I have no idea how peo­ple per­ceive my po­ems, and it’s strange to find out that peo­ple have read them and liked them. It’s un­set­tling, be­cause I think my po­ems are weird. But I’m re­ally ex­cited to read with the other win­ners and the judges and get to know more po­ets in Santa Fe.”


Muse Times Two Po­etry Se­ries; read­ing by win­ners of the Col­lege Con­test 4 p.m. Sun­day, March 29 Col­lected Works Book­store, 202 Gal­is­teo St., 505-988-4226

From left, Ba­sia Miller, Dara Elerath, Ser­afima Fedorova, Sa­man­tha Ar­doin

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