Saturday, October 16, 2010

Poetry Salon: Glenna Luschei

I've never met Glenna Luschei in person, but I feel a kinship with her. In 2006 I reviewed her chapbook, Seedpods. By way of introduction here, I'm going to resurrect my opening words from that review: "Glenna Luschei’s name is well-known in poetry circles. She’s been moving in those circles for many years in many different roles. As a poet she has published seventeen collections. As a translator she has published an additional three books. As the founder and publisher of Solo Press, established in 1966, she made it possible for many other poets to see their work in full-length collections. Now in its fortieth year, the press no longer publishes books, but continues to put out a chapbook series as well as Solo CafĂ©, an annual journal. Luschei also served her community as the Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo for the year 2000. As a philanthropist in 2002 she permanently endowed the editorship of the highly regarded journal, Prairie Schooner. And as if all this weren’t enough, she’s also an avocado rancher."

Since I wrote that review, Glenna's number of collections has increased, but she's still the same lovely, generous poet. It's a pleasure to host this salon in celebration of her new collection, Salt Lick: A Retrospective of Poetry. Let's hear what she has to say about the book.

Diane: This book strikes me as an enormous undertaking. Tell us about the process you used to gather together and winnow down the mountain of work that spans a 40-year career and 21 collections of poetry.

Glenna: I think in order to compile a retrospective such as Salt Lick you must work with an editor or friend who has known you for a long time and watched your development. I had that good luck with John Crawford of West End Press in Albuquerque. I lived in Albuquerque forty years ago, even before he moved there, but we had the same friends and knew the same terrain. I fell in love with the desert and the high, dry mesa of Albuquerque. I grew up in Iowa which produced the best crops in the world but also the hottest summers and the coldest winters. Someone was always sick and that person got to recover in the sick room which was the story and poetry room. Some of my poems in Salt Lick were started in the sick room seventy-five years before.

I think the best feature of John was that he could share my pain with me, that of losing a daughter
during the Aids Pandemic when she was only thirty-six, the most beautiful age for a young woman.
John always talked of my resilience which surely is the watchword of a poet putting together a retrospective. We have to go down for healing, come up for air. No one escapes tragedy which is a blessing in a long life, a long book.

John was tireless. He read through all of my chapbooks, artist books, and trade editions. We had
another old friend, Bill Witherup, who helped us select poems. That friend has since died. I was  pleased we could acknowledge him and I am dedicating the next issue of my magazine to him. What I realize now is that all the people are interwoven in the book. They speak to each other through the pages—and the ages.

I think the way I helped the most was just sitting back and watching the process. I was just grateful it was taking place.

Continuing on the subject of a retrospective and how we keep touching on themes and people, William Stafford once wrote me that the book I sent him (I think it was Matriarch) was like a train trip with stops at stations.  I think the themes and the people I keep coming back to are the stations. They are signals for me.

It seems significant to me that during the process of the book John and I both lost our mates.  Because of an accident on the avocado ranch where I live, my husband Bill died the week Salt Lick was published.  He never got to see it. He loved Susan Kelly's painting and helped me choose the cover image of a New Mexican landscape and dwelling with a moon overhead. John's wife Pat, of native American heritage, was my dear friend, a life-long supporter of poets and artists. I pray that we honor them with our work. She told me once that I published her first poem.

Diane: Tell us the story behind your cover.

Glenna: I try to return to New Mexico every year. I held both DH Lawrence and Wurlitzer Fellowships there plus teaching assignments. When cover artist Susan Kelly and her husband, Booker, moved to San Luis Obispo because of his health, Bill and I became close friends with them and got together for Saturday walks and poetry evenings. Their house in San Luis Obispo held many New Mexican artifacts and above all her gorgeous oils. She and I often talked of a collaboration which will take place this summer in Santa Fe. She will illustrate a number of my poems and we will hold poetry readings with Southwestern poets. A third artist will take part in our show—Margaret Berry, from Lincoln, Nebraska. She has illustrated my poems in encaustic art or wax. I love it that an idea can gather momentum and go on in unexpected ways.

Diane: Why did you title the book Salt Lick?

Glenna: The title of the poem including the salt lick is "Salt of the Earth." I spent summers at my grandparents' farm in the Nebraska prairie which is filled with buffalo grass and Spanish bayonet. When I was trampling through the grasses, I came upon a salt lick created by the tongues of cattle. I must have been three and remember it vividly as the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was my first work of art, the uncarved block as the Taoists say. It was a work of nature and formed my idea of art as something simple and organic. Does this seem hard to believe? I still can't think of anything more pure than a salt lick. People have also pointed out that there is an erotic connotation to the title. I hadn't thought of it, but that's okay, too.

Diane: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Glenna: First of all, that life is joy, even the hard parts, and a feast. I hope readers will like my bringing New Mexico into California in "Rain Dance." Landscape is so much a part of poetry, as are images. I hope beginning poets will take heart that they can have a retrospective in mid or late life, too, if they do what William Stafford said to do: "Let poetry be a beacon for you in your life." He said that the poets who last aren't the early prize winners so it's important not to be discouraged. Just follow the beacon. As if we had any choice!

Diane: Please choose a favorite poem for us and, if you like, tell us why you chose this one.

Glenna: I am choosing "Rain Dance" as one of my favorite poems because it illustrates forgiveness by which I try to live my life.

Rain Dance

Twenty years of waiting for him
to apologize, to ask me to dance.
I asked him

and we danced at our son’s wedding
to his Mexican beauty. Two hours
with Mariachis, all night with DJs.
Salsa, meringue, samba, cha-cha-cha.
Even to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,
while the machine threw out smoke.

And on the bronzed California hills,
it began to rain as in the green
corn dance at Zia Pueblo. It rained down
mudhens, kashares, crickets, lightning
bugs and lightning. The Wall
broke into wet crumbling adobe.
Our grandchildren slid down the berm
like salamanders.

And I forgave him,
understood why smoke
got in my eyes, why lovely things die,
why I loved him.
The shine on our children’s faces
when they saw us dancing
made me grieve for our estrangement.
Our children, with splits in their heads
like Frankenstein’s monster, would not heal,
become whole, until I merged with the other
half of the nucleus. I grieved
that I withheld this peace from them.

And we danced in the rain until dawn
until the bride was green with dollar bills.

Glenna: In the third stanza it is interesting that when I read the lines: "I grieved / that I withheld this peace from them" some people think I am saying "piece" instead of "peace," because I am talking about the other half of the nucleus. I also am uncertain about the last line. Sometimes I change it to say "until roses fall upon the path." People then protest and say they wanted the payoff with dollar bills. I like to read poems that people comment on or protest. I think a reading is communication, not just one person getting up there to pronounce.

Thank you, Diane, and dear readers, my lovers.


Now let's all join Glenna in her garden and listen to her read "I Want To Be Your Poet."

I'm more than happy to have Glenna as my poet! Now please help yourself to a glass of sauvignon blanc and some pineapple spears, watermelon, and pear slices wrapped in prosciutto, all chosen for you by Glenna.

Overheard at the Party:

"At the heart of Glenna Luschei's poetry is . . . a fierce love, the kind that keeps us always connected to those with whom we travel, albeit all too briefly, through this life, the kind that tenaciously embraces every memory and dream. For some forty years, she has published honest poems rich in intimacy and passion that manage to balance love and loss, fulfillment and despair, mourning and reconciliation—the heart's inseparable pairs."—Steven Shur

Before you head for home, please be sure to pick up a copy of Glenna's book. Then while you enjoy your snacks and some more poetry, please leave your comments for Glenna in the Comment section. Thank you for coming to the salon.

Click Cover for Amazon


  1. I so enjoyed this post, hearing hearing the reading. Thank you for a lovely gift of words on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

  2. I would be in a crowd of cattle, of workers on a honking street, on a loading dock before a ferry and your voice would speak out a Glenna poem and I would know it was you from the first words. Thank you for such a distinct voice in the world of poetry, a steadfast woman/wife/mother/world traveler voice. -- Paula

  3. Dear Glenna, What a treat to learn of your process creating this book, to read the tender Rain Dance and feel your feelings with you. And then, to hear you--yes, you are my poet. I feel your love and passion for life as you read in your garden. Bravo! Love, Jeanie

  4. Well that was lovely, Diane and Glenna ...the poetry, the reading and the snacks. I am leaving full!


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