Books

The magic of Arthur Sze's words

Acclaimed poet is keynote speaker at the Taos Writers Conference

By Katheen Steward
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 7/10/19

The third annual Taos Writers Conference, hosted by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, is robust, including a selection of five one-day intensives on Friday (July 12). On …

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Books

The magic of Arthur Sze's words

Acclaimed poet is keynote speaker at the Taos Writers Conference

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The third annual Taos Writers Conference, hosted by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, is robust, including a selection of five one-day intensives on Friday (July 12). On Saturday and Sunday (July 13-14) there is a menu of three-hour workshops, with over 20 instructors in various genres including poetry, fiction, playwriting and publishing. Both the professional and the novice are welcome.

But, for fans of the literary arts, the biggest draw just might be the keynote speaker, Arthur Sze, who plans to read from his work Friday (July 12), 7 p.m., at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street.

"I'm really delighted and honored to kick off the weekend," expressed Sze. "There is a wonderful community in Northern New Mexico and a wonderful audience."

His first reading from the book "The Willow Wind" (1972) was at the then-Harwood Foundation, so in a sense he is coming around full circle to Taos this weekend.

Chinese-American Sze brings to the conference a wealth of teaching, writing and translating of all things poetry. "He is well regarded in his field," notes SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith, adding that the conference is designed to make everything people-friendly. "I want to keep it a small intimate conference,," she said. "I want people to experience Taos."

Sze was born in New York City in 1950 and said he came to poetry rather late. The family expected him to go into a math, science or engineering field. Before building his poetical foundation at University of California-Berkeley, Sze was enrolled at MIT where in his sophomore year he fell off of the calculus wagon and veered off into poetry. The math did not speak to him.

The Harwood audience will have the pleasure of hearing Sze read from "Compass Rose," a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He will also be reading from his latest publication, "Sight Lines."

In Ted Mathy's review of "Compass Rose," he writes, "This is the magic of Sze's poetry. He creates artifacts in which the profusion of each present moment can be felt viscerally if not fully understood, in which 'each fragment is a whole' precisely because 'consciousness is an infinite net/in which each hanging jewel absorbs and reflects/every other.' "

"I can say that I've lived in New Mexico for 47 years and my poems are really grounded in the landscape of Northern New Mexico," Sze said.

Regarding "Sight Lines," The New York Times said, "Arthur Sze employs a wide range of voices -- from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent -- and his mythic imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet, balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry."

In his 2001 collection of translations, "Silk Dragon," Sze undertook translating classical Chinese from 18 Chinese poets ranging in date from 400 CE to the 1950s. He calls "Silk Dragon" his own "quirky collection." The poets included revered Li Po, Shen Chow, Wen I-to and Tu Mu.

In the poem "Moonlight Night," by beloved poet Tu Fu, Sze translates, "Her hair is damp in the fragrant mist/Her arms are cold in the clear light/When will we lean beside the window/and the moon shine on dried tear?"

Sze's many honors include an Lannan Literary Award, American Book Award and a Western States Book Award for Translation. He has received grants and scholarships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He is professor emeritus of the Institute of American Indian Arts, where he taught creative writing. His residencies include Brown University, Bard College and the Naropa Institute. In 2012, he was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

One of his former students from the IAIA, Sherwin Bitsui will be heading up a three-hour workshop on Saturday morning called "Storm Patterns."

Taos resident, poet and publisher Andrea Watson will teach one of the five four-hour-long intensives on Friday morning called "Discover Exciting and Innovative Forms in Poetry."

Watson's publishing house, 3:A Taos Press, focuses on poetry that documents life with intelligence and gentleness. In an interview with Muse magazine, Watson said, "We encourage our readers to get close to the difficult -- even different -- issues of life and to emerge exquisitely educated."

In hosting the third annual Taos Writers Conference, which she inaugurated, Smith said she wants to invite all demographics and genres into the literary body of Taos and its greater area. Smith said she sees Taos as being part and parcel of a rich and vibrant literary corridor extending from Denver down into Albuquerque.

Admission to Arthur Sze's keynote address is $20; $16 for SOMOS and Harwood members. The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street.

The SOMOS Bookstore and Salon is at 108 Civic Plaza Drive. For more information on the conference, schedule and fees, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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