Tuesday May 21

Brinkman-Poetry Joyce Brinkman served as Indiana's first poet laureate from 2002-2008. She has a BA from Hanover College. She began writing poetry at age nine and was first published in Hill Thoughts. Her book, Tiempo Español, was written in Spain where she studied with the University of New Orleans MFA program. Her poetry has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on CDs, bookmarks and buses, as well as on a wall in the town square of Quezaltepeque, El Salvador.  Joyce is one of six poets who have poetry in 25 foot, stained glass windows at the Indianapolis International Airport. A group of those poets have produced on a book of travel metaphor, Rivers, Rails and Runways, and a book of postcard poems, Airmail from the Airpoets. She also collaborated with glass artist Arlon Bayliss on lighted glass art containing her poetry for the new Marion County Central Library addition.  She is a strong proponent of poetry as public art and enjoys working with both visual and other literary artists on projects. She has received fellowships from Mary Anderson Center for the Arts and the Indianapolis Arts Council.  Joyce shares a house in Indianapolis, IN, with her husband and a sweet cat and seeks solitude for writing at a condo in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Joyce Brinkman Interview, with Kaite Hillenbrand
I see that you studied with an MFA program in Spain. I would love to go to Spain, but I haven’t made it there yet. Is there a story from your time in Spain that you would share with us? What did you bring back from Spain with you – that is, in what ways did your experience there continue to influence your life? Why did you go to Spain for your degree?

First, I must make it clear that although I enjoy studying with MFA programs, I have never pursued an MFA. I like taking courses and by taking them at a variety of universities, I get to experience a wider range of poetic philosophies and styles. I appreciate multiple influences in my writing. As for my time in Spain with the University of New Orleans, it was like no other experience. Although I had traveled in Europe before that time, I had never been to Spain, and I fell in love with the Hispanic culture. That trip caused me to want to explore other countries with Hispanic heritage like Venezuela and El Salvador. Spanish is well suited for poetry, and although I can’t really speak the language, I like playing with the words. We studied Federico García Lorca. I love Lorca’s fanciful imagery. He often uses the moon in his poems, and so do I. I felt a strange kinship with him.
I strongly believe you have to write where you are, but at the same time I think it’s valuable to put yourself in a totally unfamiliar place and to experience a style of everyday life that is foreign to you. We miss so much of what surrounds us in our normal world. Being in a novel location heightens your sense of observation, and observation is key to good poetry. The University of New Orleans Low Residency program has offered several interesting overseas programs that I think really add to a poet’s experiences.
I intend to participate in more of these with UNO, but Spain will always be a special country for me. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s flamboyant and friendly. I highly recommend it. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, but there is nothing quite like Spain.
The other great thing about my time in Spain was my complete immersion in poetry. I have lived a busy and varied life with lots of demands on my time. Most poets I know these days may not have as many different demands on their lives, but almost all have plenty to distract them from their poetry. During my time in Spain it was as if nothing except the words from that experience spoke to me. I didn’t have the demands of family, friends, work or even grades. Nothing mattered but the words.
I have never seen a bio quite like yours – it’s so interesting! I imagine there must be stories to go along with the appearance of your poems on a wall in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador, and in a stained glass window at the Indianapolis International Airport. Would you share these stories with us?
The great thing about the opportunity at the Indianapolis International Airport is that it turned me from an isolated poet into a collaborative poet. Four of the poets who had their poetry selected from a call for the windows continue to work together and have published two books as the Airpoets.
I was so impressed with how the work of the glass artist Martin Donlin expanded my poetry and how my poetry focused his visual art that I began to pursue opportunities to combine my poetry with other art forms. Besides glass artists I have collaborated with quilters, painters, sculptors, a potter and a woodcarver.
As a result of my poetry being included in public art projects, I’ve become a champion of poetry as public art. I’m a believer that everyone is a poet. There are no other creatures on this earth that write. Writing is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of being human, and poetry is its most concise, powerful, and hopefully memorable genre. Because the experiences, imagination, and/or craft of poets differ, some poems are appreciated more than others, but each individual has a unique world view and is biologically built to share it. I think it’s important for our public life to be filled with models reflecting poetry’s importance in our lives.
In El Salvador we taught soccer/poetry clinics in three schools in the little town of Quezaltepeque. The students were great. They were so enthusiastic. Even the children in the school who weren’t in the class would stand and peer in the windows to listen until they were shuffled off to their own classes. Poets and artists from a local art center served as our interpreters, and translated our poetry to be painted on the walls. Previously, when my poetry had been combined with visual art, I only wrote the poetry, but this time I got to participate in the painting of the murals in the town square. I painted a moon in one of the murals, which pleased me because I have a part in one of my poems from Spain that says I, “Have painted the/moon with words/painted/painted/painted/until the brush/ran dry.”
WFYI, the Indianapolis television station went with us to El Salvador and ran three episodes of our adventure there. The programs are still on line here.
You can see Chelito, the monkey I lived with at my host family’s home under the programs entitled Universal Language.
You were also Indiana’s State Treasurer. What was that experience like? In what ways did it influence your writing, and in what ways did your writing influence your Treasurer position – how did these two aspects of your life overlap?

I don’t think there was much influence either way, except the time I spent running for and serving as state treasurer meant I had little time to pursue my poetry. The most intense writing periods of my life have been the early and the late stages. I was distracted in my middle years by raising and supporting two children as a single mom. The state poets laureate just had a conference in New Hampshire called Poetry and Politics, but actually most poets have little connection to politics, and that is unfortunate. Support for the arts is something that governments have been doing since the beginning of civilization, and in a democracy it’s important that those who best understand a subject share their knowledge and perspective with elected officials. Only paying attention when something you don’t like is happening is not the way to be effective. It’s important to know who the officials elected by you are and to establish a relationship with them. Follow their work and let them know when you approve of what they are doing. Don’t just be there to complain.
You were Indiana’s first Poet Laureate. What brought Indiana to decide to create this position in 2002? What challenges came with being the first? What are you most proud of accomplishing in this position? What did your position entail? In what ways should we encourage the reading and writing of poetry in our communities? What successes have you seen in this regard?

The legislature named me Poet Laureate in 2002 but it was purely an honorary thing with no duties. I could have remained Poet Laureate until they decide to name someone else, but I thought there needed to be a selection process, a stated term and some responsibilities. I also thought the position should be part of the code, not just at the whim of the legislature. I worked with the Legislative Services Agency to draw up legislation and got Senator Teresa Lubbers to carry the bill. Senator Lubbers was a top education leader in our state, and she appreciated the value of poetry in the education process. In the legislation we wanted to emphasize visits to educational institutions. Getting the laureateship established into law was probably my most important accomplishment.
Surprisingly the biggest challenge was the media. Several newspapers ran stories implying the legislature had better things to do than create the position, and they seemed to think paying a poet the gigantic sum of $2500 a year was too much. Senator Lubbers was great, and didn’t let the bad publicity rattle her.
The real joy of my term was hosting the Third Biennial Gathering of Poets Laureate. We were able to bring wonderful poets to all parts of our state for public readings, including a poet from Japan and one from Mexico. Before the visiting poets came, I worked with America Scores to train a group of local poets in conducting sports/poetry clinics. These poets worked with at-risk kids. We worked with the blind school on a swimming/poetry clinic, our professional baseball team on a baseball/poetry clinic, various groups with soccer, bicycling, volleyball, horseback riding, basketball, tennis. I think it’s important to meet kids where they are, to engage them in subjects they like, and to help them see poetry doesn’t just pertain to school, it pertains to life. Some of the kids were able to join the visiting laureates at the NCAA headquarters to read and record some of their poems from these clinics on a CD with sports poetry by our laureate and foreign guests.
More collaboration grew out of this Gathering. I’m currently writing linked verse with past Virginia Poet Laureate Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda and poets from four other countries. Kai Morii from Japan and Flor Aguilera Garcia are two of the four, and Carolyn and I first met them at the Gathering. Carolyn also introduced me to simultaneous poems, which are fun to read together. Besides reading Carolyn’s work with her, I’ve written some simultaneous poems myself. Being a State Laureate gives you great opportunities to work with poets from other areas. That was the best gift for me in my time as laureate.
I have always stressed that the laureateship is not about being a great poet, but about having a great love for poetry. A laureate is an ambassador of poetry. She or he should encourage the citizens of the state to both read and write poetry. To encourage the reading of poetry, besides school visits, I did readings in state parks, and I established a National Poetry Month reading series at the Indianapolis Arts Garden. The Arts Garden is a large glass structure that floats across a major downtown intersection. It is a hub connecting tunnels and skyways from the mall, the statehouse, hotels and restaurants. I felt it was appropriate to have poetry at the crossroads of the people traffic in the capitol city of our state.
In a sense I haven’t given up on being Poet Laureate. It’s easy to get hooked on encouraging poetry, because those you touch are so appreciative. After I left the laureateship, I helped found a not-for-profit, Brick Street Poetry Inc., which you can visit here.  
We publish a literary journal, host poetry readings and do interesting poetry projects. Last year we did one called Word Hunger. We invited people in several counties of our state to come discuss how food production impacted their lives and the life of their community. At each meeting we had a poet from that county write a poem gleaned from the discussion and then we had a local artist paint the poem on a barn in the county. I like using poetry in ways people aren’t expecting, and putting it in surprising places.
I also enjoy writing my own poetry. I guess I learned the Faustian lesson early. Life is in the striving. I just want to write a great poem and each time I write the real excitement is maybe today’s will be the best.
Hands of Hair
When it happens
vivid images of
the trapeze artist’s
long raven strands
twisted and dangling
from the metal rod
flash in my mind.
Hair thick and strong
enough to hold her
spinning in midair,
as if those silky threads
of dead cells were alive
holding her tight, like
paternal hands engaged
in a valiant rescue.
Looking down I see
the drain below and my
hands fill with my shorter
brown curls. As they
abandon any possibility
of executing epic rescue
they release their grip on
my chemo-poisoned head.
Earthquake Rising
Shaken from my bed,
I arise to see a blood orange moon
stuck between two steel arms
of electricity's skeleton.
Ducks in rippling water
chatter nervously, as if
looking for the one
who stirred their pool.
China cups in place,
I wonder if someone
from the other side
of the world might be
digging through brown earth.
Perhaps, a Tibetan
longing to be free.
Or did that moon thrash
in anger to free herself
from the cold tentacles of
unforgiving steel?
Feeling the cool spring chill,
I remember
it is April 18th……
birthday of my long-dead father,
……a lover of the moon.
Capitol Produce
Turnips, tomatoes and beans
brought together
by a mix of people
placing their dark, burnt
and pale hands in soil
freed from swamp
by nature or by man.
Not the best of land
in this place in the heart
of a perceived new world.
A better place for
industry, perhaps,
but still today on
small farms and vacant lots
between stately Victorians
and sagging shotguns
turnips, tomatoes, beans
and even bok choy mingle
beyond the shade of
towering blue glass,
limestone, steel, red brick,
and gold-domed buildings.
And Northwest of busy
traffic thoroughfares, sheltered
from nearby interstates
by a living green umbrella,
along a road not as straight,
nor smooth, nor level
as Meridian, across
a one lane bridge
hardworking hands still
plant, and harvest,
feed and milk,
molding nature’s gifts
into cheese and butter,
capturing yogurt and eggs
in cycles and with methods
as organic as nature herself.