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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Celebrating Poetry and Community: An Interview with Melissa Joplin Higley

By Marina Kiriakou -

 

The Village of Mamaroneck has long been committed to fostering artistic expression within its community.  Established 25 years ago at the urging of the Village of Mamaroneck Arts Council, the position of Poet Laureate stands as a testament to this dedication.  Through initiatives like "Poetry Live!" and the Mary Louise Cox Memorial Poetry Garden, the Village continues to cultivate a vibrant literary landscape.  Now, with the appointment of Melissa Joplin Higley as the newest Poet Laureate, the community's literary journey takes on fresh inspiration and direction.

 

Q:  How do you view the relationship between poetry and community?

 

A:  The idea of poetry as a way of bringing together community is a multilayered question for me.  I began writing poetry as a teenager to understand and make sense of things, and to navigate the complexities of people's motivations and the imbalances, injustices, and traumas that I encountered.  Writing was a deeply personal process, and back then, I didn't have the opportunity to share my work or the venues to do so.

 

As I've grown older, I've developed a desire to share my poetry and be part of a larger conversation.  I've come to realize that the personal experiences I write about are not meant to be borne alone.  When others write about their struggles and traumas and transform them into art that is beautiful and meaningful, it expands my creative world and makes me feel like I belong to something greater.  It's a reminder that I am part of a much larger and more diverse conversation.

 

Q:  Can you elaborate on the role of community events in the creative process?

 

A:  Community events are crucial in the creative process because they provide a space for collaboration and support.  These events need to be both free and structured, allowing individuals to use as much or as little structure as they need.  Everyone should feel empowered to let their unique poem unfold and take shape.  As a guide, I'm there to answer questions, offer suggestions, and help when someone gets stuck.  For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is venturing into uncharted territory and embracing the feeling of being on the right path, even if it feels a little dangerous.

 

Q:  Can you share with us some of your favorite poets to read and how they influence your writing?

 

A:  I draw inspiration from a diverse array of poets, each with their unique style and voice.  Some of my favorites include Sharon Olds, Ada Limon, Marie Howe, Aracelis Girmay, W.S. Merwin, Ilya Kaminsky, Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Ocean Vuong, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath.  Each poet fulfills a unique purpose for me. 

Merwin and Oliver reconnect me to nature; Olds reminds me the female body is powerful and worthy of celebration; Kaminsky and Vuong find meaning in chaos and displacement; and Clifton distills ancestral wisdom.  I find myself returning to their work time and time again, discovering new layers of meaning with each reading.

 

Moving Forward with Poetry Walks

As the newly appointed Poet Laureate for the years 2024-2026, Joplin Higley is poised to bring her vision for poetry to life in the Village of Mamaroneck.  One of her signature initiatives, Poetry Walks, promises to engage young people with the natural beauty of places like the poetry garden while nurturing their creativity.

 

These Poetry Walks will allow young participants to explore the diverse natural spaces of Mamaroneck under the guidance of a poetry instructor and assistant.  Through observation and reflection, they will compose original poetry inspired by their surroundings.  Joplin Higley envisions this program not only enriching the educational experiences of local students and adults, but also diversifying community activities and fostering positive interactions.

 

Joplin Higley’s multifaceted background, including her experiences as a sound engineer working with renowned artists and her dedication to poetry, uniquely positions her to lead this initiative.  Her passion for creative expression and her commitment to community engagement will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the Village of Mamaroneck and its residents.

 

To learn about Joplin Higley’s recently published chapbook, “First Father,” poetry workshops, readings, and more, visit www.melissajoplinhigley.com.




How to Write a Poem

by Melissa Joplin Higley

 

“If you are writing and you get stuck, lower your standards and keep going.”

–William Stafford

 

The nature of ink is to flow—

a flood of black, pooling dark

during lapses in thought, bleeding

through thin spots of paper

where the nib ripped a hole

to the underside. I follow impulse

to its natural conclusion—one

line, then another—and when

doubt stills my hand, I lower

my standards, as instructed,

and keep going. I turn off

the naysayer, the nagging

distractions. I drop the musty

costume of the already-

known, stand naked before

the mirror, and look, no, really

look at the moles, birthmarks,

scars, burst capillaries, spider veins,

blue worming vessels winding

necessarily through. I trace each

line with gentle fingertips, stained

black by ink, remind myself—

this, too, can be enough.

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