In the middle of last week, my very last two BRILLIANT poetry students gave their colloquia and graduate readings. I knew it was going to break my heart, but I didn’t know how much. When I say that each student is a gift, it may sound like a platitude, but it isn’t. I learn so much from each of my students, and I know that my heart grows to encompass them. I am filled to the brim with tenderness and pride for Hollis Mickey and Ray Ball. I know that their poetry will make the world a much more interesting and full place. And just as they sail forth with their newly minted Masters of Fine Arts, I feel a great well of sadness that they are the last poets of the program. The last poets that will stand at the podium in Recital Hall, pinned in a pool of light, sharing their words with other students trying to become the best possible writers.
It’s going to take a little time for me to feel at peace with this.
And yet… I am very excited about a new opportunity. I have been accepted as a fellow of the Black Earth Institute along with ten other fellows including Maria Hamilton Abegunde, Nickole Brown, Gerald L. Coleman, Teresa Dzieglewicz, Matty Layne Glasgow, Mita Mahato, Jasmine Elizabeth Smith, Laura-Gray Street, Orchid Tierney, Marjory Wentworth, and with scholars Marianna McDonald and Aghaghia Rahimzadeh.
The Black Earth Institute’s vision statement is: BEI seeks to help create a more just and deeply interconnected world and promote the health of the planet. To do so artists are appointed as Fellows for a term and Scholars join as advisors. BEI then encourages and supports its present and past Fellows and Scholars to address social justice, environmental issues and the spiritual dimensions of the human condition in their art and work.
Each of the fellows has an individual project that they are working on. We’ll also take turns editing an issue of the beautiful About Place Journal and meet each year as a cohort at Brigit Rest, a farm in southwestern Wisconsin.
It is hard to predict what such a fellowship will bring to my writing practice and my life. I am so excited to learn from the other fellows. Already my world feels larger. Already I am looking at my work a little differently, more expansively but also with more of a focus. (I know those things sound opposite, but they aren’t. Trust me.)
In order to encompass the depth of my sorrow and the amplitude of my excitement, I remind myself: Both, and. “Both, and” is a statement that I employ to remind myself that two things can be true at the same time. There can be a lot of conference and Storyknife work to do AND I can make time for my own writing. I can grieve a friend who is gone and remember the joy she brought into everyone’s life. I can be deeply sad about one thing and happy about another.
If you want to check out the insanely talented current cohort of fellows and the amazing company we’re keeping with the former fellows, check out the Black Earth Institute website: https://blackearthinstitute.org/
Meanwhile, what is your “both, and” today? How are you making space for the wide breadth of experience and emotion that fill our ordinary lives?