Sacred Places – Albuquerque Journal

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“Start Over” by Miriam Sagan

“Start Again” is the title of a refreshing collection of poems by Santa Fe’s Miriam Sagan.

Sagan explained in a phone interview why she chose the title. “It was written during the pandemic. This kind of crisis and confinement either flattens you or can create a fresh start. … I think the pandemic has given me a wish for a fresh start,” she said.

The words “start over” are also embedded in the title of one of the poems – “In the monastery of a fine day to start over”. The short poem weaves themes of love, intimacy and dance.

Here is the third verse of this poem: “I danced/looking at the mountains/west/Billy Idol/belt/I danced/my crippled daughter/and my other self/together.”

This segues into the fourth and final stanza in which Sagan wants readers to think about the Mountain Dance as well.

Miriam Sagan

The poem is one of five in the collection, each asking the reader to consider the possibilities that varied, living, and non-traditional monasteries could be sacred places. The other four are titled “In the Snow-Filled Monastery of Birdbath”, “In the Monastery of Circumambulation”, “In the Monastery of My Opinions”, and “In the Monastery of Margaritas”.

Sagan said there are poems in the collection about aging and becoming a grandparent. “It’s also a new stage in life. A quality of starting over,” she said.

The second stanza of “In the Monastery of a Snow-Filled Birdbath” features a small child amused with simple pleasures as Grandmother observes intently: “The toddler has/scattered a hundred dolls tiny/worrying/in the house/(she does this every day)/they are almost featureless/bits of thread and fabric/the size of my fingernail”.

Sagan was asked if the pandemic gave her more time and space to write whatever she wanted, and if that influenced the content of her poems.

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “My poetry has a limited subject. It is about love, nature, death and perception. These topics have been constant throughout my life.

The collection contains poems which deal – sometimes quickly, sometimes in depth – with other subjects such as astronomy, the rejection of sins and the evolution of prayer for her – “now I just pray for rain” .

Some of the poems are delightfully full of warm memories of moments in time, mostly from communities and regions in northern New Mexico.

A poem this reviewer relates to is “Ojo Caliente,” in which Sagan lovingly and vividly describes the drive to and experience of a rustic spa decades ago.

Sagan’s first visit to “Ojo” was in the 1970s. She writes: “Not so long ago/you had to turn right/at the roundabout, in abandoned adobe/and take the bridge at a lane/through the pueblo./But it was longer ago/you could soak in the pools/and a private tub/and wrap yourself in a towel and blankets/for less than 7.00 $.” The poem ends with Sagan mentioning an unrequited love. Santa Fe is the setting for two poems – “Obelisk” and “City of the Holy Faith”.

The obelisk refers to a war memorial erected in the mid-19th century in Santa Fe Square to honor Union dead and those who fought in the Indian Wars. However, the wording of a plaque on one side of the obelisk bore a racist epithet. The monument was toppled in 2020 by Indigenous activists and others.

In this final poem, Sagan shares his feelings that the different city is “suddenly smaller / more intimate / like it was when I first came to town”.

Sagan said writing poetry gives her joy. “Absolutely. For me, to write about something is to add minutes to my life. It has the quality of living once again,” she said.

Sagan is also a fiction writer, memoirist, essayist, teacher, founding member of collaborative press Tres Chicas Books, and has served as writer-in-residence at national parks in the United States, Iceland, and Japan. Among the accolades she has received is a New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award.

She designed Poetry Yard, an outdoor space created last year in Santa Fe for the public to enjoy the arts. The first exhibition is a permanent installation combining poetry by Sagan and sculpture by his daughter, Isabel Winson-Sagan. For more information about visiting Poetry Yard, email Sagan at [email protected]

Sagan is also involved with the Haiku Trail art project at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, 1800 Upper Canyon Road, Santa Fe. The trail will open from 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, May 13.

The walking trail is a permanent installation featuring 24 haikus from New Mexico poets. Sagan and Stella Reed are co-curators and contributing poets of Haiku Trail.

The trail is site specific. Participating poets created haiku in the center and placed them in locations ranging from the Wildlife Garden to the Acequia Trail. Each haiku is on a clay slab designed and created by artist Christy Hengst.

People present at the opening are asked to carpool because parking is limited.

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