There is an architectural theory called prospect refuge: Humans need a space with both a view and shelter. Elaine’s work, her third full-length collection of poetry, offers both to the reader– vision and comfort. One of my favorite poems from the collection is the poem Evidence, in which she invokes Philip Levine’s classic What Work Is, painting a picture of her mother and the hard housework she performed during the day, and contrasting that work with an artist showcasing a strange, artificial seeming work of art. I had a similar experience growing up, when I realized “what work is” while interning at a pharmaceutical company with my father. I also take comfort from the poem in knowing I am not alone in wondering where the “work” is in certain pieces.
Elaine is a great mentor with whom I have had the pleasure to work the past few years, and last night was one of the rewards of working with her, being invited to her book launch at Book Culture, an indie bookstore on the Upper West Side, and the after party. Look at the view we had (see the skyline)!
I was introduced to Elaine Sexton a few years ago, by David Groff, who taught a Poets House workshop on spiritual poetry. When I told him I couldn’t get enough of the workshop, he referred me to Elaine. It was gratifying to hear him introduce Elaine at this poetry reading, and to catch up with him, learning about what he has been writing.
How do you know when you’ve found the right teacher to push you along with your writing? I think the right teacher offers you a balance of encouragement and critique. The teacher should be willing to share her own struggles with the art, and also should be attentive enough to start noticing patterns and habits in your own work. The teacher should offer opportunities for artistic growth, through prompts, and through networking. Like the theory, a teacher should offer both prospect and refuge: a vision of where you are going with your art, and a shelter to protect you and house your work when you are resting. Thank you Elaine!