Hobart Festival of Women Writers welcomes Lisa Wujnovich as a Participating Writer for Festival 2018.
Lisa Wujnovich is a poet and farmer at Mountain Dell Farm in Hancock, New York. She earned her MFA in poetry from Drew University and her BA in drama from Antioch College. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Fieldwork (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and This Place Called Us (Stockport Flats Press, 2008). With poet Nancy Dymond and sculptor Naomi Teppich, she collaborated on the chapbook Dirty Work Carved Earth Complete Breath (Stockton Flats, 2007).
Wujnovich’s anti-fracking poems toured in the traveling art show Earth Stewards: Artists Respond to Drilling in the Marcellus Shale and in businesses across Chenango, Delaware, and Sullivan Counties with 1,000 Poets for Change. Her anti-fracking poems appear in the anthology Vigil for the Marcellus Shale. With Brandi Katherine Herrera, she coedited the Stockport Flats Witness Post poetry anthology on water, The Lake Rises. Wujnovich’s own poetry has been published in such anthologies as Ghost Fishing, an eco-justice poetry anthology; Like Light: 25 Years of Poetry and Prose by Bright Hill Poets and Writers; Creation, an anthology of ekphrastic myth poems; By the Crown of Their Heads, Poems for Haiti; and Syracuse Cultural Workers’ Women Artists Datebook.
Lisa Wunovich speaks to Stephanie Nikolopoulos for Hobart Festival of Women Writers.
SN: Prior to establishing Mountain Dell Farm in Hancock, New York, with your partner playwright Mark Dunau, you had lived in New York City and traveled throughout the US as well as in such places as Quebec, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. How did the various environments in which you lived and worked inform your understanding of creation care and poetry?
LW: When I traveled extensively, I was an experimental theater artist/performer and that was the lens with which I viewed my life. Every decision was based on whether it would further “the work.” Since an actor’s tool is the body, honing flexibility, strength, openness, and depth in physicality, voice, and emotionality was the everyday task. I was continually searching for teachers to fill what I lacked, not to mention, practicing the skills they taught. There was also that need to “experience” and build a trove to draw from as an actor, so travel naturally lent itself to experiencing, if only on a limited depth. Both Quebec and Sri Lanka were pivotal in my life. Mark and I were traveling to Bali to study theater when a friend invited us to stop in Sri Lanka and sail for a portion of his trip home to England on a ship his brother had built.We met some tovil dancers or shamanistic Buddhist dancers who I asked to teach us: Mark the drumming and me the dances, which included mask dancing and fire juggling. So, we ended up staying on the island for three months and I became a pretty shitty tovil dancer, but left imprinted with a healing template that still informs my life. This eight-month trip became a personal research and skill-acquiring project for my one-woman show, “Ragged Panties, Masks of a Poor Girl,” written with my husband. In Quebec, I lived with an intentional spiritual community in Montreal and in rural Quebec. I embarked on a six-month rural retreat with four other people. There, I figured out how to change my life from a single, exhausted, East Village actor and caterer to a farmer, writer, wife, and soon-to-be mother. What clearly emerged in that time was my desire to live closer to nature, near community supported by spiritual practices with plenty of solitary time to write. (Clearly, I knew nothing about farming.) I started my first garden for the community and begin to dream of herbs, waking to thyme growing out of my thumb and lavender itching my hands awake. I read a stack of old Organic Gardening magazines that had been donated and fell in love with a book called How to Buy Land with photos of naked hippies. I figured that farming could support a writing career (until it supported me) and I could sell vegetables to restaurants in the city, have a couple of children somewhere near New York City. When I returned, my boyfriend and I looked for a piece of land and the third piece of property we toured was our eventual farm.
SN: You’ve lived in the transformed dairy barn and outbuildings for more than twenty years now and welcome travelers. Your website says: “Ministering to body and spirit alike, Mountain Dell is a place of rejuvenation, inspiration, rest, and revitalization.” We hear the term “self-care” a lot these days. Writing is excavation, so it is important to be rested enough to sustain the hard process of digging, extraction, and distillation.
LW: I have to laugh because the words, “Ministering to body and spirit alike, Mountain Dell is a place of rejuvenation, inspiration, rest, and revitalization, ” seem foreign, although I am sure I wrote them. Our farm looks idyllic; we have benches and chairs around the pond, in the herb garden, in the front of the house, but we rarely sit in them. At the same time whenever I am away and re-enter Delaware County, my whole body relaxes. You can feel the openness in your bones. As for self-care, I am pretty high strung, and to even get me to sit long enough to write, I practice yoga and meditation daily, even if only abbreviated practices during the farming season. Physical activity grounds me to be able to slow down and focus. Eating good food is essential, although easy to skip when I am flying in the writing process. As is expected, food is a big part of life on the farm; we always take an hour off for lunch and cook or prepare a sit-down meal with food we have mostly grown; I learned this on a farm in France when I was a college student and vowed to find a way to incorporate this healthy, pleasant, restful practice in my life. The practice of writing poetry is probably the most rejuvenating thing I do. It is the foundation of all my practices. When I am writing, I am happy, even joyful; not because I write many joyful poems (I wish); sometimes I even laugh out loud I am so tickled to be writing. Even when I feel like a crummy poet, I tell myself, if I am a second-rate poet, I am going to be the best second-rate poet I can be. But then, it isn’t really about good or bad poetry, but showing up to listen and tell the truth.
SN: Farming is back-breaking, time-consuming work, even if much of it involves also waiting to see the fruit that springs forth from the seeds you plant. This seems like an apt metaphor for writing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you “grow” your poetry, both in terms of the writing itself and the business of being a writer (submitting to anthologies, for example), when there are often other things, such as literal farming, vying for your attention?
LW: My poems draw a lot from the farm, from the valley that I know as intimately as any lover, having, for thirty years now, been embraced by the dell I touch daily with my hands, knees, feet, butt, eyes, heart and soul. Much of my writing is birthed or burst or nudged or ached into consciousness by the physical activity of working the land and interacting with my family and community, as well as whatever crazy political doings outrage me, especially concerning women or the environment. The present is often a backdrop for my past: a childhood in a large volatile military family that battled poverty. I rely heavily on my dreams, also. They can place me in metaphor or lift me out of rows that my mind tends to draw and I follow. I write and read poetry daily, no matter how long or difficult the work; often I simply hone a poem before starting work or read a poem to keep in mind. I journal and jot down my thoughts and dreams, in somewhat of a zuihitsu style, unless I am working in a particular form or on a particular idea or series. My plant haiku manuscript, Subsistence Primer: Small Farm Haikugrew out of a challenging time when my husband was ill and I decided to give voice to all the plants I knew intimately. I jotted haiku lines while harvesting and counted syllables in the field. As for the business of being a poet, I admit I am challenged. I would rather be writing a poem than submitting, but I don’t kid myself, I want my poems heard. I don’t submit regularly, but send poems or manuscripts out in spurts, often when another poet alerts me to a publication that seems suited to my work.I have embraced the notion of being a local poet and read at least one poem whenever there is a gathering on the farm—farm tours, fundraisers, bonfires, holidays. On July 28, Bringing it to the Field will feature people actually working the field, while poetry, music, dance, sculpture, video, and performance artists perform in a tovil dance of sorts in honor of the dell and my daughter who lives in San Francisco and was born on that day.
Being a Delaware County farmer/poet does not lend itself to hanging out in cafes, so I am so grateful every year when the Hobart Festival of Women’s Writers comes around and am very excited to be a featured writer.
For Festival 2018 Lisa Wujnovich will present: Grounded Poems that Soar
In the digital age of constant cerebral input, it gets harder and harder to be grounded in our bodies. How do we access a grounded dream while excavating new language? How do we drop down and listen to our gut? As a farmer, physical work grounds me. As a poet, I crave the soaring place poetry takes me, but know I still need grounding. As a poet, I live between a waking dream state and a sensual grounded place. – L. Wujnovich
I have embraced the notion of being a local poet and read at least one poem whenever there is a gathering on the farm—farm tours, fundraisers, bonfires, holidays. On July 28, Bringing it to the Field will feature people actually working the field, while poetry, music, dance, sculpture, video, and performance artists perform in a tovil dance of sorts in honor of the dell and my daughter who lives in San Francisco and was born that day.
For more information about Lisa Wujnovich and: Mountain Dell Farms
for a complete description of all of our workshops for Festival 2018
Hobart Festival of Women Writers
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