aside Laura Grace Weldon Speaks About an Alternative Education Called Free Range Learning and Why she Uses Poetry to Communicate our World

LAURA GRACE WELDON
LAURA GRACE WELDON

Laura Grace Weldon lives in north-east Ohio on a small homestead they call Bit of Earth Farm (bitofearthfarm.com). She works as an editor and writer, and occasionally as a community educator.

Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending (Aldrich Press, 2013) and a handbook of alternative education, Free Range Learning (Hohm Press, 2010).

Working from home, in her words is ‘endlessly distractable and as a result tends to wander from the computer when she should be editing. Spending her time in the garden, walking dogs, feeding cows and chickens, reading books, cooking improvisationally, making messy art, singing made-up songs, and reading some more. Laura says that all this makes it hard to finish the other 17 books she want to write.

So we asked her a few questions:

What motivated you to deal with the subjects you do in your art?

“ASLI has graciously chosen to publish three of my poems, all of which seem to be about disparate subjects – onions, swarming locusts, an elderly woman’s unfulfilled dreams. But they actually have a great deal in common. They simply seek to cast a bit of light.”

Tell us why you chose these submission?

“What the Onion Teaches” ask readers to consider how one thing in nature can teach us about everything. This simple root drinks sunlight and feeds on soil’s nutrients, then we bring it into our bodies and it becomes us for a time. The onion takes us from tears in our eyes to fulfilment. It’s one of many windows into transformation.
“Locust II” considers a marvellous insect, one greeted as a blessed food source in antiquity (and still in many parts of the world today). But when it swarms it can blot out sunlight, destroy crops, and bring on famines just as mob mentality driven by intolerance and extremism can eclipse our essential humanity.
“Larger Stream” offers a glimpse of one woman’s life. It’s singular and at the same time speaks to the urge felt by oppressed people in many situations – the longing to see more, do more and be more. This woman’s dream was unfulfilled and yet I think her dream itself added momentum to a current of change brought into being by many other women.”


What the Onion Teaches

 

Anything, seen wholly,

teaches everything.

Take a raw onion, harsh to its core.

Unpeel, unring, and hold to the light.

It is complete as the soil, sun, and rain

of its making.

Sauté the rings in oil

till the onion relaxes into itself,

elevating everything added next.

 

This looking, this warmth, and trust

is how the prisoner finds Shakespeare,

the lonely child discovers trees,

the battered woman pulls away layers

ready to be seen.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Larger Stream

 

Seeking quiet, I picture a stream

where I try again and again to

empty the basket of my mind

into her current.

I’m here so often I hear the water,

breathe mist-tossed air.

 

Today our farm’s creek is muddy with spring rain.

I stand on dirt smooth as hands across a worn apron,

a gesture made familiar by Lottie Borges

who lived next door when I was small.

 

She was old as women are no longer,

wore a house dress, support hose,

stiff laced shoes,

and carried

a longing left undone.

 

She wanted to climb in the seat of a big rig

just once, start it up and drive.

When she spoke the urge aloud

people laughed, though Lottie fiercely

imagined the engine’s power

thrum through her body,

wheels turn onto the road.

 

She had nowhere to pour her desire

but in that passing stream,

a stream that breaks rock as it widens,

gains force until it becomes a river,

while she watched women

not much younger become

first on the stock exchange,

first to climb Mt. Everest,

first in the trades.

 

I think of that larger stream,

syllables pronounced easily now

though we don’t know

who first spoke them.

 

I do know this water

flowing from our land

will join Little Sweetly Creek,

enter the Black River,

merge with Lake Erie,

then St. Lawrence River,

on its way to become the ocean.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Locust II

 

Crackling like news

these recluses transform

from green-hued

to black and yellow,

shy to swarming,

plant eater to cannibal.

 

Seeking safety with others

exactly like themselves

they hurtle onward

more away than toward,

building in mass

wreaking the havoc

fear always does.

 

Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur.

Hate radio, Guantanamo,

the end of Posse Comitatus.

The simple food of John the Baptist

driven to swarm.

All three poems by LAURA GRACE WELDON


Why have you chosen the medium of poetry?

“Every one of us is born to follow the call of curiosity, imagination, and possibility. The trick is continuing to heed the call throughout life and to bring it into our work as painters, chefs, masons, parents, teachers, gardeners, dancers, healers – into whatever we do. I’m not sure I can put why I write into words. I guess I see it as the lens I use to share my own sense of wonder and awe. I like to let poetry become a means of personal transformation. I’ve painted poems on beehives and on the beams of homes under construction, taught poetry to children, written poetry with nursing home residents, invoked poetry in ceremonies, and used poetry to teach conflict resolution.”

What is your process when creating?

“I mostly write non-fiction. Poetry only happens when a few lines are an insistent presence in my head. I write them down to get them out of my mind and onto paper. There they lingers among the stacks of books on my desk until I take another look a few months later. Sometimes the poems are even worth keeping.”

Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?

“Reading is an addiction of mine, one I happily indulge. What I read slips through the boundaries of my limited experience the way nutrients enter a cell. It fuels me and expands me. I’m influenced every day by amazing writers who share their words in novels, non-fiction, essays, short stories, articles, blogs, and poems. I’m also influenced by the wonderful, sometimes eccentric, always fascinating people in my life.
What inspired me? I can honestly say trees and sky and the thoughts that keep me awake at night. But I can also attest that I’m a contrary sort of person. I may be a writer simply to disprove an English professor’s scathing denunciation of my writing as “curious verbiage” back when I was 18. I’m not sure if I’m proving or disproving his judgement!”

What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

“Yes, I consider myself a feminist. I am particularly drawn to feminism as it coincides with a larger impulse. Sarah Grimke wrote in 1838, “I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights, human rights are all that I recognise.” I’d expand that to include nature’s rights.
I believe all movements for particular equality can be movements for greater equality and compassion, and for beauty as well – in a way that benefits more than any one people. After the horrifying 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that incinerated 146 women working in sweatshop conditions, activist Rose Schneiderman said in a speech, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” Her lines inspired a poem that became an anthem, one that still resonates today.”

“Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men,
For they are in the struggle and together we shall win.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we. Fight for, but we fight for roses, too.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.

Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
“I have plenty of experiences of this, many of them painful and all of them excruciating to recall.
I think we’re waking up to the freedom that we can be who we are beyond the tight strictures of expectations. I see this happening everywhere. I see a backlash too, one that happens every time old paradigms shift. The most brittle structures have a choice, to welcome new ways or to become more rigid and inflexible. We’re seeing unspeakably painful examples of inflexible structures trying to assert dominance around the world. We’re also seeing extraordinary steps toward embracing the wholeness that comes of being who we are.”

Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?

“No I don’t think we’re equal in rights, although we’re getting a little closer. 

Here’s one example from my life. I once arranged for a retired general (a man who converted to a pretty radical peacenik perspective) to speak at a collaborative gathering of peace groups. These were people dedicated to bringing about a more informed and compassionate world, yet even in these groups there was rampant sexism. The general, when he arrived after communicating with me for months, dismissed me immediately by asking for the “official” coordinator. When I told him it was my doing he laughed, and said “I really want to talk to the person in charge.” It wasn’t much better when I got ready to introduce this man. I was shunted aside by the head of a prominent rights advocacy group who said to me, “It’s nice you helped out with the details. I’ll handle the big stuff.” I may be short and blonde, but I don’t roll over. I introduced him, moderated the panel discussion and then quit the whole damn group after that evening.”

What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc…..?

“I had grand ideals of making a big difference when I was younger. For years I worked on social justice, peace, and environmental issues. At the same time I was terribly depressed. These groups operated without hope. I began to walk away from some of these organizations because I realized their orientation was itself despairing, negative, and angry. It’s hard to effect change when you’re still operating from that mind-set. I still do some work on issues ranging from reducing corporate rights to augmenting children’s rights, but lately I’m mostly focused on eliminating fracking and the associated oil and gas pipelines.”

How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?

“This may be art’s highest calling. It’s more than I expect of anything I write, but one can hope.”

What made you want to get involved with our non-profit ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL mission?

“I’ve worked for years teaching non-violence workshops to teachers, church groups, community members, and incarcerated people. Get Involved When It’s None Of Your Business

I’ve also taught poetry-making to children as well as elders. The mission of ASLI inspires me. I wholeheartedly believe in their mission to enrich the world and give voice to the unheard through art in all the ways it can engage, educate, and express. History tells us that art comes first, giving vision to change.”

What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?

“Here’s my earliest example. In the year it took me to grow from 9 to 10, all of my grandparents died in slow and painful ways. Other people seemed to recover more easily from grief but I didn’t. I lost my child-like faith and descended into a sort of sleepless, miserable existential anxiety that haunted me for years. These days I’d have been immediately labelled and prescribed psychotropic medications. But back in the 70’s I managed to pass by pretending to be happy. What saved me, truly, was a children’s book: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett published in 1910. Unable to sleep, racked with misery, I’d turn again and again to pages in that book that described a garden that seemed dead but came to life each spring, about a boy who couldn’t walk but liberated himself to mobility in that same garden. That book held me together and gave me hope. A line the character Mary Lennox uttered at the beginning of the book, “Might I have a bit of earth” is the reason the small farm I live on today is called Bit of Earth Farm.”

What are your goals as with your art?
“The older I get, the more I celebrate and the less I mourn. My optimism is hard learned and I’m sticking with it. So I guess I’d say one of the highest goals in anything I write is to advance hope. Sheer, blessed hope.”

What is your next project or piece that you are working on?

“Aside from editing and writing articles, I’m trying to finish two books. One is titled Eating Subversively: Changing the Dominant Paradigm One Bite at a Time and the other is tentatively tiled Growing Possibilities. Project-wise, I’m also hoping to raise sculptures on our property including chimes my husband has made out of re-purposed materials that include wood and metal

I welcome people who’d like to connect with me. Here are some avenues.

Blog

Farm Blog

FB: FreeRangeLearningCommunity
FB: SubversiveCooking
FB: facebook.com/laura.euphoria

Twitter: @earnestdrollery

GeekMom: geekmom.com/author/laura/

 

LAURA GRACE WELDON and her dog Winston
LAURA GRACE WELDON and her dog Winston
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