Literary arts

The science of poetry

New Mexico poets Jane Lin and Mary Cisper to read from their debut collections

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Jane Lin and Mary Cisper are both New Mexico poets who share an interest in the sciences. Lin is a software engineer who develops web applications for an environmental consulting company. Cisper is a former analytical chemist who conducted research in ion trap mass spectrometry.

In their literary lives, both women have received Master of Fine Arts degrees and have been published widely in poetry journals. They both recently published their debut collections of poems: Lin’s “Day of Clean Brightness” (3: A Taos Press, 2017) and Cisper’s “Dark Tussock Moth,” winner of the 2016 Trio Award (Trio House Press, 2017).

Lin and Cisper will read from their poetry collections Saturday (Oct. 21), 6 p.m., at the SOMOS Salon, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. Admission is free and the public is invited.

Striving for connection

Lin was born and raised on New York’s Long Island. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, she attended both fiction and poetry workshops. She received encouragement for her work from poet Denise Levertov. This was instrumental in her decision to pursue poetry over fiction writing. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary publications and she has received a Kundiman fellowship and scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. She also taught creative writing at University of New Mexico-Los Alamos for many years and facilitated the “Mesa Public Library Poetry Gathering” series.

In an email interview with Tempo, Lin said that in both writing poetry and engaging in her engineering work, she is “searching for clarity, understanding, making sense.”

She explained that her book, “Day of Clean Brightness,” is centered around family and her “sense of and striving for connection” to both her immediate family and her extended family in Taiwan. She reflected that she was inspired to write this book by witnessing the trauma of her mother’s cancer treatment and death, an experience that was partly informed by her sister and father, who are both doctors. She said she was also influenced by “the desire to honor those who have died, both family and friends.”

“That’s what life is about – those connections we have to each other,” Lin emphasized.

In addition to being the title of one of the poems in the book, “Day of Clean Brightness” is “a literal translation of the Chinese characters for a Taiwanese holiday known as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day,’ for which families visit their ancestors’ tombs, clean up and make offerings,” she stated.

Lin writes in free verse and credits Levertov for giving her a sense of line and breath. Reflecting on the process of writing her poems, she commented, “They often begin with an image and a feeling, something I can’t stop thinking about until I finish the poem.”

The poems included in “Day of Clean Brightness” came from Lin looking at the body of her work to date and selecting the strongest poems. She then wrote a few additional poems to complete the manuscript. “The order of the poems is crucial,” reflected Lin. “It forms the narrative of the book.”

To order “Day of Clean Brightness” and for more information on Lin, visit 3taospress.com/authors/jane-lin.

Literary metamorphosis

Cisper has degrees from Northwestern University and University of New Mexico. At the age of 9, she published her first poem in a church bulletin. Her poetry has also appeared in numerous literary publications. “At the turn of the millennium, I registered for Jane Lin’s poetry writing class at UNM-Los Alamos. There was no turning back. Poetry workshops in Taos, Napa, Iowa, etc., led me to realize graduate school was the next step,” noted Cisper in an email correspondence with Tempo.

Her poems for “Dark Tussock Moth” grew out of a master’s thesis while attending Saint Mary’s College of California. “Gradually, I realized the poems might also make a publishable manuscript. After graduation, I continued to revise and polish. I also added two or three new poems,” she explained.

When asked to explain the focus of her poetry collection, Cisper responded, “The book journeys through personal history, Western landscapes touched by humans and drought – and the life and legacy of 17th-century artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian to explore metamorphosis. … Merian, who has been called the mother of ecology, documented insect and plant relationships. My concerns in writing these poems were existential and personal and are undoubtedly familiar to many: climate change and drought, family matters, species disappearance, memory loss, environmental damage, as well as awe and wonder: What isn’t amazing in a world where all is evolving from one form to the next?”

Cisper noted that Merian raised butterflies and moths from their larval stage to adulthood. The dark tussock moth was one of many that she studied throughout her life. “She [Merian] was a great observer and a wonderful artist; her curiosity and dedication inspired me,” acknowledged Cisper.

Also a visual artist, Cisper explained that she was influenced by collage and layering techniques in her writing process. “In a rapidly changing environment, living beings and their structures must adapt. The poems in ‘Dark Tussock Moth’ take many forms in reflection of that necessity. The poems also make use of quotation, especially from Merian’s writings. To help her readers understand what she was seeing, she made extensive use of simile,” Cisper said.

For more information on Cisper and to order “Dark Tussock Moth,” visit triohousepress.org/darktussockmoth.html and marycisper.com.

For more information on the readings or SOMOS, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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