Friday, November 21, 2014

Elizabeth Gordon McKim: A Poet of the poem. A poet of the people.

Elizabeth Gordon McKim

Elizabeth McKim: A Poet of the poem. A poet of the people.

Interview by Doug Holder

Elizabeth Gordon  McKim is not just about getting her own work out there. A respected educator, poet and influential member of the Expressive Arts Movement, McKim engages the community, other artists, and students, so they too can realize their creative potential. As the poet, and McKim's partner Etheridge Knight said:" You must be a poet of the poem, and the people". McKim is the embodiment of this.

Elizabeth Gordon McKim has published five books of poetry, the latest being The Red Thread (Leapfrog Press). She is a teacher, performance poet, spoken word artist, and has been an adjunct professor for forty years in the department of Creative Arts in Learning at Lesley University. McKim is the poet laureate of the European Graduate School, and the Jazz Poet of Lynn where she lives, in a renovated shoe factory. She is included with four others in the new anthology, Wild Women of Lynn, published by Blaine Hebbel and The Ring of Bone Press.

I had the pleasure to interview her on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: You were intimately connected with the famed prisoner poet and civil rights activist Etheridge Knight. Can you tell us about your life and times with him?

Elizabeth McKim: I knew him in the last decade of his life. He died in 1991. I met him through a poet in Worcester, Mass., Fran Quinn. We were both going down to work in the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was in the late 70s. Fran thought we should stop in Memphis where he was living. He was married at the time to a woman from Worcester, Mass. And here, I heard him read his poetry. And that was very important for me because he was one of the best readers of poetry I have heard. I never got bored, even when I heard the same work over and over again. He had a major belief in the poet, the poem and the people. He reminded me never to forget your people when you are reading or they will forget you. When I teach children I tell them not to forget their people—speak up and speak out!

There were a lot of things that were connected with music that Etheridge knew about. At Goddard College, where I got my Maste'sr Degree, I learned so much about movement, breath and song. This went well with Etheridge and his work. He did have an amazing message for black men, but it really did spread out from there. The manuscript I am now working on now has several essays about him, interviews, and poems. I have a lot of his papers and eventually I plan to put them in a university archive. I did spend a year and half in Indianapolis where his family lived—it was a wonderful community of artists. Here I learned how community can be so important to making art. I learned how people inspire each other—painters with poets, etc…

Etheridge, when he was first in prison, at Michigan City—wrote his first book of poetry. He was published by the Broadside Press—a very important press for Black poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, etc…, all of whom were published there.

DH: You have been described as a pioneer of the Expressive Arts Movement. What is that movement exactly—as you understand it?

EM:  The Expressive Arts Movement, more or less started in Cambridge, Mass. at Lesley University. A man named Shawn McNiff , who was an expressive therapist at Danvers State was an instrumental figure here. He believed that language, paintings, movement, etc… all inform one another, especially working with the healthy side of people. Creativity is the important thing. They named discipline at Lesley “The Expressive Arts Therapy.” Antioch College in Ohio, and Goddard had small programs at that time, but now there are centers across the country and the world. Appalachia St. University has one, there is a center in Toronto, another fine one in San Diego—to name just a few. I always think of Allen Ginsberg’s, who said “ All I wanted to do was to get back to the body where I was born.” In some ways that’s what the expressive arts are all about. We now train students to get out in the community and work with conflict resolution in the community. They are in rehab centers, prisons, etc..

DH: Tell me about this organization “Troubadour” that you are involved with?

EM: It is a consortium of singer/songwriters, poets, writers, going out and working in the schools. They engage the students through different art forms. They work to increase literacy—they try to turn the kids on. We make partnerships with the schools, get funding etc…

DH: You are the Poet Laureate of the European Graduate School in Switzerland. What is that about?

EM: The people, who started this, were the people who started out at Lesley University. Folks like Paolo J. Knill, Steve Levine, and Sally Atkins. They started the school there. It is between Geneva and Zurich. We stay in an inn—and believe it not the innkeeper built the school for us. In addition we have a partnership with New York University. We help people work in the community with others. We have visiting artists, lectures—there is a PhD program—we even have a small school in South Korea.  We need all this in these times of deadening violence. The arts are crucial in all the different aspects of living. We teach compassion. We ask students to think about what’s like to be another person? And hopefully the other person will learn to ask what it is like to be in the “other's” shoes. It is important to think outside of yourself.

DH: Tell me about this “ Wild Women of Lynn” anthology you are involved with. How are you guys wild?

EM: Blaine Hebbel was a major force behind this. We are wild and mild. Inside every person who is creative, there is that wild, creative storm.

November 21,2014

All the leaves are gone
Away/ and gone to glitten
Where are my mittens?
Brilliant chilly-wind
Stirring my remembrances
On the way no where
Give the love...
The lasting pleasure.
Give it in full measure.
Find the fruit. Be at
The special spot. Beat the drum.
Be here. Be there. Be where?
Again and once again.
Bear it. Wear it. We are it!
What else do we have?
We do desire it!

--Elizabeth  Gordon  McKim

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