After 26 years in Santa Barbara, poet and editor Cynthia Anderson and her new husband and artistic collaborator Bill Dahl (they tied the knot August 4) are following their dream to a new home and inspiration in the high desert near Joshua Tree National Park. In her time in Santa Barbara, Anderson has worked quietly in the background to help make our poetry community the active, exciting, and closely knit group it is today.
In the late ’80s, with the encouragement of much-beloved poet and impresario Abd al-Hayy Moore, she began organizing poetry events for the Santa Barbara Arts Festival as well as a popular poetry reading series at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. In 1992, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, and from 1992-1994, she helped coordinate the Santa Barbara Poetry Festival. In 1993 she cofounded Mille Grazie Press with David Oliveira to publish the poets of California’s Central Coast-among them Jackson Wheeler, Glenna Luschei, and Kevin Patrick Sullivan. Mille Grazie published Cynthia’s book, Heaven and Hell in Geologic Time/Sea Madonna, a collection of poems written to accompany the dances of choreographer Robin Bisio.
Over the years, Anderson’s poems have appeared in The Sow’s Ear, Art/Life, Cafe Solo, Spectrum, and The Santa Barbara Independent, among other publications. For the past two years, she organized the annual poetry reading at the Wildling Art Museum in Los Olivos, and earlier this summer, she won the Robert Sellers Memorial Scholarship to the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference for a group of poems from her new book manuscript, Invoking the Salamander. She currently collaborates with her photographer husband on portfolios that combine nature photography and poetry. Some of this work, including a long poem based on Little Petroglyph Canyon near Ridgecrest, California, is posted online at rainbear.com.
Anderson writes, “Many of the poets who entered my life over 20 years ago are still my closest friends. Wherever I go, they and Santa Barbara will remain in my heart. I owe a special debt to Claire Rabe, who so generously published many of my poems in The Independent in the days of yore; and to Perie Longo, whose support has been unflagging from the beginning.”
Her friend Margaret Connors told me, “I have long admired the stillness and depth of her work. And her laugh makes your day.” Anderson has also been a great inspiration to me. Her finely crafted, meditative poetry sings with her love of nature. With her parting, I am reminded of a poem by Mary TallMountain titled “Goodbye.” In the Athabaskan language, she writes, there is no word for “goodbye”: “We just say, Ti¡a. That means / See you. / We never leave each other. / When does your mouth say goodbye to your heart?”
So long, Cynthia! We wish you and Bill much happiness and lots of warmth in the desert you love so much. Thank you for your help and your poetic presence these many years.
Desert Refuge by Cynthia Anderson
The secret of the desert is,
just add water. Dreams grow
so fast, they press back the sky
like palms that stretch in lines
to the horizon. Frond fringe floats,
the fingers of anemone-
a low rustle builds to crescendo.
There is nothing that cannot be yours.
The sun shoots bullets of heat
into the ground, but the palms
are not perturbed, or subdued.
They give their hearts to one current
after another, while the clouds
whip past and the far mountain
turns blue. They offer refuge
even outside their native canyons,
even as a purely cultivated idea.
Creatures and people hide in them
and don’t come out. They sway
with the last love ever felt.