Glenna Luschei, the poet laureate emerita of San Luis Obispo, has just published her 24th collection, Witch Dance: New and Selected Poems (Pressa Press, 2010). She is a spellcaster, mesmerizing us with images and content that begin in one dimension and leap to another with the hand of a master artist who has written for a long time. Her poems dance between waking and dream, reality and fantasy, with the joys and struggles of a woman who has loved deeply and long. Newly widowed, she dedicates the book to her husband William (Bill) Horton, the “love of her life.”
The opening poem, “Witch Dance,” sets the tone for all those that follow in a tumble of past and present pitted against each other, unfolding her life story which reminds us of the universal complexity and curiosities of our own.
Winter presses our hands
in homespun mitts.
Autumn is over.
We step the witch dance
dance of love and death.
Terms feed at the lake
on their flight from Alaska
and rain bites the quince.
Where are we going
Are those daggers of geese
in the sky
Her language is precise, cold as Nebraska in winter where she was born and raised, laced with recent grief. When her husband’s “breath failed, I did everything I could to inspire him. And I still would,” she ends in the poem “Widows,” wrestling with acceptance.
Loss is not her only consideration. The book’s epigraph is a quote from Tecumseh, 18th century Shawnee Chief, which in part reads: “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life…” Luschei honors this, her words sometimes leaping skyward with ecstasy and gratitude. There are poems about ex-lovers, June bugs, a “Unicorn in Captivity” on a tapestry, her family, and all the many places she has lived and traveled. In “Veterans” she writes to her Japanese friend, thanking him for taking her to the paper making factory, and “for that tanka/about the plum tree that bloomed/even when the master was far away.”
In “Clouds of Cambodia” she writes:
I have no lover./The humidity drowns me into a new life.
In a cascade of rain we observe the carvings
of the creation, how the two armies pull
at Naga, the snake, until the sea churns in milk
and all the creatures are born beneath it.
On a hilltop overlooking her avocado ranch in Carpinteria where she lives part time, stands a memorial for her and Bill’s life together. The poem “Headstone” reads:
We overlook the Pacific, you in black
granite, I in white marble.
Our ashes left before us.
Who said we couldn’t fly.
Glenna wears many hats, not only as a critically acclaimed and awarded poet, but teacher, publisher of Café Solo, Solo, and Solo Café for over 40 years, a philanthropist who has endowed the literary magazine Prairie Schooner with a major gift to continue for years, and a scholar who received her Ph.D. in Hispanic languages and literature from UCSB in 2005. One of her poems is titled “I Want to be Your Poet.” We are fortunate she is ours.
Glenna Luschei reads from Witch Dance on Saturday, August 14, at “Poetry Zone” in the Karpeles Manuscript Library, 21 West Anapamu Street, 2 p.m.. The free event will be followed by an open mic for other poets.