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Psalms of Cinders and Silt is a special double issue of Solo Novo, the Carpinteria-based poetry journal published by Glenna Luschei, that addresses the Montecito mudslide through poems. The issue is edited by Mary Kay Rummel, Friday Gretchen, and Elaine Alarcon. I spoke to Luschei, Rummel, and Alarcon ahead of a reading from the collection at Westmont College’s Deane Chapel on Saturday, February 1, at 2 p.m. (Full disclosure: One of my poems is included in the anthology.)
What made the publication of Psalms of Cinder & Silt feel so important?
Glenna Luschei: We wanted to remember our brothers and sisters on this anniversary of the Montecito tragedy since at the time we could not get through to help them. The poems in the anthology are largely immediate confrontations with fires and escape from them.
Mary Kay Rummel: For me, it was the sense of the power of poetry to help people face what happened, to find images and words to describe it. As community members shared those words and images, it created a coming together that was very powerful.
Elaine Alarcon: Acts of nature tend to diminish our humanity. I think the poetry community needed a voice to express that helplessness as well as the dismay and sorrow for global warming, particularly as many of the poets were direct victims themselves of the fire and the mudslides. It provided a catharsis for people to be a part of a larger community with a common need as well as a venue for supporting those voices, and it helped to strengthen the arts community in the Tri-County area.
The collection is divided into “Dispatches” from different places. How did you decide on that method of organizing the poems?
MKR: The “Dispatches” were collected by Ann Buxie from emails and articles and postings. They were incorporated into a reading by poets centered on recent fires and mudslides organized by Jean Colonomos as part of the “Loose Lips” series at the Topanga Library. They fit organically with the poems, broadening them.
What common themes did you find the poets returning to again and again?
MKR: In addition to the themes of gratitude for survival and hope for the future that Glenna references in her “Introduction,” there are poems depicting the physical sensory details of the close experience of fire, a “big picture” focus on the need for a communal response to climate change, and strong images of the community coming together in response to disaster.
EA: In addition to the themes expressed by Glenna and Mary Kay, for those with direct experience of the fires and mudslides, there was a need to neutralize through language the fear and horror of destruction. Also, I think that in so doing there was celebration of our common humanity in the face of unspeakable loss as well as our love for the Earth. For those without direct experience of the fires and mudslides there was nevertheless a respect for suffering and a wish to be supportive. Last, I think there was a subtle condemnation of the powers that be for not providing good practices to contain global warming.