“Start Again” is the title of a refreshing collection of poems by Santa Fe’s Miriam Sagan.
Sagan explained in a phone interview why she chose the title. “It was written during the pandemic. That kind of crisis and confinement, it either flattens you or it might create a fresh start. … I think the pandemic gave me the wish for a new start,” she said.
The words “start again” are also embedded in the title of one of the poems – “In the Monastery of a Nice Day to Start Again.” The short poem weaves in themes about love, intimacy and dance.
Here is the third stanza of that poem: “I danced/watching the mountains/out to the west/Billy Idol/belting/I danced/my crippled girl/and my other self/together.”
That segues into the fourth and final stanza in which Sagan wants readers to think of mountains dancing, too.
The poem is one of five in the collection, each one asking the reader to think about the possibilities that varied, lively and nontraditional monasteries can be sacred places. The other four are titled “In the Monastery of Birdbath Filled with Snow,” “In the Monastery of Circumambulation,” “In the Monastery of My Opinions” and “In the Monastery of Margaritas.”
Sagan said there are poems in the collection about aging and becoming a grandparent. “That’s also a new stage in life. A quality of starting again,” she said.
The second stanza of “In the Monastery of a Birdbath Filled with Snow” presents a small child having fun with simple pleasures as grandma carefully observes: “the toddler has/scattered a hundred tiny/worry dolls/around the house/(she does this every day)/they are almost featureless/scraps of thread and cloth/size of my fingernail.”.
Sagan was asked if the pandemic had given her more time and space to write what she wanted, and if it had influenced the content of her poems.
“I think not,” she replied. “My poetry has limited subject matter. It’s about love and nature and death and perception. Those subjects have been consistent throughout my life.”
The collection contains poems that deal – sometimes quickly, sometimes extended – with other subjects such as astronomy, a casting off of sins and how prayer has evolved for her – “now I just/pray for rain.”
Some poems are delightfully brimming with warm remembrance of moments in time, mostly of communities and areas of northern New Mexico.
One poem that this reviewer relates to is “Ojo Caliente,” in which Sagan lovingly, vividly describes driving to, and experiencing, a rustic spa from decades ago.
Sagan’s first visit to “Ojo” was in the 1970s. She writes: “It wasn’t so long ago/that you had to bear right/at the round, abandoned adobe/and take the one-lane bridge/through the pueblo./But it was longer ago/that you could soak in the pools/and a private bathtub/and get wrapped in towel and blankets/for under $7.00.” The poem concludes with Sagan mentioning an unrequited love. Santa Fe is the setting of two poems – “Obelisk” and “City of the Holy Faith.”
The obelisk refers to a war monument erected during the mid-19th century in the Santa Fe Plaza honoring Union dead and those who fought in the Indian wars. However, wording on a plaque on one side of the obelisk had a racist epithet. The monument was toppled in 2020 by Native activists and others.
In the latter poem Sagan shares her feelings that the City Different is “suddenly smaller/more intimate/as it was when I first/came to town.”
Sagan said that writing poetry gives her joy. “Absolutely. For me to write about something is to have minutes added to my life. It has the quality of living one more time,” she said.
Sagan is also a fiction writer, a memoirist, an essayist, a teacher, a founding member of the collaborative press Tres Chicas Books and has been a writer in residence at national parks in the United States, Iceland and Japan. Among the recognitions she has received is a New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award.
She conceived of Poetry Yard, an outdoor space established last year in Santa Fe for the public to enjoy the arts. The first show is a permanent installation combining poetry by Sagan and sculpture by her daughter, Isabel Winson-Sagan. For more information on visiting Poetry Yard email Sagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sagan is also involved in the arts project Haiku Trail at the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, 1800 Upper Canyon Road, Santa Fe. The trail’s opening will be held 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, May 13.
The walking trail is a permanent installation showcasing 24 haiku by New Mexico poets. Sagan and Stella Reed are co-curators and contributing poets of Haiku Trail.
The trail is site-specific. Participating poets created haiku at the center and placed them at locations from the Wildlife Garden to the Acequia Trail. Each haiku is on a clay plaque designed and created by artist Christy Hengst.
Those attending the opening are asked to carpool because parking is limited.