Miriam Sagan


The Art of Love

New and Selected Poems

96 pages

6 x 8 inches

ISBN: 0-9631909-2-x





Known for her poetics of linked happenstance, leaping detail and Buddhist practice, Miriam Sagan pulls the Vast Life into an intensely personal cohesion. Tough and compassionate, her poems reach deep into the mythos and heartlines of marriage, motherhood, Jewish heritage, city, mountain, female desire and the beauty inhabited by Matisse, García Lorca, Issan Dorsey and Pocahontas. Within this selection are eight poems of the Margaret Sanger cycle, written with a grant from the Barbara Deming Foundation.

“Sagan writes with grace and verve…what is most remarkable is her ability to move among religious traditions, to convince us that at least within the borders of her poems many traditions can coexist peacefully… Brisk, vivid, clean, evocative and provocative, (her) poems are gentle and fierce investigations of late century life.”
—Jeff Gundy, Mid-American Review

Miriam Sagan is author of than a dozen books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. She has held residency grants at Yaddo and MacDowell and is the recipient of a grant from the Barbara Deming Foundation. Her most recent books include a memoir Searching for a Mustard Seed (Quality Words in Print, 2003) and poetry Archeology of Desire (Red Hen, 2001); The Widow’s Coat (Ahsahta Press, 1999); and The Art of Love, (La Alameda Press, 1994). She is also the author of Dirty Laundry: 100 Days in a Zen Monastery, (New World Library, 1999); Unbroken Line: Writing in the Lineage of Poetry (Sherman Asher, 1999); co-editor with Joan Logghe of Another Desert: the Jewish Poetry of New Mexico (Sherman Asher, 1998); and co-editor with Sharon Niederman of New Mexico Poetry Renaissance (Red Crane, 1994). Sagan is the poetry columnist for Writer's Digest and editor of the e-zine Santa Fe Poetry Broadside. (sfpoetry.org) She teaches on line for UCLA-Extension, Santa Fe Community College, and writers.com.Miriam Sagan lives with her daughter Isabel and husband Richard Feldman in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Miriam Sagan: "The Art of Love"

R.W. French

Among those at the center of contemporary poetry in New Mexico stands Miriam Sagan, teacher, editor, and, above all, poet. Her publications are many, varied, and widespread; fortunately, a broad sampling of her work is available in The Art of Love, a gathering of new and selected poems published in 1994. Subsequent work has since appeared in profusion, including The Widow's Coat (Ahsahta Press, 1999) a book of poems centered on the early death of her husband, Robert Winson, and Unbroken Line: Writings in the Lineage of Poetry (Sherman Asher, 1999), on the poetic process. These remain for later discussion. Excerpts from this recent work and further information about the poet may be found at Miriam Sagan's website: http://www.rt66.com/~sfpoetry/sagan.

The title, "The Art of Love", clearly alludes to Ovid's Ars amatoria, written some two thousand years ago. The allusion, however, is more ironic than reverential, since Miriam Sagan's "art of love" is an art of the twentieth century, the art of a Jewish woman living in New Mexico and keenly aware of separation and distance as well as of identity and communion. In contrast to the bawdy free-wheeling of Ars amatoria, Miriam Sagan's Art of Love is cautious and guarded—always aware of the life-giving power of desire, yes, but also of its destructive potential. Significantly, the book includes an eight-poem sequence on Margaret Sanger (1883-1966), for decades the leading American exponent of birth control. Ovid had other concerns in mind.

The poetry of The Art of Love is forced by urgency; memory and awareness rise to the surface in gasps, fragments, and fleeting observations. Affirmations are reached with difficulty, as in the fourth poem of The Art of Love sequence: "I don't care if I live or die, / Actually, I would rather live." Grudging, yes, but true to the times: Ovid's certainties have little place in the complex questionings of the twentieth century.

The poems of The Art of Love observe the passing moments in passionate detail without trying to explain them or make sense of them. The poems know that much is beyond explanation; they recognize that only the individual can find coherence, and even then only briefly, in the flux of events, and never with absolute certainty. But to feel the impact of the passing moments, that is another matter: to be truly alive is to sense to depths of one's being the impact of what we call "ordinary," whether joyous or painful, or whatever comes in between. There are in Miriam Sagan's poems moments approaching despair ("The land wind has an ashy breath"), and yet there remains always the possibility of ecstatic illumination, even in—or, perhaps, especially in—the most common observations:

Skunk cabbage in its own exuberance
Lights up the woods like phosphorescence
Or a landward wave.

Throughout The Art of Love the sense of place and the sense of displacement coincide in uneasy juxtaposition. The author, born in Manhattan, raised in New Jersey, Jewish, female, finds herself in New Mexico ("Jews must be everywhere / Even in La Puebla, New Mexico"). Neither Native American nor Hispanic, she is, presumably, by default, "Anglo," but not really. The poet remains an outsider, with the perspective of one who stands poised between home and a distant place. "My past is dead," she writes in "Frisco Blues," but of course it is not dead and never could be; the statement is more an assertion of will than an expression of fact. See, for example, the concluding lines of the poem "Passover":

Miriam's Well
Springs within
Green Oasis that must
Reappear within our hearts
Voices singing slightly off-key
This source of water
Follows us
Despite our exile, wandering.

Ovid, too, was an exile, for the last ten years of his life, but he always knew where his home was. It is not irrelevant that the Biblical Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, shared their fate. Neither she nor they were ever to reach the Promised Land.