The Art of Love
New and Selected Poems
6 x 8 inches
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
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 Widows 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"
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 guardedalways
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
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 inor, perhaps, especially inthe
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":
Green Oasis that must
Reappear within our hearts
Voices singing slightly off-key
This source of water
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.