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BEI is very excited for original fellow Deborah Wood Holton who has received national recognition from the National Endowment for the Humanities and will be participating as a summer scholar in one of their seminars and institutes at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  Deborah took some time out of her busy schedule to do an interview with us over the phone.  You can read the interview here.

BEI holds annual meeting October 3-6, 2013

The Black Earth Institute held its annual meeting at Brigit Rest October 3-6th this year.  Scholars, fellows, and board members attended. The meeting opened with a ceremony by Arieahn Matamonasa, visiting scholar, with a smudging of those present, a remembrance of Patricia Monaghan and then asking for success in our deliberations.

Scholar Mary Jo Neitz led a discussion of the varieties of spiritual expressions in art and social movements. Topics included in the readings were the range of beliefs of those who professed themselves spiritual but not religious, epiphanies in nature, and the spiritual heritage of the Occupy movement.  There was agreement that the broadest possible concept of spirituality best served the work of BEI. This concept included social movements and actions that worked for common good beyond the individual and praise of nature, expressing its glory beyond use as resource. At the same time a diversity of spiritual voices should be sought.

Several days of deliberation followed with sessions facilitated by board members, Holly Frost Kerr, Flo Golod and scholar Mary Jo Neitz.  The sessions proceeded from general identification of the challenges facing BEI to specific recommendations of how to respond.

A steering committee composed of board members, fellows and scholars was chosen and will meet every six weeks by phone to provide leadership for the organization. About Place Journal will develop a more traditional editorial structure and publishing framwork similar to other literary journals. A working group will address improving the fellowship program taking into account the demands of daily life. Plans were made for upcoming literary events, including AWP (The Associations of Writers and Writing Programs) and Split This Rock.   A focus on building regional net works will be explored as a vehicle for forming alliances and cooperation with individuals. Flo Golod, Holly Frost Kerr and Michael McDermott took responsibility for finishing a grant application.  Support of staff, stipends for fellows, and funding of About Place Journal were the main budget items.

All participants enjoyed staying together at Brigit Rest, ate well and enjoyed each other’s company and that of neighboring artists in the evenings. The meeting ended with the traditional singing of “Happy Trails” and setting the date for next fall’s meeting.

 

A Tribute to Patricia Monaghan 1946 – 2012, cofounder of Black Earth Institute

PATRICIA

Patricia Monaghan, co-founder of the Black Earth Institute passed on in the arms of her beloved husband on November 11, 2012.  Patricia was a scholar, poet, educator, spiritual pioneer and practitioner, and activist.She passed away at home at Brigit Rest after a 2 year journey of hope and disappointment with cancer.  She did everything she could to continue life and work and lived fully during this period but ultimately left us.

In co-founding BEI along her husband Michael McDermott, Patricia followed the path in the way she had done so many other things.  As a scholar and an artist she opened doors and portals to a different world, different values and different history.  More than this she created programs, networks and organizations. Black Earth Institute was such a vision she saw and then created. She was concerned to have artists serve the role they had in earlier times before art was a function of commoditization and fame.  Black Earth exists to promote that role of the artists as a powerful voice for justice.

She was also a scholar of the history and reality of sacred women figures.  Ireland was a special passion for her for many years as a focus of personal origin and of a location of sacred places and figures shared by Christianity and the pre-Christian Celtic religion.  The saint and goddess Brigit was of special importance, often traveling to Ireland to celebrate Brigit.  She and Michael lived at a land called Brigit Rest in the Drift-less Area of Wisconsin that is the base of the Institute.

Brigit Rest was a place for gardens, orchards, vineyards, retreat facilities and the source of berries for jellies, vegetables for canning and freezing, beans for drying and a place sacred in itself.

Patricia was a brave force of nature and unending energy, terms she was uneasy accepting.  She has moved on but her inspiration and work and spirit will continue to carry us to a better place. Patricia thank you for all you have given us and will still give to all of us.

She so much desired to have the Institute continue and asked that memorial contributions be sent to support this work.  Send your memorial support to Black Earth Institute, PO Box 424, Black Earth, Wisconsin, 53515.

 

Fellows Sweep Awards

Monday, May 14, 2012

This past weekend in San Francisco, the Association for Study of Women and Mythology announced its first Sarasvati Awards for books of nonfiction, fiction and poetry that express insights into women’s spirituality.  Of the three awards, named for the Hindu goddess of the arts, two were won by Black Earth associates.  Emerita Fellow Elizabeth Cunningham took the fiction award for “Red-Robed Priestess,” (Monkfish Press) the fourth and final volume of her series of novels about Maeve, the Celtic Magdalen.  Senior Fellow Annie Finch won the poetry award for “Among the Goddesses” (Red Hen Press), a complex interwoven narrative of ancient goddesses and modern women.  Congrats to both!

 

Annie Finch on BEI’s meaning

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

As part of the last Fellows’ Retreat, scholar Cristina Eisenberg gave writing assignments to the Fellows that inspired this new poem by Annie Finch, a good summary of BEI’s central themes:

What is this world?

A beating, a touching, a rotting, a growth.

Who are we in this world?

A finding, a solitude, meaning, and loss

Who are we in this world?

A finding, a solitude, meaning, and loss

What is this world?

A beating, a touching, a rotting, a growth.

How then shall we live in this world?

A growth, a rotting, a touching, a beating.

a loss, a meaning, a solitude, and a finding.

In this world, how then shall we live?

A finding, a beating alitude, a touching,

a meaning, a rotting, a loss, a growth.

 

Judith Roche to create public art

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Emerita Fellow Judith Roche of Seattle has been selected by 4culture, the Arts Commission of Kings County, to create a new poetry installation for the Brightwater Treatment Plant.  Earlier, Roche created a “Water Blessing” and a “Biosolids Blessing” for the 500-million-dollar water treatment facility.  The new work will be on the theme of “conveyance,” referring to the myriad of pipes necessary to move water through and around the facility.  According to the site’s Master Plan, the point of the artwork is to “reveal the mystery behind how things work.”  Roche is one of six artists, and the only poet, selected for the installation project near Puget Sound.

In early October, under splendid blue skies and surrounded by the most magnificent autumn colors that Wisconsin has seen in years, the newly elected Fellows of Black Earth Institute began their three-year residency with the annual Fellows Meeting.  This year’s theme of “Hope and Resilience” was selected by our Scholar-Advisors as pertinent to current events yet offering complex analytic possibilities.  Liam Heneghan presented a memorable and entirely intelligible slide show on the scientific theory of resilience, which refers to the likelihood that a system will continue despite external (and sometimes internal) disturbances.  Cristina Eisenberg showed how such a theory can be exemplified in the relationships between wolves and their prey.  Mary Jo Neitz presented a challenging analysis of how secularism can privatize religious experience.  And Visiting Scholar Arieahn Matamonasa taught and led a traditional Talking Circle, connecting the issues of personal, social and spiritual resilience.

A half-day field trip brought us to Troy Gardens, a community garden-CSA in Madison where we met gardeners of many ethnicities and levels of prowess.  Then we were honored to tour the prehistoric effigy mounds of Wisconsin’s native peoples, with archaeologist Bob Birmingham, who has written several books on the subject.  The field trip was followed by a public reading by the new Fellows, as well as returning Scholars, at the friendly Luckenbooth Restaurant in Black Earth.

Fellows departed filled with the energy of connection to new friends and to the beautiful land of Brigit Rest.  Watch for new activities coming soon!

 

BEI holds Annual Meeting

Monday, October 31, 2011

In early October, under splendid blue skies and surrounded by the most magnificent autumn colors that Wisconsin has seen in years, the newly elected Fellows of Black Earth Institute began their three-year residency with the annual Fellows Meeting.  This year’s theme of “Hope and Resilience” was selected by our Scholar-Advisors as pertinent to current events yet offering complex analytic possibilities.  Liam Heneghan presented a memorable and entirely intelligible slide show on the scientific theory of resilience, which refers to the likelihood that a system will continue despite external (and sometimes internal) disturbances.  Cristina Eisenberg showed how such a theory can be exemplified in the relationships between wolves and their prey.  Mary Jo Neitz presented a challenging analysis of how secularism can privatize religious experience.  And Visiting Scholar Arieahn Matamonasa taught and led a traditional Talking Circle, connecting the issues of personal, social and spiritual resilience.

A half-day field trip brought us to Troy Gardens, a community garden-CSA in Madison where we met gardeners of many ethnicities and levels of prowess.  Then we were honored to tour the prehistoric effigy mounds of Wisconsin’s native peoples, with archaeologist Bob Birmingham, who has written several books on the subject.  The field trip was followed by a public reading by the new Fellows, as well as returning Scholars, at the friendly Luckenbooth Restaurant in Black Earth.

Fellows departed filled with the energy of connection to new friends and to the beautiful land of Brigit Rest.  Watch for new activities coming soon!

 

News from Fellows and Scholars

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In May, Alumni International Fellow Seamus Cashman hosted Alumni Fellow and new Board Member Mary Swander, poet laureate of Iowa, at a series of readings across Ireland that included the renowned Listowel Writers Week in Co. Kerry, as well as a reading in Dublin at the UNESCO City of Literature series (accompanied by the leading Irish classical guitarist, Redmond O’Toole).  Also in May, Cashman spoke on “Sculpture, Landscape & Poetry” at the Stones International Academy of Sculpture, part of Shenyang Normal University in Liaoning Province, China. Cashman’s visit was part of a symposium to mark the inauguration of the Academy, as well as the University’s 60th anniversary.

In June, the new Poets’ Theater of Maine premiered a new operatic work by Fellow Annie Finch, inspired by the biological fieldwork of Scholar Cristina Eisenberg.  Wolf Song involved masks, shadow puppets, musicians and singers, all evoking the once-dominant, now-missing wolves of Maine. A partial video can be seen here:  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/mayo-arts-center

At summer’s end, a new chapbook, Swimming to America,  by Fellow Patricia Spears Jones is due from Red Glass Books, a chapbook series curated and published by Janet Kaplan, a Brooklyn-based prize winning poet. Patricia regularly blogs for Culture ID, with recent posts on Stargazer, the Elizabeth Catlett exhibition at Bronx Museum, the death of Gil Scott-Heron and Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum.   She taught this summer at Manhattanville College Summer Writers’ Week with Gregory Orr, Nancy Williard and Michael Thomas.

Alumna Fellow Judith Roche is teaching migrant high school students this summer. The project is to write stories about Mexican holidays and celebrations and record them in a professional recording studio. In addition she is teaching a class at Hugo House, Seattle’s literary center, in “Generating New Poems,” and offering a workshop, “Poetics pf Place” in Yakima, Washington. She will do several readings during the summer and read and teach a workshop at Litfuse, a poetry event in Tieton, Washington.

 Hope and Resilence

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Plans are underway for the Annual Fellows Meeting of the Black Earth Institute, to be held in October at Brigit Rest.  Fellows will gather to address questions of “hope and resilence” in the face of the likelihood of climate change and the potential for catastrophic impact on the poor and disadvantaged of the earth, including creatures other than human.  How do artists keep alive hope in such times?

 

Black Earth Visits Ireland

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In September, a dozen friends of Black Earth Institute traveled to the west of Ireland to meet with artists and activists doing work related to BEI’s mission, and to celebrate the arts at an annual Arts Week in Connemara, one of the most beautiful mountainous regions of Ireland as well as one with the most active traditional culture.

The tour began in Ennis, Co. Clare, a town renowned for music and culture, where we gathered for a welcome dinner and storytelling session with Eddie Lenihan, one of Ireland’s most famous seanachies or traditional storytellers.  Not only was there great good cheer among the participants, most of whom were meeting each other for the first time, but stories ranging from the mythic to the humorous made the evening a special one.

From Ennis, we traveled by bus to Coole Park, home of the founder of the Abbey Theater, Lady Augusta Gregory, where we met with Tom Varley of the Inchicronon Heritage Group, who inspired us with discussions of how Ireland had both changed and remained the same in recent years.  Then, stopping briefly at Yeats’ tower home at Thoor Ballylee, we traveled to the impressive Brigit’s Garden, on the edge of Connemara’s hills.   There founder Jenny Beale toured us through the fours seasonal gardens planted with native plants.

We then traveled into the “Capital of Connemara,” the charming town of Clifden, where we spent the next week attending readings, concerts and other activities of Clifden Arts Week, founded more than 30 years ago and now considered one of the pre-eminent arts festivals in rural Ireland.  In addition to the potpourri of public activities, we had daily private lectures on subjects ranging from local history to the national revolutionary history, from immigration to the Irish harp.

Two all-day field trips brought us, first, to Aughnanure Castle, one of the places most associated with the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, then to Cong, Co. Mayo, where we spent the autumnal equinox in the stone circle at Glebe; then, along the Connemara coast to Leananne, where we learned about traditional crafts at the Wool and Sheep Museum, then across the tragic landscape of Dubh Lough to visit the Famine Memorial there and thence down to Louisberg to the Famine Museum there.

The week culminated with participation in the annual Arts Week Parade (photo above), which brings a Carnivale atmosphere to this fishing village.  It was a spectacular end to a memorable week.