Until recently, I've associated a ringing telephone with bad news. The sound of Dana Gioia's voice heard over the phone last November cured me forever. There's little to match the rush of happiness that comes with hearing what amounts to, "Your government values your work, and wants to help you continue to do it." Afterwards came the realization that with this award comes great responsibility. It is, after all, taxpayer money, and the taxpayers should have something in return. My intention is to explore the vast and vital subject of migrations, in the hope of gaining and transmitting the delight and wisdom that is the goal of good poetry. Migrations form the history of life and evolution. The flow of animal populations along the wildlife corridors of our ecosystems, the regular arrivals and departures of migrating animals, indicate the stability and well-being of our planet. On the other hand, certain migrations, particularly human, are signals of troubling change, climatic, economic, or political. With this allowance, I am able to observe and study, through travel and research, the migrations of hales, birds, butterflies, salmon, wind-blown sands to acres of dunes, Middle Eastern populations to the West, Latin Americans to the North, affluent people out of cities, displaced rural people to factory towns, elderly to retirement communities, and, as in some parts of Alaska, the migration of coastal dwellers inland, due to the rising oceans of global warming. May my ideas migrate successfully to the rich, expressive neighborhood of poetry. I am eternally indebted to the NEA, not only for opening a floodgate of ideas, but making it possible for me to pursue them to inspiration.
"The Snail in the Marigold"
I watched, when planting marigolds,
Their colors all afire,
A gorged snail suck amid the folds,
Unfurling with desire--
Its slick and gleaming trail of pleasure
Oozing out behind;
Its rapturous head in worldly leisure,
The broken bud looked jubilant,
Enravished, vibrant, real,
Infusing animal and plant
With sybaritic zeal.
This seeming drive to be consumed
As wood lit in a stove,
Must be the lavishest, most doomed,
And pure of earthly love.
Come, celebrate the appetite
No science can control,
The wild, ingenious, slippery blight
That incarnates the soul.
Leslie Monsour was born in Hollywood, California, in 1948, but grew up in Mexico City, Chicago, and Panama. She was educated at Scripps College in Claremont, California; Canal Zone College in Panama; and the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she received her degree in English Literature. Her most recent books are Travel Plans, Indelibility, and The Alarming Beauty of the Sky. She has been a reference librarian at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California; a news reporter for Pacifica Radio; and a research consultant for documentary film productions. She has also been a poetry instructor for Los Angeles area public schools, and the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. She and her husband have lived in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills for over 30 years. They have two sons.
Photo courtesy of the author