Highlighted by ArtWeek
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Meet Our November Poet in the Spotlight: Christine Ernst

Highlighted by ArtWeek

Christine Ernst is a poet, performer, teacher, activist, and frequent speaker, focusing on the connection of wellness, personal narrative, hope, and community. She writes and performs a popular one-woman show every summer as the Fat Ass Cancer Bitch, and FACB 2018: Resistant Gray was the 8th annual installment in the series. She is published in the Cape Cod Poetry Review, Ars Medica, Placeholder Magazine, and in the 2018 Quill's Edge Press anthology, 50/50. She works as the Director of Education for an arts non-profit on Cape Cod, and facilitates a women's writing gym, What's Your Story, Morning Glory?, now it its seventh year. She believes that the story will save us all. For more information, visit her website.
Poetic Profession   
I always wanted to be a writer but spent three decades waiting for the beautiful important work to come tumbling out of my head, fully formed, perfectly edited. I got cancer at 34 and thought, "finally! my big compelling story!" and began to write. And the work was not huge and noble and epic (the disappointment!), but it was good medicine, and compelling and strong in its everydayness, and absolutely crucial to my healing.

Cautionary tale: do not wait for the universe to give you cancer so you can find your voice. Your story was always important.

My work is autobiographical, personal, usually political, often tinged with science -- peopled/informed/illuminated by my day-to-day in the village. Poems begin as an attempt to wring meaning from events that strike me or that I don't fully understand. Or are painful and need to be contained on a page. Hard things become clearer in the distillation. Safer and more useful and ordered. I work hard to make sure the work is as strong on the page as it is when I perform it. If all goes well, it should feel like an intimate conversation with the reader or the listener.

I strive for candor -- to accurately but compassionately portray folks (mostly myself) -- not always flattering. Mostly, I try to cull the funny bits, the bald fact, the crux (if I can find it) in the relationships and events I write about. Then find the rhythm. Sometimes the mundane is sublime. Scrape away. Distill, distill, distill. Pay attention.
cognate means blood-related
— published by Quill's Edge Press in the 2018 anthology 50/50

linguists have somehow identified a handful
of words that have survived since the last ice age
relics of a mother tongue spoken by hunter-gatherers somewhere
in neolithic anatolia
as the glaciers were receding 150 centuries ago
15,000 years of story and song and slang
millennia of uncountable
dialects in which we have misunderstood each other from the very beginning
the cognates of 23 proto-words persist       
living fossilwords       or
ultraconserved as the archeolinguist
describes them:
spit      worm flow        black bark ashes    hand not we
who     ye that    pull this  
mother      man old        fire what    I give hear   
and one word even more vigorous than the rest
the only word that occurs in some form in 700 living languages spanning
the families indoeuropean and chuk-chi-kam-chat-kan and
kartvelian                    from the arctic to india western china to ireland
spoken by half the people on earth for the past 15,000 years
one word distilled     the purest word        the absolute descendent of all words    
the heir of language itself
the word thou     and its living
cognates: you      tu ti turi           esh-te te t’kin   dhe thou
thou                            not me or I or even we           thou
the longing to be comprehended by the one not oneself contained inside the sound
thou              dhe t’kin        te esh-te turi        ti tu you thou
so that when I say
you! hear me, man! -- don’t be a worm! pull your hand from the ashes and
give this black bark to the old mother —  and no spitting in the fire!
I might be understood by a caveman in stone-age Turkey or a
reindeer herder in bronze-age Greenland         by a pilgrim at Stonehenge by
Alexander the Great himself       by anyone on
any number of continents tomorrow afternoon
understood through the ages in any language
the sounds I make familiar and eternal
but I am speaking to you     now
to you

Presented by Highland Street Foundation and produced by the Boch Center, ArtWeek is an annual award-winning innovative festival featuring, in its most recent year, more than 525 unique and creative experiences that are hands-on, interactive or offer behind-the-scenes access to artists or the creative process. This year’s festival will be from April 26 – May 5, 2019.

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Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry. Each month we shine the spotlight on a poet affiliated with, and nominated by, one of our poetry partners.

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