PLAYA alumna Barbara Rockman is the author of Sting and Nest, winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, and recipient of the National Press Women Book Prize. Her poems appear in numerous anthologies and journals including Calyx, Bellingham Review, Louisville Review, Cimarron, terrain.org and Nimrod. She teaches poetry in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at Santa Fe Community College, in private workshops, and with victims of domestic violence as workshop coordinator for Wingspan Poetry Project. Her other recent residencies include stays at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. We found some of her beautiful work here, on the Manzano Mountain Review website.
Barbara, what led you to PLAYA?
I heard about PLAYA from one of my students, Dawn Chandler. She was among the very first residents and, as an artist, was overwhelmed and inspired by the light and space. I was hungry for time and quiet and deep connection to myself and my work. I longed for the challenge of nothing but time for writing and witnessing the natural world. And so I applied.
Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress?
I came planning to do two things: to cull my journals for poems and essays that languished there, to type and revise them; that is, to take them seriously! and to gather a final manuscript of poems inspired by an artist friend’s three-dimensional dress installations. I made progress on both fronts but, because I am a spontaneous and intuitive writer, I could not not write new work every day. Which leads into your next question—
How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?
I was thrilled, haunted, terrified, and mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape. The sky, pond I looked out on, dry fall playa, dust storms, gold grasses, quail, wolf, deer, ducks, and apples thumping on the earth . . . I had to document all of that. It really was a spiritual occasion. I felt like a monk in deep prayer, a supplicant receiving gifts. So a whole new body of work, a PLAYA journal in poems, emerged and is still finding its shape, work that wrestles with beauty and doubt and faith and solitude.
Describe a typical day at PLAYA.
A typical day—
Drink one strong cup of coffee.
Go outside in my pj’s to witness the sunrise and pond (it was September and the cottonwood’s golden leaves were filling the canoe).
Sit at my small table overlooking boundlessness and write in my journal.
Eat breakfast and walk.
Return to the wonderful studio adjoining my cabin to open the computer and delve into the projects.
Daydream. Study the cattails and wasps and wind. Get distracted and return.
Early early to bed to read: I read novels and essays and poems: dozens! pure joy!
Wake at 2 am, slip outside to the stars. Return to bed with my journal.
The first two of my four weeks, I was in the company of an amazing group of fellow artists. My connections with biologist/poet, Tom Titus; songwriter, Liv Lombardi; poet and memoirist, Rebe Huntsman; poet, Jennifer Boyden; and painter, Jaye Schlesinger, were inspiring and long lasting. I remain in contact with all of them. Liv included lines from one of my PLAYA poems in a song, Jen’s comments adorn the back cover of my new book, and Tom and I hope to read together soon. Precious company.
But I will also say that another highlight was the solitude. The hours to be alone with ideas and dreams and demons. To be disconnected from cell service and internet. It changed my relationship to myself, gave me courage and allowed for great vulnerability. The four weeks were the gift of a lifetime.
Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.