Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Lauren Camp, whose velvet voice is the center of one of my new favorite podcasts: Audio Saucepan. Her poetry is vivid, lush, full and expansive, as if someone crawled inside each word and pushed the walls of it apart. She lives in New Mexico, and the landscape is abundant and evident, not only in her creative writing, but in the posts she makes on social media. It’s an honor to feature her here– and here she is in her own words.
Where can we find your work?
I have four books. Turquoise Door: Finding Mabel Dodge Luhan in New Mexico, is brand new from 3: A Taos Press. My third book, One Hundred Hungers, was published by Tupelo Press in 2016. I have poems all over the web, including at The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, World Literature Today, Nashville Review, and The Adroit Journal.
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
My thoughts lately flood back to my father (one of my greatest muses)—his immigrant history, his growing dementia. And I write about the desert where I live—our land that I revel in and worry for. I moved to New Mexico in 1994. I had never seen a place anything like this. I was such an urban and suburban New Yorker. But it turns out I like nature! A lot!
In the past year and a half, I’ve written about what I witness in our culture, all the troubling social and political issues, and also how I try not to witness. I write through anything that makes my heart hurt, striving for calm, for hope, generosity of spirit.
What were you like as a child?
Focused. I read a lot (weekly stacks of books from the public library) and made art from any scrap of paper or color or yarn I could find. To the best of my memory, I was well behaved and naïve and generally optimistic. I fear I was also bossy. I am the oldest of three. Not much bothered me, so long as my mother made grape leaves (dolmas), and I could be in the world of myself and my art forms (and eat ice cream sundaes at Friendly’s now and then).
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
I teach and mentor writers. I work with people of all ages—teaching poetry recitation to high school students through the state’s Poetry Out Loud program and offering writing exercises to youth through the O’Keeffe Museum’s Art and Leadership Program and to adults at the community college.
Older adults are my favorite clients— mature students, sometimes elders — who have led full lives and been involved in different fields. These students are not degree-seeking; they are in search of a way to tell their stories and to exercise a muscle that has been little used: their creative selves.
My task is to encourage them. I value their voices and whatever it is they’ve started. We aren’t looking for perfection (well, I’m not, anyway). I figure it’s my job to take my psychology background, identify what they can handle, and ease them up a rung, remembering that a step forward is only worthwhile if they stay confident.
For 14 years now, I’ve also volunteered for Santa Fe Public Radio. I produce and host a show called “Audio Saucepan,” a single, packed hour of blending global music, jazz and poetry. I mix genres and sounds and emotional resonances. The show keeps me reading voraciously, because I am always searching for intriguing poems to air. My goal is to engage my own ear, and hope that the mix also surprises and delights listeners. I take that effort of finding unexpected work and elevating it very seriously—and this medium, radio, is perfectly designed for listening.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
My cactus garden. My students and their curious natures, their enthusiasm and needs. This new poetry collection that is just about to reach readers. My home. Every single experiment I make in a poem, reading it aloud, turning it over again.
Tell us a story.
When I was a visual artist, I could do anything I wanted with color and texture. I listened to the best music (jazz and oud, mostly) while I cut and assembled. I had all day, many days, such a luxury of time. The seasons shifted outside my beautiful studio and I saw them through the six windows. Desert wind and endless sun, the grasses turned redder. The internet was new, so email didn’t bother me much. I could focus in a way that seems lost now. And the days went, and I made work that I was very proud of, work that was colorful and sincere and difficult. But I also spent days lying on the floor, nearly crying because I was lonely. I needed people. Creating the pictures I envisioned was not enough. I needed others to join in with me in seeing what I’d created, and I needed to look out at what they had created, too. When I started writing poems, I felt I was assembling colors and textures. And when I started teaching, I found the rest of what I needed.
Lauren Camp is the author of four books, most recently Turquoise Door. Her poems have appeared in The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Nashville Review, The Adroit Journal, Third Coast, Diode, and elsewhere. Camp is the recipient of the Dorset Prize, a fellowship from the Black Earth Institute, a residency from Willapa Bay AiR, and a finalist citation for the Arab American Book Award. She has presented her poems at the original Mayo Clinic, and seen her work translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish and Arabic. She lives and teaches in New Mexico. www.laurencamp.com