Thursday, October 31, 2013

Playing in the dirt at preschool at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 31, 2013

Nature's Way Preschool (Photos by Zinta Aistars)

There is a preschool where children are encouraged to get down in the mud and dirty, jump into puddles, and splash around in the rain barrel that collects rain water from the school’s roof. Zinta Aistars has the story on Nature's Way Preschool.

The eyes of the little gray screech owl are as large as dinner plates. So are the eyes of the three- and four-year olds who encircle the owl. If a few pairs of eyes wander, they will wander past Miss Jenny Metz, who has brought two owls from the Kalamazoo Nature Center, and out the wall of windows, open to the nine acres of woods all around Nature’s Way Preschool. Wild turkeys may stroll by, bobbing their gray-blue heads, or a deer bend her long, slender neck to nibble on a patch of grass beneath the oak tree. These eyes miss nothing.  

At this preschool, owned by Kalamazoo Nature Center and located at 4442 Oakland Drive, children are encouraged to let their eyes wander and their curiosity, too. They are also encouraged to get down in the mud and get dirty, jump into puddles, and splash around in the rain barrel that collects rain water from the school’s roof. 

"At orientation, we tell the parents to expect their children to come home dirty," says Brenda Mohill, who has been teaching at the preschool for 17 years of grubby kids, including her own. "If they aren’t coming home dirty, we’re not doing our job!"

Nature’s Way Preschool is more than three decades old, but this particular building, built of blond brick and lots of glass, opened its doors in August, with the first day of school in September. The 6,000-square-foot new building, designed by Jason Novotny of Tower Pinkster, a daddy of a former preschooler here, is built to make the outdoors a part of the indoors. 

"Because Jason’s child came to our old preschool, he understood what we needed," says Heather Parker, who has been teaching at Nature’s Way Preschool for two years. She is also early childhood education director at Kalamazoo Nature Center. 

Previously, Parker says, the school was ...


Wild turkeys in the playground
Old fireplace from previous school

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cancer awareness event set for November 2

by Zinta Aistars
Published in the Muskegon Tribune
October 29, 2013

Linda Aerts, Harbor Hospice

Occasionally, I write articles for the West Michigan newspaper, Muskegon Tribune, and this assignment was to promote the West Michigan Cancer Awareness Musical in Muskegon, sponsored by Harbor Hospice and a local church. 

When a member of the Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, he wanted to leave a lasting legacy for his church and for his community.

“Vernell Allen had a passion for music,” says Wanda Jefferson. Along with being a registered nurse, Jefferson has been one of the event organizers and a praise team leader at the church where Allen built his legacy, now an annual musical event to raise awareness about cancer. “It’s become a community event, and it’s grown larger every year.”

This year’s West Michigan Cancer Awareness Musical features gospel singer Jessica Reedy, praise and worship groups, a community choir, and motivational speakers. The event will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 2, at Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church, 412 E. Sherman Boulevard, Muskegon Heights. It is free and open to the public.

The awareness-raising event is sponsored by Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church and Harbor Hospice, 1050 West Western Avenue, Muskegon. Harbor Hospice care offers specialized health care with expertise in pain and symptom management, emotional support and spiritual care, as well as bereavement counseling for family members anticipating or following the death of a loved one.

“Harbor Hospice became involved four years ago with the first event,” says Linda Aerts, executive assistant at Harbor Hospice. “We’ve been a sponsor for all the annual events, because our executive director, Mary Anne Gorman, and our board believe in its importance. Hospice is about mind, body and spirit, and the West Michigan Cancer Awareness Musical speaks to all of these.”

Although Harbor Hospice cares for cancer patients at the end of their life journey, Aerts says, hospice cares for patients with other illnesses, too. “Hospice is about family,” she says. “But cancer is the great equalizer. Everyone seems to either know someone dealing with cancer or has dealt with it him or herself.”

“Our pastor, Bishop Willie Burrell, Jr., died of pancreatic cancer,” adds Jefferson. “When we started this event, we began to...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Historic barn enthusiasts preserve living agricultural heritage

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 24, 2013


Nobody knows exactly how many really old barns there are in Michigan. But the Michigan Barn Preservation Network is interested in keeping them standing. Zinta Aistars has the story.

Steve Stier thoughtfully considered the reasons he, as president of Michigan Barn Preservation Network, and others like him, believe the barns of Michigan should be preserved, even revered.  
Photo by Erik Holladay at

"The old barns are a living history book of our agricultural heritage," he says. "The pole buildings of today, I don’t honor them with the word 'barn.'"

Michigan Barn Preservation Network (MBPN) is a statewide nonprofit organization of barn owners and enthusiasts. Enthusiasts, Stier says, include a wide range of people with eclectic interests in barns: preserving and maintaining barns, making models of barns, photography of barns, creating artwork of barns, and the generally curious about agricultural history. 

"Our members include all kinds of people with all kinds of interests, including farmers and those who wish they could farm or who live on property with barns," Stier says. 

MBPN, he says, was started in 1995 at Michigan State University with a mission to raise awareness about preserving barns throughout Michigan, along with growing an endowment to do so. The raising of an old Michigan barn at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. the prior year had also raised interest in preserving barns.

MBPN now holds annual conferences, workshops on barn repair and maintenance, barn tours, and occasionally members gather to help in a barn raising.

"We’ll be doing just that this month," says Stier. "We are helping to raise the Stone Coop Farm in Brighton for an organic CSA (community-supported agriculture) that needed an old barn. They acquired two old barns, took them apart, and moved the materials to a new site. We’ll have about 20 people involved, assembling the parts on one day, standing the frame up the next."   

Stier is one of 12 board members for MBPN. He grew up on a small farm in central Michigan, "and hated it." He laughs. "Growing up, I saw my father do a lot of work for very little pay. It was a hard life. Now, I wish I’d paid more attention to my father’s work."

Leaving the farm life when he reached adulthood and independence, Stier built a career in construction, earning several degrees along the way, including a second master’s in historical preservation. Over the years, it was that interest that grew. 

"I realized that I hated new construction," he says. "I’ve worked on barns the last 15 years or so, but I’m interested in all kinds of preservation, not just barns."

Some of the oldest barns MBPN members have located, Stier says, are in ...


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Going to the Birds

by Zinta Aistars

With one of my six little girls 

Going into my second year of living on this 10-acre farm called Z Acres in southwest Michigan, I find myself expanding, little by little, what I do here in terms of farming. Mostly, I seed and raise and sell words. I work from home, running my writing and editing services, Z Word, LLC. That's my focus. I do, however, care about the organic lifestyle; that's a big part of why I moved here from suburbia. I believe in the local food movement, the sustainable and simpler lifestyle, and when I can raise my own food, that's the way I go.

With my second summer here of gardening, I've enjoyed raising my own vegetables. This past summer, I nearly tripled the size of my first summer's vegetable garden. I've grown heirloom tomatoes, lettuce greens, cabbage, squashes and zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, carrots, basil, kale, leeks, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green peppers, radishes. I have also enjoyed a tremendous bounty of apples from the old apple tree, an almost overwhelming harvest of blackberries, and my first strawberries. My freezer is now full of applesauce and jars of blackberry preserves as well as frozen berries to keep the upcoming winter months sweet. I've been enjoying apple crisp and apple pies and apple cakes and breads. Few things satisfy more than growing, harvesting, cooking one's own food! Nothing tastes better.

Patch and Pasture in Battle Creek, Michigan
As I traveled to a friend's poultry farm in Battle Creek, a charming five-acre farm called Patch and Pasture, run by Shirley and Dave Wyllys, it occurred to me that I might expand my farming efforts to include eggs. I buy chickens and turkeys from my friends, and often I pick up a carton of fresh eggs ... why not get into some of this "chickening" myself? I certainly have the land for it, and since I mostly work from home, I can also be on hand to care for chickens. Not least, nothing beats the flavor and nutrition of fresh farm eggs. Not even the organic eggs I buy at the health food store or farmers market compare to this kind of freshness.

I'd been eyeing the tool shed on my property for some time now for its chicken coop potential. My son and his lady and her son came out several times over the summer to work on converting the tool shed to a coop. While part of the shed remains open for storing my gardening tools, another section is now closed in for chickens, complete with nest boxes my son salvaged from an abandoned old coop we found on the land. Apparently, Z Acres has had chickens living here before. My son cleaned up the old nest boxes, two rows of them, and installed them in the tool shed, now coop. Then came the fencing and chicken wire for an outdoor area, and a small door where the chickens could be released to free range for a few hours each day. Perfect!

I turned the calendar to October. This late in the year, only one type of chicken is available at Townline Poultry Farm in Zeeland, and that's the place to which anyone who deals with poultry in this area has pointed me. They ship, but I knew I didn't want live animals shipped to me in boxes (that often leads to a percentage of dead animals on arrival), and Zeeland is not so very far from me. In October, only ISA Browns are available, but that was fine with me. ISA Browns, I've learned, are an excellent chicken for beginners like me, a brown hen that is friendly and easy to raise, and a very prolific brown egg layer.

My friends, Shirley and Dave, have been giving me great advice on raising chickens. They've also been kind enough to loan me a chicken feeder and waterer and a red heat lamp to keep the chicks warm. I purchased a 50-pound bag of chick feed from them and they tossed in a coffee can full of grit. By beginning of March, Shirley said, I could expect my first eggs. How exciting! Just in time for Easter and my first grandchild ...

Meanwhile, I would have half a dozen chicks to raise over the winter months, and to keep them warm and close for observation, I decided to start them off in the little greenhouse attached to my farmhouse.

If one of the greater challenges of raising chickens is to keep them safe from predators, I knew I had plenty on Z Acres. I am surrounded by marsh and field and woods, and wildlife is plentiful. Predators interested in sharing my poultry would be coyotes, fox, hawks, raccoons, opossum, and any number of other hungry creatures. My son had done an excellent job of securing the coop with reinforced fencing and securing the edges of the area with metal strips and cement blocks. He did it all with salvaged materials, too, bless his heart and hands, so the coop had cost me nothing. But while the chicks were small, I decided to keep them inside, both for my comfort and theirs. As they grew, I would eventually move them outside to the coop.

I called Townline Poultry Farm to check on chick availability. October is their last month of the year to sell chicks, and they were selling fast. I was told to come early on Monday morning to pick up a few before their shipments went out. I wasn't about to miss my last chance of the year. I set my alarm early on Monday, October 21, and I was up before dawn. I was amused at myself to realize how excited I was ... what fun this would be! And work, too, no doubt, to watch over more living beings on this farm, along with my dog and two cats. I take that with a strong sense of responsibility.

Other than the advice friends have given me, the books I'd read, a few videos I'd watched, I was still very new at this, and I was feeling a little anxious ... would I know what to do? what if a chick got sick? would I be a good chick mama? I was so excited!

Light was just breaking apart the dark sky into pale slivers when I pulled into the hatchery in Zeeland. I was the only one there buying just a few chicks; all the others were being packed into tall stacks of boxes with air holes, readied for shipment. The building was filled with a sweet peeping, and I fell in love with the tiny chicks the moment I saw them placed into one of the boxes for me. I took six. Six tiny beings, fluffy and yellow, downy soft, peeping and pressing against each other for warmth and comfort.

They peeped in their box on the car passenger seat all the way to their new home at Z Acres, and I smiled all the way home. What a grand adventure this would be. Along with my own vegetables, I would now have my own fresh eggs on the farm, and if all goes well, who knows, maybe next year I will increase my number of hens and bring on meat chickens to raise, too.

My poultry farming friends had allowed me to spend a day on their farm recently and help in the processing of meat chickens. I learned about the last moments of a farm chicken's life, how humanely it could be done, and how the skin was softened in hot water for easy plucking of feathers. Shirley taught me about dressing a chicken, every step, until the chicken was ready to go into a bag and into the freezer. I learned to identify and remove windpipe, lungs, heart, intestines, liver, kidneys, gizzard. (I also learned that I love chicken and turkey livers, so delicious!)

I even got to participate in the preparation of the two turkeys I would take home for the holidays. The entire process was much cleaner and easier than I had expected, although I had to admire Shirley's practiced hand at the eviscerating while I bumbled away at cleaning the birds, making ragged cuts, tearing the delicate skin. Like anything, practice makes perfect, but I was sure I could learn to do this, some day, as smoothly as she. And, when Shirley and Dave visited Z Acres, they agreed that I had the facilities for it.

For now, these six little girls, peeping and chirping. These would be layers, never eaten. I brought them into my kitchen, where old chow pup, Guinnez, and old cat woman, Jig, and little spark plug, Grasshopper Azi, gathered around me to see what I had brought home. No, not lunch, guys and girls. I made introductions to Guinnez and Jiggy, but Azi was scooted outside for now. That little tuxedo girl is all too young to control herself, and she was a huntress extraordinaire, bringing home sometimes three or four mice a day to drop on my doorstep in great cat-pride. I wasn't about to trust her around these tiny birds.

Guinnez and Jig, however, my two senior citizens, gave the chicks a curious sniff. Guinnez tried to pat one chick on the head with his big paw, but as gentle as he tried to be, that was a big paw ... and I laughed, pulling the chick away to a safe distance. The chick was actually attracted to their furry warmth and seemed interested in a snuggle. But once I had examined each of the six chicks, said my hellos, I prepared their place in the greenhouse. A very large old cooler would do just fine. I had hung the heat lamp over it, placed the waterer at one end and the filled chick feeder at the other. Hay was spread throughout the cooler for their comfort. In they go. With a peep and a chirp, they huddled and then toddled about exploring. I dipped each chick's beak into the water to teach them to drink, just as I had been taught, and smiled at the sight of each one catching on. They tipped their heads back to let the water run down their throats and then drank a bit more. They pecked away at the chick feed.

Great! I can do this! At first, I was checking on those chicks every few minutes. Still alive? Still alive. Until I relaxed. We would do just fine.

By day two, day three, I was amazed to see how quickly the chicks were growing. They were visibly taller, legs longer, more sure on their chicken feet. I brought in handfuls of grass, dandelion greens and seeds, a few flowers and even nabbed a bug, and they all gathered around the goodies and went for it. Nice. You six chicks, you are going to be fine hens someday. And I'm going to be a great chicken farmer ... with fresh eggs for breakfast every fine morning.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Announcing: The Smoking Poet Summer/Fall 2013 Issue

The Smoking Poet Mascot

Paging through this issue of The Smoking Poet, I felt a simmering revolution in these words. The world is ripe for change, and each one of us is capable of sparking change, of taking the spark down the road to the next waiting light. What fires burn in you?

Our feature artist is W.D. Chandler Smith, whose photojournalism you will see on these pages. That’s his fire. During his recent Kalamazoo College study abroad experience, the recent graduate documented the revolution he saw unfolding in front of him in Egypt.
In A Good Cause, read about Lisa Rose Starner’s new book, Grand Rapids Food: A Culinary Revolution, about what she found in the local food movement and just how much a small garden can change an entire city. She’s a rebel with a shovel.
We have three author interviews for you. Mariela Griffor, founder and publisher of one of this country’s best poetry presses, Marick Press, is this time the one getting published. She talks about her third poetry collection, The Psychiatrist, and how taking part in a Chilean revolution that sent her into exile shaped her life, shaped her poetry, but won’t shape her future.
Other author interviews include Linda Merlino about her new book, Room of Tears, with an unusual twist on the aftermath of September 11, 2001. We talk, too, to David Poyer, whose battle in The Whiteness of the Whale is one of survival under the attack of a whale, but also in defense of the whales.
Read through our selection of established writers and newcomers in poetryfiction and nonfiction, plus a novel excerpt. Tim Bazzett and I both have our say in book reviews. Check out our offer on having an author interview with YOU in the next issue of The Smoking Poet. And, as the year draws gradually toward a close, please consider a gift to keep this literary showcase going (see PayPal link at right of TSP's home page). We’ve had to cut down from four issues per year to three, and we may have to cut to two … help us stay online. Publishing words that turn the page to flame is our own revolution. Please help us keep that fire burning.

With a good word,
TSP Editor-in-Chief

Monday, October 21, 2013

Poet, former Chilean activist releases new book

From WMUK 102.1 FM, Kalamazoo, Michigan's NPR affiliate, Arts and More program:

Mariela Griffor

Poet Mariela Griffor grew up in Chile where she became a political activist against the military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 80s. Now Griffor lives with her family near Detroit where she serves as the Michigan Consul to Chile.
WMUK’s Zinta Aistars spoke with her about her new book of poems called The Psychiatrist which comes out Wednesday. Griffor says she was involved in politics from a very young age and it really shaped her life.
“Those 17 years of military dictatorship really shaped the consciousness of Chile and it was very tough, it was very difficult," she says. "A lot of people decided not to do as much. But then I would say a lot of people with a political consciousness decided to be more active and I was one of them. I became very active politically.”
Griffor says everything activists did caused a lot of repercussions later in life. During the turmoil in Chile, Griffor’s fiancée was assassinated. Griffor, expecting their child, was exiled to Sweden. Many of the poems in The Psychiatrist deal with her experiences in a Swedish refugee camp and reflections on her past in Chile.
Unlike some bilingual poets, Griffor says ...

The interview airs on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, at 7:50 a.m.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Author interview with Mariela Griffor, from The Smoking Poet

As editor-in-chief for the online literary magazine, The Smoking Poet, I enjoy the author interviews we feature in each issue. In the upcoming Summer/Fall 2013 Issue of TSP, one of the authors we interview is the incredible Mariela Griffor, founder and publisher of Marick Press, but also a powerful poet. 

Mariela Griffor is an editor, translator, and poet. She was born in the city of Concepción in southern Chile. She is the author of Exiliana (Luna Publications, 2007) and House (Mayapple Press, 2007) and founder of Marick Press. Mariela holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New England College. Her forthcoming publications include the translations Canto General by Pablo Neruda (Tupelo Press) from Spanish and Bye, have a good time! by Kristina Lugn from Swedish. Here, we are also talking to Mariela about her new poetry collection, The Psychiatrist (Eyewear Publishing, London UK), published in October 2013.

Zinta for The Smoking Poet: Welcome to our pages, Mariela. We have been fans at TSP for a long time of your poetry, so it’s a thrill to talk to you about your new poetry collection, The Psychiatrist. That’s an unusual title for a poetry collection. Can you tell us more about it?

Mariela Griffor: The title of the book carries the title of one of the poems of the collection. This book is a New & Selected, thirteen poems from my first book, Exiliana, two poems from the second one House and twenty one new poems published individually in literary journals and magazines.
TSP: Can you tell us also about your previous two collections, Exiliana (our earlier review of that collection is reprinted on our Zinta Reviews page in this issue) and House? Is The Psychiatrist something of a continuation of your poetic journey or more of, well, lying down on the therapy couch and going deeper? And we writers all know that writing is therapy …
Mariela: I understand. Poetry is not therapy for me but I do understand that it can work that way for many people which is perfectly fine. For me it is something deeper, more like part of my daily life. I can see the poems everywhere – like alternative ways of experiencing that daily life – I would say it is more similar to a way of seeing the world than anything else.
When I was younger my world experience was completely determined by politics, my country was a polarized, and my family was divided because of politics, my teachers were people who were pro or in opposition to the government. I wrote very few poems then and got one or two published by my university poetry cIub. I would say that at that time I was a political poet or starting to be.
I think poetry slowly took over the space that politics had in my life before, and poetry slowly became a bigger deal, like wanting to be a public voice more than a political voice. In that transformation I visited hell a couple of times like losing very close friends under the Pinochet regime. I was forced into exile, I didn’t speak with my father—more like he didn’t speak to me — for eleven years, my mother refused to visit me in Sweden or in the States so I needed to cut ties I was not ready to cut at all. I needed to learn to speak English fluently which I knew from high school but it was bad, rusty and inefficient. I started to lose more friends who continued the fight against the military in Chile, and I lost my grandparents who were my source of unconditional love in Chile. I never was able to attend the funerals of any of them.
I wrote poems but I also wrote longer drafts of other writings. I was obsessed with learning English, and that became easier with time. Finally I got hooked on the taste for words, similar to the passion I have for them in Spanish. There were more and more exciting and provocative things I could say better in English than in Spanish and, when I discovered that fact, I fell in love with the language - it was a very exciting time for me.
I finished Exiliana, and I went out to seek a publisher, believing it would be easier than to publish a novel since I had already gotten some interest for my novel in 2005, but it never passed the editorial board of Penguin at that time. The acquisitions editor got my novel and wanted to buy it but it didn’t get past the board; so I tried to write poetry which I thought would be easier to publish. I was so wrong in that, too, because when the publisher got one of my first manuscripts they didn’t like my love poems so I needed to cut them from the book. It was in that way that my second book was born; otherwise there would only be one!
In the last few years I’ve written new poems and they are included in this new and selected. It is very much a continuation of the same kind of themes, but I’m pretty sure it is the last book of this series or of this kind of writing. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to write next, but I do feel this book is a pretty much the last one of this kind.
TSP: This collection brings together new poems with poems selected from the past, spanning 1986 to 2011. Talk to us about the choices you had to make to create this collection.

Mariela: The poems I chose for this last book are ones where I’m witnessing the events of the world. I had been using a big “I” in the creation of these poems. I had been in the middle of the political storm with my emotions, shouting, I wanted to make public this incredible, repugnant disgust for military forces controlling the lives of citizens everywhere. This political machinery that never ends. I found that poetry was a way for me to keep centered without losing focus. This book is moving across the shifting social grounds we are experiencing right now: dislocation, refugees lives, political idealism, motherhood, affiliation and hope despite all the plagues that inundate us. Those are the kind of themes in many of these poems.

TSP: You are not only a poet. You are also an editor, a translator, founder and publisher of Marick Press. That surely means you bring a unique perspective to your work, seeing it from different angles. Does that make it easier or harder? When you are putting together your collection, do you look at it also with your publisher’s eye for potential, for instance? Does the inner editor get in the way?
Mariela: No, not at all. The publisher of this book is unique, very different from other publishers I know. They are very solid and they know what they want and they have a marketing team that welcomes all your ideas but does all the marketing and publicity work for you. It is very exciting, it is a different experience; they are located in England. They are professional in all senses. I don’t have to worry about how to market the book because they already had a plan from the beginning. The editor was a blessing, all the suggestions were well received and unlike other occasions I didn’t feel like I was overwhelmed with the interaction with the editor or the changes or the demands.
TSP: Do you translate your own work or just that of others?
Mariela: Although I am multilingual, I’ve found that translating my own work from one language to another is very nearly impossible. Each language contains its own layers of meaning, subtle cultural nuances that simply can’t be accurately — but only approximately — translated. Not to mention the different rhythms and the sheer musicality in different languages that is so very much a part of poetry.

TSP: Do you write in the same style in different languages—or do you find something different depending on what language you are writing in?

Mariela: No, not anymore. I did in the beginning when I had just arrived in Michigan, I was writing more in Spanish at that time and nobody wanted to publish anything in Spanish, at least not in my circles in Detroit so I needed to translate my own poems. Then I started writing directly in English to save myself some time but once in a while poems still come to me in Spanish. Suddenly other people were interested in my English and my Spanish poems as well. All the languages I speak and write are different from each other.
TSP: You’ve said that your new collection is about “the shifting ground of modern society across cultures and nations.” Explain that.
Mariela: We all know that there are forces that are fighting each other, I’m not talking about metaphysical forces but economic forces that cross cultures and nations. They are shifting and changing. People are not willing to tolerate repression, hunger, exploitation in the same way as decades ago. The financially dominant class is shifting into an undefined new class coming from those who have acquired education in different countries. In between these pockets of dominance there are small spaces or instances of political vacuum where subversion occurs and I try to explain the origin of that. My poem “Thanks for Your Call” is about that.
TSP: And political idealism … that’s something that has entered into your life and sent you sometimes spinning out into the world on entirely new and unexpected paths. Your fiancé was a political activist in Chile, assassinated by Augusto Pinochet’s secret police in 1985. You were forced to flee your homeland. Please share with us, if you would, something of your life story, as it surely has infused your writing, too.
Mariela: Politics is something that needs to be handled with gloves. If you are going into it you should be prepared to go all the way. I don’t recommend being political if you are not willing to be informed and seek correct information, if you want to live a life without worries and any kind of sincere attachment do not go into politics as a career; I mean to say that politics becomes a force in the life of an individual who get involved. I don’t go deep into politics without being very well informed. I don’t think I will ever again join a political party or any political organization. I already paid a price and it was too high, almost unbearable to me but I do study politics from another point of view, a more philosophical point of view trying to find the truth of it, not as an idealist like when I was younger. I like being part of organization that is dedicated to the improvement of society but one that is inclusive of different political views.  If I ever have to enlist myself in a political alliance I am quite sure it would never be on the conservative side.
TSP: You are also a Consul of Chile …
Mariela: That’s true and an interesting thing I haven’t had the opportunity to explain before. I was giving a talk at Wayne State University about how to manage one’s time between being a writer and a publisher. The telephone rang and it was the Chilean ambassador who called me to ask me if I was interested in the position. I asked him what that would require of me and he told me briefly the demands of the job and also told me that I would need to go to Chile to get accreditation from the President. I told him that, in that case, I didn’t think it would work out because I didn’t have plans to return to my country, after having left it for a second time in 1998. I hadn’t been back and I didn’t have plans to do so. But I added that one never knows.
They called me anyway after a couple of months, and they decided to make me Consul here in Michigan. I was delighted. He said they wanted this to be the beginning of a new relationship with my own country. I took that as a huge compliment, and I decided that I could do a lot of good for Chileans outside of Chile and also to myself. It is very hard sometimes, because what happened many years ago is still very painful. But I don’t dwell on the past without trying to find a path into the future, and I truly believe we Chileans will be able to heal and advance together when those responsible for crimes and torture are made accountable. I don’t believe that people are willing to simply forget those who killed and tortured indiscriminately without punishment.

TSP: You’ve said before that you didn’t plan on becoming a writer and poet. And yet, so fully, you are! Not only a writer yourself, but a passionate supporter of the arts. What changed along your journey to make you into a writer and supporter of writers? And, you are also co-founder of the Detroit Institute for Creative Writers. Tell us about that.

Mariela: I was alone in a refugee camp, without any communication with my family for days, no friends, almost no clothing because I left my country so abruptly, in fragile health because I was two months pregnant. I didn’t come up with anything better to do than to write letters to my family. I knew someday the letters would be sent to them. In a refugee camp you don’t just drive off in the middle of the day to the post office! I’ve written every day since then.
I was a Spanish literature major and then a journalism major at university and writing was part of my life but it was different, it was very brainy, very detached. In the refugee camp something happened and I don’t know exactly what but writing became compulsive; it became a daily habit. I didn’t plan to be a writer or a poet.
I still am not planning my career; as you know I do many other things, and I work in different areas and I also publish other writers’ work. It is clear that if I had the possibility and could arrange things in a different way, I would think about writing every day because it is truly one of the things that brings me more joy. But we all have bills to pay and multiple obligations. The Detroit Institute was a wonderful initiative but it was short, just a couple of years because Wayne State closed the college CULMA that housed the Institute.
TSP: People tend to think of Detroit, Michigan, as a place of industry, of automobiles. You’ve argued otherwise …
Mariela: This city will be one of the more important cities in the Midwest again. It has all the ingredients. It has tensions wherever you look, political tension, economic, racial, you name it; but immigrants are still pouring into Detroit.
Every Michigan governor, over the years, has made a point of visiting multiple countries in order to bring people and business to Detroit. Governor Granholm and Governor Schneider have both been multiple times in China and other countries to encourage talent and entrepreneurs to relocate here. We are some 62 different countries represented in the Detroit area and we bring millions in investment into the area every year. 500,000 Arab Americans, 80, 000 Asians, almost 200,000 Mexicans, etc., etc.
Together with the people that were born in the state we are making this area into a new vibrant community. Manufacturing is increasing and, yes, it is moving into other parts of the country. But the car companies are outsourcing still today. Detroit is counted among the cities of emergent, new patterns of international trade. The importance of trade will drive the development of a new emerging market…
TSP: Another theme in your poetry is motherhood. What does being a parent mean to you and how has it changed your poetry over the years?

Mariela: Being a parent means everything to me! I wanted to be a good mother before anything else.

TSP: You have a reading coming up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on January 18, 2014, at Kazoo Books that will include a group of established and aspiring poets as well as a holiday book signing there on December 14. It’s hard work, selling poetry books! What is your advice to aspiring poets?
Mariela: Just write, independent of where you are, publish when you can and organize your time taking turns between your writing and publishing periods.
TSP: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and poetry with us, Mariela! We will include a poem here from The Psychiatrist to whet the appetites of our readers.  

Poem without a number: house

In this house,

covered to the ceiling with my insomnia,
spilling the evil
of a complex journey,
I remember:
a barricade. A homemade bomb
made by my hands,
the image of my lover and
in my head a semi-automatic
as redemption.
I beg forgiveness of all of you.
The rain is too thin to stop the fire.
My legs and arms are heavy.
Behind me, Santiago blazes
and bullets whiz at the sight of who we were,
ancestral pain I cannot shake off.
His body disappears from the earth into the air.
A heart spattered in the streets follows me in my defeat.
I think about you and
my house on fire,
the vision of my father fallen to his knees,
praying for a miracle while
the rain disappears
in front of me.

en la Isla Quiriquina
el sumbido de las caracolas
anterior a llegada de los soldados