About Tamra

Born in South Dakota and raised in Iowa, Tamra J. Higgins went on to attend the University of Kansas, the University of Bordeaux III in Talence, France, and earned a B.A. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Modern Languages and Linguistics. After marrying, moving to Vermont, and while raising two daughters, she continued her education at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont where she earned an M.Ed. In 1993, she started her own business, a private after-school program which was among the first in the state, and which she then turned into a non-profit agency that is still in operation today. Tamra taught in the public schools of Lamoille County for 19 years, first at the elementary level and then twelve years at the middle school level as English teacher and Literacy Specialist. In July, 2012, Tamra completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Stonecoast, University of Southern Maine. She has since founded Sundog Poetry Center, LLC and has been elected President of the Poetry Society of Vermont. Tamra's work has appeared in Vermont Magazine, Avocet, The Aurorean, The Mountain Troubadour, Haiku Society of America Member Anthology, Prairie Schooner, Passager, and is forth coming in bottle rockets.

British Columbia

I am about to wrap up a hiking trip in British Columbia where I’ve had the opportunity to reach several mountain lakes including Cheakamus Lake:

Cheakamus Lake, British Columbia, June 2016

Cheakamus Lake, British Columbia, June 2016

 

Lake Garibaldi:

Lake Garibaldi, British Columbia, June 2016

Lake Garibaldi, British Columbia, June 2016

and Screaming Cat Lake:

Screaming Cat Lake, June 21, 2016

Screaming Cat Lake, June 21, 2016

The hikes to these places have been multi-hour treks, taking me into the woods and wilds where snow is still found on the summer solstice. While I haven’t encountered any bear (yet), their presence is seen along the trail in droppings so large that I would as readily believe they were those of Sasquatch. Bears just don’t grow to this size out east.

I have not had the time to reflect too deeply on all this beauty and go deep into the space from where poems are created, mainly because after each hike – and a couple of cold Grizzly beers (that’s beers, not bears), and a hearty dinner –  I’ve fallen into bed.

But I did discover a British Columbian poet, Shane Koyczan, who has written and spoken his poem about this place, and that you can listen to and watch here:

Other poetry discoveries I’ve made during my visit are two anthologies:

The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2016, which I’ve almost finished in one sitting, and

ForceField, an anthology of 77 women poets of British Columbia, that unfortunately the local Whistler bookstore didn’t carry and I had to order on-line. But, perhaps that’s for the best. I look forward to returning to BC when I open it up to read, 3,000 miles away.

 

Strength

I hope you don’t think this is another sheep poem. Of course, it is. Of course, it isn’t.

POEM:
Strength

And here are my arms,
testaments to chores of childhood
in Midwest sun
and chosen duties of today.
They are brown
against my white thigh at night.
In the morning, I face the mirror
and raise them
to bracket my face and flex.
Lifting bales of hay
have bolstered my shoulders.
My upper arms are loaves of hardened bread.
A healing bruise from a sheep’s head
crowding in too close tattoos a bicep’s flesh.
Nicks from working fence-wire
decorate my forearm skin.
I release my pose, study my hands.
They’ve have gone to hell. A great callus
from the rake that mucks the barn
resides between forefinger and thumb.
My fingertips reek of musky lanolin.
With palms up, weight-lifter’s veins
run from wrist to elbow to armpit
near my breast. I don’t care
I’m woman. I like it like this.

Strength

Strength

ELEMENT:
Influences.

No matter who you are or what you do, you have people who have influenced you. You might not have been directly mentored by or taught by or have even talked to these people, but you base your work on their ideas in one way or another. It may be through a shared interest in a particular content, or if you’re a writer, through a propensity for a particular style or through diction selection.

Often as a writer, you are asked who your influences are. It’s a good thing to know. These people can provide guidance through studying and reflecting on their work. They are who we return to when we’re stymied about what to write or even why we’re writing at all. One of my major influences is Maxine Kumin. Maxine gives me permission to write about sheep. Why? Because she wrote about horses. And hogs. In fact, she wrote about the meat packing plant in a town, Storm Lake, Iowa, where I lived from age 10 to 18. The poem is called “The Whole Hog.” If you like pork and buy it from the grocery store where the source of it is unknown, I suggest you don’t read it.

Maxine Kumin accomplishes what the interviewer, Peter Orr, states in his interview with Sylvia Plath (see below). Orr shares that “behind the primitive, emotional reaction there must be an intellectual discipline” in creating poetry. Kumin accomplishes this. It is what I strive for, too.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):

An Interview with Sylvia Plath about her writing influences.
An Interview with Maxine Kumin about her writing influences.

Chant

Chant

Element:
Chants

In her book, Saved by a poem, Kim Rosen writes, “Human beings are creatures of rhythm. The fluids within our bodies pulse, our hearts throb, our breath comes in rhythmic patterns that change with our emotions.” Rosen also explains that “the rhythm, drumbeat, and breath” can “dissolve the walls between the conscious and the unconscious. To me, spring is the time of year when rhythms are at their peak. The peepers are the first to pulsate the air, and they are soon followed by the various species of returning birds, the animals appearing from their winter dens, the leaves budding and suddenly opening, the rivers flowing, and on and on. Just when I think it will never be green again here in northern Vermont, everything is green.

Rosen explains: “…rhythm in a poem is like the drumbeat under a piece of music. Just as different drumbeats cause the boundaries of the daily mind to melt, a poem has its own rhythm that changes the consciousness of the reader, listener, and speaker.” I consider chants as poems with the rhythm amped up. But it can’t be any rhythm. You might consider a limerick to have an amped up rhythm, but the particular beat of the limerick, where the stresses lie and the cadence of the beat, lends itself to humor, not seriousness (though like chanting, laughing has beneficial effects).

In the chant above, there is a very carefully laid out rhythm. Let’s go from macro to micro. There are seven stanzas in the poem, and in each stanza there are seven lines. In each line there are seven syllables, but we need to look even closer. Each line starts with an accented syllable and is followed by an unaccented syllable (this is called a trochee as opposed to an iamb, which is a set of two syllables in which the first syllable is accented, such as the word, “enough” or the phrase, “I won’t“). The trochee pattern continues throughout each line three times, and each line ends with an additional stressed syllable. Perhaps you feel that this pattern, repeated 49 times in the entire poem, is way too monotonous. Well, it’s supposed to be. It’s a chant, and a chant by definition is “a kind of singing using a small number of musical notes that are repeated many times.”

Chanting has been used for thousands of years to alter consciousness, to pass on information, and to record events. In Hawaii, the “oli” is an elaborate chant that was composed to record historical events and every day occurrences. Another use for chanting can be found in the ancient Chamorro culture of Guam when women would chant litanies at funerals. Of course, there’s the Gregorian chant, too. Many believe that chanting has a healing effect, brought on by the movement of sound waves through the body. According to Harmonic Sounds: The Association of Sound Therapy, “All matter is sound, and emits sound, although these sounds are mostly beyond our limited physical sense of hearing. Our physical bodies, therefore, are also resonant electromagnetic fields, as are our auras, both generated by the atoms of which we consist.”

What this boils down to is sound is important. Pay attention to the sounds around you, and make some beautiful sounds yourself, maybe even through a bit of chanting.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, and Other Resources):

Bodhran – that’s my Irish drum that I took a picture of and displayed my chant on. I’m learning to play, little by little.
Check this out – you won’t believe your eyes – and ears!
Sand Vibrations with Chladni Plate