February 9, 2017
Moe’s bookstore on Telegraph Avenue fills me with nostalgia—the Berkeley store has changed very little since my first visit in 1978. When I walk through its doors I feel as though I’ve entered a portal leading back to the original Berkeley free speech era. An iconic photo from the Battle of People’s Park sits on an easel at the store’s entrance.
I awaited the guest-author talk, and noticed that gentle rain had not deterred the scores of students stepping out on the avenue for dinner and conversation. Still unsettled from a violent student protest the night before, Berkeley was ablaze with the bright lights of police cars.
But on this dark February evening the small crowd that gathered at Moe’s wished to connect, instead, with a bit of aloha.
Poet Ruth Thompson is a San Francisco Bay Area native who lives on the Big Island of Hawai’i. She smiled as I took a seat in the makeshift space arranged between tall stacks of books, where she was to read from her latest works. Her welcoming spirit shone as she approached to say hello, giving me the chance to ask a few questions about her poetry collaborations with creative dancers in Hilo.
At first glance, Thompson, sun-speckled and middle-aged, does not stand out. She is humble in appearance and gesture. Her story is one of personal struggle, rediscovering poetry late in life after freeing herself from a stifling, if not dangerous relationship that almost destroyed her. Thompson has lived the fundamental belief that in order to gain everything you must first lose everything.
“Losing everything and then returning to life brought me a great gift;
an extraordinary experience of joy in the physical world.
The sensual is what brought me home.”
Letting It Go
I’m walking on my birthday
and this time
I’m letting it go.
Toe the line!
I’ve stopped stopping
at all the roads not taken
(you know the ones I mean) …
Thompson’s quest for personal renewal brought her to the hill country of western New York in 2005, a beautiful landscape that led to the writing of Here Along Cazenovia Creek (2011). The book inspired choreography from the acclaimed Japanese dancer Shizuno Nasu, and the following year Thompson and Nasu collaborated on stage. Thompson describes those performances as “exciting,” because Nasu does not rehearse, and remains unpredictable as her creative dance unfolds.
Movement and dance have become the key to the release of creative flow in Thompson’s writing and teaching. In particular, her class Body Speaking stems from her keen awareness of the body as “the keeper of our stories.”
More on Ruth’s poetry and classes: RuthThompson.net
Ruth Thompson currently lives in Hilo with writer, anthropologist, and videographer Don Mitchell.
Lunar Eclipse, June 2012
Floats across my inner light
dredged up, exposed, released,
again dredged up, from farther
inland until the rock itself
cracks, the mineral self
exposed: the way a river
I used to know
had to be dredged
each year, again and again—
gravel, ancient footprints
sludge, scat, fool’s gold.
Downstream are wide
bays of light,
broad reaches shining.
Now let all the unforgiven selves
one by one appear
in their striped prison clothes—
bring them to the river
and wash them, wash them clean.
–Ruth Thompson, from Woman With Crows (2013)