This article appeared in The Town Courier.
As the word “picturesque” conjures images of a landscape with vivid colors, the poetry of Gaithersburg resident Michele Wolf brings vibrant visions to the mind’s eye. The visuals evoked with her artfully layered words set the scene for an engaging narrative that leads the reader to the poem’s denouement. For Wolf, the images she crafts are “critical to drawing people in. There is both a visual and sort of a musical, audio aspect to the rhythm of the lines, the individual words, so you have something very vibrant and punchy.”
An editor, writer, teacher and author of two poetry books, “Immersion” and “Conversations During Sleep,” Wolf said her goal is to make the words “truly alive, vibrant and compelling. In word choice, especially in a writing form as compressed as poetry, every syllable has to count.”
“Aside from any meaning conveyed,” she added, “there should be a sort of momentum conveyed in both the visual and other sensory aspects of the words.”
The book title, “Immersion,” she said, works on multiple levels. It originated from her poem of the same name that was inspired by the adoption of her daughter from China. “It works as a metaphor for what we feel passionate about, what we care about. We immerse ourselves in those we care about and passions and values that are important to us,” she explained.
An excerpt from “Immersion,” originally published in Crab Orchard Review:
“After we had brought you home, when the Asian American clerk,
In her sixties, spotted you soaking up your new world
From your stroller, puckered up her face, then gazed again at me
And, with accented English, clenching my heart in her hands,
Inquired, “She’s yours?” I managed to answer, “Yes. And I’m hers.”
Why couldn’t she see I had become Chinese?”
As Wolf writes, she is trying “not to just get something across in a kind of narrative and insightful sense, but also in terms of something that’s so satisfying on a sensory level that even if it were a language that wasn’t English, it would just have this very satisfying syntax that takes you to the end.” The end sometimes comes to her first, “before I even know where I’m going to begin. How I prepare the structure of the poem comes to me in a different sequence each time.”
Writing, Wolf said, is a “process of discovery for me. … It’s not all planned out, but there has to be a payoff, a sense of connection or insight into a situation that could juxtapose things in such a way when writing a poem that takes understanding to a new level. So, it’s that being taken, that’s what I enjoy in reading other books, being taken somewhere I haven’t been before and letting me see things in a new way.”
On Sunday, March 11, Wolf will be one of three readers at the DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic event held on the second Sunday of each month at the Gaithersburg Library from 2 to 4 p.m. DiVerse’s founder and organizer Lucinda Marshall said her goal is “to make poetry an ongoing integral part of the literary scene in Gaithersburg.”
Wolf will read from her previously published books and two or more selections, including “Privilege,” from her third manuscript-in-progress with the working title, “To Orbit the Earth.”
The new collection highlights the collection’s stories. “It examines what moves us and what sustains us, with an emphasis on how we face adversities that defy expectation. It touches on issues ranging from death at an early age to violence and social injustice, adoption after infertility, to a parent’s losing her mind,” Wolf said. “It is a lyrical journey of sharp-eyed gratitude and resilience.”
The community aspect and opportunity to share her writing and “connect with a listener or a reader is a thrill,” said Wolf. “It’s like I’ve tried to present something and people are getting it, they appreciate it and it’s a two-way street. You lock eyes with folks when you’re reading and you can tell when the audience is right there with you. The kind of energy an audience can provide to a reading, I mean, it’s almost palpable.”
With poetry’s “big tent” encompassing a wide variety of types being written, Wolf said it is important for would-be poets to gain exposure by reading widely and eclectically and to “listen to the voice that’s presenting itself to you. Don’t try to conform to anything that you may see as a trend or what you think people want to hear. Do the self-expression that means something to you, that you relate to.”
In “Arranging the Books,” Wolf references poet W.S. Merwin whose words in a workshop she attended resonated with her: “We don’t write poems, we listen for them.” Wolf said, “That was eye-opening to me because we predominately use our conscious mind when we write, kind of will things into being, but there are other times when things just bubble up. I don’t mean to sound kind of mystical about it, but things do kind of arrive to me at times and I’m just grateful and grab that one when it happens.
“I think that to put you in an environment, whether it’s a physical environment or a mental state, it’s just something that words can do, and I think that if I can take you away somewhere, that’s one of my best achievements,” she said.
DiVerse Gaithersburg’s Poetry Reading and Open Mic will be held on Sunday, March 11, 2 to 4 p.m., upstairs at the Gaithersburg Library, 18330 Montgomery Village Ave. Featured readers are Jennifer Wallace, Michele Wolf and Maritza Rivera; an open mic will follow. For information, visit www.diversepoetry.com.