Okay, kids, pour a cup of tea and get comfy in your chair, because this is going to be a very interesting read. When I first started lurking in the backgrounds of all of your sites, I was first drawn to Pondering Through Life by the poet named: River Urke. Her site is filled with beautiful images of Mother Earth, and many inspiring quotes, most of them among my favorites. So I knew a kindred soul dwelled therein. I found a beautiful and strong voice in her poetry, and knew I wanted to find out more about this interesting young woman. Read on, you’ll see what I mean!
PU: River, I have to ask, have you always been called River? It is such a beautiful name.
River: Yes, it is my given name and comes from a book from Herman Hesse called Siddhartha.
PU: Ha! I love the river quote by Hesse. Is there a story behind the name of your blog?
River: My poetry blog Pondering through Life is a branch off my column Rivers Ruminations. I wanted a place to express my poetic side. The name comes from the fact I am usually always pondering about something through my daily life.
Both of my blogs represent a characteristic of me - a thinker. I joke; I have eaten up knowledge in my life like a starving person attending a life-long feast. I need to be challenged mentally by others and primarily by myself. That is how my column Rivers Ruminations was born two years ago. I have written the column monthly since then, choosing topics that interest me and that I think others might not come across in their daily lives. A goal I have always tried to achieve is to help guide a few people to think outside the box. Every month is a different topic, except for last summer when I covered Pow Wows. They range from a look at stress on the body to The Global Language, Revitalization of Indigenous People, to the origin of Halloween and all in between. There is a link along the side of both blogs for people to click to go to the other one. Beginning in January the column is switching from monthly to quarterly.
PU: Interesting topics for sure. I love what you say about feeling like “a starving person attending a life-long feast”. So, tell us a little more about yourself, if you will. What is your life like? Where does your heart live? Are you living where you belong?
River: The most important part of my life is my eleven-year-old daughter, Willow. My family and friends, along with my Ojibwe heritage are right up there of importance too. Willow and I live in Stillwater, MN with our dog Odie and our cat Brownie. We live in the city but I dream of the woods. I grew up in Northern MN on Lake Superior, camping in the Boundary Waters (a remote wilderness- you get places by portaging and canoeing) every summer. I had lots of other exposure to nature too. I have studied edible plants and can make wigwams for shelter. I feel safer in the woods than I do in a city. I do feel I am living where I am supposed to be right now. I just have to go to the deep woods often, to ground myself.
I am an adventurous soul with a homebody child. I used to go on road trips and places by plane to satisfy my longing for adventure. Now it’s rare for an adventure to take me too far away. We do go to Pow Wows throughout the summer and both of us dance. I dance Womens’ Traditional and Willow dances Fancy Shawl.
I am a single mother who became disabled at an early age (34) from the progression of Multiple Sclerosis. That was three years ago. Right now, I have to walk with a cane, but I’m working on getting rid of it. I have been temporarily paralyzed three times from MS, and I taught myself to walk each time again. I was paralyzed twice before they even knew what was going on with me. Therefore, I know I can do it.
PU: I know you can too. I so admire your spirit, River. You keep moving forward, through all the challenges. What an example for Willow! I much admire the piece you wrote called The Eyes of Strangers, about peoples’ reactions to your disability. Your writing will hopefully raise awareness and increase peoples’ sensitivity to each person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Finally, yet a very important part of me, is I am a kid at heart that loves to joke and laugh. I believe it is important to keep the child within alive. My attitude in life has been my savior through hard times. In so many ways I am grateful, I have had many blessings, too.
PU: That’s what I so admire, River – your spirit, your joy in life, your laughter. Now, I suppose we’d better talk about your writing, too! What about poetry makes you want to write? Do you remember writing your first poem?
River: My first memory of writing a poem is when I was around 14. Then, I stopped from the age of 20 until I was 34. I view becoming disabled as a door opening for me. I walked through and was handed ideas to put on paper and the time to turn words slowly into poetry, column pieces, and books. The years in between, I was creating with my hands and eyes.
PU: That’s a cool way of putting it. What style of poems do you write the most? Are there any forms
you find difficult? (I doubt it; I see you are brave enough to try forms that scare the heck out of me!)
River: I have not taken a poetry class since the early 90’s when I was a literature/writing major in my first college. I write free verse primarily. I do have fun challenging myself with forms I come across. I write poetry that encompasses the emotions of life, to spiritual touches of my Ojibwe heritage, to my perception of the world around me.
PU: What do you think about the internet and poetry? Better exposure for poets? When did you first
start sharing your work online? Are you happy with the results?
River: I think the internet has created great opportunities for poets to connect with other poets. The communities on here rock. I do think there are advantages and disadvantages, given the number of poets. It seems there is quite a bit of praising, no matter if it is a horrible or great poem. We all learn from constructive critique done fairly. I believe it is important to learn something new every day. I began showing my work online last May on Adventures in Poesy with a girlfriend. Then I started Pondering through Life last September. I am very happy and grateful for the knowledge I have learned from other poets along the way. My column Rivers Ruminations has been on a small online MS magazine for the last two years. Then last summer I started another called Stumbled and Standing- stories from a single mother juggling MS and motherhood.:)
PU: Awesome, River. Your voice is being heard! When do you write the most? When you are happy, sad, lonely, day or night?
River: All of the above. I mostly write poetry when the idea comes to mind. I seem to write in the morning or in the middle of the night.
PU: Do you need certain conditions in which to write, such as a quiet place? Where do you like to write the most?
River: I like it to be quiet when I write; otherwise, I cannot hear myself think or concentrate. My bedroom is my office too. That’s where I am sitting a lot of the time.
PU: What poem, written by you, do you like the most and why?
River: For a very long time it was Gitchigami for the importance of the big lake, my culture, and the environment. Now, it is a tie between A Canvas of Music and A White Tail Feather. A Canvas of Music for my passion and love for dancing, A White Tail Feather because it was written after a spiritual experience or ceremonies last August that have forever changed me.
~ Gichigami ~
Oh powerful Nookomis!
You take my breath away
every morning when my eyes set upon you.
One day you will be gentle and soothing,
the next day you are raging with passion.
At times people fear you
At most they are in awe
You are Nookomis to all!
Then why is respect lacking for you?
Why every day are you poisoned?
Why do people fight over what is left of you?
Oh powerful Nookomis!
Are you laughing or crying at us humans?
River Maria Urke 5/06
PU: Ha! My favourites too. Do you write with hopes of being published? Do you dream of books with your name on them?
PU: I’m with your mom! I love this one! And I hope the publisher accepts your poetry book. Keep us posted!
River: Otherwise, my baby is a non-fiction humorous sociological take on women and shoes that I am seeking an agent for. Non-fiction can be hard to publish. Right now, I am writing my first children’s chapter book and there are more books up my sleeve for down the road. I would like to continue blogging with the rest of my poetry.
PU: Do you have a secret – or not-so-secret – dream you hope comes true?
River: I want to be a Professor in American Indian Studies. I have a BA in AIS and another BA in Anthropology. In the next couple of years, I should be able to go to Graduate School for Sociology and Women Studies. Then I want to go back to American Indian Studies for my PhD. There is another passion in all that schooling, connected to research and studies, too.
PU: Wow, that is a wonderful goal! Such interesting fields of study, too. What is the wildest, craziest thing you ever did? Have you lived a great adventure you’d like to share with us?
River: The wildest adventure I have had is living in the National Forests across from the Teton Mountains in WY with coyotes and Buffalo for a summer.
PU: Oh my goodness! No fair, there isn’t enough space left to hear that story. Promise me you’ll write it on your site! What are you passionate about? Do you have some causes dear to your heart?
River: I am passionate about the environment, the treatment of animals, and equality/respect of people and their beliefs. There is a very important traditional way of looking at our daily decisions and activities/behavior and that is: What you are about to do you have to take into consideration how it will affect seven generations down the road. Think about if everyone or a lot of people thought that way we would not be in the Environmental crisis we are in today along with many other problems we are facing and future generations will face. It is important to me that my daughter chooses a spiritual direction, be it my way with the Midewiwin Lodge and ceremonies, or where ever her heart takes her.
PU: I have heard that teaching, and I only wish the leaders of the world, and the multinationals, operated that way. North American “culture” is really no culture, other than materialism, it leaves people empty. You are fortunate to have such a rich heritage.
River: Thank you
PU: Music inspires a lot of folks. Do you listen to music when you write? What is your favorite type of music?
River: Music is very important to me but not while I write. My genre likes vary from classic rock to Hip Hop. I have been in love with Leonard Cohen since I was 14. I do sing and hand drum, though it is for me. I get together once in a while with a women’s hand drum group called Oshkii Giizhik.
PU: Oooh, a drumming group! So much fun!
River in a Women’s Hand Drum Gathering – she is in the center, on the right
PU: What poets in the blogosphere do you like to visit most?
slpmartin @ Read Between the Minds,
and Lady Nyo @ Lady Nyo's Weblog
PU: When you are not writing, what other creative things do you do?
River: I am one of those types of people who has to be creating in some form or life is not right. Today, I mostly write and do photography. Crafts are just part of my world. I sometimes paint still. My left hand is a bit numb so I had to give up beading. I have dabbled in ceramics and drawing. I make almost everything Willow and I wear dancing in Pow Wows: an Eagle Feather fan, dresses, skirts, leather bags, to name a few of the pieces of our whole Regalias.
PU: Do you have a favorite quote?
River: The Chief Seattle quote on my blog.
"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect." ~ Chief Seattle, 1854
PU: One of my faves, too. River, thank you for being so forthcoming about your life and your work. You are such an interesting poet! Kids, you can tell from this interview that a fascinating world awaits your visits to River’s blogs.
Once again we see that there is much more to a poet than their poetry. The folks who live behind the pen are some of the most interesting people around. We look forward to giving our readers an intimate and personal look at some of the poets found here at Poets United, so be sure to return to see who we chat with next. Who knows, it might be you!
(This awesome and jam packed interview with River Urke was conducted by Sherry Blue Sky. If you would like to learn more about Sherry or read some her poetry you can do so by visiting her blog "Stardreaming With Sherry Blue Sky" you can also read other articles and posts by Sherry found here at Poets United by just simply searching Sherry Blue Sky. Sherry is a regular contributor to Poets United and we would like to thank her for all of her hard work and look forward to future posts)