A big welcome today to Gary Boelhower as part of his blog tour with Embrace the Rainbow Book Promotions for Naming Rites.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
Writing for me is a spiritual practice, it helps me take the time to look at the world, to see its brokenness and its beauty, and to put that seeing into words that story and sing. Writing poetry in particular is a way of getting to the heart of things, to tell the essence of the story or relate the pulse and pull of a feeling. I live in Duluth, Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior which is a palpable presence in my life. I love to sail its waves and walk its shoreline and gaze at its silvery body. And I teach courses in ethics, vocation, religions of the world, and living, dying and grieving at The College of St. Scholastica.
How long have you been writing for, and what inspired you to start writing?
I’ve been writing since 4th grade. In second grade I started memorizing poems and reciting them to my class and then to other classes. My first poem was published in the Wisconsin State Historical Magazine when I was in 7th grade, when I still thought poetry had to rhyme. It was about the paper mill in the little town where I grew up.
Can you tell us about your new release? What inspired you to write it?
“Naming Rites” is about persons and things and experiences that name me, touch me, brand me, influence me, scar me. I am a soft clay vessel imprinted by the hands and objects and names of those who have been part of my life. I am who I am because of love and betrayal, because my mother taught me how to dig in the garden and plant seeds, because my grandmother taught me to lift my eyes to the stories of stars, because of bread and hunger, passion and assault, the body and the mind. We only have one gift to give the world and that’s the uniqueness of our own voice, our own story, our own particular and unique way of being in the world. “Naming Rites” is a way of saying my name with full voice, and hopefully it might inspire others as well to continue to give themselves away.
How did you come up with the title?
I knew this collection of poems was about identity, uniqueness, selfhood, and I wanted to find a way to say that with freshness. I am always playing with words; looking for words that sound alike so that the saying of the word carries more than one meaning. “Naming Rites” also brings the shadow word “rights.” The title plays with the rituals, experiences and bodily gestures of being named and with what has the weight, power and influence to name.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For me the hardest part of creating a collection of poetry is finding what really belongs together, what poems support and reinforce each other, or take different perspectives on the same idea. And the really hard part is to cut the 20 or 30 poems that I love that there just isn’t room for.
Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?
This is the first time I have written about my own experiences of sexual abuse. I learned that it is possible to heal and also that healing is never over. I also learned that I can be more vulnerable than I thought possible. I have read some of these very vulnerable poems to several audiences now and I have learned that I am still standing after I read them.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Writing is a practice. I think there are only two ways to become a better writer—first, keep reading, read outside of your comfort zone and read and reread the people you really resonate with; second, keep writing, discipline yourself to find some regular time and make a pact with yourself to write. It doesn’t have to be long or every day; but it needs to be regular committed time for writing.
Are there any genres you prefer to write and if so, why? What book do you wish that you had written?
I love to write poetry and it is my favorite genre but I also write non-fiction. “Choose Wisely: Practical Insights from Spiritual Traditions” is a book about five common principles that are shared across the wisdom traditions of the world that provide a foundation for making good decisions. “Mountain 10: Climbing the Labyrinth Within” is a book that provides a deep reflection process for listening to one’s own inner wisdom. I also have a few children’s stories that I would like to publish within the next couple of years.
I am gay, the father of three amazing kids and three grandkids. My gay spouse and I got married twice, once in our church two years before marriage equality was passed in the state of Minnesota and a second time after that historic event. We worked very hard on the marriage campaign. It took me a long time to come out and be comfortable with my authentic way of loving. I want to show up in my poetry as the fullness of who I am.
What are your writing and personal goals for 2017 and beyond?
I have three book projects on the burners. One is a book of non-fiction that deals with men’s circles or personal development groups. I have had a small group of men with whom I have met for over 20 years. The group has made a huge difference in holding me accountable to personal growth and goals. It is an amazing group of men who speak their own truth, listen deeply to each other, and love each other unconditionally. This book will tell our story of coming together, some of the stories from our own individual lives, and the processes we use to help each other delve into our own wisdom and values. The second book that is in the beginning stages is a collection of poems about living on stolen land—recognizing that the land I walk on every day belonged to the indigenous tribes who lived here with a sense of sacred trust and stewardship rather than the illusion of ownership. I hope to travel to sacred sites and have conversations that will help me understand more deeply my indigenous brothers and sisters and how I can step more softly on this land. The third book is a collection of poems written from the labyrinth—an ancient form of meditative walking that I use as a spiritual practice. Here’s a poem from the new collection:
IF THE WAY IS LOST
If the way is lost in you
stop breathe pay attention.
Step again onto the path of your belonging
the path that calls from the center
of who you are and who you long to be.
Claim the journey that belongs
your song, your story, your name.
Claim this day as the next step
this day as a promise
as a small hope that wakes up
something inside you that has been sleeping.
Step to the center of that hope
and let it surround you with light.
Let go of everything that doesn
t call your name
of all the baggage that keeps you in chains.
Let go of your certainty and your doubt
of your small plans and your grand designs.
Take this step
this one in front of you.
This breath this step is the only path
that brings you alive.
Are you a cat person or a dog person? Can you tell us about your pets?
I am a dog person, but I used to have a cat. And now the house is dogless at the moment. Dogs are a great example for a poet or maybe any writer—just follow the scent, keep your nose down, run wild and free as often as possible even if someone else has created fences or boundaries or chains, and at least once a day take a long nap in the sun.
Title: Naming Rites
Author: Gary Boelhower
Release Date: May 16th 2017
Gary Boelhower’s third collection of poems explores the ways we are named and branded with multiple identities, a clay vessel molded and imprinted from the inside and the outside by those who know us or think they do, by wounds, worries, stones, and nicknames, by place and absence, by teachers and traitors. Boelhower dares to name the body’s blows and pleasures and how they are celebrated in solitude and connection. His language soars with ecstasy and burrows into hidden places in the soul. His lyrics tell how the world’s pain lodges in the cells and how the fragrance of summer stars opens an aperture to healing. Boelhower is winner of the Foley Prize from America and the Midwest Book Award for his second collection Marrow, Muscle, Flight.
Find Naming Rites on Goodreads
Naming Rites is such a generous collection it offers both blessings and confessions, dirt and bread, miracles and explosions, cruelty and mercy, great blue herons who resemble monks and blue jays clowning around, a lover’s tender touch and the horrors of the nightly news. In second grade, Gary Boelhower admits, he won ‘the glow-in-the-dark statue of Mary,’ and his religious drive, now mature, is still alive in these poems. They aim for (and often achieve) not just a personal record but transubstantiation, transforming experience into wisdom, fear into freedom, language into song. Naming Rites is the autobiography of a soul, reaching out beyond the boundaries of the self. Bart Sutter, author of Cow Calls in Dalarna and Chester Creek Ravine: Haiku
Gary Boelhower’s poems resist convention and confinement even as they speak deeply of and from history, family, and community. The persona names and narrates himself into being as he chronicles profound and tender encounters as well as ‘tectonic shifts and betrayals.’ Software engineers meditate, children go hungry, and faith is lost and reconfigured. ‘Let me not forget to be what I have spoken,’ Boelhower reminds himself and his readers. Naming Rites is an important and sustaining book for our times, with its ‘cadence that calls us into the streets with voices/of protest and hope.’ Julie Gard, author of Home Studies
IN THE SILENCE
footsteps crunch on the cold snow
heaven’s full of falling mercy
the big arms of the pine
spread in prayer shawled in white
the whole everyday machine muffled
if everyone could say their name
in such silence we might hear
each one might send their small swirl
of hopes and prayers
spiraling out like sufi robes
in the dervish dance
and we might all
hear each other’s hands rise up
and we would know the one world’s song
all our rituals are attempts at listening
all our songs a preparation
for emptiness when our words
have all fallen away because we know
we are all whirling together
wherever you are however you do it
notice how we are all whirling together
in the great round dance
on this tiny rock with fire in its soul
through the grand galaxies
spinning with mercy and wonder
GIVEAWAY: WIN a copy of Naming Rites and Marrow, Muscle, Flight by Gary Boelhower
Gary Boelhower’s poetry has been published in many anthologies and journals. His second collection of poems published in 2011, Marrow, Muscle, Flight won the Midwest Book Award. He was awarded the Foley Prize in poetry from America magazine in 2012 and a career development grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council in 2010. His recent nonfiction books include Choose Wisely: Practical Insights from Spiritual Traditions, and Mountain 10: Climbing the Labyrinth Within,(co-authored with Joe Miguez and Tricia Pearce). His third collection of poems, Naming Rites, was published in April by Holy Cow! Press. Gary teaches courses in spirituality, ethics and leadership at The College of St. Scholastica where he is a professor in the Theology and Religious Studies Department.