Monday, June 23, 2014

Meet the Leo Love Poetry Award Winner: Monika Cassel

Photo by Jamey Stillings

Monika Cassel is a passionate teacher, who has come back into writing through teaching at the New Mexico School for the Arts. For her, poetry is just another kind of conversation from which both student and teacher can learn. A major goal of hers is to get more people to read and write poetry, to have it be a living and interactive project that all kinds of people feel connected to. 

Currently, Monika is writing about Germany and her family history–––her father’s immigrant family in the Midwest and her mother’s childhood in WWII and postwar Germany. Having family members and stories from all over the spectrum in the Nazi era, Monika has been working to square the history and origins for a long time in a way that does justice to the broader history and affords the personal a space, which allows her to engage with her position, removed by years but holding the inheritance of that time. Her broader goal is to encourage people to take this difficult history seriously, instead of sweeping it under the rug or thinking they are “done,” particularly from a broader perspective of historical responsibility or culpability.

Along the way, Monika has been writing ekphrastic pieces, working with old letters and recently with her grandmother’s gardening book. Her deep interest in language that stems from growing up bilingual has led Monika to pursue translation, and she is intrigued by what happens when she translates ideas, experiences, and images into the music of language. What she sees her students doing in their art majors while they are deeply at work is what she feels when she has the time and space to work on her poems, and that creative process she finds incredibly invigorating.
This summer will be Monika’s first time at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. Former teaching colleague Robert Wilder, who has taught at the Conference for years, informed Monika of the great writing community at the Conference, and former workshop participant Jennifer Simpson also reinforced this idea. Additionally, at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Monika has taken workshops with Dana Levin and Emily Rapp, both who have served as faculty at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference in previous years.

Monika looks forward to Tomás Morín’s afternoon poetry workshop this summer and was excited by the description of his workshop. She is arriving at the point where she feels like she knows where her poetry is working well, and she would like a workshop that is a good space to reconsider and revise pieces that are not there yet. For Monika, Taos boasts a beautiful landscape that is not so far from her home, and she hopes to spend a fair amount of her mornings writing outside.

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