Parachute poet captures memories in chapbook
“Sea Fever: A Poetic Journey” is a new poetry chapbook by Parachute author Melinda Rice. Along the Pacific shore in California and Alaska, Rice etches memories as fragile yet fully formed as the scales from lapping waves.
Laurena Mayne Davis: What’s your day job in Parachute?
Melinda Rice: I earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of North Dakota and began teaching fifth grade in Petersburg, Alaska, in 1972. I’ve taught off and on throughout the years. My longest stint was 10 years as a middle school English teacher in Parachute. I have enjoyed being a Writer in the Schools in both Parachute and Grand Junction and hope to do more residencies in the future when Colorado Humanities has the necessary grants and the school districts designate the funds to pay for it.
Davis: I read “Trying to Keep What I Think I Want” over and over. What was the inspiration for that poem?
Rice: You are the first of the many people who have read my book to zero in on that poem. It came from my emotional struggle to keep Santa Cruz as it always was in my mind. Our family vacation home has been passed down through the years to more and more family members. We weren’t before, but are at odds with each other now. When I was young, we used to make those periwinkle necklaces, save dried starfish for display. I wouldn’t do that today. So the metaphor grew by exploring my relationship to memories versus physical property.
Davis: Why was it important to you to publish this poetry chapbook?
Rice: I’ve asked myself this question and discussed it with other poet friends. I’m not sure I really know. There is satisfaction in seeing one’s work in print, for sure. It’s nice to have an easy way to share. Writing a chapbook with a particular theme was satisfying. I not only explored individual moments in time, but also a connected thread of experiences that are an important part of who I am. I like having it for my children and grandchildren. It gives them a glimpse of me that they might not otherwise know.
Davis: Your mother is prominently featured: from the dedication, to the beautiful photo of the two of you at the beach, to the final poem, in which you write of your willingness to let memories “slip through my fingers like Mother’s ashes into the flooding tide.” Was there closure for you in writing about these memories so closely bound to your mother?
Rice: I find it interesting that I so clearly knew that this book was for Mom. I always thought of myself as “my father’s child.” Mom was the parent who sprinkled the air with nursery rhymes, loved to talk about the little idioms her English grandparents used. I attribute my love of language to her.
Also, she had gone to Santa Cruz all her life — born 1916. Our vacation house was originally owned by her parents. Mom died in 1998. I’ve felt closure with her for a long time. It’s relinquishing my hold on “what Santa Cruz once was” that I wanted to come to grips with. I’m confident now that those memories are safe inside me and no one can take “Santa Cruz” from me even though we’re soon to sell the property.
Davis: Do you still have that duck egg-sized worry stone? Or am I making a metaphor too literal?
Rice: Yes I do. It rests on a shelf. My husband, John, brought me a new worry stone from a different beach maybe 12 years ago. The gesture touched my emotions. I, in turn, gave that second worry stone to a local high school student who was the driver in a tragic car accident. Sometimes tangible metaphors can be comforting.
Davis: How did your relationship with Finishing Line Press come about?
Rice: My husband, John, and I lived in Santa Cruz from 2007 to 2010. While there I studied under Ellen Bass and other California poets. Ellen has an online newsletter that I still subscribe to and in it I saw that Finishing Line was having a chapbook contest. I entered. Although I was not the winner of the contest, they did offer to publish my book.
Davis: Where is the book available?
Rice: Readers can find it locally at Out West Books, Grand Valley Books, and Crystal Books and Gifts — all on Main. Lithic Bookstore and Gallery in Fruita carries it. It’s also available online through Finishing Line Press or Amazon, although I highly recommend and prefer that readers give local independent bookstores our business; we must if we expect them to stay in business. Books will be available at readings.
Davis: What are you working on now?
Rice: I’ve recently submitted a collection of what I call “little songs” to some publishers for consideration. They aren’t true sonnets, but I chose to make them all, except one, 14 lines long. They are observations of the seasons from my home outside of Parachute.
Sort of like Monet doing painting after painting of haystacks.
I’m also working on an animal alphabet of limericks and illustrations for my granddaughters — and other children, if someone wants to publish it — and a collection of what I call “Silly Songs for Sweet Peas,” songs and poems I’ve made up for my grandchildren and a few of the old ones I did for my own children when they were small. Also to be illustrated.
Davis: What else would you like to add?
Rice: It’s exciting to see the Western Slope’s poetry community continue to grow. The Western Colorado Writers’ Forum has played a vital role in that, and Poetry at the Library is a very stimulating group under the guidance of Jennifer Hancock.
We have a core group that has been faithful for a long time now, and we continue to get new attendees who bring their own view of things to inject into the mix.
Some stay on to be regulars. I also would like to congratulate the locally owned bookstores.
It’s pretty amazing that Grand Junction/Fruita has as many as it does.