Monday, April 12, 2010

Bertha Rogers - Art, Poetry, Life Itself the Center of Her Spark

Bertha Rogers probably accomplishes more in a week than most of us do in at least a month. Named the first Poet Laureate of Delaware County in 2005, Bertha is a dynamo of and for the arts. Just look at her book length publications, especially what she has published in this decade:

Even the Hemlock: Poems, Illuminations, Reliquaries
(Six Swans Artists Editions, NY, 2005); The Fourth Beast (Snark Press, IL, 2004); A House of Corners (Three Conditions Press); and Sleeper, You Wake (Mellen, 1991). Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2000 (Birch Brook Press, NY), and her translation of the riddle-poems from the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book, Uncommon Creatures, Singing Things, will be published in 2010 (Birch Brook Press, NY). Her newest collection, Heart Turned Back, will also appear in 2010 (Salmon Poetry Publishing, Ireland).

She has more than 250 publication credits for poems and is a noted translator. She has often shown her visual art, which now interlaces her poetic career, in galleries throughout the state. Bertha is a master teaching artist, working in K-12 education throughout the Southern Tier and she frequently also teaches in public schools in New York City through her affiliation with Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

Bertha is also a cultural entrepreneur with the Bright Hill Center in Treadwell, NY, nestled into the hills near Oneonta, where she is the founding director and editor in chief of Bright Hill Press and Word Thursdays, a nonprofit organization in New York's Catskill Mountain Region. As director, she serves as administrator of the NYSCA Literary Curators Web Site, and the New York State Literary Map,

She serves on a Catskills Region Arts in Education panel as well as the New York State Council on the Arts Writers in the Schools panel and serves as a panelist for the NYSCA Literature grants from 1999 - 2001.

Bertha runs publication contests and public school poetry competitions. She features artists and writers that she admires in her series and gallery. Bertha is nothing if not passionate about language and image, the word and the art. She is an ardent, outspoken proponent of the pure craft of poetry and teaches young and old alike with an enthusiasm that is hard to match, much less keep up with. As if all these activities were not enough, Bertha is a voracious reader of all literature, all eras, even languages. Bertha Rogers is a true Renaissance artist.

If you want more about Bertha, visit her web site:

Please make a point of being at the DWC on Friday 4/16/10 at 7:00 p.m. for a free reading by Bertha Rogers, who will also be joined by Greg Ames, a fabulous fiction writer as well.

In the words of the Olympics announcers, we asked Bertha a few questions in order to get "up close and personal." We are pleased to share her comments below:

Georgia Popoff: Bertha, you are highly committed to working in public schools and have been for many years. Can you please share a few words about why this work is so important to you?

Bertha Rogers: It's important because I want the children to understand the joy of working with words, not to get their feelings out particularly, but to see what fun it is to fool around with words, with forms, to see what they can build with not only complex, but simple language. And I love working with the students because they're fun, they're silly, they like jokes, they like to be challenged, they like to be asked to give their very best. And, when they give their very best, what can I do but give my very best to them?

GP: You are also a visual artist. How do the visual arts and writing
arts coexist for you? Is there harmony or do you have to "rob Peter to pay Paul" to create in both media?

BR: I used to have to "rob Peter to pay Paul," but then I learned to combine the two by studying the Asian masters and the great artists of the medieval manuscripts. They learned to appreciate how words can inspire, and how images can expand words' meaning and, in fact, how thinking in pictures inspires the writer to use figurative language. There was a long learning curve for me, but now I don't have a problem with it.

GP: When I was first re-entering the world of poetry after a 10-year
silence, Thom Ward of BOA Editions, Ltd., said to me, "You have to meet Bertha Rogers!" As I have come to recognize, Thom saw that your commitment to community is another driving force in your life. Can you speak of that a bit for our readers?

BR: A long time ago, Gov. Jerry Brown (CA) said that the artist didn't need grants or funding because he/she already had the gift of talent, and that should be enough. While I have often disagreed with Brown about the funding part, I do believe that if a person has a talent he or she should share that with the world.

It is very exciting to me to publish emerging authors, to work with artists, to offer opportunity to others; this kind of community work gives to the giver. I also believe that teaching is a constant learning experience; I learn, every day, from the writers and artists and students with whom I work.

GP: What changes have you witnessed in the literary community from
when you first started?

BR: The obvious change is that money is a terrible problem right now, and it's going to impact all of us in the arts, I believe, for up to a generation. Another change is the proliferation of MFA creative writing programs, and I don't think that's necessarily a good thing: we're getting more MFAs who graduate and then teach in MFA programs; an interesting and, maybe, endless circle. There are also many writing workshops that seem to focus on content/feelings more than technique/ language; I would like to see a return to an emphasis on "tools and their use" in writing. Aside from those things, I see many good writers at our reading series, writers who are always taking a next step, and that's always a good thing.

GP: Bertha! One of my favorite things about seeing you when we have
not been together in awhile is the answer to a question such as this: What color will your hair be when we see you Friday?! Please tell our readers about your reasons for your bold hair color statements.

BR: It's going to be Enchanted Forest green, compliments of Manic Panix colors, which I purchase at Maxwell's in Oneonta. When my hair started going gray, I touched it up with a brown that was close to my natural color, and this worked for a while but, as I got older, I thought it looked really artifical. Conversely, I had always admired the wonderful colors kids used and, one day, I noticed that my real color was white, a perfect non-shade for taking color. That's when I became my true, many-colored self. I expect that I'll grow bored with it eventually, but it works for me now.

That works for me too! Remember, the whirl of energy known as Bertha Rogers spins into town on Friday!

Georgia Popoff is a faculty member at the DWC and has been proud to be a colleague of Bertha Rogers in their work with the NYSCA Writers in the Schools planning committee and as presenters at several statewide conferences.

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