HALLIE EPHRON: It's hard to look at clouds without the lyrics from Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" bubbling up, and with it the poetic images that are her trademark -- ice cream castles; feathered canyons; moons and Junes and Ferris wheels -- along with them the dark edginess that makes her lyrics as thought provoking as her music is inspirational.
Now Lisa Sornberger and John Sornberger have put together "Gathered Light," an anthology of works by 56 contributors inspired by Joni's lyrics. We're delighted to welcome Lisa to Jungle Red.
First I have to ask about the cover. It's a gorgeous watercolor of Joni, paddling away from a vivid, psychedelic sunset against horizon outlined by dark pines.
Lisa, tell us about that cover.
LISA SORNBERGER: I’m thrilled that you like Joni’s gorgeous painting that graces our cover. It fits in terms of the theme of our book, and the way we see Joni, a genuine explorer. Plus it's reflective of her First Nations heritage (Sami), which matters to her.
We hope readers like the way it ties in with the opening quote from Emily Carr, one of Joni’s favorite writers and painters, and our foreword. All of that came after the painting.
HALLIE: How did you connect personally to Joni Mitchell and her works?
LISA: Joni has had a profound influence on my life since I was fifteen years old. She opened my spirit to freedom, and helped validate the path of becoming a writer. She brought sustenance and joy, and, I think, taught by example, that (real) poetry serves an essential function in this world.
She writes her way through shadows and light, exploring the truth, about feelings and life, in ways that transcend the personal.
The idea of the project came to me on New Year’s Day, two and a half years ago, pretty much fully-formed: we needed to do this book, to honor Joni’s work as a poet.
HALLIE: What was Joni Mitchell's reaction to your project?
LISA: She was happy, and gracious, and I think a bit surprised that we wanted to focus on her work as a poet. Also, that it wasn’t “mercenary”.
HALLIE: What do you think it is about her songs that have made them so iconic?
LISA: Well, she is brilliant. She makes multi-level sensory connections. She has an incredible gift for translating visual images into artful, astute language.
Her poems are full of truth, and heart, and we believe anyone willing to take a look at themselves will find resonance in her words.
HALLIE: Who are some of your contributors, and can you give us a taste of what's in "Gathered Light "?
LISA: About half of our contributors are poets. Fred Wah is the Poet Laureate of Canada. Other prize-winning poets, including Cornelius Eady, Bessy Reyna, Patricia Smith, Colleen McElroy, Pit Pinegar, Beth Cuthand, Louise B. Halfe, Susan Deer Cloud.
We've got friends of Joni's, like her ex-husband Larry Klein, David Geffen, three of her female friends. Wally Lamb, the extraordinary novelist, is a contributor.
We love that our contributors are diverse -- age ranges from about 19-79; men, women; straight, LGB, T; Third Nations, Latina; white, black, red; Buddhist, Atheist, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian... The point being, Joni's poetry transcends artificial boundaries.
The “assignment” was to pick just one of Joni's poems (lyrics), and to write about how it sparked you, inspired you, spoke to you personally, politically, or from a societal viewpoint. Writers could respond in their genre, or another. Just write from your “heart and mind,” tell your truth.
HALLIE: Taking the cue from Joni herself. Thanks, Lisa.
Have Joni Mitchell's words and music touched your life? Of the artist whose music shaped you, whose poetry have responded to as much as much as the tunes? Joni Mitchell's on my list... along with Paul Simon and Bob Dylan and Carly Simon.
Lisa and John are offering a free book to one lucky commenter.