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Rogoff and Carlisle featured at “Writers Aloud” Series

By Jenny Purdue

“Poets in general write a lot about sex and death, although the sex is sometimes disguised as relationships, and the death as ‘how I spent today…’” says Wendy Carlisle, one of two writers who will be featured in the “SOL/Pen Writers Aloud” reading.

Literature: Sol/PEN Writers Aloud, Readings by Marianne Rogoff & Wendy Carlisle. Wed, Jan 4, 4-5pm. Café Santa Ana, La Biblioteca, Reloj 50A. 70 pesos. Benefits Mexican youth scholarship fund

Carlisle, a widely published poet, has come to San Miguel de Allende since the 90s, as part of San Miguel Poetry week. She recently found this entry in a journal she wrote in 2000, about her second trip to this city:

We came late and hot to a city we know will comfort us. Being here feels like never having left.

Mexico, Carlisle says, changed her poetry to the extent that she was capable of “being at home in more than one place in the universe.”

Carlisle shares the podium with prose writer Maryanne Rogoff in the reading series sponsored by the on-line literary magazine Sol: English Writing in Mexico ( and the San Miguel chapter of International PEN, a writers’ advocacy program with a focus on writers in prison.

Rogoff writes fiction, nonfiction and memoir, although her emphasis has been on nonfiction, and a travel piece of hers was included in the compilation, The Best of Womens’ Travel Writing, 2010. Her award-winning book, Silvie’s Life, (1995) a story about sorting out the complexities of the medical/ethical/philosophical decisions that needed to be made when she learned her newborn daughter was not expected to live, has become a classic in the field. Rogoff says a doctor who was studying the issue found the book by chance in a bookstore, and used it to frame an ethics dissertation outlining new protocols incorporated in neonatal intensive units throughout the world. Silvie’s Life was also presented at an international bioethics conference several summers ago.

Rogoff transformed what began as journal entries into a book over a period of seven years. “If I felt catharsis [about the death of my child],” she says, “it was more of a slow revelation as I…came to realize that I am not the first, or last, person to suffer the loss of someone we love.”

Wendy Carlisle began writing poetry when she was in her teens. Her writer aunt, whom she says she adored, thought one of her poems was good enough to submit to The New Yorker. The poem wasn’t accepted, but Carlisle began thinking that perhaps she could write. She began work for an M.F.A. in 1999, saying at the time—perhaps paradoxically—that her reading material was poetry in general, and People Magazine. 13 years and a plethora of successful publications has changed that. Now, Carlisle says, her nightstand contains Michael Ryan’s New and Selected, Poetry, Writer’s Chronicle, American Poet, Paris Review, Hunger Mountain. “I read a lot,” she says. “A little fiction, a little trash and lots of poetry, general interest magazines and journals…so, not much time for People Magazine.”

Carlisle cites a passage from Pablo Neruda’s “On Impure Poetry” as her favorite writing quote. In it, Neruda says of poetry, “The flawed confusion of human beings…the proliferation, materials used and discarded, the prints of feet and fingers, the permanent mark of humanity on the inside and outside of all objects.

“That is the kind of poetry we should be after, poetry worn away as if by acid by the labor of hands, impregnated with sweat and smoke, smelling of lilies and of urine…”

Both Carlisle and Rogoff teach in their respective genres, and both return yearly to teach in San Miguel. Rogoff says she loves teaching writing. “With my ‘Art of the Noun’ groups, we laugh and drink as much as we fight and cry.” She distills her teaching philosophy into this sentence: “Ground abstract ideas in concrete imagery and consciously compose the rhythm of words.”

Wendy Carlisle’s advice to would-be writers is contained in one word: READ. She quotes Samuel Johnson, “I do not care to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.”

The thing Carlisle hates most to hear people say to her about writing: “My cousin wrote a poem once. Do you want to read it?”

Profits from the 70 peso donation support scholarships for disadvantaged Mexican children. Of that, 35 pesos is a credit toward a beverage in the restaurant.

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