Camille Norton
&
Nancy Stockwell

Breath
Poem: live reading and text poster
2009

LINEAGE I

Camille Norton’s book of poems CORRUPTION, a National Poetry Series winner in 2004, was published by Harper Collins in 2005. She is Professor and Chair of the Department of English at University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA.  Camille met Nancy Stockwell once in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, seven years before she died.

Nancy Stockwell, whose archive is housed at the SF Public library Hormel Center, was a writer and founder of the mid-1970’s feminist magazine Plexus. Her archive includes correspondence between Nancy and a number of public literary figures like Susan Griffen. She was diagnosed in her teens with an acute lung condition comparable to cystic fibrosis.  Several of Nancy’s diaries are closed to public research until the year 2060, apparently at her own instruction. What might they reveal?

The poem is an elegy for Nancy Stockwell, who searched for breath in the final years of her life when she had a double lung transplant. It also speaks to the process of waiting to find a way into a poem about Nancy, in other words, the difficult process of writing a poem worthy of her.

It has something to do with breath.  Something to do with a fiddle.  The wind riffling across prairie grass.  The wind at the back of her neck as she travels toward the prairie she can never forget.

Nancy was a serious writer who gave away many pieces of herself. She was restless, always on the move, criss-crossing the country in search of a home. I recognize that impulse to uproot oneself, to start again, to find the place where the writing will come together differently. She sublimated her authentic talent as a writer to political activism, economic survival, and her fragile health-- but the writing remained the part of herself I think she would have claimed as her deepest possession. - Camille Norton

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