Watch the video below to hear Cheryl Savageau recite her poem, “Red,” and discuss the stories behind and within the quilt pictured here, Jazz Autumn: Quarter Note Triplets.
>> CHERYL SAVAGEAU: So this quilt happened when I was living–started when I was living in New Mexico. And it was fall and it was New Mexico and I was missing home so much. So I started playing with fall colors and so forth on my design wall. And really, I started building a forest on the wall, is what happened. And then I wanted to make it so that it was showing a little bit of swirliness–I don’t know if you can see it. You’ve got the yellow there. So the piece is in this,in the center are much smaller, then it gets bigger and bigger. So it’s called Jazz Autumn. And it actually has some–the structure has something to do with quarter note triplets. It’s all connected with things I was learning in jazz at the time. But it was the beginning of my doing a number of quilts that were essentially abstract landscapes. So that became another side of the poetry in some ways for me. It’s sort of like if you think about the poetry as awikhigan and you think about quilts as awikhigan, you know what, they’re more tied in than saying “oh you’re doing visual work or you’re doing something else.”
>> ASHLEY SMITH: Yeah and this is really important and for folks who are joining us in this conversation and thinking about awikhigan and what that means as that sort of activity of engaging in creation of knowledge and storytelling, but that’s not just limited to books or writing.
>> CHERYL SAVAGEAU: Right.
>> ASHLEY SMITH: And it’s active and it’s collective. And so this is amazing, how we see just in some of your work, this rich Indigenous ways of thinking about land, creation, imagining, relationships, and being able to you know see the land in these really profound and interconnected and relationship-based ways, I think is really powerful.
>> CHERYL SAVAGEAU: I would love to read another poem if that would be OK.
>> ASHLEY SMITH: That would be amazing.
>> CHERYL SAVAGEAU: So it’s the poem that is related to this quilt. It’s a poem called “Red,” and on the page is actually a tree, which is not something I did on purpose. It sort of became a tree on the page. But it is about actually–it starts in there, in the Amherst area. I was driving from Amherst to Worcester, Massachusetts with another poet, taking the road north of the Quabbin, and it was fall and all the maples were red. So it starts in that place and it ends with a few lines that are actually from Chrystos. So it starts with two different poets.
In his new poem the red autumn woods are a metaphor for leftist martyrs. We are traveling east through a maple forest that blazes the hillsides on both sides of this winding back-country road. Look at the trees I want to tell him. Listen, the trees have their own stories to tell like the story of fire deep within the heart. They too have been martyrs in the long war against the land, a nation cut down, children denied. A hundred years ago these hills were bare of trees, the stone walls that wind through them, the illusion of ownership. Now the hills are red with maples. My heart is leaping out to meet them, my eyes cannot be full enough. Though acid falls from the clouds, maples have gathered on the hillsides in every direction. See how they celebrate. They are wearing their brightest dresses. Come sisters, let me dance with you. I offer you a song. Let me paint it red with passion. You are all the women I have ever loved.