Layne in the Sierra

Leslye Layne Russell

One of the greatest gifts my mother gave me was an early boost in reading and writing. At the age of four I would tell her what I wanted to say in letters to my grandparents, she would print the sentences for me, then I would copy them. I also learned longhand early, thanks to her. The beauty and flow of the letters of the alphabet and the power and magic of communicating through these letters intrigued me. A scribe by nature. I was hooked.

My first two "official" poems appeared around age twelve. Some haiku followed, thanks to my eighth grade language arts teacher who introduced me to this form. In high school I began to write poems in off moments, idling in class, after school, in the quiet of late night.

I received my degree in English in January 1969 from Chico State University (Chico, California), having been in the Spanish program my first two years. I had fantasized myself a Spanish poetry translator. I was moved reading Neruda, Lorca, and Jimenez in their native language. I wrote two poems in Spanish and fancied that there would be many more. Selected by the foreign languages faculty panel (the oral for this was excruciating) to study a year in Spain (I chose the University of Granada), I got cold feet, didn't go, switched my major to English (which I had been taking all along just in case). I then took as many poetry and poetry writing classes as possible (there were no creative writing degrees in those days).

Here at Chico State I studied with poet and teacher George Keithley, who at the time was working on his book-length epic poem The Donner Party. In our writing classes, besides working with our own writing and critiquing, at our request, George would read passages from this future prize-winning book. I resonated deeply with his nature orientation and the clarity, precision, and sparseness of his language. Studying with him was a blessing I did not fully realize until years later.

Post graduate work: dance at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby (Vancouver), British Columbia; Religious Studies (Eastern religions), Chico State; dance and East-West philosophy and religion at Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado. I also studied, taught, and performed dance in the Vancouver area (was on a federal grant to teach and perform with Vancouver Laboratory Theater), in New York, Boulder, and California.

Along with writing and dance, music has been important in my life. Thanks to my father (Bob Russell) who is a jazz pianist, I began singing as a very young child. I have performed much as a folk singer/guitarist/songwriter, though this has taken a back seat to writing in recent years.

A native northern Californian, I spent my childhood in Chico (birthplace), Portola (in the Sierra Nevada mountains), and Redding. From 1974 until just recently, my home has been Sonoma County where both my daughters were born and raised.

I have made my living as a high school substitute teacher and nondenominational minister for many years. This is my seventeenth year writing and performing wedding ceremonies; in the past I also have served as a Home Hospice chaplain. White Owl Publishing, which will focus on poetry/arts/spirit publications, is in the works.

My first officially published poem appeared in Jim Gove's Minotaur Press in 1996. Since that happy occasion, poems have been published in Poetry Now, Free Cuisenart, In Sublette's Barn, Poetic Express, A Little Poetry, Open Mike, Art Speaks: Tibet, One(Dog)Press, Minotaur Press, Baker Street Irregular, The Dickens, Poetry Repair Shop, Fish Dance, In the Grove, Disquieting Muses, TADS, and Blue Moon Quarterly. My first book of poetry, A Quiet Place published by White Owl Publishing, will be out soon, followed by two other collections: Into the Dark Mountain and Blue Haiku. I enjoy giving readings, sometimes accompanied by my husband, guitarist James Russell.

After living in Sonoma County for twenty-six years, I have just moved to Redding, my old home town surrounded by mountains, with James and our gorgeous blue-eyed part-Lynx-Point-Siamese, Sky. My daughters Rain and Crystal are grown, on their own, living their adventures and following their dreams. My stepson Kyle turned eighteen this last summer and is now living at Tahoe and working at Squaw Valley. Warms a mom's heart. Life is good.

Layne Russell
Redding, California
November 2000

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