Carmel poet gives herself and her students permission to feel – Monterey Herald

Poet Illia Thompson stands in front of her class with the authority of someone who has what the rest of the room wants. Kind, soft-spoken, encouraging, she knows how to mine feelings and put them into words on the page. There’s a chance she has more words at her disposal than most people, which she carefully selects, like the shades of paint on a palette.

During autumn the lull of loneliness

Appears more frequently,

Requests balance to be assured

By the gift of memories.

As I view new writings from the past

Penned by myself through lace of years,

I look into the mirror of my words

Surprised to gaze at myself, as friends …

… The art of nestling into memory’s place

Triggered by scents and sounds and words

Placed on paper to not collected lore

Assumes waiting waves of loneliness.

It was at Antioch College, a private liberal arts institution in Yellow Springs, Ohio, that Illia Thompson confirmed her desire not to teach but to educate, having learned that the root of that word means not to pour in but to lead or draw out. At a college whose culture and curriculum are designed to engage, to learn by doing, to live with intention, she knew she’d found her place de ella and her own pedagogy de ella as an eventual educator.

Many people on the Monterey Peninsula, who have felt the urge to write, who have let the stories of their lives languish without words, finally have felt freed by learning how to express themselves during an Illia Thompson class at The Carmel Foundation or elsewhere in the community.

“I can’t tell you how many books I have on my shelves, at least 100, all written by people who took my classes,” said the author and poet who, for more than 30 years, has encouraged students to give themselves permission to write.

Although Thompson writes every day — an impression, a memory, a moment when setting a soup pot to simmer turns into a prayer for those who will go without — last year, she gave herself permission to put her poetry into a book.

Although it has been many years since she published her last poetry book, what drew her out at this time in her life was love, the kind of mature love that shows up when one is looking out toward the horizon, waiting for the green flash, and one hand slips into another, reassuring.

“Liquid Time,” named for the experience of studying the seascape at the “blue hour” — the moment, just after sunset, when the sky takes on inky, indigo hues before fading to black — is a collaboration, says Thompson, between her poetry and photography by the man she loves.

A small sadness

Accepts awaiting heat

light eleven absent

Lifts edge of darkness

my closed heart

begins to open,

A sliver of warmth

Softens hard edges

Suring morning light

His gentle gestures

Sculpt my aging body

Into a young woman

The title also suggests the fluidity of years, particularly when on a gentle journey through love in elderhood, when we allow ourselves to imagine loving again.

spark of excitement

kindling memories

Sharp shards of surprise

Enter heart zone.

Still faithfully swaddled

To keep away family chill

Of loneliness gathered

Now fragile awakening

Loving holds caution.

“Liquid Time,” a creative pairing of Illia Thompson and Herman Van Gansen, took nine months to imagine, explore, create.

“The pandemic has set us on an amazing journey, she said, “as many people are getting much more deeply into what they’re feeling — about memories, the fragility of life, and the unexpected friendships developing. It really is an amazing time for expression.”

A way with words

Illia Thompson spent her first six years in Portugal, to which her Jewish parents had escaped the looming presence of Hitler. When they no longer felt safe in Portugal, the family moved to New York and then Colorado and then Texas and then, when she was 10, back to New York. Thompson understood neither the culture nor the language.

“And now, I no longer speak Portuguese,” she said, “but Portugal still feels familiar. What I really love is French. My grandmother was French.”

After she married, Thompson came across the country to California, in a little blue Volkswagen, with a 2-year-old, and a baby in a backpack, and settled in Menlo Park, where she taught school. She came to Carmel Valley after the end of her marriage and felt instantly welcomed in the village.

Soon, she began holding writing workshops and classes in Carmel.

“I believe my interest and ability to write and to encourage others,” she said, “was preordained. “Rather than teaching, I provide an opportunity for people to write whatever they want to express or explore. Invariably, they are writing what needs to be written. And every time my students write, I do, as well.”

And then they share, reading aloud what they have put on the page, as a way to give voice, says Thompson, to their words and their feelings, which validates both.

“I feel very much guided in my writing and my classes,” she said. “I have a way with words and, I hope, with people. If we don’t get in the way of what’s ordained, our life opens up to what we are meant to do.”

“Liquid Time” is available at River House Books at The Crossroads Carmel.

Illia Thompson and Herman Van Gansen. (Courtesy Illia Thompson)

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