Ozarks ‘octogenarian organic gardener’ featured at WNP

Ruth Weinstein - Submitted photo
Ruth Weinstein - Submitted photo

Ozarks octogenarian organic gardener, poet, memoirist, author, textile artist, and back-to-the-lander Ruth Weinstein will be featured at Wednesday Night Poetry at Kollective Coffee + Tea, 110 Central Ave.

The regular open mic session for all poets, musicians, and storytellers will begin at 6:30 p.m. today. Weinstein will begin her feature set at 7:15 p.m., followed by another round of open mic. Admission is free and open to all ages. All are welcome.

Born in Philadelphia, Weinstein has lived with her husband of 46 years, Joe McShane, in the Ozarks since 1976. "I was born in Philadelphia in May of 1941, seven months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. subsequently entered World War ll. That puts some perspective on age for much younger people. I grew up in row-house, working-class Philadelphia neighborhoods but was fortunate to spend good chunks of the summers at my grandfather's little farm in southern New Jersey. These summers were key to my later life choices. Since 1976, my husband and I have lived in the Arkansas Ozarks as back-to-the-landers. We built two houses mostly by ourselves. The first one burned down in less than a year, then we had widespread community support in building the second, which is funky and beautiful, made largely from reused or recycled material," she said in a news release.

"Organic gardening is the mainstay of our lives, and we live in such a way as to provide for as many of our own needs as possible. We buy mostly secondhand clothes and furniture when possible or make things. We basically live low on the scale of consumption, so I consider most of my interests practical rather than hobbies. We aim for self-reliance rather than self-sufficiency. For example, I am a longtime practitioner of yoga but have not been to a class in years. I learn what I need, discipline myself. and practice on my own. I am a self-starter and in most things an autodidact, and while I like moderate interaction with people, I am happiest working silently beside my husband or all alone in our gardens," she said.

Weinstein is retired from her career as a high school English teacher in the Philadelphia School System. "I got my M.A. degree in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) in the mid-1990s and Taught English as a foreign language in Japan in two different stints. Starting in September 2001, I taught ESL at UALR for two semesters. I have worked with my local literacy council teaching English as a Second Language and family literacy, but mostly I have supplemented my social security checks over the recent years as a designer and seamstress, weaver, and textile artist," she said.

Weinstein's poetry has been published in print and online journals since 2015, and several of her poems have been finalists in major poetry competitions around the country. "In 2020, between the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I wrote a villanelle 'I Will Never Be (shot by a cop),' which I entered shortly after in a competition for the best poem about racial justice, sponsored by the Oklahoma Museum of Poetry. I won second place in the professional poets' category. While these are all small potatoes as poetry honors go, I am delighted with the recognition. In 2014, I received the "EAT! WRITE" culinary writing fellowship from the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs for my poems on gardening and food. It makes sense that much of my poetry is about gardening, nature, environmental concerns, and food but is not limited to that. I write political poetry as well, love poetry, epithalamiums, memorial poems. I write about aging and death. I write about ordinary things, like potato mashers. I write humorous and serious poems, and sometimes blend the two. Obviously, life -- and everything it encompasses -- inspires me," she said.

"In February 2020, Stockton University Press (Galloway N.J.) published my family history/memoir, 'Back to the Land: Alliance Colony to the Ozarks in Four Generations.' The Alliance Colony, settled in southern N.J. in 1882 by 43 Russian/Ukrainian Jewish émigré families, was America's first successful Jewish agricultural community. My mother's family were among the first settlers and spending my first eighteen summers there inoculated me for life with a need to have my bare feet in rich garden soil, to have access to clean rivers and like-minded communities."

With a connection to the late Little Rock poet and community engager Karen Hayes, Weinstein found WNP in 2015 and was introduced to the late host, Bud Kenny, and current host, Kai Coggin, "and it's all snowballed from there and then. We have good friends in Hot Springs from years ago: Barbara and Jim Larkin and Roxy Wallace and have stayed with them at different times when I was in H.S. for WNP readings. I'd be there more often, but 135 miles is a 'far piece,' as hill folk say."

"I love Ruth and I love her wide-ranging and beautiful poems. It's been a treat to have heard so much of her poetry in video submission form for the virtual WNP readings over the pandemic, and I know it'll be such a treat to hear her in person this week. I hope she brings me something from that magical garden of hers," Coggin said in the release.

This week marks 1,742 consecutive Wednesdays of open mic poetry in downtown Hot Springs since Feb. 1, 1989. "WNP is the longest-running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country, now recently in partnership with Arkansas Learning Through the Arts, to share in the mission to spread arts awareness in our local community," the release said. Email [email protected] for more information.

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