By Robert Laurence
Donna Stjerna has written, oh, seven hundred songs. More or less. Love songs, gift songs, Ozark songs, tree songs, therapy songs, heirloom songs, peace songs, justice songs. And more and more these days, environmental and ecological songs. “Deep ecology,” she calls it. She sings alone and, for seventeen years, as part of Still on the Hill, a well-known Fayetteville group, originally a foursome, but for ten years a duo with Kelly Mulhollan.
Donna Stjerna will be singing (backed by Kelly Mulhollan) as the Featured Writer at the Nov. 26 meeting of the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective, 7 p.m. at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. There is no charge for the event, and the public is invited.
Stjerna is pronounced STEER-na, a Finnish name from her mother’s line, which she is able to trace back six generations, with origins in the Sami people of northern Scandinavia and northwest Russia. (Think Laplanders, but they prefer to be called Sami, their name for themselves in their own language.) It is partly that ability to look back six generations that has made her more and more wonder as she gets older what the world will look like six generations hence. And it is that wondering that has directed Stjerna’s attention these days toward the issues of global climate change, and to concern about what we are doing to what she calls “our lovely blue marble.”
This concern about the environment and climate change shows up in the songs that Stjerna writes and sings. Some are close to home, as in “Quail Song,” where she sings of the disappearance hereabouts of the bobwhite. “I can’t recall the last time I heard a Quail sing/many, many years ago before the silent spring.” Or in “Cradle to Grave (Song for the Chinquapin Tree).” “Grandpa carved my Daddy’s cradle/from Ozark Chinquapin … said the wood/would outlast … both me and him.” But her interest is world-wide, as in “Ignorance is Bliss.” “Jasmine Pearls unfurl …/they unfold without a care/I think about Asian women …/rollin’ ‘em into tiny spheres.”
Stjerna is a great admirer of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel “Flight Behavior,” and has adapted passages from that book into her song of the same name. “Then she dreamed she was climbing up muddy ole mountains/Knocking on doors not hearing a sound/Screaming and crying for someone to listen/As the reckless hillside came sliding on down,” words that bear a special weight this month as Typhoon Haiyan has laid waste to the central Philippines. Stjerna feels this weight and this storm on a very personal level, calling it a “moral injury,” one that lingers even – or perhaps especially – on people in the developed world who are not, themselves, flooded and blown asunder. And she suggests that everyone dig deep and pull out a poem to express his or her version of this injury. (A couple of bucks to the Red Cross wouldn’t hurt either.)
Please come by Nightbird Books and join the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective at 7 p.m. on the 26th of this month to hear Donna Stjerna sing for the Blue Marble. Still on the Hill CDs will be available for purchase. Before and after the songs there will be an open mic into which you are invited to share four minutes of prose or poetry, memoir or lyric, perhaps answering Stjerna’s invitation to write down in poetry your thoughts about the environment. Or not. “Open” means open, the topics vary widely, the language can be rough, and the audience is generally friendly and encouraging. New readers and new listeners are especially welcome.