Good Poetry News

Hi, everyone, and Happy New Year to you!

Tahoma Literary Review, Issue 2: Cover Art by Camille Patha

Two very lovely poetry things happened to me this week. First, my poem “She Replies to the Alumni Coordinator of the Conservative Christian College Where She Took a Summer Art Class in 1997” was published in Tahoma Literary Review. Magic! I’m grateful to have had my poem selected by Poetry Editor Kelly Davio, and presented alongside some of my favorite Washington-State poets, including Martha Silano, Nance Van Winckel, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Michael Schmeltzer. A vibrant painting by Seattle artist Camille Patha graces the cover. Click here to read the issue online or order a print version.

Also, my poem “Amanda Bubble Worries About the Food Chain” was published in the new literary journal Wherewithal. Issue 1 debuted in November, and my poem is featured in this week’s Poet Spotlight. My thanks to Wherewithal editors Denise Weuve, Daniel Romo, Danielle Mitchell, and Melissa Prunty Kemp!

NaPoWriMo, Day 19 (Day 26 for Everyone Else)

Today’s poem responds to Maureen Thorson’s “elegy” prompt. I’m grateful that her prompt put a purpose to this poem, which I started over three years ago in a workshop (led by the fabulous Nance Van Winckel) but hadn’t been able to finish satisfactorily. That’s because I didn’t know then that the poem was trying to be an elegy.


Ten years old in a mowed oat field,
I plodded through stubble beside
my much-taller father. His shadow

covered me like a low roof,
his black-oak shotgun slung between us
in the crook of his left arm.

My own shadow bulged heavy
with three dead pheasants in the canvas sack
strapped across my shoulder.

The first two hens had died from the birdshot.
The third was live and flapping
when our retriever brought her back.

My father, who had seen me cry
over the death of my pet guinea pig
and decided I needed toughening,

seized the moment to teach me neck-wringing
and made me use my own hands.
He’d always despised my vulnerability as a girl,

tried often to thicken my skin with ridicule
to protect me from greater hurt.
Tried, that day, to toughen me past grieving

by putting the feathered neck between my fists
and making me twist it down to strings.
What he achieved was to make me face

a different loss, begin my grieving
of something I never have succeeded
in bringing back to life.

A Little Poem for Spring, and Some Attempts To Tree-vise It

I’ve been working on several new poems recently, which is greatly satisfying. But in the moments when I’m not scritching a pen on paper or rearranging my words and lines on the computer screen, I’m craving COLOR. Last week I got my hands on some sheets of blue and green card stock and a damned sharp X-acto knife. Nobody thought better of letting me use such a dangerous tool, so here’s what I made with it:

Gone are days that find me lost

Arranged that way, the poem sure is hard to read. (Tip:  start with the topmost row, reading clockwise; then the middle row; then the lower row. I know; if you need the instructions, the layout isn’t working.)

I had fun cutting out all those leaf shapes, though, so I did that some more and tried another arrangement:

Now I pause from parsing the gray

Now I pause from parsing the gray

But then I got anxious about venturing too far away from the world of text, so I went and got some to slice up. This one is my favorite, not only because of the text but because of the layer it adds:

Hello, grass:  greetings, and welcome

Hello, grass: greetings, and welcome

I’ve been meaning to get back to making poem-trees ever since the wonderful “Poetry Off the Page” workshop experience I had with Nance Van Winckel last summer. It feels great to be thinking again about how to combine word and image. In these simple collages, I’m energized by the way the bright greens contrast with the dark blues and hint at the nearness of YELLOW, which must be zinging around just underneath all the chlorophyll.

And now that I’m not quite so scared of that X-acto knife, I may be able to persuade myself to use it to cut out some sturdier, cardboard leaves to collage onto canvas boards to make three-dimensional trees using the medium I love and fear most, in equal measures: paint.

I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, happy Spring to you!


Poetry Off the Page with Nance Van Winckel

Yesterday, I spent a wonderful day at Egress Studio in a workshop led by Nance Van Winckel. She has augmented her work as a poet by venturing into the visual arts, most notably photo-collage, in which she embeds her poems into her photographs, often integrating public-domain images as well. The results are colorful and kinetic. She says she challenges herself to create work that will be as inviting to image-oriented viewers as it is to text-oriented readers. The key, she explains, is to incorporate the text in such as way as to make it seem that the visual medium itself is speaking. As a comparatist/multi-field wanderer/genre-crossover geek myself, I must say that this type of artistic hybridization completely floats my boat. It whets–and, happily, sates–my hunger to connect image-based with text-based systems of symbol:  to combine visual and verbal vocabularies to enhance (or question) meaning. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to make trees.

Have I mentioned trees yet? If not, please know, Reader, that they are right up there with horses and hiking among my obsessions. My attraction to them is horticultural, yes, and spiritual/symbolic, definitely–but most of all, aesthetic.  I love to LOOK at trees.  Trees are so visually elegant to me that I want to draw them and paint them decorate my universe with them. But since drawing and painting trees is beyond the slim range of my artistic skills, I draw and paint leaves. Leaves in oil, leaves in acrylic, leaves in acrylic ink, leaves in watercolor, leaves in watercolor pencil, leaves in colored pencil, leaves in black pencil, leaves in my five year old’s chewed and broken Crayolas. In short, I am a fan of leaves.

I’ve attempted to write about trees, and my aesthetic passion for them, but my efforts have fallen far short of my hopes for conveying what I perceive of them visually. Imagine my delight, then, in being directed to Make Something that integrates text and image, and being given numerous materials for doing so, by a generous and encouraging teacher. I knew immediately that I was going to make leaves, and then make them into a tree. Freed from my usual expectation that I should try to make a realistic representation of a tree (and from my inevitable disappointment at not having the technical ability to do it very well), I set about constructing a more abstract tree.

First, I chose pages from an antique book on mechanical engineering that Nance Van Winckel brought for workshop members to mine text from and collage with. Overcoming my resistance to scissoring up a gorgeous old book, I cut out leaf shapes, choosing passages titled with such tasty phrases as “Elementary Theory of the Dynamo” and “Separately-Excited Machines.”   After glueing the leaf cut-outs into double layers, I used a permanent ink pen to write the text of my little poem on them. Then I painted both sides of all the leaves with Mod Podge (an all-purpose gluey-glazey stuff that dries clear). I also cut out some small captions of diagrams and illustrations of dynamos to glue on as “fruit.”While all those were drying, I began constructing the base and branches of the tree using an intriguing dried seed pod that Nance had brought and two lengths of black wire.  Having noticed that the seed pod, which was delicate but fairly rigid and had a dark brown color with the appearance of polished leather, was curved in the middle and level on both ends, I decided to make it the “ground” for my little tree sculpture. Two natural indentations in its raised center were perfect places to wrap the wire around; pointing upward, they became the branches. With the four holes of a button holding the wires in place, I began to experiment with how to attach the leaves to the ends.Even when dry, the paper stems of the heavier leaves proved too floppy to withstand having the wires wrapped around them, so I began to consider other adhesive options. Nance recommended the perfect solution:  threading the wires through holes in the leaves. She also suggested including some beads for added color, so after some work with needle, thread, and more glue, I was ready to place the leaves onto the wire branches. Finally, noticing how well the lilac stamp-ink appeared on a fellow workshopper’s dark-brown seed pod, I used the same shade to stamp a title onto my pod:  “Go To See.” (And you WILL see that I am not above the occasional groaner pun.)

Nance’s workshop did a terrific job providing us participants with numerous examples of exciting ways to propel poems “Off the Page,” and getting to practice was even more fun! I certainly will be doing more experiments with poems in visual mediums.