The house is (mostly) clean now. I’ve moved acrylic paints and sewing frames upstairs to the new studio/”cabin” — as E. calls it. He’s nestled in now on my old purple couch watching war movies. It is odd to have the house to ourselves again. It’s not that we needed the space, but it does make it easier for us to be more conscious about how we use our time. No more television in the bedroom. Sleep hygiene is a thing. A thing I am not very good at observing.

It’s evening again — upside-down day again — but Leonard is lying here beside me as though it makes no difference at all. The birds, though, they know. There’s no singing. Instead, I hear the neighbor puttering around in his garage. It’s kind of cozy, I suppose. But it’s not birdsong.

Easter seems to sneak up on me as much as any other holiday. After living here more than a quarter of a century, how is it I still forget to plan for all of the bank holidays now? I set out to go to the store yesterday for dog food when E. reminded me it was Good Friday. In Norwegian it’s Long Friday, which makes a lot more sense to me, considering how I doubt Jesus would have described the day as “good”. Everyone goes back to work on Tuesday. Sunburned from skiing, if they’re lucky.

Me? No skiing for me. But I feel my body longing for a good sweat. Lying on the beach with a book, dripping into my eyes and my cleavage, until I feel compelled to throw myself into the surf. What I wouldn’t give for a good summer day right now. Or this year at all, since travel still won’t be a possibility for us. Rogaland summers aren’t always warm. I’m trying to be optimistic, and planning on giving surfing another go this year now that I’m off blood thinners.

But I will take what comes and most of all be grateful for my health. Mental and physical. Things are rolling evenly these days in terms of my mood. I can’t describe how relaxing that is. Not having to second guess my sanity. And today — though I have “gone soft” in more ways than one over the past couple of months — getting dressed this morning I didn’t hate my body. I know that voice in my head is due back any minute to tell me I’m disgusting and weak and irresponsible — but it helps to notice the peace in its absence.

It astounds me really that there are people in the world who live their whole lives without those hateful voices in their heads. I envy those people. Not just for my own sake, but considering that I would have been a better partner, a better mother had I not assumed there was a state of perfection that we could all achieve somehow. If we worked hard enough at it. Had discipline. Were pure of heart. It’s frightening what we pass on to other people in our lives in our pursuit to be “good”.

I went to Christian camps for several years as a pre-teen. The bar was high for “good”. I remember once we were sitting in the morning assembly and the pastor asked us to imagine that soldiers entered the room and said they were going to shoot all the Christians. To imagine the soldiers then asked all the Christians to stand: Would you stand? the pastor asked. Who asks ten-year-olds what they would do under those circumstances? Some ten-year-olds are deep thinkers. Some think more deeply than 30-year-old pastors. Some of them have experienced violence in a way that does not make this question as fantastical as one might assume. People set the bar extremely high. In so many ways. Suck it up, move on, forgive and forget, be a paragon to succeed in the world.

Sometimes I wonder about the chicken and egg situation when it comes to my “intense” personality. My deep thinking.

I have a handful of nightmares from my childhood that I remember vividly even today. Some I find difficult to talk about. But one was about the hoof-footed Devil from an illustration in the Children’s Bible my mother would read to me before bed. He tempted Jesus to throw himself off the mountaintop. I don’t remember exactly what the Devil wanted from me. I just remember the electric-cold-sweat-fear that I can still sense on the edge of my consciousness.

About ten years ago, I actually went on eBay to buy a copy of that old brown-covered Children’s Bible. It’s in awful condition, but it is on the shelf in the living room with all the other Bibles and theology books. Sometimes I worry if I lose my mind at the end, like my Grandmother did, that those illustrations will torment me. The writing finger of God. The three boys who would not burn. The soldiers killing all the babies in their mothers’ arms.

I’m not sure why I slid over onto this topic. It wasn’t my intention. Easter is supposed to be about renewal.

Sometimes it is difficult to renew and move forward without kicking off what’s stuck to your shoes.

the kale is still green 
after a winter’s neglect
its leaves press against
the glass that kept it alive
its stem reaching from the rot

I promised myself a publication date of April 1, 2021. And I managed to pull it off … after what seems like so many years of just thinking about it.

This is the first and only time I will duplicate much of the content of my monthly newsletter in my blog posts. But since I have a whopping dozen on my list so far… I’m spreading the news thick as peanut butter today because I am proud, excited, and a little bit desperate to sell a few books despite my lack of marketing skills:

Mad Orphan Lit is a private publishing project for hand-bound multimedia poetry books, and broadsides (on handmade paper) by Ren Powell.


I realized this week that, although Mad Orphan Lit has been a long time in the planning, everything is a process and I have been working steadily toward this – at a slant.

When my first book was published in 1999, the original concept with the publisher was a coffee table book of light verse and photography on the theme of childbirth. For reasons I won’t go into, the book wound up a traditional paperback. Though, I was still both grateful and proud of my first book.

The next books were beautiful hardback, bilingual editions of not-so-light poetry with Wigestrand Publishing in Norway. I have also been fortunate to work with Beth Adams at Phoenicia Publishing in Canada on a selected poems book called Mercy Island. Still, all this time, I wanted to work more holistically with the presentation of the poetry.

I have always cared about how the words look on the page. And I have always had a drive to work with studio art – in college, I shifted my major back and forth from art twice.

I’ve wanted to literally be more “hands-on” with my poetry books. About ten years ago I took a book-binding course with the award-winning binder, and expert teacher Ingeir Djuvik. I made blank books at first. Then personal planners. Then I wrote a poetry book for my now-husband. A one-of-a-kind. And the idea for Mad Orphan has been brewing since then.

Who knows, maybe it was the physical isolation of the pandemic, the consequential need for touch, that pushed me onto the playing field finally?

Mad Orphan Lit’s first project is IMPERMANENCE

The project began with my daily meditation on the philosophical problem of impermanence, and the Noble Truth that our suffering is caused by our inability to accept (or even see) impermanence. The poems and the visual/physical presentation of the work evolved together.

The bust was made of plaster and paper mache (using my handwritten poems for the project ripped into strips). I photographed the bust in various locations in the Jæren landscape of Norway. If you read my blog, you already know the story of how I lost my head: it was supposed to break up slowly in the waterfall during filming. Instead, it was taken by the current and slipped under an old mill house - trapped by the torrent of water, the wooden beams, and the rocks.

That’s the way of things, isn’t it?

THE PROCESS

The process of writing, making, and destroying poetry objects.

Monoprints, handwriting, and sewing.

THE BOOK

IMPERMANENCE by Ren Powell
A Conceptual Multimedia Artwork:
42 Poems
Photography, Handwritten text
Acrylic Monoprints

Moroccan handmade paper (hardcover)
Double-Needle Coptic Stitching
(note: this intentionally loose stitch allows for an open-back and “lay flat” binding)
15 X 20 cm, 60 pages
Text block: 160gsm acid-free, ethically resourced paper

120 EURO Limited series of 10
April, 2021
Now on sale now at Mad Orphan Bookshop.

NB: Paperback facsimiles available here for 15 USD plus shipping.

THE GOSSIP

“Ren Powell’s Impermanence acts as a reminder, both visual and visceral–in its physiological meaning (the heart, the gut)–that we live in and through the stories we tell. The cursive in her illustrations operates as one of several connectors that loop through her poems until these pictures and words combine to create, as she puts it, origami boxes: “your stories/ folding in on themselves.”
– Ann E. Michael, poet

“The delicate exquisiteness of this text, the stories Ren tells, via poems I whispered aloud, is added to, and enhanced, by the artworks created by Ren… I reach page 10, completely in love with the artwork. I turn the pages, as much to read the next poem, as to discover the next piece of art. The clarity of, ‘and we remember it/and we tell it/differently’.  The poem seems to float somewhere between the space that is Art, and the everyday reality of recognising a life truth… Reading this collection of poetry, I feel the presence of Ren … wise woman, teller of tales, wandering woman, warrior woman. A woman prepared to share her journeys, both real and imagined. A woman who makes a paper mache bust of her self and takes it out into the world to create images that further delight a mind already seduced by the power of her poetry. This book, IMPERMANENCE … I can only write that I found so much pleasure in its pages.
– Di Mackey, photographer and writer

“… you look up day after day surprised by the foreign landscapes of your own making” Ren Powell’s seventh poetry collection dissects the minutiae of life, and puts it back together in different unfamiliar shapes. Impermanence is what we are. In this collection of new poems, Ren Powell turns the human condition into a collage of words, drawings, and the blank spaces between breaths.
-Richard Pierce, poet/novelist/radio personality

THE PLEA

Please consider signing up for my monthly newsletter that announces new books, broadsides, and other projects that I’m publishing all by my lonesome. And I promise not to turn my blog into a spammy series of adverts.

Oh, and if not for yourself, maybe buy a book as a gift for someone you love. (My upcoming project is designed as a gift book: a notebook with writing prompts for poets and yoga-enthusiasts.)

Thank you for your time!

MAD ORPHAN LIT. BOOKSHOP