E. says often lately that “beginning again” is everything now that we are getting older. We are guaranteed to have trip-ups that will keep us off the trail and make it difficult to lace up the shoes and get out there. The key now isn’t to aim for improvement, it is to aim for continuation, to get up again. To keep getting up again.
The last two days have begun with beautiful sunrises, while the weather is clear and cold. The fire-bright bleed before the sun actually rises. The still water that mirrors the sky. All this makes it easier. I lift my chest and drop my spine into the center of my back, shoulders relaxed. I let go of thoughts about work, or about books, and I notice the birds. The mourning dove this morning flying unusually low to the ground, perching on a low branch in the same tree where the small squirrel lives now. Three grackles were tussling mid-flight.
The strangest thing was that we passed a group of people, 7 maybe, walking in a tight cluster. It’s unusual for people to be out so early, but it has been a year since so many people have walked to closely together. It’s a sign that the county has finally stepped up the vaccinations. It’s odd that I feel almost an apprehension about things returning to the way they were. I am ready, and I’m not. I think it’s because I feel that I’ve failed at this Covid society so far. I need to figure it out before I have to move on. I feel like I’ve missed something important. I have no idea what it is, but there’s something. A lesson? An accomplishment? An epiphany?
Maybe I am thinking that if I haven’t found the time to calm down and do things like read for fun, go for long walks more often – when will I when things speed up again? I am not ready for things to speed up. Am I alone with this feeling? Stop, stop, stop until I get my head wrapped around all of this.
Of course I’m not alone. Again, I think we can hear something over and over and think we understand it, until we experience it. “Get off this rollercoaster” is so general it can be applied over and over in our lives, and mean entirely different things: Oh! NOW I get it for real. Oh, no, I didn’t really get it! But NOW!
But what is the name of that ride where you stand, back to the wall, while everything spins and plasters you to the edges while it tips sideways? The Graviton Theatre. How could I forget?
That. Who knew the designers of carnival rides were poets working with physical metaphors for our lives to come?
When I was about 6 my mother was trying to sweeten the pot when leaving me with new babysitters: They’re making tacos for dinner. But the couple was from Mexico and their “tacos” were something I’d never seen before. Creamy, greenish, bland chicken, soft tortilla shells. No cheddar. No jalapenos. What?! I remember thinking it tasted very “grown-up”. There is little worse (to this day) than anticipating a dish then being presented with some twisted version of what you know and have been salivating at the thought of.
I have no idea why that popped into my head. I suppose we learn that words aren’t always a reliable indicator of a shared reality. I suppose it has something to do with the five aggregates, staying in the moment, and not clinging to expectations.
And I think the five aggregates have everything to do with poetry.
A good poem (in my opinion) works through all of them: form, sensations, perceptions, ideas, and discernment. Maybe poetry is nothing more than the attempt to overcome the limitations of words through metaphors.
My love is like an overripe peach
too soft to touch without
bruising in spots – sweet
maybe, but too round
on the tongue, too
Getting going in the mornings is like trying to herd cats, as they say. I remember pulling the crockpot out of the corner and onto the countertop to start dinner. Lunchtime I went back into the kitchen to see it there. Empty. Useless. Forlorn.
I’m projecting again.
I keep reminding myself (at the risk of sounding like an inspirational meme) that life is a specific dance. One step back, two steps forward, one step back. And then your partner accidentally kicks you in the shin. (For the record, my partner is an excellent dancer, and only kicks me in the shins metaphorically.)
Anti-climax is definitely a thing. And – although I am excited about new projects – I am trying very hard to move forward. This morning I showered and dried my hair with a blow dryer for the first time in over two months. I put make-up on. Braving the cold winds and intermittent hail, I picked up the binder’s board I ordered two weeks ago. I picked up wine. And some lavender shampoo because I have been feeling very…. pragmatic lately. At least in terms of personal hygiene. I’m ready for some scented candles and soft music. I want to smell something besides sandpaper and pulp. And cuddle-puppy.
Speaking of which, I’m worried about how Leonard will take me going back to work this week. The pup is 35 kilo of adoration and has even taken to crawling up in E.’s lap when I’ve been sewing the signatures for books. Although I suppose E. will be working from home for a while yet. The vaccine roll-out here is shamefully inept. We’re expecting another spike over the next two weeks from the Easter holidays. I fully expect to go back to work, only to wind up teaching part-time online again.
But hey… roll with it? Right now nothing seems quite recognizable and I am beginning to relax a little. To come to terms with that. I suppose it really is a lesson in not clinging – even if it means not clinging to sanity either. I mean in the way that we can only approach these things obliquely. Catch a tiger sliding up alongside with a peach in hand, rather than charging head-on with a net.
I’ve another doctor’s appointment tomorrow. Then heading slowly back to real life on Friday. The most frightening thing is that I am comfortable here in the house. Too comfortable. I’m almost afraid to go out and interact with people. Fragile. No. That’s not right. I am not fragile. Reactive.
Maybe Friday I should bring a crate of peaches to work. Yeah. Good luck finding decent peaches anywhere in this country.
did I say this was
my second glass with dinner
stepping right through the surface
of decorum like thin ice
Here we are in America’s national poetry month, and I find myself not getting to the books on my nightstand. I was ambitious and said I would read a collection a day. But I didn’t anticipate the steep learning curve associated with Facebook Shops and “pixels” and currency converters, and plug-ins that work then don’t work then work again. This side of things is hard. No wonder my Norwegian publisher never really did much of this kind of thing: marketing. I suck at it. And I find social media intimidating and awkward. I am not a cheerleader type. Never the leader of the pink ladies. Never a Heather. And really, I am fine with that. But actually not sure how my introverted “authenticity” translates to functional marketing. The words followers and fans make me sick to my stomach, tied up with all kinds of ambivalence.
I am so grateful for E.’s amazing moral support when I hit the stupid-wall and start thinking: This is what you get for leaving your lane. Who do you think you are? You’re going to crash and burn. I’m trying to get things to a not-too-embarrassing state now, and then let it rest for a few days. Get back to poetry.
This evening I’m going to dive back into Rachel Barenblat’s book Crossing the Sea. (See what I did there?) I’m halfway through and incredibly moved. I’ve been thinking of Dave (at The Skeptic’s Kaddish) who set up a blog as a way to grief his father. Barenblat is a rabbi and this collection is about her mother’s death.
People say that everyone goes through this, but I never will. I say that to point out how powerful these poems are. The speaker draws me into her relationship with her mother and her grief. Her poem “Mother’s Day” begins with: It’s a year of firsts/and most of them hurt.
In “Pedicure”, she talks about the simple thing of removing the nail polish that she had on for the funeral: […] replaced with periwinkle, luminous and bright/like your big string of pearls you do not know/are mine now that you’re gone.
There’s a reason why I couldn’t read this book in one day. It’s like trying to eat a whole mayonnaise cake in one sitting. But I’m looking forward to picking it up again.
But first, there’s housework. And some yoga. Trying to get back into – oh, I don’t know, integrated with the rest of the world here: friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in nearly two months. And then there is work later this week. Students. There’s clothing that isn’t loungewear. Make-up. Shoes.
In some ways I’ve been
in a womb, cocoon, nestled
with the dull sounds of
blunted percussives, every
thing in the world – swaddled
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?
IMPERMANENCE by Ren Powell
A Conceptual Multimedia Artwork:
Photography, Handwritten text
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
Now on sale now at Mad Orphan Bookshop.
NB: Paperback facsimiles available here for 15 USD plus shipping.
“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
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!