I am certain that I have written on this topic before. Certain because I have had the same exact prompt for exploration of the subject again and again.

And again someone offers advice that to make myself more visible as a poet I should teach workshops on this or that (sometimes the suggestion doesn’t even involve teaching poetry). It is interesting. And it is unintentionally demoralizing. I already have a job that isn’t writing.

There seems to be this idea that if people like you personally, they will like your poetry. “They just need to get to know you.” That seems odd to me. I don’t know writers whose work I admire. And in some instances, I dislike writers whose work I admire. And I wonder if the genre writing “community” is as similar to a cult-of-personality?

I asked my Canadian publisher which of her titles sold best. She didn’t take a beat: those who are very visible on social media.

It is interesting. And perplexing. I have a full-time job. I write daily, hand-bind books and make broadsides from handmade paper. I’m writing the newest manuscript, keep two Instagram accounts, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page (I spent weeks setting up a shop there, which has yielded 1 view). I have even begun to delve into Etsy and Pinterest. I have a dog, a husband and – despite Covid – friends. The last two things I mention require me to shower, too.

Where do people find the time to do more? I am impressed!

“Serve the Community”. It’s common advice to writers – and to visual artists. The marketing advice is almost identical to the advice offered to people selling workshops about marketing. To people selling pilfered quotes on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

The word “ingratiate” keeps coming to mind. I am not saying people who are popular ingratiate themselves, but any conscious attempt to become popular on my part would be.

I have never been someone who (successfully) vies for attention. Four people in a room, and I will press myself against the wall to watch. I think it’s why I am a writer. And a writer who has on occasion had much more to drink than was wise at conferences, just to be able to make small talk.

I am naturally more of an (amateur) social scientist, watching discreetly from the corner of the room noting observations about the fascinating gaps between spoken language and body language, than I am someone who dances on the table. I can control a classroom, but when all the teachers are in the room at the same time, the only thing that tells me apart from the students is my gray hair and drooping skin.

Literally, I have been an alien for nearly 30 years. Figuratively for much longer. I tried very hard to fit in in high school. And gave up entirely my junior year. All that contorting was very painful. And I never could figure out what I would win from it. Is it possible for life to still be like a bad teen rom-com when you are over 50?

I’m not going to win any popularity contests. And I am going to be okay with that.

In 7th grade, I did win a dance contest. The hustle was on the way out, but disco was still in. All the boys were named Steve or Greg. All the girls were Rebeccas and Pams. I do remember some things. A Halloween party and I tripped and got an ironic nickname for my performance. The nickname meant I belonged – for about four months. Then moved again. To start over in another town. You can’t bring nicknames with you. Especially when they’re ironic.

It’s weird I remember that nickname. Those people.

I’ve been thinking about how I have carried on a pattern of starting over throughout my life – even when it wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I circle back. And even though I get distracted, “Ooo – wouldn’t that be fun to do!”, I do think I am moving in an ever-tightening circle. Sort of zeroing in on a kind of contentment that isn’t dependent on other people’s responses. Not there yet. But closer.

I have a tattoo on the base of my neck. It is one of those Eastern-inspired Western designs that are about life’s path. I asked my (then) teen son to design it for me. It has a strange hard turn in one of the concentric circles. I’ve never asked him what it was. I assumed it was the divorce in his mind, though it was something else to me. Or maybe: AND it was something else for me. So when the tattoo artist assumed it was a mistake and asked me if I wanted him to “fix” the design. I said no.

My older son keeps reminding me to stay true to my joy. He doesn’t use those words – I have no idea whose words those are, actually. He says, only do the marketing as long as it is fun.

I haven’t submitted work to journals in over 5 years. I want to have my head together before I do. I want to have my personal guidelines clear before I even look at the calls.

Writing is my practice. It is not my livelihood. I’m going to try to dance, not hustle.

what feels like a hard
turn – decisive and brutal
will turn back again
in time imperceptibly
softening in the distance

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