Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bartram's Boxes

You have been quite patient with me as I have talked about the Bartram's Boxes project without posting up many poems.  This was a tough assignment -- each poem containing a reference to a theme, a tree, and some Bartram history.  But after almost a year, 13 poems are all done and, with thanks to my  creative partner, Claire Owen,will be delivered today in their extraordinary boxes to the Center for Art in Wood exhibition.  The show does not open until May 2014 so I will send out a poem now and again to whet your appetite for the full series.

As often happens when I write, I can miss the most obvious thing.  So when I was contemplating the last Bartram poem inspired by the Kentucky Coffeetree to go into the Caretakers box, it finally occurred to me that there should probably be a poem called...

Bartram’s Boxes

We travel at risk of health and untold loneliness
to uncover what has been seen only by Creek
or crocodile among the brambles.

How we love each fruit or flower for its singularity,
the way we love a wife’s touch, a son’s quick mind,
a daughter’s attentiveness.

Ours is the commerce of curiosity,  seeds gathered,
sifted, tenderly nestled in moss, until with sunlight
and breath, each will spark like tinder,

reveal its secret – beauty, fragrance, usefulness –
brilliant as sunset, dark as coffee, a balm –
sent to bloom across oceans like the children
who blossom in our absence.

We are men of science.  Men of faith.
This is our praise.

(c) 2012

P.S.  Remember to check out my tagged writers for this week! (see the post below)

Ragdale buddy Sheila Flaherty
My mentor and poet extraordinaire AV Christie

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Next Big Thing!

I have been asked by my friend and poet Liz Bradfield to participate in The Next Big Thing -- a sort of "Tag! You're It!" blog scheme for writers to post up about their works in progress by all answering the same questions about an upcoming book.  You can check out Liz' post from last week to get the gist. Here goes!

What is the working title of the book?  Well, the poems were written as part of a collaboration with visual artist Claire Owen for an exhibition entitled “Bartram’s Boxes Remix.” I hadn’t thought of a title for the actual poems on their own.  But now that you ask, I am thinking the title will be “Solace”.

Where did the idea come from for the book?  In June 2010, 13 trees were toppled in a storm that went through Bartram’s Garden, a historic house and garden in Philadelphia. The Garden collaborated with the Center for Art in Wood and put out a request for exhibition proposals for art made from or inspired by the trees.

What genre does your book fall under?  The book is actually three small books of poetry (by me) and images (by Claire) so we have a sort of an interdisciplinary nature/history/poems/visual art genre here.  The photo above is the inside of the "Journeys" box.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?  The poems center around the Bartram family of botanists and naturalists as well as the trees and the gardens and war and slavery and women who never get a bit of historical attention…and… and…

I pick Daniel Day-Lewis as patriarch John Bartram.  Laura Linney as Ann Bartram.  Ewan McGregor as William Bartram.  Who perhaps could bring his lightsaber.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?  If 13 trees fall in the forest, can you make art about them?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?  I wrote the first two poems for the proposal to the exhibition while I was at Ragdale for an artist residency in October 2011.  We got word that we were accepted into the show in February 2012. Then Claire and I set up a series of deadlines for each of the three books which I then passed off to her so she had time to create her incredible boxes.But I delivered the last set of poems to Claire right on time in February 2013.

 By the way, writing really complicated poems on a deadline is really, really hard.  Thanks to everyone who listened to me whine for the past year.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  Claire and I had collaborated together on Sage and we both love old science, working together, nature things.  So this project seemed right up our alley.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? John Bartram was considered the father of botany in the New World and his home and the garden are still preserved, in all their quirkiness, on the banks of the Schuylkill River behind a low-income housing project.  If you’ve never been there, you should definitely visit come spring.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  Well, one problem of writing poems that are going to be shown as beautiful hand-bound books in three beautiful hand-crafted boxes is that no one will be able to read them in the exhibition.  So I am starting to work on creating either a chapbook or e-book (or both) to accompany the exhibition and get the poems “out of the box”.  I have time.  The exhibition opens at the Center for Art in Wood in May 2014. 

As incentive to check out my tagged writers, I will post up a Bartram poem next Wednesday.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday, March 13, 2013 are:

Ragdale buddy Sheila Flaherty
My mentor and poet extraordinaire AV Christie (through Facebook)