Publishing a book is a lot like bringing a baby to term. The pain, the sweat, the worry, the fear, the second-guessing, the hesitation, the anxiety that it won't be the baby one wanted. All except the blood, I suppose, unless paper-cuts count.
And then after the baby is launched, post-partum depression. I have to admit that, even after having been warned, I failed to notice the feeling of let-down after the publication of my first two books. Perhaps it's the same with any artist.
My newest book, "In Nature's Image", will be different, I say to myself, but I doubt it. So here goes!
Unlike my first two books of poetry, which were poems with illustrations to accompany them, this book is more of a marriage between illustration and poem. Photography and poetry together, the visual and the auditory. (I say auditory because poetry is best when heard, even if silently in the mind while reading. Historically, all poetry was spoken; only much later did people codify it with words.)
I've been working on this book for about thirty-five years, though until recently the idea of a book had yet to occur to me.
It began instead with greeting cards. About 1996 a good friend suggested I use my sky photography in greeting cards. He worked in the Bookstore at the Nelson-Atkins Museum and told me they were always looking for new items to display and sell, and he thought my collection of photos made into cards would be a perfect match.
I thought it was also a great way to pay for all the film developing I was having done, in the days before digital.
So I made up some photographic prints of my best photos and mounted them on greeting card stock. Then I began adding a short verse or saying inside each card that fit with the picture.
I quickly discovered that most people didn't want cards with words, at least not the poetry and verse I was coming up with. None of the cards said anything about birthday, Valentine's or Christmas. So I just left them blank for people to write their own thoughts. They sold better that way! I think even people without great writing expertise still wanted to use their own words; there were already oodles of ready-made cards from the big-box card makers.
So I retired the poems, and there they sat waiting on my hard drive for me to find a use for them. And eventually, I did. I realized that the photos and the verse were perfectly suited for each other...just not suitable for greeting cards. I decided to give them their own form. I started making prints and canvases with the combined photo-poems, and it felt right. It worked.
"In Nature's Image", due to publish April Fool's Day, 2020, is the culmination of those thirty-odd years using camera and pen. It includes over sixty photo-poems.
Sometimes the image moved me to write my response to the encounter I had experienced. Other times, the poem came first and I sorted through different images until I found one that was not too warm, not too cold--"just right".
The poem for "The Path", for example, came to me as I walked through deep woods. As I slowly measured the trail step by thoughtful step, a singular insight burst upon me: every step I took on my walk, as in my life, determined not only where I went but who I then became. In five minutes the poem was complete and I did very little editing. Much later, sifting through my photography, the image, which I had tossed aside as uninteresting years earlier, jumped out at me as the perfect match. I resurrected it and joined the two together.
When we walk upon the earth, our footprints send tiny tendrils deep into the soil.
The path we choose then grows to become the beautiful root of the soul.
With "Day's End" the photo preceded the poem. No parent wants to admit they have favorites among their children, but I am truly fond of this photograph. The three layers of cloud lit up three different ways: high cirrus wisps in white, mid-level altocumulus in butterscotch and crimson, and the lower cumulus in dark shadow. The uncanny matching profiles of the cumulus clouds and the treeline thousands of feet below. The way two cloud decks appear to be reaching hands toward one another, like Yahweh creating Adam, which might inspire Michaelangelo to attempt a sequel.
We are eternal.
Like endless tall clouds we billow,
Twirl and dance before the face of heaven
Where infinity is wrapped and
Woven into fabric.
It all conspired to win my affection. (Don't worry, children, I love the rest of you, too!) It was much later that the words came, inspired by the complex nature of the photo as well as the complex and wondrous nature of the universe.
A few times, both poem and picture came simultaneously. As I sat shivering in the cab of my truck on a frigid mid-October night, my telescope's camera collecting a series of eight twenty-minute exposures of deep space, a poem dropped as if through the clear black sky to land on the keyboard of my laptop. It became "Dreamers in Flight". Perhaps some creature on a distant planet in the Horsehead Nebula noticed me watching from light-years away and beamed the poem to me, as a way of saying, "Hello, we see you out there! Isn't this universe amazing?"
O life is made of heaven
We can see it sometimes when we dream
Our days were meant to shine out
Pinpricks in the black dome of night
Dreamers in flight
I am often in a state of awed wonder at the beauty and symmetry of the world. These photo-poems are one way I find meaning in this universe of infinite mystery.
Go grab your copy of "In Nature's Image" and discover the wonder for yourself. Grasshoppers, clouds, stars, sun sets and rises and the simple wonders of an ordinary day: this is what it's like to be alive.