Chatting with Andrea Potos about Arrows of Light

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” ~ John Keats (Endymion, 1818)

Andrea at the Promega Employee Art Fair (Madison, Wisconsin, 2018)

 

The first poem in Andrea Potos’s chapbook Arrows of Light begins like this:

The lake is a blue scarf ironed
by stillness, locust leaves burnt
yellow, everywhere, softness
in September air.

Her exquisite metaphor took my breath away as I envisioned the tranquil autumn scene. Potos next quotes Keats:

The first thing that strikes me on hearing
a misfortune having befalled another is:
Well it cannot be helped — he will have
the pleasure of trying the resources of his spirit

Miles away, Andrea’s mother is undergoing cancer radiation treatment. The doctor “will aim one perfect arrow of light in the errant spot that would claim her if it had its way . . . ”

 

This poignant opening poem, “Morning of My 56th Birthday,” sets the stage for 25 other luminous and poignant ruminations about beauty, light, loss and grief. With her mother’s decline, each precious moment is amplified, bringing intense clarity and love.

Even as Andrea grieves, she celebrates life. Light and dark, joy and sorrow, flip sides of the same coin. She juxtaposes these two elements with extended metaphors of blue and gold: the blues of lake, sea, twilight, flowers, sadness; the golds of autumn, sunlight, Van Gogh, and radiant childhood memories.

“Grief, he told her, is the exhale of love (the ache of breathing) . . . “

Since so many of you enjoyed my post featuring Andrea’s poem, “Yaya’s Sweets,” I invited her back to talk about Arrows of Light (Iris Press, 2017). Her beautifully lyrical poems, laced with stunning details and striking images, remind us that eternal truths take hold in our most fragile moments.

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♥️ POETRY CHAT WITH ANDREA POTOS ♥️

 

Andrea with her mother Penny

When and why did you begin writing poetry?

I wrote very bad poetry as a child, but never gave up on my love of writing and the word. Like many young girls, Louisa May Alcott was my love, and Jo March my “mentor.” I dreamed of writing in a garrett, with my long flowing skirts spread out around me.    🙂 I always wrote in diaries and notebooks. Gradually, I improved through the years. . . 🙂

Please tell us about the genesis of Arrows of Light. What was the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of working on these poems?

Arrows of Light was born from the incredible experience of being present with my mother during her journey through lung cancer and her eventual passing. Throughout this time, I truly learned what it means to be present in each moment, to experience what I feel is the eternal in each moment. The book also weaves in my love of particular visual artists, Renoir, Van Gogh and Matisse, and the beauty they brought to the world.  My mother is part of that beauty. Truthfully, the book and all the photos came together kind of seamlessly.

You describe yourself as obsessed with John Keats. What draws you to his poetry and how do you think he’s influenced your writing?

What draws me to John Keats is his incredible wisdom and soulfulness, and even his humor. You can experience this especially through the long and voluminous letters he wrote to his family and friends. I return to his letters often. His writing encourages me to look deeper into the truth of images, beings and things; a typical Romantic notion I suppose. . . 🙂 “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” he says.

“Around this woman, a meadow is pierced like a night sky of bluebells, a million twilights of blue dreaming . . . “

I love how you used all the beautiful blues and golds in these poems. Why did you decide on these particular colors? Any advice for those wishing to use color as a literary device?

Blue and gold are beautiful and spiritual colors for me.  I have always gravitated to the color gold. There is even a poem in Arrows of Light entitled “Gold.”  I don’t think I consciously decided to use the colors in the book; they rose organically as I wrote. . . For a writer, I would say to stay open to what a color evokes for you and look for it everywhere; then stay open to the feelings that arise when you start to feel that tug: that moment when a poem starts taking off into its voice.

Please describe your poetic process using a favorite poem from this chapbook as an example.

I am often struck by a quote or an image, and then I jump off from there; I just keep writing and writing. When looking at the gorgeous painting by Renoir of his art dealer’s daughters, I started to want to talk with them, find out what it was like while they were standing there so still as the great Renoir painted them. Thus, the poem “For the Daughters of Durand-Ruel” was born.

“The fabric of your lavendar-blue gowns must be so heavy from holding more than a century of so much light.”

What food inspires your best writing? Talk about the joy of writing in cafés.

Any comfort food, including the Greek foods of my heritage, inspires my writing. My maternal grandmother’s cooking and baking inspired so much of the poetry in my book Yaya’s Cloth.

I love the quiet buzz of writing in cafés, the rich taste of espresso beside me as I work, the sense of arriving at a poetic “office” if you will. I need to get away from home and have that separate space for writing. I even leave my cell phone aside.

Penny with her grilled cheese at the café.

The poem “For My Friend Who Told Me Don’t Fete the Dead,” is about you and your mother frequenting an outdoor café every summer to eat blueberry pie. Please share a favorite memory from those times.  

I think that poem speaks to what meant so much to me about our yearly, seasonal trips to this particular Milwaukee café.  My mother would call ahead to make sure they set aside two pieces of their legendary blueberry pie. We’d show up, eat a dutiful lunch al fresco (which was always delicious too), knowing that what we really were there for was their famous pie. . . . 🙂  And an extra plate of whipped cream to share of course.

More of the legendary blueberry pie!
Penny at the café.

Is there anything else you’d especially like us to know about Arrows of Light?

Arrows of Light is a love song of sorts for my mother. In the poems I have also tried to convey the joy behind the grief, the knowings beyond the visible facts.

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🌻 A SAMPLER OF POEMS FROM ARROWS OF LIGHT ☀

“Interior with a Violin Case” by Henri Matisse (1918-19)

 

Interior with a Violin Case
~ Henri Matisse

Beyond white drapes and French doors,
three blackbirds are on the verge
of flying off a slategreen railing
that hems water and sky.
Blue has ventured within
the room and gathered like deep twilight
inside the violin case spread open
and emptied.
Somewhere near
there must be music
playing the notes of the sea.

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Penny at age 16 in San Francisco

 

I Ask My Mother to Show Me the Old Greek Church of Her Childhood

We drive beside Lake Michigan’s
near unearthly blue.
At Knapp and Broadway, she points
to the spot — now a parking lot, clean black tar
planted with a zillion tiny stars
that glint in the September light.
It was there, she said, where
she, at 14, first saw my father.
I told myself, I’m going to marry that boy.
I imagine her, waiting at the bottom of that small hill.
He moved toward her, his white shirt
shuddering in the breeze off the water, his face
so clear from afar, olive skin and dark hair
blazing in air, like a young god,
the planet spinning
from her axis onto his.

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Mother, After

Just before
I dipped
into sleep
she appeared
on the canvas
of my eyelids —
tranquil joy
on her face like
Renoir
might have painted,
light dappling
around and through her.

Even when the brush
had to be tied to Renoir’s
bent and failing hands,
Beauty drew through them
as my mother — even beyond —
cannot help but be who she is.

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Mom, Leaving

For her I imagine
it was just the last page, the one
with margins illuminated, gold
burnished and burning, edges
raggedy and soft to the touch as she
turned to enter her next
story we have no language for.

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ARROWS OF LIGHT
by Andrea Potos
published by Iris Press, September 2017
Poetry Chapbook, 39 pp.

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For more of Andrea’s poems inspired by John Keats, check out:

AN INK LIKE EARLY TWILIGHT
by Andrea Potos
published by Salmon Poetry, 2015
Poetry Collection, 64 pp.

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📷 WITH MY HANDS GIVEAWAY WINNER! 📗

Thanks for sharing all the things you like to make — it ranged from knitting, crocheting, painting, photography and calligraphy to chair caning, cooking, baking, and of course, poems. It’s nice to read the comments and see pies and cookies mentioned several times. 🙂

We are pleased to announce that the winner of WITH MY HANDS: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson is:

🧤PENNY PARKER KLOSTERMANN! 🎩

🎉 WOOHOO!! CONGRATULATIONS, PENNY!! 🎈

👏 👏 👏 👏 👏

Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book.

And thanks, everyone, for entering the giveaway!

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The charming and winsome Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting the Roundup at The Poem Farm. Scamper over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week.


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**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

41 thoughts on “Chatting with Andrea Potos about Arrows of Light

  1. What a gift this book is for us! These poems that you’ve shared are so powerful and poignant and personal. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Andrea. And thank you, Jama, for being a continuing source of light during these hard times. I will look forward to reading this book, and savoring these poems, and moments. ❤

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      1. Yes. I can tell that just from the few you’ve shared. I so wish that I would have been able to make a yearly trek to blueberry pie with my mother. Though, truth be told, it probably would have needed to be strawberry rhubarb for the both of us. 🙂

        Thank you for these poems and this peek into Andrea’s process.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Strawberry rhubarb sounds good. My mom enjoyed all kinds of pie, including blueberry — but she often said her real passion was good bread. 🙂

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  2. My goodness, these are poems of great clarity and beauty. I can just SEE so much in them – and the art really brings that all together, as well as the photographs. What a lovely book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post brought some tears, Jama and Andrea. What beauty is brought (and celebrated) when we write and contemplate our losses. I am brought to my own, love that you share the loves of color and art, too, Andrea, a rich gathering. “Somewhere near/there must be music/playing the notes of the sea. Thanks for every bit shared.

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    1. Yes, the music, the art, the memories, the reflections — all expressed so beautifully in Andrea’s poems. Love her use of color especially in this chapbook.

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  4. Jama, this is a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing more of Andrea’s work with us. I’ve lost my mother too…and there is a sacredness in that passing that I haven’t been able to put into words. It has changed me. I think I will understand Andrea’s Arrows of Golden Light and enjoy them.

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    1. Her poems have helped me understand my feelings about my mother’s loss too, Linda. The sadness of losing someone, yet the joy of having had them in your life — how to express that?

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  5. Thank you, Jama, for introducing me to Andrea. Her beautiful poems tug at my heart, reminding me of my mother and our stories.

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  6. I am drawn into your post when I read that first line, “The lake is a blue scarf ironed by stillness.” Breathtakingly beautiful. And then reading her poems about grief. Like several others, I am moved to tears, and immediately want to jump online and order her chapbooks. This seems like it would be a perfect gift for a grieving friend. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know!! That line is so brilliant and exquisite! And I agree — a nice gift for someone grieving because the poems offer solace but also hope.

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  7. “The next story we have no language for.” This line is so perfect. Andrea, thank you for sharing your journey through this book of poems. They are precious. And jama, thank you for sharing this interview and excerpts from the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Exquisite. The exact word I had chosen while reading. Magnificent. I will get this book. I will share it with my mother with the hope she may wish to write about hers. Such a tribute. xxxx

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