Imagine spending a stimulating Saturday evening visiting Gertrude Stein’s famous Paris salon at 27 rue de Fleurus. You’d wile away the hours hobnobbing with the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, Fitzgerald, and other artistes et écrivains d’avant-garde célèbre.
Alice B. Toklas might serve her famous Mushroom Sandwiches with Clear Turtle Soup, a lovely Violet Soufflé, and A Fine Fat Pullet, followed by a Tender Tart or even Custard Josephine Baker (what, you were hoping for Haschich Fudge?). 🙂
Wisconsin poet Andrea Potos revels in a similar scenario with her whimsical poem, “Imagining Heaven,” just one of the many finely crafted gems from her latest poetry collection, Marrow of Summer (Kelsay Books, 2021).
In some ways a companion to Mothershell (Kelsay Books, 2019), where Andrea lovingly distills fond memories of her mother Penny, Marrow of Summer is written “For all the beloveds, gone on,” honoring not only Penny, but her grandmother, father, and lost friends.
With intuitive insight, Andrea captures small revelatory moments, where gratitude, joy and hope eclipse the weight of loss and longing. It could be the whirring of hummingbird’s wings, the somber sound of the cello, or the startling flame of cardinal feathers: she is always fully present to wonder and willing to embrace the miraculous.
A fascinating aspect of Andrea’s work is how she cultivates a romantic, ever blossoming interior landscape — fertile ground where art, music, history, travel, and literature happily commingle to inform her poetic process. Her affinity for John Keats, the Brontës, Emily Dickinson and Renoir makes it easy to picture her thriving in a century gone by.
I thought it would be fun to share several poems from Marrow of Summer that speak to her writing and the beloved creatives who inspire her. I thank Andrea for sharing a little backstory for each poem along with personal photos. I must admit, her idea of heaven is pretty close to mine. 🙂
IMAGINING HEAVEN after Paul Zimmer I am sitting beside Shakespeare in Gertrude Stein’s studio. We are listening to John Keats recite an ode. The mullioned windows are flung open -- brightness unheard of gushes in -- one nightingale perches on a particular beam of sun. Just now, Emily D. glides in, arms linked with the other Emily. Charlotte follows close behind, the sequel to Jane Eyre in her hands. Renoir sets up his easel, a cigar hanging off his lips, while Emerson and Jung smile from the settee. Johannes and Clare settle close on the silk-draped piano bench, their fingers nearly touching. Outside, Satchmo and Dizzy are warming up in the gazebo. Mozart chats on the lawn with Frida Kahlo. Just now, Monet arrives offering a bouquet of water lilies splashed with water and light -- a gift from our Hostess who is everywhere though unseen.
I often start off my writing sessions by reading the work of other poets; I am often inspired that way. I discovered that the ancient Chinese poets called this way of creating poems “harmonization.” I love that word!
“Imagining Heaven” came about through just this process. I’d read the poet Paul Zimmer’s wonderful poem “Zimmer Imagines Heaven” which starts out with Joseph Conrad sitting in Monet’s garden, and listening to Yeats chant his poems. I knew Paul Zimmer was onto something. My idea of heaven wholly involved art and poetry, music and light and summer. So I started a list of my own. . . The poem was such fun to write! I’m sure I left out some beloved creators, but that leaves room for a future poem. . .
CONVERSING WITH KEATS 200th anniversary celebration, Hampstead Waiting for visitors, he stood in his study at Wentworth Place and welcomed me in: Hello Madame. I gave him news of a poem: a most beautiful title he told me. We conversed of the burgeoning spring beyond his windows, the nightingale he’d been relishing at dusk these past days; the inkpot on his desk, and the rustlings of his pen like tiny creatures of inspiration as he pins thoughts on paper scraps left laying around. And when he asked of me, From where does your inspiration arrive? I blurted: From you of course! I swear I caught slivers of light in his eyes before his gentle modesty translated into a bow, before I floated away from him and out of the room.
“Conversing With Keats” was born after our last trip to London in 2019. I had visited the Keats House in Hampstead several times before, but this trip happened to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Keats’ “Living Year” 1819, the year he composed his great Odes.
To celebrate, the house had real actors on the premises, representing Keats and his love Fanny Brawne, talking with visitors and reciting poems. The actor who played Keats was a man named Matthew Coulton; he was fabulous! Wandering into the study, I found him alone, idle and waiting, as if to chat; he was very receptive and gentlemanly. I felt transported, as if I were talking to the beloved man himself. A swoonworthy adventure for me indeed!
STUDIO SESSIONS Emily Dickinson Museum This is a mighty room/within its precincts hopes have played -- E.D. Two hundred dollars for one hour may be nothing for the chance to sit (given one small table and chair) breathing the air of her room. Surely some atoms of her being still linger, though the counterpane would be new, the lace curtains pristinely laundered since her touch. With only pencil and paper (no touching of the furnishings allowed), how would it be to live in the aftermath of her? Would she guide my hand across the modern page? Could I float along the lost thermals of her thought? Would ambition keep me stalled, forgetting how it was the nobodies she favored.
“Studio Sessions” came to me after I received a notice that the Emily Dickinson Homestead in Amherst had started a new fundraising program, whereby one could “buy” an hour or two to sit in her bedroom, writing, dreaming, meditating or whatever. The idea of it intrigued me enormously, although I doubted I would pay the money to do so. No pens allowed, no cups of coffee either–two essentials for my writing process. 🙂 And I wondered if I would feel under too much pressure to compose something great while sitting there, if I would be able to lose myself in the “lost thermals of her thought,” or if I would be able to sense her presence, which would be my greatest wish of course. . . . sigh.
WRITING AT HOME WITH EMILY D. The quiet with a presence as if stillness were its spine -- a discipline erect that grants me moments and words as eternity.
“Writing at Home With Emily D.” is my dream of a writing practice; one where quiet and stillness reign, and concentration is no effort at all. One feels in the flow with the muse, where each moment feels timeless. I think of Emily at work in this way. On my best days writing, this can happen, and when it does, it feels like a pure gift.
🍷 SALON DE CORNELIUS 🥖
Monsieur Cornelius was so impressed by Andrea’s book that he wanted to host his own Saturday night salon. After Frida Kahlo and Claude Monet read aloud from Marrow of Summer, the guests mingled freely with bread, wine, cheese, sweets, lots of laughter and splendid repartee. An evening to remember!
Coda: enjoy this bonus Andrea poem — a meditative blessing:
WHEN BEGINNING THE POEM may there be a listening rather than a making curiosity over expectation, lightness and ease, no straining toward some glut of air. May you step aside like a watcher at the meadow’s edge as the doe finds her way to the center.
Thanks again, Andrea, and Happy Writing to All!!
MARROW OF SUMMER
by Andrea Potos
published by Kelsay Books, March 2021
Poetry Collection, 70 pp.
The lovely and talented Catherine Flynn is hosting the Roundup at Reading to the Core. Mosey on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!
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