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The Making of an Anthology ~ The Selection of Artwork for In Plein Air

The Call for Submissions: Poetic License Press is seeking poems and two-dimensional art (color or b & w) about the natural world created, at least in part, while outdoors, was the Call for Words and Art we circulated in September, 2016. In Plein Air, the title for the anthology, is a nod to the French phrase en plein air, often used to connote painting while outdoors “in open air.”

My interest in making a book of poems and visual art was sparked by my recent collaborations with artists, which included creating placards of 5th grade student poems and artwork displayed on public busses and co-teaching expressive arts to people with epilepsy. My co-editor, Sue Gundlach, has long taught poetry to young people and publically shared her own poems in tandem with visual and musical artists.

The Arrival of Artwork: We received far fewer submissions of artwork than of poems. We conjectured that this might have been, at least in part, because as poets ourselves, Sue and I are more connected with literary communities than with visual artists. The artwork we did receive was intriguing and varied.

The Artwork Conundrum: For several months, we broadened our search for artwork, looking in galleries, print journals, on-line and across state lines. In November 2016, I spent several days at Wellspring House, a writers’ and artists’ retreat in Ashfield, MA, quiet possibly my favorite place on earth. While on retreat, I discovered the watercolor paintings of Walter Cudnohufsky, a brilliant local landscape architect and artist. Initially, I thought we’d include a couple of Walt’s paintings or drawings in the anthology.

During this time, Sue and I continued to gather and sift through poems. Once we decided that the anthology would contain more poems than the range for a chapbook (52 poems, in fact, corresponding with the number of weeks in a year), our thinking about artwork for the book shifted. Perhaps artwork created by the hand of a single artist would lend coherence to the substantial and varied collection of poems.

Imagining perhaps between six and twelve pieces of art, I asked Walt if he would be willing to illustrate the book on our shoestring budget. He consented and I quickly arranged a visit to Ashfield to work with him before he could change his mind. Our goal was to complete the artwork and its placement within In Plein Air by the end of my four-day stay.

The Illustration Process: When Walt and I began working side by side, I didn’t have a sense of the medium for the artwork or where to place it within the collection. The one thing I was pretty sure of was that working with Walt would be a magical experience, yielding an exquisite literary and artistic result. I was right.

Knowing that I wanted the poems to be primary and the art to be complementary, Walt and I relatively quickly decided on graphite vignettes. Implementing that quick decision was a much longer process. I’d read a poem aloud to Walt, noting the phrases that left me breathless and transformed. We’d share thoughts about imagery; I’d gesture with my hands and he’d sketch with his.

Walt was immeasurably generous with his time and talent. He was indefatigable. I did my best to keep up. We did it – nearly thirty drawings in four days.

Selecting the Cover and Notifying Artists: We chose for the cover a black and white photograph that had been submitted by Ozzie Nogg. Its textured feel has the quality of a drawing and its subject and treatment exemplify the overall spirit of In Plein Air. The tough part is letting the other (very patient) artists know of our decision to otherwise use a single illustrator and thus not to include their artwork. Though the work of these artists will not appear in the book, it nonetheless has been crucial in helping us hone our editorial vision and the shape and tenor of the book.

As the artwork is completed, we feel akin to how we felt when we wraped-up the selection of poems: exhilarated, exhausted, ambivalent about turning away the fine artwork that we could not include, and so very proud and delighted about the pairing of poems and artwork which comprise In Plein Air.

Copies of In Plein Air are available for purchase.

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© 2016 Poetic License, Inc.
P.O. Box 279, Glencoe, IL 60022
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