I can’t listen to music with words, as it interferes with my word process, but wordless music, classic or jazz, can sometimes enhance my writing. A Bach piece with choral work or John Coltrane’s horn can bring me there.
I guess combining art forms is usually a good thing. I’ve happily done readings of my poetry in art galleries. I think the art enhances the reading. How do you use the arts to enhance your writing?
My upcoming book, Touch My Head Softly is due out in early 2021;
MAVEN REACHES MARS: Home Poems and Space Probes in Four Fascicles looks around at a world in crisis and asks, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here?” and by the way, “Who am I?” The answers come wryly, ruefully, sometimes playfully, in poems prompted by the day’s news, by fading family photos, by existential fears and poignant twin grandchildren. Johnson’s poetry reaches out in a conversational style and, like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, she writes the reader into the poem. These were the poets her grandmother and mother quoted so often in Kansas and Colorado, decades before Jane moved to Amherst, where Frost and Dickinson are part of the local landscape. But Johnson’s background is beyond fandom. Her early leadings coalesced in the MFA writing program at Goddard College, where she learned from such mentors as Stephen Dobyns, Thomas Lux, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass, and Donald Hall. Jane McPhetres Johnson’s first published book is a life’s work—more than 90 poems all in one place, painstakingly edited and carefully curated over a 50-year pursuit that has largely been a solo flight. Now, with intricate drawings by Portuguese artist Maria Greene, Johnson’s compelling personal and political opus arrives.
What writing releases for me is multifaceted. It gives me permission and justification for my sorrow, frustration, anger. I can put it onto the page, and it may stay there, in my ongoing journal, but even if I am the only one to see it, it’s still a release.
It’s a spiritual path, practiced through writing. I’m not talking about God necessarily. I’m a recovering Catholic who is currently agnostic, letting in the possibility, but not really knowing.
Creativity is a natural process and blocks to it are unnatural. Writing unblocks those pathways and gives us access to our true selves.
I took a spiritual journey in writing my latest book of poems, “Touch My Head Softly.”
I released my pain and frustration about having a partner who was stricken by Alzheimer’s Disease and eventually died, leaving me devastated. Releasing those feelings in the vessels of those poems has been healing for me.
“Touch My Head Softly” is in pre– sales at Finishing Line Press:
“Act as if what you do makes a difference, it does.” William James
Can a book make a difference? We are told our actions make a difference, but can a book, with diminishing print sales, lack of readership, and confusion about meaning, make a difference. This topic has been on my mind ever since I decided to donate part of the proceeds of my book of poetry about my partner who died of Alzheimer’s to the Alzheimer’s Association.
When I approached my publisher about it, she didn’t respond. When I approached the Alzheimer’s Association, they had never heard of such a thing and thanked me for the donation. When I told my friends, they asked if I thought I would sell enough copies to even form a decent donation.
So why do it? Some five million people are living with Alzheimer’s, and the number is growing. I never had it, but the disease killed my partner and wrecked my life ten years ago. It’s strange to write, publish and then read about this experience. I thought if I contributed something to the research, it might ameliorate this whole process.
I also found it hard to talk to people about the donation, because they may see it as some strange hero thing. On the other hand, it can also be viewed as self-serving as people may buy the book because part of the proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association, but as Adele, when she was asked if she was nervous hosting Saturday Night Live, recently said, “But if there was ever a time for any of us to jump head first into the deep end with our eyes closed and hope for the best it’s 2020 right?”
I don’t know how you deal with self-doubt and self-criticism, but I know that loving life helps.
In the midst of a pandemic, I know this is hard. But I have been trying to come up every day with something to be grateful for. I live in Western Massachusetts, which has some of the loveliest landscapes and lakes on the earth. I canoe with my partner often. I find focusing on nature is a great antidote. I have a porch that looks out on a beautiful meadow and even while I’m sitting in my study writing, I’ll go out to the porch and look at a tree or plant or flower.
My latest collection of poetry is coming out soon. Check it out: