Poetry / Alyse Knorr
:: Lawn ::
1. Thriving roses at Chautauqua, wilting desert here. I am trying to live, trying to keep alive 2. two dozen plants, one cat, one human. Grass pokes through the beds but nothing in the bald patch. 3. All I remember of Márquez is the woman flying away. O porch string lights, O motion sensor light, 4. O mosquito candle light, O sun. O to purchase every detail of the Pinterest lawn, 5. paint the accent doors ourselves. I remember, too, the ants eating the baby, last of the family line. 6. Brush away the mulch, find the source, the root: let the water drip and accumulate. Not a downpour 7. but a soft slow drench. My daughter ripping up the yard layer by layer. Fistfuls of earth and grass blades, 8. like a swordsman or a chef. We’ll water again in an hour, unless it rains and we don’t.
From the writer
:: Account ::
I wrote “Lawn” in collaboration with painter Robin Hextrum, my colleague and next-door neighbor. Robin’s paintings are bursting with color and life—in a single piece, for instance, Robin renders two species of butterfly, a frog, dog, dragonfly, snail, fly, bee, and five different types of flower. Robin’s work also marries representational and abstract styles, so that one painting might contain an extremely life-like rose alongside a gestural sketch of a dragonfly. Finally, Robin’s paintings play with scale in fascinating ways—in one of her paintings you might find a greyhound standing beside a tulip of the same size.
I wanted to emulate these aspects of Robin’s work by mimicking her process. I’ve always been interested in ekphrastic poems that borrow elements from an artist’s process rather than attempting to describe or re-create a painting’s visuals. I went for a long walk with Robin and asked her questions about her process, and she showed me some photos of works in progress. I noticed that she starts by roughly blocking in a piece’s main elements—a rose approximately in the center, a dog toward the bottom, a tulip on the left, etc.—and then paints around those blocked-in elements, adding detail as she proceeds. I wanted to re-create this process verbally, so I aimed to write a poem around a set of blocked-in nouns.
I began the writing process by scattering across a page a list of nouns Robin gave me, all inspired from her paintings. Microsoft Word wouldn’t allow me to “pin” a word onto one part of the page and write around it, so instead, I blocked the words onto a Word page, saved the file as a JPG, and then typed over the JPG in Canva, a free online design tool.
Once I had completed a rough draft, I allowed myself to break lines and make formal revisions just as I would with any other poem; however, I challenged myself to retain all of the original words from the start of the process. I believe that by mimicking Robin’s process, I was able to achieve in my work a blend of abstraction and realism, a significant amount of tonal color, and a playful approach to setting and scale.
The poem’s thematic elements are inspired in part by the fact that Robin and I have adjoining yards. Since I wrote this poem outside in my backyard during the peak of summer, elements of gardening and landscaping appear, as well as my infant daughter and the topic of death. For me, these three subjects—gardening, motherhood, and death—all resonate together thematically. When you create a new life, you’re also creating a future death, and that’s been on my mind a lot since becoming a parent.
Alyse Knorr is a queer poet and assistant professor of English at Regis University. She is the author of the poetry collections Mega-City Redux (Green Mountains Review Books, 2016), winner of the Green Mountains Review Poetry Prize), Copper Mother (Switchback Books, 2016), and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books, 2013), as well as the non-fiction book Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books, 2016) and four poetry chapbooks. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, The Greensboro Review, and ZYZZYVA, among others. With her wife, she serves as co-editor of Switchback Books.