Poetry / Alyse Knorr

:: Lawn ::

Thriving roses at Chautauqua, wilting 
desert here. I am trying to live, 
trying to keep alive 

two dozen plants, one cat, one human. 
Grass pokes through the beds 
but nothing in the bald patch. 

All I remember of Márquez
is the woman flying away. O porch
string lights, O motion sensor light, 

O mosquito candle light, O sun. 
O to purchase every detail 
of the Pinterest lawn, 

paint the accent doors ourselves. 
I remember, too, the ants eating
the baby, last of the family line. 

Brush away the mulch, find the source, 
the root: let the water drip 
and accumulate. Not a downpour

but a soft slow drench. My daughter
ripping up the yard layer by layer. 
Fistfuls of earth and grass blades,

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.