I have always been a fast eater, but let's just say that the morning of our presentation at the Wisconsin Poetry Festival I really chowed down in record time. I gulped a giant mug of coffee and scarfed down my incredibly hearty breakfast (think heaping platter of scrambled eggs, sausage, homemade toast + yogurt with granola).
Because Karen Laudon lives in Madison and I live in rural Manitowoc, I had only experienced her sculptures for our collaborative installation Lost & Found (a series that explores Lorine Niedecker's missed motherhood and conflicted relationship with her mother) through snapshots via late-night text messages and batches of studies for sculptures sent in Sunday morning emails.
So maybe (hopefully) it was understandable that I was edgy and anxious and giddy as I chugged my orange juice with breakfast and as Karen and I trotted the six blocks from our bed and breakfast to the Dwight Foster Public Library. We crunched through reddish-orange leaves past farmer's market stalls featuring honey taffy and gourmet marshmallows, and all I could think was, "We're late, we're late." When a well-meaning poetry-enthusiast wielding sidewalk chalk invited Karen and I to write our lives in six words on the sidewalk, I may have brushed past her with a curt "no thanks." We're late, we're late, I kept thinking. It was minutes before our 9 a.m. presentation for the Wisconsin Poetry Festival, and I would have to wait until after our session to finally see Karen's work in person.
The other morning sessions following our presentation were so stimulating that I temporarily forgot my anxious quest to see the sculptures. C.X. Dillhunt of Hummingbird Magazine of the Short Poem gave an animated, meandering talk on the short poem--complete with a short poem literally unpacked from a plastic bag of thrift store finds. After a reading of "Pied Beauty" and a smattering of other short poems (Robert Creeley, Charles Simic, Cid Corman), C.X. revealed his "7 Recipes for a Short Poem." Among my favorite gems from his recipe file: Something thought short, said short, written short, read short: something the reader wants to reread and something the writer wants to perform again.
Shoshauna Shy and the curators of HYBRID shared their experiences with bringing poetry into communities (think poetry and visual art in Madison taxicabs!). Then, poet Tom Montag, who recently released In This Place, unleashed "Ten Things I Know About the Short Poem" (#1= The frog must jump).
And then it was time.
Karen's Wooly Womb Nest sculpture in all its haunting, steel wool glory was one of the first pieces that caught my eye in the upstairs space adjacent to the Lorine Niedecker archives. The three-foot-diameter steel wool nest contains pockets of space that suggest embryos or perhaps sacs for Lost and Found, the [imaginary?] ghost daughters of Lorine Niedecker.
Karen's bees' wax sculpture depicting Daisy Niedecker's head (complete with eyeglasses) sits atop a sturdy log. Brilliant cobalt blue ears suggest the hearing loss Lorine's mom suffered as well as the deep connection to water, to place.
And then I saw them--twin books as light as air suspended from the gallery's fireplace mantel by fishing lines. Later a festival attendee would call the books bird-like, would see them in flight. But for now, all I could see was the negative space where the mischievous Lost and Found might have been moments before, aloof and knowing in little black dresses.
A mystery woman in red glasses stepped closer and said what Karen and I might have been thinking: "Do you ever wonder if maybe the two of you are, like, spiritual descendants of Lorine Niedecker?"
Maybe Lost and Found were looking on from afar, rolling their eyes.
Lost & Found take Fort Atkinson
When Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) became pregnant, lover and fellow poet Louis Zukofsky persuaded her to have an abortion. According to Jerry Reisman, Lorine named the twins ‘Lost’ and ‘Found' and "ached for her twins all the years of her life."
Literary socialites with Birkin bags
and designer pencils,
they swig all the grasshoppers at Club 26
then clink their vintage glasses.
[Ghost princesses of Black Hawk Island
don’t care about calories.]
When it floods,
they bottle Genuine floodwater
from Lorine’s cabin
their reading habits.
They’ll hold court, cross-legged
at Café Carpe in little black dresses
and mother’s signature spectacles,
a hardcover propped on each lap
as if suspended
by twin fishing lines.
--poem first published in Verse Wisconsin
Note: Lost & Found is on display at the Dwight Foster Public Library in Fort Atkinson, WI through October 18.