Art Feature: April is a Pregnant Cat

Posted by on Apr 30, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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April is a Pregnant Cat

April is a pregnant cat,
slinking in through the last,
lingering shadows cast
by March’s final monuments –
already etched with winter’s past
scratchings.  She adds her own,
clawing at the cold surface, trailing new lines
through withered vines, marking her scent
as she stretches,  up,  a growing belly
of blue sky.  Soon — soon —
blossoms trail after her,
everywhere,
like kittens.

 

 

Photo: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, 1996. (c) Heidi St. Jean

April is a Pregnant Cat
by Heidi St. Jean

Heidi St. Jean received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing/Poetry from Fairfield University, where she was selected as the recipient of its 2013 Academic Achievement Award for the M.F.A. program. She is currently the poetry editor for Theodate, an online poetry journal. She previously worked as managing editor for the literary journal Drunken Boat, and was one of two poetry editors for Mason’s Road. Her poetry and essays have been published or are forthcoming in Rock & Sling; Afterimage: Inklight; The Lyon Review; The Barefoot Review; Long River Run; Mason’s Road and Theodate. Her ekphrastic poem, “The Lawrence Tree,” was selected as Third Prize winner in the 2013 Al Savard Memorial Poetry Contest, sponsored by the Connecticut Poetry Society. (The judge was Russell Strauss, past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.) Her poem, “Surrealistic Dream of the Synesthete,” won Honorable Mention in the Maine Media Workshop and College contest, displaying in Maine Media Gallery’s “Dreams” exhibit during Spring 2014.


1.  Ekphrastic poetry is special for a lot of reasons. What’s extra special about this piece is that both the image and the poem are your own. Can you tell us some more about this photo? What inspired you to take this beautiful picture, and how’d you choose to capture it in this way?

I was in Paris for the first time, and fell completely in love with this amazing cemetery when I finally was there in person. I had an old Minolta workhorse camera with a 50 mm lens and 600 speed film; I was trying to capture some shots that would evoke the feeling this place gave me. What I love about this shot is that it has the texture of a black-and-white, but was taken with color film, so just a hint of the color comes through in all the right places. There were cats throughout the cemetery but this mama cat really captured my interest – seeing her juxtaposed against the tombstones was something I wanted to capture. Just as I was trying to get this particular shot, the mama cat strode through as a perfect silhouette.

2. “April is a Pregnant Cat” is stunning for so many reasons. The poem evokes the motion of a cat through language and lineation. Can you describe the process you went through as you looked at your picture and were mused to write this poem? How does the process of creating an ekphrastic poem compared to writing a poem independently?

I have been thinking about the story of this particular picture for years, noodling it over and over in my brain. I wanted to explore the story through some form of writing – I journaled about it at the time I took it – but turning it into a “successful” poem eluded me. It wasn’t until I came back to it this year that I was finally able to discover the “angle of universality” for which I’d been searching to make it come together in the way that felt right, and true to the story I wanted to share. For me, writing ekphrastically is very different than writing independently. It triggers a separate place of creativity – it’s like going in through a window instead of a door – and if it’s a dusty, creaky cellar window, or an attic that you crawl into off a ladder, even better. Art can be that ladder, that window for me, and helps me get to a different view.

3. Can you tell us more about you? Who are you as a poet, and what is your creative process? Any tips or techniques that you employ that you’d like to share?

Although I have been writing poetry for years, I consider myself an emerging poet. My creative process is continually under development – but I am inspired by art, photography, music — and love to use them as starting points for poems. I love that a poem written about another art form becomes linked with its inspirational source. I love that connection, which feels like a sense of collaboration to me. Through my work, I try to honor the piece that has inspired me. As a working poet, I also read as much as I possibly can. I actively read – I try to analyze the work I am reading, to understand what techniques a poet is using and why – what effect it has on the reader and whether it is successful or not. And then I try those techniques myself, in an attempt to create particular experiences for the reader.

4. What artist or piece of art would you most like to turn our readers onto, and why is this person or piece so significant?

Oh – there are so very many! It’s nearly impossible to choose just one. An artist whose work I am enjoying lately is Marie Spartali Stillman, especially her portraits of women reading. She was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter, and I love the intricate dreaminess of her pieces. She was incredibly talented, and there’s something about her work that gives me peace. But I know her style of work is probably not for everyone among your readership, so I’d also recommend Kazuyuki Ohtsu’s woodblock prints. Ohtsu’s work is on another part of the spectrum entirely, and has a sparseness to it that is in sharp contrast to the ornate detailing of Stillman’s art.

5. What poet or poems are you reading right now that you’d really love to show our readers?

I’ve been reading Wallace Stevens –  I love that Stevens worked for decades in a corporate job, and yet still managed to create lasting and notable art. I also love that James Merrill donated money to ensure Stevens’ work would never go out of print. Stevens is not an “easy” poet to read. He’s like whiskey – you have to WANT to acquire a taste for it, I think. And yet, there are some poems of his that just completely draw me in immediately, like “The Candle A Saint.” I love that one.

6. Can you share some of the other pieces or projects that you are working on now?

I’m working on a chapbook and also on a full collection of ekphrastic poems, inspired by local art.

7.  What else should our readers to know about you?

Now that I have my motorcycle license, I’ve started a scooter gang with some friends. We meet for brunch, so we’re calling ourselves the Rolling Scones.


Linsey Jayne is a wave-headed poet with a penchant for jazz who received her MFA in creative writing at Fairfield University. Her writing has been published in such publications as The Standard-Times, The Dartmouth-Westport Chronicle, and exactly.what.  She has served as the chief poetry editor for Mason’s Road, as well as the student editor for the Bryant Literary Review and the opinion section editor of The Archway. Linsey is currently at work on her first collection of poetry, entitled Idle Jive.

 

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