I met Colleen Maynard in Kansas City when I attended a poetry group at the Writers Place for which Colleen was facilitator. I felt an immediate affinity for Colleen and her style for approaching poetry, which is both perceptive and intuitive. We became friends outside of the group and though she is now in Illinois and I in New Mexico, we remain in correspondence and feel certain our paths will cross again some day. Colleen is among the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever known and one of the many friends I am happy to have made during my eleven-month stay in Kansas City. I love what Colleen shares in her interview about living the artist’s life
Here is Colleen’s poem, Kindling Walk, followed by our interview together. I’ve also included Colleen’s professional bio.
by Colleen Maynard
After several blocks
the welts from the sticks
began to sear our cheeks.
So we decided we had gathered
enough kindling from the front lawns.
The red door loomed around the bend
one stick pierced Nora’s stockings.
He took injured and dying things with him
in the space underneath the scraggly pine trees.
The way he spoke to them,
there was a certain prodding in his voice
that inspired shy kids to speak.
Coming outside from the warm house,
it was so dark he felt like whispering.
Other of Colleen’s writings can be found at Fiction 365
I know that you are a visual artist in addition to being a poet. Discuss how visual art and poetry intersect or synthesize for you.
As both writer and visual artist, words, images and ideas fuel my interest in the world. As a writer, my training as a visual artist remains firm, and as an artist I return to words and collecting. Growing up I burrowed into books and invented movie sets for their protagonists, i.e. re-fabricating a babysitter’s house as the creepy mansion in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, or the local Detroit Art Institute as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in From the Mixed up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler. I also inherited my parents’ love of old movies; by nine, my siblings and I were creating our own scripts, songs and choreography to perform and film. These performances had a gloss of imagination I applied to my life. I began noticing richness in place and site. I started writing poetry, where my characters lived in these exaggerated worlds yet held fast to some sort of transcendence or escape. My visual work focuses on technique and process, drawing attention to things like landscape and language. Lately I have been working on a body of work using tiny, accumulative pinpricks to create short, prose-like sentences upon paper. The writing and art-making play nice together. I cannot do one without the other and having two loves makes me feel less limited.
Do you have any practices or rituals which help inspire you to work on your art?
I wish I could say I’ve got down a morning routine–the writer in me most appeals to mornings–but my visual artist side tends to be more nocturnal, so I’m a little bipolar in my practice. Overall though, when I need to write or make something with my hands I react as quickly to it as possible–usually giving myself a 24 or 48 hour period to do it in. I find to get that extra surge of motivation I often need to write or create, I have to do something physical–a hard bike ride or short run helps without fail. It gets me out of the house, into a density of experience, and thinking in concise, fast terms.
How do you make certain to spend time on your art or writing on a regular basis?
It’s important to balance out research/inspiration and actually doing the work. When I’m strapped for time or low on energy I allow myself to hibernate, using the time to read, take notes, look up artists and materials, reconnect with any friends I may have neglected, etc… it’s important to have real-life experience from which to reflect your work. It’s easy to get lost in the big picture thinking at times– “in order to be the writer/artist I want to be, I have to work harder, be there more often”–but let’s face it, it’s crippling to put yourself and your work on such a pedestal. By breaking it into steps– “today, I’m going to spend 40 minutes in studio, edit one poem, and send it off to one journal” –it feels more fluid and honest–not to mention doable and tactile, which, I have to remind myself at times, is the main reason I create; to get messy, to get to carry it over to another day as an integral part of my life. Living a real artist’s life, I think, is much more heroic than creating a masterpiece that hangs in a museum.
While most poetry doesn’t fit into any specific genre or adhere to any one description, there are useful ways to describe its aesthetics. Can you describe the aesthetic that your poems speak to or exemplify?
Much like children that grew up idolizing books and movies, the characters in my bodies of work constantly confront their expectancy for larger-than-life physicality and emotions, and the alternating euphoria and discrepancies that emerge from this expectancy. I’m attracted to human vulnerability and moments of violence counteracted by calm narratives. My work comes off soft-spoken and not developed to shock the eye, yet once read, precise and unforgiving.
Tell me about your future projects.
As well as continuing the pin-prick on paper series, I’m doing a lot of fine-line drawings using pen, ink and collage that center around the idea of a child’s version of a fictional landscape (i.e. miniature dollhouse and plastic toys amongst items a bird might scavenge in an urban setting for its nest). I’m lately drawn to cast-off toys that I grew up with and re-examining the relationships I had to them (toy as child, toy as talisman, toy as obligation, etc.). I’m also working on more narratives in the same vein as my 2010 self-published chapbook, Tiny Things, with its various girls and their ways of experiencing that adults often do not.
Colleen Maynard is a poet and visual artist. She is a 2007 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and has taught visual and language arts at the Mattie Rhodes Art Center in Kansas City. Her writing has previously been published in such places as the Australian-based Ceramic Art and Perception, and she is currently making a chapbook containing prose and drawings.