I visited my daughter Angela and her partner Abe in White River Junction between January 6 and the 13th. My son Isaac came along, too. Since Angela’s attending the Center for Cartoon Studies, and should receive her MFA this May, I thought I share a few photos I took during our post-holiday winter stay at WRJ.


Greetings at the Coolidge Hotel

After a long red-eye flight, complete with delays and hunger, accentuated with poor sleep, coffee was necessary.


Angela and Abe in sunny, downtown WRJ


Isaac with coffee

It had snowed and was sort of melting. Signs mentioned that it is not safe to stand near the eaves of buildings.


We took a tour of the CCS seniors’ building, starting with the stairs.

Then to the main senior classroom, where Angela showed us her desk.


The whiteboard information

A doll and found art add the necessary decorations for a cartoon classroom. This is serious education after all.

There are also some Asian influenced artworks to view.

And some wall art.

I took a tour of the downtown White River Junction…


This is the main building of the Center for Cartoon Studies

A few more buildings from WRJ.

Yes, WRJ has an opera house. Oddly. And there’s also an old train station there…

And the entrance to Angela’s place, plus a couple more photos of a garage door above where A&A live, and the trees at the top of the hill… or the mountain, as they rightfully call it, though it would be a foothill if it were here. Sorry. I couldn’t help saying that.

I also visited the possibly world famous Center for Cartoon Studies [Charles] Schultz Library. If it isn’t world famous, it should be.  There are so many fantastic and amazing books in this library—Kapow!—I’d advise everyone who can to plan a visit. The books fill the shelves from ceiling to floor. There are major publishers and self-published books represented. You’ll find everything from the mass produced books to the highest quality limited-edition handmade books on the shelves. And no white gloves necessary.


Entryway to the CCS Schultz Library with Angela at work.


Angela and Abe at work in CCS’ library


By the end of the week, we were pretty tired.

Last Saturday, I took a four-hour toolmaking workshop at Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress (http://bisonbookbinding.com/) in Bellingham, WA, with Jim Croft, who teaches the old ways of bookbinding and papermaking in Idaho. See his website here: http://www.traditionalhand.com

So we all met in Bison’s workshop, and Jim showed us several boxes of deer and elk bones from which we could choose our subjects for the class. He also showed us several files and sandpapers that we would be working with, as well as a right-handed hewing axe, and a hand drill. He also had a left-handed hewing axe. This type of axe is flat on one side, and is use to gently shape the bones prior to filing and sanding. I tried it, and it worked just fine. He even had a stump handy next to a backboard, so the chips wouldn’t fly too far.

Three bone tools on handmade paper dyed with blackberries

Three bone tools on handmade paper dyed with blackberries

I chose a medium-small deer bone to start with, hewed it, and then used three files and four sandpapers on it to make a bone folder. The inside was indented, as a bone is sometimes, and Jim showed me a few tools made of broken knife or saw blades. They were about three to four inches long, and had one (or both) end sharpened for scraping out the bone. I tried that, and it seemed to work okay, and then… more sandpapering, but with the scrap rolled up.

Then I made another, smaller, bone folder from another deer bone. It is a tan “wooden” color because it was buried in the dirt for a while to clean it. The first one was boiled, which kept it white. I finished the second one about a half hour before the workshop was over. I kept sanding it, since you can sand them until they are smooth as gems, which is even smoother than a baby’s bottom. I did that for ten minutes, thinking about getting another bone before I finally made up my mind and did.

A short thin bone, this time. I was thinking of an awl. So I hewed that one pointed on one end, and got to work. I still have some sanding to do on all of the tools I made, but I ended up with three perfectly useful handmade bone tools. My friend Nancy was also there, and was able to leave the workshop with her own bookbinding tools. Each one is different from the other. That is only one of the beauties of making things by hand.

Two bone folders and the beginning of an awl

Two bone folders and the beginning of an awl

The Transformations & Translations Show will be held at The Works Studio, Gallery and Conversations: 301 W. Holly, #U3, Bay Street Village, Bellingham, WA. Stop in to see the artworks during Bellingham’s Art Walk Night—Friday, June 5 from 6 to 9 PM. And also on Friday, June 12 from 7 to 9 PM, for an evening of music, poetry and art (with musician Allison Preisinger, and poets Nancy Canyon, James Bertolino and Anita K. Boyle). This event is an “official” pop-up gallery show.

Mary Jo Maute in her studio

Mary Jo Maute in her studio (photo by Rifka MacDonald)

Mary Jo Maute is an acclaimed and respected artist working in Western Washington. Her art has been celebrated in New York, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, California and Washington. No wonder she’s smiling.

“Self Portrait” by Mary Jo Maute

Richly colored with provocative shapes, subtle details, and more than a few surprises, Maute’s paintings never fail to challenge and delight the viewer. At a distance, this self portrait offers an appealing arrangement of strong color areas. Then, on closer viewing, it is full of forms that suggest creatures and symbols.

“Burial” by Mary Jo Maute

It’s exciting to closely examine all the marks and areas between the forms. What the viewer brings to abstraction is very important to the experience of the painting. For example, the blue area could be a reclining person or animal. I see a bird, a goose—and the brown area could be a nest. There may be a green dancing figure with a brown paw near the center foreground. But I tend to enjoy animals and nature. None of this might be the artist’s intention, but this is what happened for me in looking deeper into the paint.

In 1997, Maute received the Distinguished Service Award from the Washington Art Education Association. She continues to offer Whatcom County residents many opportunities to learn more about art at the Whatcom Museum.

“Reading in Bed” by Mary Jo Maute

In this painting titled “Reading in Bed,” some of the shapes seem animal-like, while others might suggest an open book or a bed. Symbolically, the rectangular area could be read as both a book and a bed. The outlines create a contrast with the color forms. Much of the painted surface offers broad, soft modulations, while other areas are more stippled or even ragged. The white areas, or spots, might suggest the ability to look through the painting to what might be beyond.

Maute’s solo exhibitions include Yellowstone Art Museum in Montana, Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and Allied Arts of Whatcom County in Bellingham. She has received seven awards since 1982, including a Ucross Foundation Residency in 2013, and a Montana Arts Council Artist Fellowship in 1987.

Anita K. Boyle, with camera

Anita K. Boyle, with camera

Anita K. Boyle is an artist who is also a poet, graphic designer and publisher. She was an art and English major at Western Washington University, graduating cum laude in 1998. Her works have been exhibited at the Hanson Scott Gallery in Seattle, Loomis Hall Gallery in Blaine, Jansen Art Center in Lynden, and Lucia Douglas Gallery, Allied Arts of Whatcom County and Whatcom Museum in Bellingham.

“Municipal Circuitry” by Anita K. Boyle

Boyle’s assemblages often use her handmade paper, as well as items she’s gathered, which, in numerous ways, represent aspects of her life and the lives around her—both natural and inanimate. “Municipal Circuitry” includes washers, electrical components, part of a cell phone, a roll of copper wire and a wasp nest on handmade paper with dandelion seeds. The assemblage is placed on green ink-stained plywood under copper-foiled glass.


“Song of the Bone Crickets” by Anita K. Boyle

In “Song of the Bone Crickets,” the black clusters spread across the lower area consist of ink that dried on glass and was then scraped off in rolls. The left elephant garlic flower cap holds moth wing “petals” around a section of wasp nest. Below the garlic cap on the right are two songbird bones that appear as crickets to the artist.

“Leaf Poem” by Anita K. Boyle

“Leaf Poem” begins with a stanza of corrugated cardboard that supports a row of garden snail shells. The thin line across the cardboard is a sky-blue insulated wire. Below the cardboard, we see tea leaves, strands of ink shavings on the left and right sides, and metal fasteners, all on handmade paper. On the black paper, there is a column of poppy pods, and the main leaf-poem stanza of the artwork, which has chrysanthemum leaves in a rhythm on more paper. The ink on the right column is woven into the fasteners, and is intended to be the final stanza of the poem.

Both artists, Mary Jo Maute and Anita K. Boyle, communicate through symbolism in their artworks through different media. They use different mediums to transform their ideas into a visual format. The placement of each element within the artworks is a translation from the imagination to the visual, and has yet to be translated into language, or actual words. Artists often attempt to “write” the ineffable.

—written by James Bertolino

From the Press Release…

Two artists—Mary Jo Maute and Anita K. Boyle—will share their evocative paintings and assemblages in Prentiss Cole’s The Works Studio… for two Fridays in June. On June 5, Maute and Boyle will be present to chat with you about art and technique. Then, on June 12, Boyle will read her poems, and be joined by singer/songwriter, Allison Preisinger, as well as poets Nancy Canyon and James Bertolino.

Mary Jo Maute’s work is inspired by natural forms – the human figure, animals, plants and micro-organisms. She prefers to jump in and let the ideas, shapes and relationships emerge uncensored. Images are layered, erased, overlapped, and interconnected to create a luminous interplay between the sensual nature of paint and marks, and the intangible aspects of memory, sensation, and emotion.

Anita K. Boyle’s assemblages could be called environmental self-portraits. For this show, she will feature artworks that are language-related in some way: titles include “R Story,” “Letter from the Country,” and “Self Portrait of an Iceberg,” among others. Boyle’s experience as a graphic designer adds balance, contrast, texture and value to each piece, as much as her understanding of several art techniques—from papermaking to drawing, painting and more. Natural and synthetic materials present a communication between conflict and harmony. Stories are the inspiration for some of the assemblages; in others, a story happens as the artwork is being made, and still others tell their own stories.

About Mary Jo Maute

Former Montana resident, Maute now lives in Bellingham, Washington and works as education coordinator at the Whatcom Museum of History & Art. She earned an MFA from University of Colorado, Boulder and a B.F.A. from Daemen College in her native city, Buffalo, NY. She has exhibited in New York, California, Colorado, Montana and Washington and has work in public and private collections including the Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MT; the Missoula Museum of the Arts, Missoula, MT; and Deaconess Medical Center, Billings, MT. She recently completed a residency at Ucross Foundation in Clearmont, Wyoming. 

About Anita K. Boyle

Poet and artist Anita K. Boyle is a freelance graphic designer and sole proprietor at Egress Studio, and a publisher of Washington State poets. She is currently working on illustrating a book of poems—The Moon’s Answer by Lana Ayers—which will be published by Egress Studio Press in both hard and soft cover, handmade, limited editions before year’s end. She is also working on several new assemblages that use handmade and naturally-made paper, which you can see at the July juried exhibit at Allied Arts of Whatcom County. New poems are also in the works. In 1998, she graduated cum laude with a BA from Western Washington University (Art and English majors.)

The collaborative poetry book, Lit-Wads, by James Bertolino and Anita K. Boyle was first published in a limited-edition, handmade version with illustrations. Since then, Jim and I recorded all the poems, and I made an interactive pdf version of the book. The table of contents will send you to individual poems of your choice. Once on a page with a poem, there’s a button that you can poke to hear one or the other of us reading the poem. Or you can push a different button and return to the Table of Contents for choose another poem. This version of Lit-Wads is now for sale at: http://www.egressstudio.com/the-bookstore.html

The original, hand sewn version is still available until it is out of print, and is also available at the above link.


In the future, most books by Egress Studio Press will be handmade in illustrated hard cover and soft cover editions, followed later by an e-book, like Lit-Wads. I’m currently working on double-spread illustrations for a book call The Moon’s Answer by Lana Ayers, which I’m hoping to publish before the end of this year. And, for past books, I’ll be adding audio to the layout and creating other audio books.


A few weeks ago, a new paper mould came in the mail. The form is for an 11 by 14 inch page size. As a publisher of poetry, that size is good for two reasons. First, it can be folded into quarters to make eight pages into a hand-built book. That’s exciting to me. Second, it’s a perfect size for making a poetry broadside. This is also exciting.

A couple days ago, I tore up some paper from my recycle box of trimmings generated by the cards and books I make.

This is Egress Studio's recycled paper bin overflowing with paper trimmings.

This is Egress Studio’s recycled paper bin overflowing with trimmings.

As the paper is torn up, it goes into a bucket of water to rest and soak for a day or two.

Bucket of water and torn paper.

Bucket of water and torn paper.

Tearing paper is good exercise for your fingers, hands and wrists. Besides the blue and green papers, I added some white, yellow, and manila-colored papers. Text weight and heavier card stock works without a problem. I also used cotton linters for the first time. That was interesting. I’ll probably write a post about that, too.

Inside the Bucket

Taking a closer look, you can see torn paper in water. No surprise. But I do like how sunlight comes in through the bucket on the left and spreads over the paper.

After soaking for 24 to 48 hours, I set up to make the paper. I arranged my designated-for-paper blender, two large boards, lots of old towels, a couple buckets to hold the pulp, and a bin large enough to dip the 11″by14″ paper mould. I made a huge watery mess inside the studio yesterday. First, I ran the paper and linter chunks through the blender—a little at a time—with paper sizing added, and put the pulp in two separate buckets: one for the recycled paper and one for the white cotton linters. Water goes all over the cement floor. I make paper outside whenever possible for that very reason. Papermaking requires plenty of water. The bin is filled half-full of water, and then about eight cups of pulp is added. I used about half recycled and half linters at first. When I ran out of the linters, I just used up the recycled paper. I also added some mermaid hair algae (from our pond) and, to one batch, the lint of green-dyed wool yarn. Well, I used scissors, so it was actually fresh-cut-lint, but that sounds ridiculous.

Each time I dipped the mould into the pulp bin, I “rolled” a sheet of soon-to-be paper onto a felt sheet, which was dampened earlier so it would accept the paper off the mould a little easier. I made a stack of the new sheets on one of the large boards, and when the pulp was used up, took the dripping stack outside, put the other board on top and stood on it for a while. Water gushed out everywhere at this point. I put a couple of cement bricks on top, and let it sit until this morning.

This morning, I put the clothes line in front of the furnace, found my clothespins, and began to hang the paper to dry. At first, I messed a few of the papers up, but I can use them anyway. They can be ironed, and I can use them in artworks where flatness and squareness isn’t as important as when the paper might be used in a book or as a broadside.

The old clothes line, umbrella style.

The old clothes line, umbrella style.


Sunlight and clotheslines go well together.

The paper turned out a beautiful, creamy light green, just as I’d hoped. I’ll make better paper later. The wrinkles, bubbles and tears are all things that can be avoided. This was the first stack of paper I made with the new larger mould, so I got a little carried away this morning when removing the felts from the stack. But I was careful enough with a large percentage of them.

The rest of the photos show the texture and color of the papers. I made an attempt at replicating the color for the internet. It’s close. In these photos, you can see the white felts, which aren’t felt at all, but synthetic. They do their job very well. And you can see some of the textures and incidentals. Papermakers call added flower petals, lint, algae, etc., “incidentals,” which is a good use of the word.

Four papers hanging.

Four papers hanging.

One sheet of paper.

This sheet of paper was fairly uniform.

handmade paper

This sheet is not in focus, but you can see larger chunks of the white cotton linters and long streaks of mermaid hair algae.


As the paper dries, it lightens up a bit. Deckle edges.


Another corner has lots of texture. If I feel like it, I can iron this sheet so it would be much flatter, but I’ll decide that later.


This is one of the things I’m trying for with the mermaid hair algae. I like it when the individual strand standsBellin out a little. Not too much, not to little. (It’s possible I’ll need new glasses if I’m going to continue taking photos.)


I also like it when the paper looks sort of like a science project.

The paper is still drying downstairs. It probably has another day or two to go. Then, I’ll put it in high-graded stacks, and see what I can do with it.

Vanishing Ice, Vanishing Species, and Our Human Spirit:
A Poet’s Perspective and Poems

A reading and lecture by poet and science wrtier Priscilla Long will happen on Friday, Febuary 28 at 7:00 p.m. $5 suggested donation. Old City Hall, Whatcom Museum, 121 Prospect Street, Bellingham

For every poet reading for The Poet As Art, I’ve made a poetry broadside (one-sided page with a poem on it) to give out free to the audience, so they can take a little of the evening home with them. Priscilla came up to see the Vanishing Ice exhibit at the Whatcom Museum, which I’m pretty sure inspired her to write the poem “Glacier Peak Elegy.” Here’s what her poem’s broadside looks like.


You can probably read the poem aloud from the photo to hear how wonderful it is. Simply beautiful. It is a little larger than most broadsides I’ve made for the series. There will be about fifty copies for audience members to pick up. The audience is often larger than that, so if you want a broadside, I’d encourage you to arrive a little early. By the way, I didn’t draw the art: it is a public domain illustration of a glacier.

—Anita K. Boyle

Pacific Northwest poet and scientific writer Priscilla Long is The Poet As Art’s next featured writer, who will read her poems and respond to the Whatcom Museum’s Vanishing Ice exhibit on Friday, February 28, 7:00 PM. As a poet, and one who is knowledgeable of environmental science, she will explore the ideas she finds inspiring in the exhibit. And on Saturday, March 1, she will conduct a poetry writing workshop from 1:00 to 5:00 PM at Egress Studio (5581 Noon Road, Bellingham). (More details about these two events follow her interview below.)


Poet Priscilla Long

Poet Priscilla Long

The Whatcom County community is fortunate to have Priscilla Long coming to share her ideas. She has already visited the Vanishing Ice exhibit and, given her extensive scientific knowledge, we can expect her to address both global and local issues the show examines. In Whatcom County, coal has become a troubling concern. Long’s book Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry ought to be of great interest to the community. 

Poet James Bertolino interviewed Priscilla Long during January 2014 in preparation for her Vanishing Ice presentation at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham.

James Bertolino: You were born in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania and grew up on a dairy farm—how has that rural background influenced your thinking and writing?

Priscilla Long: Farming is a lot like writing, or so it seems to me. My father worked as dairyman on a 350-acre farm with 100 cows, 60 milking. We children did a lot of farm work and were paid a quarter an hour by my father’s boss. This was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where my parents moved from a farm in Pennsylvania.

On a farm you get up every day and take care of the animals. You don’t miss a day. Good training for a writer.

You live close to animals, meaning you have something besides yourself to worry about and care for; we had dogs, cats, geese, the cows, sheep. I was required every morning to feed the pig. (I sometimes feel a piece I am working on, a poem or some such, is an animal that must be fed.)

On the farm there was deep quietness, a lot of it. There were birds everywhere—great blue herons, swans, cardinals, kingfishers, Canada geese, grouse. On summer nights the fireflies came out. The stars were intense and brilliant; there was zero light pollution.

Also, our house was full of books. Our parents read to us every day. At first it was the Bible. They didn’t know to water it down with a children’s version and even though I’m not religious now I will never regret having the King James Version spoken into my ear every night before bed. We had no money to speak of but many old books. I read every one.

My father, Winslow Long, who died this year at the age of 91, knew animals and he knew plants. (He also loved math, which I don’t!) He committed poems to memory. He worked hard his whole life. Even though he didn’t write except for maintaining an extensive correspondence, he was a great father for a writer to have.

JB: You have ancestors who were well-known journalists. Have you ever considered a career in journalism? 

PL: My father’s father, Walter Long, was a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin. Walter Long spent all the decades of his life as a writer, but late in life, developed dementia—I knew him only as a senile old man. He didn’t even know me. All his work, including a novel he’d typed out, was lost. I don’t know why (possibly there were family resentments?), but I do not remember my grandfather’s accomplishments as a writer being admired as I was growing up. So it was only many years later, with my fate as a writer already sealed, that I realized, wait a minute! My grandfather was a writer! And his grandfather was the “grand old man of journalism in Philadelphia!” Wow! This may have been when I was already in my 40’s.

But the fact is I love literature. I love poetry. I love novels and creative nonfictions and essays. Even though you find some beautiful and occasionally great writing in newspapers, and even though some of our great writers began in journalism, let’s face it, most newspaper writing is pretty pedestrian. So no, I never aspired to journalism. Beginning in my late twenties and continuing until I was 40 years old I worked in the printing trade, operating a printing press. I would get up at 4 or 5 and write until 7 before I went to work. I was writing, but in secret.

JB: You’ve had 90 or more columns titled “Science Frictions” published in The American Scholar online. Did you study science as an undergraduate at Antioch College in Ohio?

PL: At Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I majored in history. I was not a brilliant scholar, being otherwise busy. After graduating, I worked with children, as a cleaning lady, as an artist model, as a clerk at a record company, and as a kitchen worker. I also worked in a publishing company for a time, and edited a book titled The New Left: A Collection of Essays. After these rather short-lived careers, I became a printer. Still, I was writing all this while.

Anyone can happily delve into science, which is the exploration of the way our world works all around us every day, the way our bodies work, including our brains, the way glaciers and rivers and continents work, the way the universe works, and where it and we came from. Curiosity and excitement about science belong to all of us, not just to scientists.

I think what gave me the confidence to jump into science with both feet was my comfortable relationship with technology. I grew up with the technology of dairy farming (and saw that technology evolve), I worked in the technology of the printing trade (and saw that technology go obsolete), and I became familiar with the technology of coal mining as I researched it over the years for my book on the history of coal mining (Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry).

Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of Americia's Bloody Coal Industry

Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of Americia’s Bloody Coal Industry

Even though technology is different from science, science can get a bit technical (although there are many resources that explain things in plain English), and I did not feel intimidated about jumping in. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t know what I was getting into!

I’m an identical twin, one of nature’s clones, so it did not strike me as odd to start writing a piece called “Genome Tome,” about the Human Genome Project, inspired by an exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. This was my first science piece and it included memoir, a poem, neuroscience, and story. (The piece was awarded a National Magazine Award, of which I am very proud.)

But I want to emphasize that anyone of any age or walk of life can begin learning about science and getting excited about it, whether astronomy or ecology or biology or physics. Science is not a fixed body of proved information. It’s an exploration of our home, the universe, what it is, where it came from, where we came from.

My second science piece was “My Brain on My Mind” and I wrote it to honor my grandfather Walter Long. It was an abecedarian (a form that goes from A to Z) and included neuroscience, memoir, and a lot of poetics.

The column came later, as a result of these and other pieces, and it was a great honor, a great challenge, and great fun. My effort was to mix poetry with science, to include personal story, to include reflections both personal and philosophical, along with a core of science.

The columns (along with some other science-oriented pieces) will eventually be gathered into a book.

JB: You earned your MFA degree at the University of Washington—was your thesis poetry, fiction or non-fiction?

PL: My thesis was in fiction, but I was able to take two workshops in poetry, one with Colleen McElroy and one with Heather McHugh. My two literature classes were in Yeats and in Shelley. My history of coal mining (Where the Sun Never Shines) was published while I was in the MFA program. Creative nonfiction was not offered in that program at that time. I served as a teaching assistant (we each taught a section of freshman composition) and it was here that I began teaching writing, which I have been doing ever since.

JB: Your essays, short stories and poems have been published in highly respected journals. Which type of writing has brought you the most enjoyment? 

PL: I enjoy the challenges and pleasures of every type of writing I try, especially as I near completion of a piece and see that it has a chance of being artistically realized. In the middle, at the midpoint, in the pit, it all feels pretty hopeless, no matter the form. Creative work is like that. But I’m used to the pit, I know it’s a stage, I push on through. Poetry is my first form and it informs all the others.

JB: Having been chosen as a Jack Straw writer, and having received awards from Seattle’s Richard Hugo House, the Seattle Arts Commission, and the Los Angeles Arts Commission—as well as a National Magazine Award for Feature writing—which type of writing would you say has brought you the most success? 

PL: Creative nonfiction has brought the most visibility to my work so far, but I have many poems and short stories in print as well. I see each piece, no matter the genre, as part of a body of work. To me, part of keeping the faith (to the muses, if you will) is to keep working in all my genres, not just the most popular.

JB: How did you come to write The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life? And what about Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry?

PL: The Writer’s Portable Mentor: For the past 20 years (since I got the MFA) I’ve taught creative writing to developing professional writers, both within writer’s conferences and educational programs and privately. The Writer’s Portable Mentor came out of years and years of teaching and of working on my own craft as a writer. When I teach, I do all the assignments myself, and hand them to the class as the writers in the class hand their assignments to me. This has kept me challenged and awake and productive as a writer, even with a heavy teaching and editing load. Pretty much everything I know about the art and craft of writing and the writing life may be found in that book.

The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft and the Writing Live

The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft and the Writing Life

Where the Sun Never Shines: Coal mining was an obsession that ran for 20 years. If you want to write a history book, it helps to be obsessed! Also I love libraries. Give me a library and I feel at home. Most of the time when I was researching and writing that history book I was working as a printer.

JB: You also serve as an editor for HistoryLink.org, the free online encyclopedia of Washington State History. Given the numerous creative and academic fields you appear to have mastered, wouldn’t it be appropriate to describe you as a “Renaissance Woman?”

PL: I think those Renaissance creators had patrons? (Smile.)

I’ve always worked in more than one genre. (As for working as an editor, believe me, the technical skill of editing does not hurt a writer.) The price one pays for the strategy of working in multiple genres is that one’s “brilliant career” gets off to a rather slow start, in terms of the visibility of the work. It takes longer to become visible within any one genre. But as one continues to write and as the body of work continues to grow and to appear more and more in public, the disadvantage becomes an advantage. The forms inform and enrich one another in a pretty amazing way. There’s history in many of my poems, story in my nonfiction, poetry in sentences I write about science. In any case, for me it was never a choice, since I felt compelled to write whatever I was writing.

JB: How long have you lived in the Pacific Northwest, and have you found this a particularly stimulating environment? 

PL: In the Pacific Northwest I have found my true home. I love the gray skies, the bridges and maritime effects, the ferries, the growing concern for the environment, the crows, the Steller’s jays, the bushtits and golden-capped kinglets, the tall western red cedars and western hemlocks. I love the many readers in our region, the incredible tradition of art and poetry and music. I love the wheat fields of the Palouse, the high mountains of the Cascades, the strong tribal presence. I love wild salmon. I have lived here for 25 years and I have also edited 6,000 essays about Washington state history (for HistoryLink.org), which has helped me to set down deep roots. My work strongly engages with our region. A recent piece, soon to appear in Smithsonian magazine, is on the Skagit River.

JB: Given how important the environment is to all of us, and to the animals, do you have any observations to make about the Vanishing Ice exhibit at the Whatcom Museum?

PL: What we are facing today in terms of both climate change and species extinction (with dozens of species going extinct every day) is a growing emergency for our own kind. And the science makes it crystal clear that it is our use of fossil fuels that is causing the global warming part of the emergency. (Habitat degradation and invasive species are the other pieces.) The more one educates oneself about the whole situation, the more one sees that this will wreak major havoc on our world, that some tipping points have already been reached, that some damage is no longer reversible, and that there’s a lot more bad news to come.

So, what can we do and is there any hope?

There is hope because what each one of us does can make a difference. Yes, the corporations and the government must act too, but each one of us can make a difference both in our personal lifestyles and in raising our voices to apply political pressure. The Vanishing Ice exhibit is part of the reason for hope: it has helped educate a large number of people as to what is going on and what it means. It has helped to educate me. It also tells us that, yes, we must each act, we must each reduce our carbon footprint a bit each year, but that there is also always a place for creativity, for art.

We have caused the problem; we can solve it. I believe that something else besides climate change and species extinction is near a tipping point: our public consciousness of what is happening to our home, the earth, and our will to change. The Vanishing Ice exhibit with its gorgeous visual presentation and meticulous explanations is part of the solution. It’s part of the reason there is hope. I thank the Whatcom Museum for it.


Two events with Priscilla Long :

  1. Poetry Reading: 7:00 PM at Old City Hall, Whatcom Museum, 121 Prospect Street, Bellingham. This event is free to museum members; non-members are asked for a $5 donation.
  2. Poetry Writing Workshop: 1:00 to 5:00 PM at Egress Studio, 5581 Noon Road, Bellingham. Workshop registration is $50 Earth, Ice, Place: Writing the PoemDuring this four-hour workshop, we will look at ways to bring the world, and the science that illuminates it, into our poems. We’ll look at the situation of the Earth from the perspective of where we stand on it: backyard, woods, ditches, roads, creeks, rivers, the crack in the sidewalk. We will cultivate ways to gather words that will deepen the language of our poems. The meanings and harmonies of poetry and art keep us connected to the deepest part of who we are on this planet. Poems, including the ones we generate in this workshop, have a role to play in healing our earth. Each participant will be invited to be part of a reading at the Whatcom Museum during April (National Poetry Month). For more information, and to register for the workshop, please call 360-398-7870.

Please help us thank our sponsors: Humanities Washington and the Whatcom Musuem.





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