What I’m Up To

Art, Poetry

For the past year or so, I’ve been busy with family things, and neglected a lot of my art&poetry-focussed things (i.e. my business). But, I’ve recently made another schedule, one with a (hopefully) doable plan for publishing a couple of extremely patient poets; for making and showing my artworks; and for putting together a poetry manuscript of my own. The family things more serious and personal than I’d like to mention in this blog.

The two poets I mention have very likely been grumbling about their book not getting done, and I certainly wouldn’t blame them if they were. In fact, I’d encourage them to complain, at least a little. The recent and future books by Egress Studio Press are handmade, limited editions that contain artwork, and so they take more time to publish than usual, and require stretches of time dedicated to them alone. I describe them as poetry art-books, and I’m going public now by saying I think they’ll be ready by June. I will be hard at work on them until then.

I’m making some progress on the artwork for the cover of both, and the interior of one. That’s mainly what I want to show in this posting. One will have a few original linoleum block prints in the hard cover, and copies of them in the soft cover version. The other will have a monotype reprint on the cover. And those are the main focus of my thoughts right now.


This is what I’m working on for the cover of one of the books. These are monoprints, and I’ll be making several more before I’m through. Those two on the upper right are just me goofing around with color and paper and texture and the et ceteras that come from the draft form of art. I see I have a ways to go before I have the final version.


These are sketches for the second book. I’m trying out layouts for linoleum block prints. Each of these has possibilities, but the final will look different from these. The book will have five or six of them, including the cover.

You’ve probably already seen The Moon’s Answer by Lana Ayers. The pen and ink illustrations took quite a while to complete. But the final layout and assembly of the books still required a lot more time before project completion. Currently, all the soft covers are finished and have been in the hands of readers since the summer of 2016. The six casebound books were finished in November 2016. And I am looking forward to finishing the final three accordion books later this year.


Hard copies of The Moon’s Answer. On the lower left are the six casebound books with handmade paper on the cover and endpapers. Top and right is the accordion book, with all the interior and exterior papers using two colors of handmade paper.


In this close up of the front cover, you can see the crosshatching that is a part of every illustration in the book, and is on the hand-dyed lavender paper. The moon is cut out of the lavender paper and pasted onto a yellow paper to create the two-color presentation, as it is throughout the accordion books. 


All of the books are signed and numbered by the author and illustrator on the page opposite the colophon. (Sorry for the out-of-focus photo. I’m in a rush.)


The previously mentioned schedule requires that I keep this blog updated with what’s happening at Egress Studio.  All I have to do is follow this schedule a minimum of 75% of the time, and I’ll stay on course. Wish me luck. So far, so good. I’ll post about the manuscript I’m putting together later on, as well as other posts about the poets and artists around the Northwest.

Working with Ammons

Poetry, Writing Creatively

A. R. Ammons

One of my life’s great opportunities was to study with the poet A.R. Ammons as an MFA student at Cornell University between 1971 and 1973. We students knew him as Archie. He received the first of two National Book Awards for his Collected Poems: 1951-1971 while I was there listening to everything he said, and the Yale University critic Harold Bloom was busy making him immortal by writing that “No contemporary poet in America is likelier to become a classic than A.R. Ammons.” His second National Book Award was for Garbage in 1993, after which he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius Fellowship.”

There were two pronouncements I remember as though Ammons had uttered them today: the first was what he said to me in his office: “If a poem isn’t going to add-up to anything, it must be interesting at every point.” While he seemed to be saying that my poems didn’t add-up, he was also describing an aesthetic method that I’ve used hundreds of times since. Later that semester he read aloud to the workshop this poem I had submitted for discussion:

The Storm has come again today,
it rages shrill pins.

I hear a pale child moaning alone
near the bottom rocks
of the field.

I feel the blowing wet
bruise her face.

When finished he observed: “I don’t see any way this poem by Mr. Bertolino could be better than it already is.” I felt pretty cocky after that, and rather enjoyed being glared at by the other MFA students. But I had to wonder why Ammons would make that remark in front of my classmates. I then spent much more time reading his poetry, and soon discovered his work effortlessly accomplished some of the elements I was striving for in my own poetry. Here’s a passage from one of Archie’s poems about poetry:


not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

He always had a marvelous way of putting things, and often found very simple shapes to embody dazzling ideas. Those shapes were often found close at hand, and mostly from the natural world. It’s hard to imagine a poem by any poet that could more effectively portray a metaphysical concept than this one:


I found a
that had a

mirror in it
and that

looked in at
a mirror

me that
had a
weed in it.

In Ammons’ poem “Small Song,” wind plays a key role: as a phenomenon that acts on, then is revealed by reeds. The reeds first are subject to the wind, then have a kind of power over the wind.

Small Song

The reeds give
way to the

wind and give
the wind away

In this last poem, the wind enables the daisies to more fully experience their own loss as the yellow petals leave their stems and are gone.


When the sun
falls behind the sumac
thicket the
yellow daisies
in diffuse evening shade
lose their
rigorous attention
half-wild with loss
any way the wind does
and lift their
petals up
to float
off their stems
and go.

How could any attentive reader fail to feel how sad, but beautiful, it is when something as attentive as these wild things lose their focus and dissipate. Haven’t we all given ourselves over to a power not our own? Haven’t we experienced loss?

James Bertolino

—James Bertolino
A.R. Ammons’ sample poems can be found in
Collected Poems: 1951-1971.