My beautiful visiting bee this morning reminded me of this poem I wrote last spring. It will be part of my chapbook, Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic, to be published this January by Finishing Line Press.
The hummingbird mistakes me for a flower: something half-wan and camouflaged in a wild iris shirt. The aspens riddle my slant of sun like snakes of shade. Far off, past the pines, a meadowlark trills from the draw where, yesterday, I found bear scat fresh, flies swarming it. I walked, clapping my hands at the dark of woods until they hurt. Now the air stirs. A hummingbird zips past the porch, circles, hovers, a tiny god at my face. I am all blossom and sepal, sweet petal and wing dust. And at my feet, a tiny bee crawls for the first time.
I just learned this week that my one and only chapbook, Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic, will be published by Finishing Line Press as a semi-finalist for its Open Chapbook Competition 2020.
I wrote Flying Beneath the Dog Star in the first spring of our pandemic during National Poetry Month, using many of the poetry prompts offered by NaPoWriMo (napowrimo.net). These poems, written on the front porch of my cabin, are my journey through this strange and unknown world we are still living in. Who knew when I sought solace at 9600 ft amidst the birds in my little spot above the Arkansas Valley, grieving over the deaths of eighteen hundred, that almost a year later we would have buried almost a half million in this country alone, including my mother, my aunt, and my uncle?
Finishing Line Press received 402 entries and will publish the 14 poets who make up the list winner, shortlist finalists, and semifinalists. Congratulations to the fine poet, Maura Stanton, who won the competition for her chapbook, Interiors, and to all the other first rate women poets I will share this new journey with. And thank you to my sister, who was my inspiration for writing these poems that I hoped she would love, too.
I will share this publication journey as it continues to unfold. You can find the (almost) title poem of my chapbook at Kingsview & Co, published by the lovely Michael A. King, editor: To the Three Ducks Flying Beneath the Dog Star. Other poems in the chapbook (and a few of my bird photos) will appear shortly in the Raw Earth Ink poetry and art collection, Creation and the Cosmos: A Poetic Anthology Inspired by Nature.
First, the sound of the wind rippling at the windshield as I sat in my car with Kateri in a tiny Golden History Park, miles from my Phantom Canyon cabin, and sputtered into a tiny recording microphone.
And second, sitting knee to knee with Casi at a tiny children’s table in a tiny children’s playroom on the Regis campus for take-two of that recording– this time, while I fought a persistent frog in my throat.
Needless to say, Cattywampus Club had to contend with a complete first-time-to-the- process quivering idiot and her shoestring budget. I asked Casi of Cattywampus to share a few better tips and insights on the making of our video book trailer and added a bit of my own two-cents.
Casi: When multiple creatives come together to produce either photos or a video, it can become a difficult task. Each person in the group is a visionary and has fantastic ideas and concepts; however, sometimes communicating those can always be the most challenging piece.
But we could gather excerpts, the synopsis, and had a pretty good idea of the imagery that would pair well with Kathy’s words. Kathy’s poetic writing style allowed me to make the footage more of a cinematic B-roll type* since the book is a collection of essays, rather than a plot-driven novel.
(Kathy: Casi and Kateri first asked me to choose some text from the book to use in a 3 minute or less video. What would best represent the arc of the book? I chose to compress together a few paragraphs from the preface that I felt set the scene and story for the book. It did ultimately feel good reading those sections together. )
*Wikipedia definition? in film and television production, B–roll, B roll, B-reel or B reel is supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot.
#2 Dealing with the Budget and Other Details
Casi: Then comes the difficult stuff; budget, schedule, and location. Kathy based much of her writing off her beautiful cabin that was hours away from Kateri and I. We opted for the Golden History Park, a frontier park that had cabins and a mountain feel, but the footage and mountains weren’t an exact fit.
We also had to be mindful that most cities and open spaces in Colorado require a permit for both photography and videography, which for filming are quite steep. Luckily the location we utilized only requires a license for productions over $15,000, which we were nowhere near.
For the restraints we had, I believe we produced imagery that fits the text reasonably well.
(Kathy: This part was difficult for me, butbecause Cattywampus Club was a startup, Casi and Kateri had given me a real deal for producing the book trailer and I was quite conscious of not wanting to abuse their time and talents. It wasn’t fair to ask Kateri and Casi to schlep their equipment two and a half hours to the cabin. I was ultimately able to give them some photographs I had taken in the area to use for the video.)
#3 The Filming Specifics
Casi: I filmed this in both 60 and 120 frames per second, which I can turn into slow motion for a more cinematic feel. Most streamed television is shot in 30 frames per second, and cinematic movies are at 24 frames per second. While footage filmed in 24 frames per second is beautiful and cinematic, you cannot correctly turn that into slow-motion footage.
I used a gimble to stabilize the camera footage so that we could have a smooth video with little to no camera shake. The smooth-moving footage also adds to the cinematic feel when tied in with the slow motion.
(Kathy: Casi and Kateri made the filming, which I was, well, more than nervous about, fun. I think Casi shouted out some surprisingly bad word right before she began taking pictures and that pretty much got me laughing from then on.The slow motion was nice, though I did ask Casi to cut out some of what felt like too many shots of me from the video—maybe back when I was a twenty-something, but at sixty? No.)
#4 Putting the Video Together
Casi: Once back in the studio, I decide whether clips are usable or not and start to determine if we need supplemental shots from stock imagery. For instance, we filmed this in the fall, and there was no chance we’d see a hummingbird, and I wasn’t going to get lucky and spot a coyote; instead, I tried to use a few clips from stock websites to pair with Kathy’s words. Kathy ended up having some photographs I could use and I had a few mountain scenic clips of my own.
(Kathy:I found it was important to me to have some actual images from up at the cabin. Plus, two friends of mine, Liz Netzel and Greg Hobbs, had given me beautiful images for the book that I wanted to use in the video.)
Casi: Sequencing the footage is the next most challenging step. I wanted to pair the imagery as best as possible with the story, but I also wanted to add a bit of drama since we were going to be over a minute long. It took me about six edits to get the sequence and suspense down before I had a draft that I thought we could run with.
(Kathy: At this point in the process, I probably drove Casi a bit crazy: I sent back lists of questions and suggestions twice after reviewing the trailer with some of my writer friends. Casi and I had a bit of back and forth over the sequences until we all were satisfied. Because I was getting worried about Casi’s time in developing the video, I ended up asking Kateri not to do a few things she had planned for marketing the book. Casi and the video needed that time and money.)
Casi: The first bit of music was meant to add to the suspense when Leonard asks, “would you want to die here?” The next bit of music and footage was supposed to come around full circle, matching Kathy’s story of rebirth. I supplemented wind, stream, and other sounds to tie back into the cinematic footage to make the viewer feel like they were there in the setting. Adding an extra layer of well-paired noises can help tie the footage altogether.
(Kathy: I found the music and sound effects very pretty and was happy that Casi had added that dimension to the video.)
Overall? I would do it again. It was interesting to watch both Casi and Kateri in action and collaborate with them. They inspired me to maybe even try doing something on my own, after a lot of practice. It’s possible. My friend the essayist Steve Harvey, creator of The Humble Essayist, has experimented with Animoto for creating video book trailers. You can see the video commentary he did for my book on The Humble Essayist.
I don’t know what it means to publish a book in the time of a coronavirus. What seemed large just a few weeks ago seems small now in a world of chaos and isolation and the loneliness of people afraid to breathe the same air. But today, on the official release date for Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, I get to say that my book has finally arrived. Yes, the events and fuss planned around this book have been canceled or postponed, but Slow Arrow is, here, in this world.
The quote from Nietzsche that first sent me on this journey of the book feels as true now as it did then:
The slow arrow of beauty. . . which infiltrates slowly, which we carry along with us almost unnoticed, and meet up with again in dreams.
So many thanks to Ruth Thompson, editor of Saddle Press, and Don Mitchell, Saddle Road’s book designer, for taking on Slow Arrow and making it a beautiful book. Thanks to friends Steve Harvey, Laura Julier, Tom Larson, Bob Root, and the late and wonderful Michael Steinberg for their kind words on Slow Arrow. Thanks to the many literary journals that published pieces from this book. Thanks to the Cattywampus Club for its work on my website, kathrynwinograd.com, its author photos, its video book trailer, and marketing help. And to Chris Moore, who just posted the virtual, hands-free podcast we recorded this weekend for the Situation and the Story. And to Inverted Syntax, which just posted the first part of a two part interview on Slow Arrow
Saddle Road Press lists the links where you can purchase Slow Arrow through Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Powell’s Books, and Indie Bound. If you decide to buy Slow Arrow and you like it, please go back to these links and share what you feel. And watch this video book trailer by Cattywampus.
Starting the Journey to a Book
How did Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children happen? A few years ago, I found a folder in my “cloud” named “On Beauty” under a larger folder named “Beacon.” Six years ago, when my then eighty-five-year-old mother announced that she would be moving to Colorado to live out her last years with me, I had just decided to follow what our former poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, had said about exploring history through its “gaps” and set out to discover what it meant to be a steward of a little high mountain meadow at 9600 feet Leonard and I had bought and built a cabin on, and the land surrounding it that I knew so little about.
For a year, I wrote a monthly column for Beacon, a since defunct experiment in online journalism, using the land around our cabin near Victor and Cripple Creek as a microcosm for the larger world, both its beauties and the evidence of the environmental issues we face today. It was an exciting year writing those columns. I often took my mother with me through this deceptively remote and arid landscape at the back of Pikes Peak to explore the gold mines, and the wreckage of drought-induced wildfires, and the sudden aspen decline and the fossil quarries where once the first butterfly fossil ever found was unearthed by a homesteader named Charlotte Hill. Each month, I was clueless on how the next column would come together and then I would find my way to an unexpected story, an unexpected fact, an image I couldn’t forget.
And then the journey of writing for the book began.
Writing through the Collage
The essay, “Slow Arrow,” one of the title essays for the book, and the real start of the book, began as a collage — threads and snatches of prose I placed together on the blank page in hopes of puzzling together some momentary meaning. Then the essay unearthed itself from my husband’s Nietzsche books in the study, from the giant puffs of mushrooms I poked with a stick, and the unseen neighbors at that time in the little gulch below us staking out their territory, and from my born-again sister asking me the question that became seminal to the piece, “Why do you write of death?” But those threads only began to work when I remembered the bits of poetry lost in my journals and began to weave these lines of poetry through the essay. Then I discovered the form that allowed me not only reflection and experience, but to stumble into one of my favorite “leaps” in my prose or poetry at the end of the essay: “Our breath,” I write my sister, “flies from us like small sparrows.”
Slow Arrow proved to me, as creative nonfiction always does, the inseparability of poetry and prose.
Creating the Braids
The writing of Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, the book, was long and sometimes hard and sometimes beautiful. After I finished writing the Beacon columns, I knew I had left placeholders in them for deeper, more personal journeys. As I lead my mother in and out of this landscape, I found myself drawn into not just the history and science of these places but to their metaphorical connections to the emotional landscape and history of my family. The places I had visited, the facts I had learned, the beautiful images I had witnessed still felt resonant to me and filled with the possibility. So I set out to find the threads I needed to braid these “columns” into creative nonfiction essays.
Sometimes the journeys in my book begin with what a tree cutter claims to be a pronghorn caught in the shaky pixels of his girlfriend’s iPhone and lead me to the Path of the Pronghorns in Wyoming and to my Russian immigrant mother-in-law crossing the tundra when she was a young girl caught in the pogrom, and then to the “streamers”—butterflies and birds caught in the solar farm light of 300,000 mirrors that turn these travelers into puffs of smoke. Or I visit a fossil quarry where a ten-year old Ryan teaches me to skin shale with a butter knife to find the carbon imprints of a whole tapestry of vegetation, insect, and animal life that lived when ashes and lava flowed from an Eocene volcano into a flowering lake long lost. And then I remember my father, lost to Alzheimer’s, his face pressed against the glass of the state psych unit. Exploring the gaps of a place turned into the braiding together of these environmental issues I kept finding and what I felt were the sacred and profane intersections of family and personal history. The writing of Slow Arrow turned into a journey I never expected, of getting to know my mother and to cherish her in this time of her life in ways I could never have imagined.
A good friend of mine, who has published books, won awards, had two essays featured in the Best American Essays series, plus thirteen other “notable essays,” and is a senior editor at a highly regarded literary journal, recently wrote me an email, asking if I would blurb his upcoming book—an absolute honor.
The subject title of his email? “The Dreaded Blurb Request.”
Perhaps it’s the few new minutes of light since Winter Solstice or the still days between the end of Christmas and the hopes of a new year. Or just simply being stuck in bed with a lousy cold. But today seemed like the perfect one to begin the next stage of this long journey I’ve been on, the journey of the book in a year of yes.
Saddle Road Press (so happy I went with this press) has sent Slow Arrow off to Lightning Source for our first Proof Copy. Thank you to Steve Harvey, Laura Julier, Tom Larson, Robert Root, and Michael Steinberg for their beautiful beautiful book blurbs.