First prize for the 2019 Alice Osborn Award (poems by adults for children) went to Jane Shlensky. Jane, a teacher and musician, has recent poetry and fiction in Writer’s Digest, Pinesong, Kakalak, moonShine review, and Nostos. The North Carolina Poetry Society has twice nominated her poems for a Pushcart, and her short fiction and nonfiction were finalists in Press 53, James Applewhite, Doris Betts, Rose Post, and Thomas Wolfe contests. Jane’s chapbook is Barefoot on Gravel (2016).
Jane has this to say about her creative well:
My well of creativity never runs dry, it just flows along different tributaries, if you will. When my poetry gets stale, using sundry poetic forms helps me rethink wording and puzzle my way through a piece. When that fails, I write prose, fiction or creative non-fiction or flash or songs. I play an instrument and read. A writer that refuses to read is a sad and selfish thing. I am often uplifted and inspired by others’ insights and unique wording. Rather than spin my wheels waiting for the perfect phrase, I give myself a break from words for a while. I go for a swim and talk to people. I bake and plant and paint. There are so many ways to be creative, I never feel as if I’m stranded without recourse. If anything, I have too many ways to be creative. Now laziness is another issue. Sometimes I just don’t have a thing I wish to say in any form to anyone on a given day, days when silence and wordlessness are the most healing things I know. You know what that means? Excessive cat petting and, yes, nap time! Vivid dreams are like wild animals who only feed from our hands when we give up control. Meditating and dreaming are excellent ways to unleash creativity (keep a dream journal). One last thing: I’ve found that when a poem just refuses to work, perhaps it wants to be prose. One poem I liked just went nowhere with editors. When I wrote the piece as a short story, it came in second in the Thomas Wolfe fiction contest. That was a great lesson for me to pay attention to the needs of what is being created. What if a creative impulse is a painting or a song, not a poem?
She shares with us the following poem:
Some days my memories with you fog,
and I cannot imagine your voice
or mine, as we were when you were
most yourself. Still, my hands are yours,
worn and busy, stained with foliage,
and my hair, white long before its time,
traces a gene back to your mother.
I carry you in me, as I concentrate
on opening earth to seedlings,
trying to sense seasons’ change,
smelling soil and new buds,
spring rains and twilight,
checking old growth bark for new life—
all learned from you.
I gather words together, arranging them
like posies, pruning and shaping
just as you taught me, a poem
helping us share a moment of observance,
a recognition of overlooked wonders
in need of second chances:
the first crocus, a jay’s feather,
a gnarled twig like a cross,
a stone laced with red veins pulsing
the heart of the earth, a dead hummingbird
curled like a small fist, lying still
and iridescent among wild flowers.
I know when you became uprooted
from yourself, you longed for death,
but I could not wish you gone,
even knowing all I’d learned of pain and loss,
that death is not the worst thing, still
I could not imagine a world depleted of you.
I cannot now say “never” in a line
that has you in it. You are ever.
As long as I have breath,
I will feel you alive in me
and take every spring’s resurrection
as a chance to hold you again.
I wrote this after my mother’s death in 2003. She was a poet as well and taught me to love words and to treat them with respect. This was published the first time in Beyond the Dark Room: An International Collection of Transformative Poetry in 2012.