Mary Ruth Donnelly and Jennifer Fandel from the St. Louis Poetry Center contacted Watershed Cairns in early 2014 about the possibility of a collaboration. Their proposal: Invite local poets to write verse inspired by Watershed Cairns images. We enthusiastically agreed, because we want to know how viewers respond to the images. As visual artists who use words only as a second language-learned-late-in-life, writing is not our forte. We wondered how a poet would articulate what s/he saw. How would s/he express the sense of place, time, or emotion in an image? Were the images communicating? What were they saying?
Our first chance to discover what the poets saw was the Cairns in Verse reading at the Missouri History Museum during the Watershed Cairns: Water Marked with Art exhibit. On Saturday, December 6, 2014, a standing-room-only audience heard the poets delivering their work. We were moved by their words. The verses deepened our understanding of what the images could mean to people. More wonderful poems were created and performed at Cairns in Verse on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at the Focal Point in Maplewood. Here are excerpts from some of the poems. Do these words
express what you see when you look at that cairn image?
because the ground calls,
and the winds and clouds cooperate,
and every water molecule
wants to be an individual
and passes through the chill
For every rising
stream, an exposed cottonwood root. For
every exposure, a rock held close. For each
rock, a cloak of moss.
The Transgendered Frogs of Howell Island
I come into this poem I’ve got a point
of connection. That he is me, and this me
remembers things the way I want to,
the way a frog, regendered by pollutant
can write its own ticket too.
Mary Ruth Donnelly
Now in this spring setting, feathery golds and greens,
with the river almost still and bones
of trees on the dark bank, a glass cairn stands.
Our eyes are drawn first to the oil can.
A place where we can’t imagine
we’ll find the rustle of sedges, and, among them,
the deep vibrato of toads.
The scent of chemicals lingers
like incense around the hollow well
empty of its blessing
This cairn is conspicuous,
tightly wedged along
the quarry-sky connection line,
signifying the clean,
irretrievable transfer of matter