Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fall Backward: Honoring the Call to Rest

When autumn first starts to yawn it is contagious and I begin to feel the invitation to slow down, unwind, retract my energy and attention. I start anticipating the sheer, bare stillness of winter solstice with relief. My body takes cues from the yellowing tips of leaves, the morning’s snappish air, the sunlight slipping away just slightly. The planet twirls and spins and this is why seasons change and when I am in resonance with these natural signals to decelerate, I typically find myself busier than at any other time of year. In past years, I’ve dreaded winter, resisted adjusting my pace and ended up SAD! This year, holidays and all, I’m resolved to claim my quiet space, to have meaningful inner dialogues and rest in the verdant dark. 

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Black&White or Lavender: Integration of Opposites

Plein Air Writing Project, Red Butte Gardens, SLC,UT Overarching goal: to connect to the self and the numinous through creative process in nature. Short-term goal: Allow this and that. Lesson: Integration of Opposites

Entering the vegetal world of the garden feels like entering another realm, one in which bees, sun and lavender are most important, and the checklists piled on my desk at home fade to a nagging memory. Yet both worlds exist simultaneously. I watch silvery butterflies on a voyage through the fragrance garden, inhale the pungent, sharp smell of lavender blossoms crushed between my fingers, feel the cool spray and hear the air-meeting-water sound of the sprinklers. I judge all of this to be pleasant and easy. Still, the image of my cluttered desk and the tasks waiting there arise in my mind. These, I associate with stress, pressure and unpleasantness. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Connecting to the Wise Self: Allowing

Plein Air Writing Project, Red Butte Gardens, SLC, UT   

Overarching goal: To connect to the wise self and the numinous through creative process in nature. Short-term goal: Just sit down and write already. Lesson: Allowing         

In a plein air setting, there are elements to contend with. And they are beyond my control. Storm clouds. They gestate on the backbone of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, rolling and rolling. Insects. I imagine the pause, the space between their delicate wings. Their “zzz” is an invitation to settle now. 

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

No One Understands A Thing I Say

And it is because I'm a poet. I've tried to give up writing poetry. Really tried hard. However, even with its serious and archaic nature, its reputation for obscurity, its saturation in academic snootiness, its status as unwanted stepchild of the arts, and the continual threat of extinction, I find arranging words helps me take the experiences of my life and make sense of it all. We are biological organisms designed to process our experiences through thoughts and feelings. We do this in dreams states, in dance states, through music and song and through words and poems. I can't seem to do this as well in another genre of writing or in making other forms of art. So I'm stuck with poetry, always feeling around at the edges for possibilities.

Many contemporary poets argue the value of poetry to be in its ability to be a linguistic bridge between the numinous and our daily grind. It's an art form that speaks to us through cultural, universal or archetypal images and we are transported into connection with something larger than ourselves. Poet Denise Levertov states, “People turn to poems (if they are aware poetry exists) for some kind of illumination, for revelations that help them to survive, to survive in spirit not only in body. These revelations are usually not of the unheard-of but of what lies around us unseen or forgotten. Or they illuminate what we feel but don’t know we feel until it is articulated.”

I've been deeply influenced by this idea of illumination through the written or spoken word. I have spent a lot of time exacting the art of finding words to describe transcendent experiences that are deeply personal into words that others can understand and perhaps relate with. I'll always value the feeling of satisfaction when a reader states a poem has moved them deeply. It feels like a full circle that starts with the impulse to express and ends with a shared experience that has moved both writer and reader into a kind of sacred, uplifted realm. 

AND, I'm currently interested in finding something original in my own writing and shaking free of the lexicon that has carried me this far in the process of making art out of my life. I'm interested in finding out what happens if the words I use to describe my experience only make sense to me because no effort has been taken to render them available to others. It's an experiment in verbal abstraction and a journey into postmodern subjectivity. 

We are living in a social networking world where we have become accustomed to sharing deeply personal information via words, images, videos, etc as a way to "connect" with others. It's become as much a part of our day as eating or working. I'm curious about poems as a sort of meta-aware "selfie" not so much to be narcissistic or to objectify the self further, but more of an exercise in mindful awareness that is free to wander internally and externally without a commitment to get anywhere. The impetus is to capture one's own personal experience in a moment. OK, maybe a few "filters" aka edits and crafting are still being used, but it is without a need to explain, deliver or illuminate anything more than a shot of the self, as it this moment, fully subjective and without apology. 


no teeth to hold
the tongue in
flop out rain chaser
wet streets unknown appliance sound
quivers her letters irregular
prescriptions are waiting
chase the hours spent sounding
irregular vowels the Os

he puts down tracks
gadgetry finish the coffee
reheat & reheat
a bigger book means mind in the margins
wander the rumble under the refrigerator
the food gone
an arrow made of engine poking the rain
& wet tongue

-Renee Podunovich, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Being In-Between

Here I am again, between projects and while deeply satisfied with my last collection of poems, “Let the Scaffolding Collapse” (Finishing Line press, 2012), I also find myself deeply unsure if there is new inspiration that will emerge for me as a writer. I’ve spent a few years shedding the lexicon of the previous collection but the fresh vocabulary of new work still eludes me.

In the best moments, I use the imagery of a fallow field to acknowledge the fact that when I sit down to write, there is a dark silence in my mind and nothing appears to grow from it. I contemplate emptiness not as a deficiency, rather a space for unlimited potential. In moments of panic, I believe I’m washed up and that my best work is behind me. This leads to avoiding the writing process altogether— a big mistake I believe (though it’s difficult to see why spending time in an empty field is of any consequence in this in-between state). It’s at times like this I draw on the wisdom of mentors and role models.

Author and photographer Christina Nealson is a person committed to inspired living. At a writing workshop she facilitated, she emphasized the idea that when one creates the space and intention to invite the Muse to dine with us on a daily basis, there is a greater likelihood for it to show up. This makes sense. My general approach has been to wait until I’m struck by inspiration, then pull to the side of the road, step out of the meeting, or leave the dinner table to start writing frantically, not wanting to lose that sudden spark. That hasn’t happened for a long time now, so I’m trying the sure and steady method for a while. Every day I write a few spare lines of mostly personal journal babble, filling in the gaps with collage or doodling. I believe something will emerge from this effort and in any case, it's fun.

Intentionally making space for beauty is a value that another inspirational person in my life, artist Sonja Horoshko, impressed upon me. I’ve watched her studio, Art Juice Studio, move from place to place over the years. It even existed as a “cardboard” studio in her back yard one summer in which deconstructed appliance boxes made walls that held space for remarkable student and mentor work to emerge. Art Juice “Studio” in the end appears to exist not as a single address but as something that permeates the moments of her daily life. I learned from her that a life imbued with generativity exists in small creative gestures:  using beautiful cloth napkins and colorful dishes at every meal, placing one stem in a vase, or rendering one small pebble from a vast landscape. These offerings add up to a life constantly filled with creative moments (rather than mundane tasks) and they are the stepping stones to keeping creative inspiration alive.

In the end, it may be that the process counts as much as the end product. In his essay “Virtue Aesthetics” Steve Neumann describes a poet’s process as one that supports a life of “flourishing” which involves an integration of personal process and art. He states “to live the good life, one has to incorporate certain experiences, traits or tendencies that dispose one to act in certain ways, just as a flower absorbs light and water, and nutrients from the soil, and then manifests its particular “virtues” of color and form — in other words, it thrives as a flower.”
He draws on the poet Levertov’s idea that writing poetry requires a “faithful attention”. According to Levertov, “What many people don’t recognize is that poets write poems from the same impulse that others read them. People turn to poems (if they are aware poetry exists) for some kind of illumination, for revelations that help them to survive, to survive in spirit not only in body. These revelations are usually not of the unheard-of but of what lies around us unseen or forgotten. Or they illuminate what we feel but don’t know we feel until it is articulated.” The poet’s process encourages an openness to experience, sensitivity to the nuances of experience as well as creativity and these virtues support a flourishing life.
I found myself this morning contemplating the image of a hen scratching for corn in the dirt as a metaphor for my brain searching out new words. I was about to jot it down in my journal when I remembered that I had used this image already at some previous in-between time:
When the muse dies
words rustle and break
under the weight of ordinariness.
The breath catches
at the sudden expanse
beyond the peak
of a mountain trail,
sighs at heading downhill again.
The pen scratches like a chick
looking for corn.
The mind is a dog
hunting prairie dogs or baby rabbits
in the burrows and dens
of stillness.

It’s still a good image. And somewhere a new image, a new topic, a new process exists. In the meantime, onward with the endeavor of not so much to write a good poem, but to be invigorated by the creative process – every day.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Podunovich Interviewed by Bob King at Colorado Poets Center

I am reposting this interview from the Colorado Poet Center. You can read other interviews and find out more about the center at their website

The Colorado Poet, #23, Summer 2013

Interview: Renee Podunovich

Let the Scaffolding Collapse (Finishing Line Press, 2013.
Bob King: When I finished your book I thought ‘Hey, these are all about relationships!” Then the information on the back reminded me that you’re a licensed professional counselor. You also give workshops on using creative writing as a tool for personal growth. Can you say something about your profession connected to your poetry? Is this why you focus on relationships? How does this help in your workshops?
Renne PodunovichRenne Podunovich: This collection definitely focuses on relationships. My writing always reflects my own experiences and tends to be confessional in style. In this collection, I explored the ways in which relationship to self and to others becomes too small at some point. I was interested in how to “let the scaffolding collapse” or let the structures that have defined me go so that I could grow and expand in new ways. These are typical midlife themes, but the poems narrate personal struggles more than anything. They aren’t about other people so much as they are deeply about myself in relation to others, my point of view, my uniqueness. But what I always hope for in my writing is that my personal story transcends itself so that what is universal in the experience triumphs and touches others.
BK: Some poems use the pronouns she/he, and some have I/you as well as I/him. And you have one poem titled ‘This Poem Is Not About Me’ where you say you sometimes use one or the other. Where does this come from? How does this work in your practice? Have you changed pronouns sometimes during revision?
The poems are narrative in this collection and this was somewhat new for me. I’ve focused more on lyrical, nature-based work in the past.
RP: The poems are narrative in this collection and this was somewhat new for me. I’ve focused more on lyrical, nature-based work in the past. I very consciously played with pronoun swapping and found that sometimes, I don’t want to say “I”. It’s too much responsibility for the emotional content of what I’m saying. I’d rather create a character and assign it to her! In the poem you are referring to, the title references and finds humor in postmodernism and the questionability of objectivity. Can I really ever say “she”? Aren’t we always saying “me”?
 BK: A lot of your poems function as extended metaphors, whether it’s learning something about life from a bowl of ramen noodles or “Single Male Friends”  being like a cricket you keep in a cage or “her life” as a ball of yarn. And you don’t say these things lightly—you develop them throughout the poem. Why do you think metaphor is so appealing to you or to your poetry? How do metaphors ‘come’ to you?
In my poems, the metaphors generally reference an emotional state that I am examining (within myself or what I perceive in another person).
RP: In my poems, the metaphors generally reference an emotional state that I am examining (within myself or what I perceive in another person). In these poems, I drilled the tropes for all they had to give. Staying with one metaphor throughout an entire poem is perhaps another reflection of how these poems came from a place of feeling stuck, limited. The lexicon of this collection is built largely on everyday items: ramen, the kitchen sink, utensils and other objects of daily living. As a collection about long-term relationship and cohabitation, I found these images worked well to explore being trapped, uninspired and looking for more than the mundane. 
BK: And after my foray into a basic principle of poetry I have a much tinier question. You use periods to end a sentence but don’t capitalize the first word of the next. This is obviously your conscious choice so where did it come from? What does it do to your—or our—reading of the poem?
RP: That unusual punctuation creates a “voice” in the poems. In trying to highlight a sense of being limited by outgrown structures, the punctuation gives a sense of being stopped, stuck. I like the staccato nature of it combined with the ordinary language I described above. I didn’t think this all through when I wrote it. It was an organic thing that emerged and I allowed it to live in the writing.
BK: Psychology is not my area so I may be treading on dangerous ground here, but I can’t help but notice the frequency of water images, whether it’s a child’s swimming pool or a stream or, more often, the ocean itself. What is it about water that makes it so appealing to you as a theme or image?
RP: My poems are always explorations of emotion. Water is a very traditional symbol for emotion. Also, my home in CO is between the mountains and the desert. Others have noticed all this water (or yearning for water) in my work too. Maybe it is time for me to talk more about air, earth or fire…or to move somewhere tropical!
 BK: What are you working on now?
RP: I always feel the same way at the end of a collection, like I need to shake loose from it. I want to shed the vocabulary and imagery I had been using and find what is fresh. It is a molting process and some of the old style keeps re-emerging before the new tender skin is truly found. I don’t know what it will be. How exciting is that?

Friday, May 31, 2013

How Not to Feel Bad About Your Neck: Poem by Renee Podunovich

Tonic Moment: Terra Firma by Francis Berry

I recently read The Banjo Clock by Karen Garthe for a poetry workshop at Westminster College in SLC, UT. I was inspired by this poet's innovative use of language. One critic states, "For Karen Garthe, poetry is a molotov cocktail...bringing language to new life from the inside..." I was quite influenced by her work, especially her post-modern sensibility.

In post-modern literature, meaning becomes fragmented or paradoxical and the poet's work is not an isolated creation. In this poem, all the words were found in In Style Magazine and I've employed the technique of pastiche to highlight the chaotic, pluralistic and information-drenched aspects of post modern society. I was stunned by how this collage of words from ads has a transcendental tone, one that falls into snarky commentary at times because we recognize the cliches.

How Not to Feel Bad About Your Neck

The truth is the deeper we dive
True love has a color: daffodil. Twirl into new vivids,
Come alive.
The more remarkable we become—
Take our eyes off. Endure
every wrong note. Brighten                 the gray day, comfortable.

Being happy, having choices, absolutely:
You’ll absolutely glow      from the ground up, gratitude.
Surefire (spike, parse, boost, zap)                  Emerald plays well.

D├ęcolletage, a lovely state of mind:  pieces that pop

(I am unlimited, transformation, precious, radiance)
Healing power   Grace loves.   Luminous finish
Look, it’s all coming back again:  just follow gravity    # hidden power
It’s now.

-Renee Podunovich, 2013