Monday, April 20, 2020

Venturing into Prospect: Nature Writing as Resonance with Heartscapes

Yellow Jacket Canyon
Connecting inner and outer landscapes is what can make nature writing healing. Earth offers us amazing images and metaphors with which to express ourselves. Using Earth imagery in writing is a way to tell our story in a manner that connects us to a larger, living intelligence. Nature writing supports us to find meaning and importance in our personal stories, showing us how our stories connect to the larger systems of life.

Eco-psychology understands how natural places can support our health and growth. Being in nature and writing both invite us to discover connection. An awareness of natural processes can teach us ways to live with painful aspects of our personal lives with more equanimity. In eco-psychology, the concepts of Prospect and Refuge come into play. Prospect offers us the larger view, a way to expand out of mental and emotional constrictions that are limiting. Refuge offers shelter, safety, containment; a sense that one is protected. In most landscapes there is a balance of Prospect and Refuge and one can explore that dialectic easily, tuning in to what is needed for balance and finding a way to meet the need.

My recent adventure into the Canyon of the Ancients was an unexpectedly strange experience. The more well known access points into these public lands have been feeling crowded as the season changes, so I opted for this very remote trail. It is barely marked by a small public lands sign indicating access for hikers and horses. The signage stood crooked in some bushes, as if hit by a baseball bat out of a pickup by hooligans on a dusty county road named Y. Telling.

Disappearing Roads
photo by RPodunovich
This was a day of extreme Prospect, too much perhaps and too isolated of a trail to feel at ease. Spotting Mountain Lion scat at the outset and in several places during the descent also played into a mood that wavered between anxiety and thrill:  the two-sided adrenaline coin that can be so compelling. The canyon in this spot is wide and the view vast, so immense that the mind endeavors to take in the scale, making one’s small place in that expanse evident. The trail is an old road that has long been reclaimed by the geography of rolling stones and erosion. A half mile in, there was an odd sense of traveling along a landslide. My mind filled with images of mudslides and huge boulders unhinged and free falling in a flash flood. The sandstone outcroppings seemed perfect for a predator to eye its next meal.

The trail steeply descends into a wide valley, but not before traversing through a dry wash whose sandy sidewalls are high above head. There would be no scrambling up them if needed. This was such a contrast to the large view up until this point, and rather than a feeling of refuge, I felt a sense of being trapped. Cheerful lizards scurried out, blinking at me, curious at my intrusion into the silence. This winding wash of course led to water in the valley and the cool invitation of a lovely stream felt welcome. It was dammed at one point by the clever handiwork of beavers. This felt like a spot of refuge with the water slowed by and gently flowing through the beaver dam. The air was fresh and the clear water full of grasses and algae, its trickling sound soothing in the desert.

photo by RPodunovich
Looking for a spot to cross, I suddenly heard a swarm of bees in the cottonwoods. I looked for the hive, but couldn’t locate one and then I remembered a friend’s long narrative recently about “wild bees” that build their homes inside the trees. Their humsong vibrated along my skin and I stopped, awed. Just the day before I had been editing Shore’s writing about bees and hives. Synchronicity is always present, yet it defines those moments in which we realize the interconnections between the conscious and unconsciousa waking dream or a veil lifting so that we see the larger connections, the way parts intertwine and influence.

With no easy crossing to be found, I took off my hiking boots and stepped into the cold water. The moss and grasses felt like satin, soothing my bare feet. I scrambled up the bank, avoiding prickly pear cactus and sharp rocks, until I found a spot to get my boots back on. At this point, the valley was open and wide, and the canyon walls were sheered off faces of red rock and tumbling stone. Geological time, the rate at which rocks move, became clear. All things fall to the bottom eventually yet seemed to pause in a timeless yawn. Scanning the canyon walls, I didn’t see any ruin sites. I am becoming more aware of what creates a good spot for refuge, for a home in such an environment, such as a south-facing overhang that has to be just perfect in position and conditions. Nothing like that exists here, then or now. This is a land to pass through, not to stop and call home.

Endless Valley
photo by RPodunovich
As I heated water on my ultra light burner, I considered difficult situations in my life that are about the Prospect and Refuge found in relationships; that ever shifting landscape of heart and connection. I sipped bitter instant espresso and scanned the valley, wondering where this trail might end up if I kept following it. Out by the old Ismay Trading Post in Aneth, UT, I suspected. It’s so bitter and painful to have situations that are unresolvable. We are exposed to ourselves by life unexpectedly at times. It is vulnerable and confusing. None of us likes being exposed. For that, I have true compassion, for each one of us, and for myself.
We can blame others for our difficulties, but true resiliency is about taking full responsibility for our own feelings and actions rather than projecting, blaming, denying. The past two years have harshly awakened me from my own illusions, ones that were just out of awareness until they were suddenly exposed. I have had to renegotiate the roles in my relationships, find a balance of offering both Prospect and Refuge in a new way, one that considers myself more firmly in the equation. I am a landscape of instability, change and of my own volition. These landscapes always shift, and after the grief, a new center of gravity always emerges and I am grateful for that strengthening.

I take a small journal with me on these outings, jotting a few words down or at times attempting to render the landscape. Just a few words that day, a haiku:

Foot of the Cottonwoods
photo by RPodunovich
wide canyon, valley
vast, the foot of cottonwoods-
refuge enough, just.

These landscapes (of the earth and of the heart) are so difficult to render. After years of landscape lessons from artists, beginning with my father and followed by others who truly master it, I am at a loss. I thought about the technique of breaking down the pallet of the landscape by gathering different stones along my path. In this way, the complexity of the colors is easier to embrace. Instead, I attempted a blind contour drawing of the horizon line with a black Sharpie. When I pulled it out of my pack today, it looked like an abstract children’s coloring book, so I treated it that way. I got out my Prismacolor pencils and decided to go bold. I love working with these particular pencils, their quality and texture soothes me, a lot like the blanket I used to have when I was a kid. I understand now how so much bad Southwest art is created. At least, I did not use pastels- how cliché that would have been?! This is really bad art. And I take full responsibility for it.  

-Renee Podunovich, 4.20.20

by Me


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Collaborations Abound: Poetry of Common Humanity in The Pause

Aspens in Air
photo by RPodunovich

Hello Friends- far and near, in contact or not in contact:  in my heart always! 

Here we are, together in such uncertainty and apart at home in the time of covid19. I've been working from home, with an increased caseload, for four weeks now. After years of gaining more and more continuing ed, techniques, theories, applications, etc. - I can say Self-Compassion is the best medicine for any situation. That and understanding what is within our control and what is not. And letting the latter go! I just updated my website and plan to offer some supportive blog articles there that will incorporate practices and guided audios for anyone interested. 

I am a huge fan of Neff's Mindful Self-Compassion Therapy. Check out the website, full of guided imagery practices  and exercises for applying these concepts. I am also currently studying the  Safely Embodied practices outlined by Dr. Deirdre Fay who has combined work on attachment theory, trauma research and yoga philosophy. Like Neff's work, the applications that are born out of the research are practical and accessible.

So far, 2020 is a year of many personal projects and many collaborations. I am excited about each one, loosely keeping tabs on their progress, but not worrying about the unfinished business of them- really grounding into process, enjoying it, letting it unfold, allowing the surprise twists and turns that arise out of the creative flow state. Here is a snapshot of my desk this morning: undone things, work papers, random trinkets, project essentials. I had the thought that I need a bigger desk now, but then realized it would look the same. I'll just tidy up a bit before working of them, whichever strikes my fancy today.

Looks like I'll be publishing my new collection "Illustrious for Brief Moments" with Finishing Line Press. They published my second collection and I like working with them. There will be nine weeks of pre-sales, in which I will elicit support for this endeavor. Thanks in advance for the support!! More as it develops. 

Sonja Horoshko and I finished our residency at 
Willowtail Springs which resulted in a very satisfying end product of six hand-bound, letter pressed manuscripts, the culmination of a year of seriously tedious work. We had planned some exhibits, locally and around the state, but obviously that is on hold. 

Sonja and I are also working with Arts at the Sharehouse to publish a regional anthology of writers. This is partly funded by the City of Cortez and it will represent very diverse POVs and voices in our SW region. As the poetry "editor" I am getting to read a lot of great poetry these days!!

Other upcoming collabs include working with artist and long time friend, Rosie Carter creating some Broadsides pairing poems and images. We have decided on the theme "Geological Time" which has me researching again about all things anthropocene. 

Be well all! I am hanging in there. Missing you. 

First Ride on Kinda Flat Tires

Sunday, March 29, 2020

51 & C19: Poetry of a Certain Uncertainty

Near the Pumps
photo by RPodunovich
Down River
at the Lower Dolores

On the silver feathered backbone
            of an exhale—
            watch grief fly
free as swallows skimming winter waters,
soaring on gales of transience.
Your sorrows released evaporate,
vanish into slickrock, into the mouth
of this river-carved canyon.
            Never ask for them back.

Colors After Snow
photo by RPodunovich
Gather soul medicines found along the path:
rose hips, sage, cedar and lichen
sodden from last night’s snow,
their colors momentarily radiant
under melting crystals of frost.
the vanilla scent of pinion pitch,
a resin that seals the heart,
covers the fissures, 
            restores your tenderness.

Only a scar remains, only noticeable when stars fall,  
trails of light across the midnight psyche,
a remnant ache you will keep—
your own darkness harnessed.
You have learned to wander that precarious edge,
where the conscious and Unconscious meet;
            using your subtle body, a place deeper than logic,
            and out of obscurity you have scavenged 
            a more durable self,
extracted from galaxies and mystery
with the sharp tip of a crescent moon.
Each new year (or day or minute) is an opening,
an opportunity to be bright like river ripples,
sunlit and willingly carried,
held and pushed forward at the same time;
in every moment all facets are happening.
            — Be vast enough—
stretch to contain a dash more shimmer and night.
There is time yet for more,
a day or many; it is unclear
            but we are alive still in air, in water, the fire body,
            in each grateful breath.

-Renee Podunovich, 3/28/2020

Celebrating 51!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Almost Spring Heart: Poetry for Unsleeping

Butler Wash, UT
photo by RPodunovich

Waking from Ever-Winter 


Wetfrozen silver leaves,
the cottonwoods let them fall
last autumn, their bodies now a pattern—
            grey decay against ochre sand,
            a trail lined with death
            even as we live and walk and breathe.

Inhale — vapors of desert snow,
mist from a storm now past,
in sunny spots ice gives way
to transparent pools of that melted chill.
            I look for signs of life, movement
            in water’s depths, and even though I know
            there is nothing yet to find,
I can’t stop wanting that wordless thing,
how I long for something I can’t quite name—

the lasting, timeless, beckoning call inside
bodycells, the dreambody, our ceaselessness
through deep time, dimensions and multiverses.

Ice Pools
photo by RPodunovich


Hibernation still calls to my bones,
even as my blood runs fire.
Despite the sway of cross quarter quickening,
the full moon is a stronger sedative,
            lulls me back to sleep,
            an ever-winter slumber:

It takes all of the seasons for the heart to mend,
for new awareness to find hold,
and what is next is just a seed dreaming
in the still frozen ground of February.

I settle myself back in, invite that vision to find me—

            I am quiet, still, receptive, silver,
            lustrous like these small pools;
            vessels inside a canyon spillway.

Movement Becomes Us
Sonja Horoshko, 2002

Rivers I cried, they flooded this sandstone wash,
red dirt hewn by that outpouring,
earth polished so fine it is impossible to capture,
            the tiniest, smoothest gemstones,
            cherry and glistening in the light,
            falling through my fingers like an hourglass—

this is how it is to fade: appearances gone,
just the bare facts are left, they are hard to perceive,
like staring into the sun on a winter day:
            we live and disappear, we are only ourselves.

Ancient Frog Petroglyphs
photo by RPatten

Ancient frogs painted yellowred on stone
snap me awake, suddenly,
they steal my breath away, they chant
their long ago song; it’s my own heartbeat
            pounding my ears, then wind, then stillness.

I let the ice deliver its cold smart to my fingers,
I let myself be affected again — I won’t hide from living —

I will walk alone or with another,
I will sing more songs and I will not sing,
I am going to dance when the moon is dark,
I am still falling apart but something whole is emerging,
            the way water invites everything to be near it,
            I drink my fill, then offer some to the world.

I am mystified by simplicity;
there is nothing to be other than my next breath.

-Renee Podunovich, 2/14/20

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Winter Solstice 2019: Poetry for Clarity, Endings & Beginnings

Winter Solstice, 2019
dear friends: thank you for your presence in my life! 

Iceblue before sun crests,
just a few flickers of saffron sail
over the horizon line,

            hush, wait in the quiet
            for that luminosity, that moment
when light finally lands on winter fields;
grasses bent, the weight of snowflakes,
frost fringes their honeyed stalks, shimmers,
shivers, swims in snowbanks, sun-splashed.

I place myself in the center of my life once again,
will let this warmth cover me too.
I belong here, in the middle, centripetal
and still I dance
Her Own Axis
collage by Renee Podunovich

            with you, we are bright
            like embers, like night stars
            sparkling the black universe,
            our hearts on fire, ablaze
            with elation, vibrantly          
            unburdened from all
            that was let go.

I burned everything
that blocked my clear view.
Now, ash and fallow make a space,
an invitation, an opening.

Something new will grow here,
and I intend to tend it well.

-Renee Podunovich
December 21, 2019 

Grand Canyon, December 2019
Far View, Looking Ahead with Curiosity

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bisti / De-Na-Zin : Badland Poetry - Words in the Empty

Shape of Absence
photo by RPodunovich

“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

As a writer whose work is so deeply influenced by nature, I enjoy adventuring to unfamiliar landscapes. I open myself to the natural intelligences of a place, curious what it will evoke emotionally within my inner landscape. That resonance between outer and inner nature fascinates me. 

Adventures into nature provide a reset, one in which I can shift from the overwhelm of modern life to a sense of awe. I can let go of my constricted, anxious self limitations and find an expanded sense of connection to a greater system; one which is magnificently organized and intelligent and enduring. While there can be an ease that arises in the outdoors, there is also the necessity of being prepared, especially in a "wilderness". One is venturing into the unknown after all, into risk, into variables beyond the control of humans (though there is the reality that no wild place is now outside the pollution of "civilized" endeavor).

Beautifully Petrified
photo by RPodunovich
Though Bisti / De-Na-Zin is a declared wilderness area, I was unprepared to meet it as such. I was deeply humbled by the "badlands". So much so that about a mile into the hike, I panicked. The letting go, meeting a place and self expansion that is often so inspiring, felt terrifying. I can laugh about it now, but I actually broke down in tears as the sun, heat, aridity, lack of sheltered spaces, and a sense of being trapped in an empty vastness overcame me. Nothing about this landscape felt familiar: a disappearance of anything tangible. There was a striking lack of noise, movement, or discernible activity of any kind. All I could hear was an occasional breeze or children laughing in the distance, my own ears ringing. I saw four birds that flew off promptly before I could even really discern them. I saw 5 red ants. I felt like this place could take me, if it wanted to. I would become dust, my bones petrified like wood, forgotten in the immensity of time. The resonance from my inner landscape was one of existential dread. 

I found welcomed shade in some bizarre rock formations, made sugary chai, offered incense to the place, wrote a poem. And then I felt so peaceful, so quiet, so still. So relieved as my thoughts just stopped and I met the stillness of deep time. This place was once a riverine delta that lay just to the west of the shore of an ancient sea. That salty water was in my tears, found its way back to the echo of itself in the desert. Do I recommend a trip there? Of course. 

Words, Incense, Tea in Silence
photo by RPodunovich
“You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.”
 ― John Muir, Wilderness Essays

Bisti / De-Na-Zin

walk into beyond.
the empty

            gets inside your head,
            into thronged mental spaces,
            sticky taffy of jumbled ideas,
            hoarded theories, cerebral perseverations:

panic as they evaporate.
relax your contracted chant of identity,
the solo of self-importance you were singing
no longer has a discernible tune;
            let the tempo be longer,
            millennia between the notes—

time and the elements eliminate all of it.
resistance is impossible
in a place that captures all water,
slowly disappear it, a thirst never sated,
every last bit of moisture,
of your frantic holding on,
            will be shed now as your own
            wet tears.
light a rope of incense,
make tea on the ultra-light burner,
            its spicy flavor is the only reminder
            of a modern dream you were having
            before the sun and echo
            of ancient shallow seas and a petrified forest
            woke you.

-Renee Podunovich, 2019

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dining With My Muse: Poetry Makes Agony Palatable

I did it. I hit "submit" and off goes my newest chapbook manuscript to be considered for publication. Agonizing! 

I have been eager and anxious all week to get it in by the looming deadline. I woke up this morning with very little of the confidence I had just a few days ago, and the meaning in writing anything at all had suddenly disappeared. I went ahead and did it anyway. 

Putting the final touches on it today, I am really happy with the work as a collection, which ended up with the title: Illustrious for Brief Moments. I wrote up this (long-ish) introduction or artist statement:

"Pasiphae" - linoleum print by Henri Matisse

"Since moving away from the city, back to the high desert of southwest CO, my poems have taken on a kind of magical realism that reflects my experience of living once again in such a vast landscape, with all of its dramatic seasonal movement and mutability, along with its history and cultural variances across deep time. 
This current collection continued to evolve throughout the year, changing with each season spent in my homecoming, and represents a convergence of multiple levels of reality. I recognized this after reading one aloud to a friend recently; she stated “there seemed to be three poems in one.” I have been considering this and do believe perhaps there are layers of dimension to the poems that make them complex and richly woven. 
One layer is the reality of landscape and its aliveness, and the words it “speaks” to me by choosing to be in relationship with place. We live in a conscious, organized, highly intelligent matrix with which we are intimately and uniformly connected. To continue to deny this is our sure demise as a species. To embrace this idea of interconnectedness fully, is to awaken from a disconnected dream of being an individual in the global corporate state, one that places humans at a mistaken apex of evolution. To awaken, is to grieve at the rapid destruction of ecosystems and human cultures within them, now viewed as deeply wounded systems of life: truly as wounded self. Awakening now is to wonder at the adaptability and insistence of life and evolution over time spans we can barely fathom. The scope of self-importance both shrinks as we stretch our awareness to imagine such complexity, and expands as we wake up to the importance of our connection to such sentience through the portal of our own body wisdom and imaginal capacity. The call from Clare Dubois at Tree Sisters, that we evolve to be a “Protector Species”, speaks deeply to me and I echo that call here.

On another level, my work is always about my first love: psychology. I am engaging a psycho-poetic-analysis perhaps. The poems are both born from my own insistence on healing my personal wounds and in my curiosity and propensity to help others heal. In that personal reckoning, upon which my poems always find their foundation, there are the kernels of connectivity: the fact that we are so alike in the most human ways; such that what is healed in one can be recognized in another. These are the places we overlap because human experience is so organic in the end, so that perhaps beyond culture and history, we are alike in ways that are easy to recognize with the wounded or healed heart. 

And of course I am always spelunking in the cave of the invisible, unconscious, the landscape of deep mystery. I love to explore this landscape through the portal of the imaginal realms: dreamtime, trance experience, altered states of consciousness brought about by ceremony, art, word, song, dance, breath work and other forms of entering transcendent states of awareness. The messages I find from these altered states can barely be put into words. Ecstatic poets of all time strive to find the language that holds these experiences that are so far outside of ordinary time and reality, beyond the mundane. Yet this realm is also just right here, each night as we sleep, or when we stop and rest amid the busy, loud world of consumptive striving to experience a peak moment. We suddenly feel connected to all of life because we took the time to notice raindrops on spider webs outside our door, or the way the light fell like lace on the desk while we worked at the computer. The call to that soulful language lives in us yet, and I find many are just as hungry as I am to hear such language, to read it, speak it, articulate finally what matters. “Yes”, we say, “I feel that too. I remember now that you said it.”

There is a sense of dreamy awakening in these poems. I am especially fond and mystified by what I will call the “magical feminine beings” in this work. They are the voices of a layered intersection: where messages from the divine feminine wisdom in matter, lessons from my embodied and personal feminine journey, and the living voice of the land and elements come together to sing." 
-Renee Podunovich, 2019


Dining With My Muse

My muse her sparkling charm,
she is all kinds of beauty
            and also a dark enchantress, who savors pain
            served as a seven-course meal.
She crafts homebrews out of betrayals,
bakes disappointment into chocolate lava cakes,
serves them with not a thought
of how they might make her dinner guests weep
as they remember their own deepest wounds;
            the ones shoved into lightless corners,
            where cobwebs and dust motes reside.

She spends days, weeks, years
gathering the terrible ingredients for these poetic feasts.
Life always delivers the components she needs,
so even when she is not looking for more raw material
it ends up in her shopping basket anyway
especially when she is not paying attention,
that is when the most difficult things appear in her larder:
            unexpected, out of the blue, from left of center,
            hit by a meteor, blind-sided ingredients.

Oh my muse! She loves a candid meal;
one that wasn’t in the Joy of Cooking,
that even Julia Childs would struggle to prepare.
There is a thrill in chaos, the reminder that life is
            mysterious, unexpected, out of the ordinary,
and even if the menu was formulated from exquisite despair,
she knows she will make it into something palatable:
            a lavender shortbread cookie infused with heartbreak,
            a hearty winter stew in a broth of suffering,
            a white layer cake with strawberry filling,
            iced with loneliness and isolation.

If you sit at her table, my muse will lure you
into dining with her, will assure you
that consuming a meal of such depth and authenticity
is good for you. She will serve aperitif drinks;
            Campari with soda and crocodile tears,
so that you will relax into the next courses.
She will entice you to sample each handsome
yet veiled dish she has prepared.
            How could you say no to summer greens
            topped with fresh apricots and your lost loves?
            Or to cherries soaked in bourbon
            and that pit in your stomach dread?

If you dine with her until the last course,
you will be full and yet lighter somehow.
Her dishes are heavy with the elements
of your own refused, pushed out of awareness wounds,
yet they leave you surprisingly refreshed.
She will offer strong coffee,
            topped with whipped cream,
            a dash of cardamom and honeysuckle syrup,
            and of course, a shot of innocence lost.

You won’t be the same after dining with her.

-Renee Podunovich, 2019