Ice and Gaywings

Ice and Gaywings
click to order from Phoenicia Publishing

At qarrtsiluni today we announced the publication of a new collection of poems: Ice and Gaywings by Kenneth Pobo. This might be of interest to Via Negativa readers for several reasons: the book was selected as the winner of our 2011 chapbook contest by VN contributor Luisa Igloria; the cover includes one of my own photos of gaywings (AKA fringed polygala) in bloom; and most importantly, the poems themselves are meditative, understated, urgent, and full of details about the natural world. Though Ken and his partner live in eastern Pennsylvania, they’ve been visiting the Wisconsin north woods for many years, and this collection is a sort of love letter to that part of the world. Let me just quote what Luisa had to say about it:

The experience I value most in reading this collection is the way its language (never romanticized) and tone (never overwrought) allows me to settle with increasing depth into the poems’ rhythms and precise observations — about the natural world, now only partially reclaimable from so many forms of artifice; about the intrusions of contemporary urban life and culture; about histories older than us that haunt and shadow place. And finally, its urgent reminder to listen, look, and learn to dwell again.

You can read all the poems at the online version of the book, which has been one of my projects this autumn. I’m kind of pleased with how it turned out. I enjoy the challenge of making online collections of poetry that people will want to browse. Last year, for Clayton Michaels’ Watermark, I hit on the idea of taking the abstract artwork we used for the cover of the paper edition and dividing it up into smaller images, a different one for every poem, with little arrows for navigation icons. It seemed essential to give each poem its own page, so it would room to breathe. This year, however, I started off looking at horizontally scrolling themes, and though I didn’t end up going that route (maybe next year!) it did push my thinking pretty far outside the usual box. I ended up adapting a WordPress theme designed for software documentation, with all the poems on one vertical page which expands or collapses, accordion-style, as the titles are clicked. (I did add permalinks below each poem for those who desire a more pristine reading environment — or just need the link.)

I hope readers don’t find this javascripty behavior too distracting. What I really liked about the design was the way it kept distractions to a minimum. Thanks to this unique arrangement, I was able to dispense with sidebars (or bottom bars) altogether — in WordPress terms, this is a site with zero widgets. I kept the page menu to a bare minimum, and decided not to hack the theme to add chronological posts back in; a static page would do fine for the news section, I thought. Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say I had a lot of fun, even if I did have to re-do much of my work after I was kicked off my former webhost two weeks ago. Go take a look — and settle in with a cup of tea for a nice long read.

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