“across her heart lizards were treading tenderly” – Guest Poetry Blog Series #24 – Part Two of Two – U.S. Poet J.I. Kleinberg Introduces U.S. Poet/Artist Joanna Thomas

—15—

wolfsbane.bumblebee.
buttercup.rununculus.
bela lugosi.

Joanna Thomas, from u.v.u.lar.i.a.: wild flower haiku field book , a haiku chapbook inspired by participation in the 2023 Seabeck Haiku Getaway.

J.I. (JUDY) KLEINBERG FEATURES U.S. POET AND ARTIST JOANNA THOMAS

I was well on my way to writing about Ellen Bass, a poet whose work I so admire, when I veered delightedly off-track to introduce a person whose work you may not know, but should: Joanna Thomas. Brilliant, prolific, and deeply imaginative, Joanna (“Joey” to her friends) is artist and poet in equal measures.

From her home in Ellensburg, a university town in the middle of Washington State, Joanna creates collage, poetry, and books that reflect her eclectic interests and passion for language. Her work has been widely published and anthologized and her chapbooks include [ache] [blur] [cut]: sonnets (Open Country Press, 2023), winner of the Open Country Chapbook Prize, selected by Melissa Kwasny; blue•bird (bloo-burd) (Milk & Cake Press, 2021); plus hand-stitched, limited-edition booklets, including Leonardo’s Lady Explains Herself (Dogtown Press, 2018) and u.vu.lar.i.a: wild flower haiku field book (2023). Her oeuvre also includes one-of-a-kind artist’s books such as Modern Dressmaking Made Easy and Fodder, plus an assortment of volumes in the Untitled series.

Whether her medium is collage, words, or both, here’s what most impresses me about Joanna’s work: her expansive imagination; her ability to embrace, invent, and discard form; her flexibility and responsiveness; her blending of the visual and the verbal; her unpredictability; and her sense of humor. Her visuals are enormously rich, achieved with a limited palette: grays, blacks, browns, with a splash of color imparted by carbon blue, red pen, or a collaged snippet of ribbon or paper.

[ache] [blur] [cut] is an alphabetical collection of 26 sonnets that trip and soar through history, popular culture, nature, art, poetry, biblical references, wordplay, and much more. Surprise enjambments, sudden turns, and overlapping meanings are all par for the course. Here’s L:

12 [long]

this could be a long story about john silver
or a short one about the happy life of francis
macomber or baby shoes for sale never worn
swashbuckling or lion hunting or gently swaying
in a hammock at duffy’s farm on pine island
bronze butterflies sifting sunlight in the exhale
of all things that float matthew mark luke john
milton all putting their two cents in about gardens
––eden gethsemane paradiso––and don’t forget
hieronymus all his earthly delights esconced
at the museo del prado all that voluptuous fruit
pluck pluck pluck while mary magdalene stands
on the stoop calling for lassie to come home
longing for love and so lonesome she could cry

Joanna Thomas from [ache] [blur] [cut] from Open Country Press, 2023

You can hear Joanna read [rain] another poem from [ache] [blur] [cut] on YouTube.

blue•bird (bloo-burd) riffs on the format of dictionary entries in a collection of B-words. Where the lexicographer’s precise syntax meets the magician’s sleight of hand, blue•bird (bloo-burd) proves that certainty is overrated. Here, the solid, even stolid, words we’ve long known — barley, bedrock, butter — are recast with delicate sorcery. Not exactly poems, not quite prose, these are a slippery new form, a linguistic carnival, all delight, worked carefully, unobtrusively, into the constraints of the lipogram (B-words whose definitions are built without the letter b). There is order here, and disarming, raucous, juxtaposition. Each word’s seven definitions gently disturb the reader’s complacency, attune the ear to the sticky feet of bumblebees on dictionary pages, and introduce a surreal synesthesia — along with a growing need for the rest of the alphabet. Here’s one:

Listen to Joanna read the title poem from blue•bird (bloo-burd) on You Tube.

Finally, here’s the title poem from Leonardo’s Lady Explains Herself, a small collection of ekphrastic poems accompanied by photos of the artwork. Leonardo’s Lady is, of course, La Gioconda (Mona Lisa).

Leonardo’s Lady Explains Herself

I’m not a still life. Not a brown egg
balanced on a spoon; not a basket of figs.
I’m not a limp-necked swan, undulant,
my head lolling over the table’s edge.
I’m no loaf, no wedge of cheese, no carafe
of ruby wine, no clump of grapes, no carp.
I bear no likeness to a mandolin,
or tambourine, the bishop’s mitred hat.

My spit of land is no sweet apricot,
my folded hands no haunch of wild hare,
nor cherries gathered in a china bowl.
My curling lip is not an eel, ebony,
slipped upon a pewter plate, no lemon,
its fragrant peel unfurling, no melon.

Joanna Thomas from Leonardo’s Lady Explains Herself, Dogtown Press, 2028

In this, as in so many of her poems, erasures, and collages, Joanna Thomas invites us to see through the obvious to the hidden layers beneath. Perhaps the apt word pentimento will inspire a new volume.

. . . . .
See more Joanna Thomas:
https://www.joannathomas.xyz
https://www.gallery-one.org/events/joanna-thomas
https://artisttrust.org/artists/joanna-thomas

By J.I. Kleinberg, January 2024

4 Comments

  1. Tonya
    Posted January 12, 2024 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Oh I am smitten with these poems by Joanna Thomas – new to me! And the photos of her hand-assembled chapbooks. GORG!
    bal-loon – oh my, oh my, that form and the play of it

    Thank you J.I. Kleinberg and Richard!

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted January 12, 2024 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh Tonya: No kidding. Her use of language, its freshness is such a learning experience. I bot one of her chapbooks of sonnets. This is the gift of these huest blogs, of which yours was one of the firdst. Thank you.

  3. Barbara
    Posted January 13, 2024 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Wow, the dictionary! Doesn’t it just want you to see the other 25! Or consider other alphabets! or get you down to the page, inspired!! Thanks Judy, and Joanna, and of course, always, Richard!

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted January 15, 2024 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    yay to you Barbara! For being such a steadfast reader! Blessings!

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