Newtown Literary contributor: Olena Jennings
Writer Olena Jennings’ work was featured in issue #12 of Newtown Literary. Below, she reflects on the process of completing her poems for the journal. You can find more of Olena’s work at www.olenajennings.com.
A Dancer’s Climate
A dancer/artist who wrote to me with the idea of creating an exhibition together involving poetry, art, and dance inspired the Nature-Body series of poems, two of which are published in Newtown Literary. Years ago we had worked together on a show in New York City, but hadn’t kept in touch. I was surprised to hear that she had read some of the poetry on my website. She caught me at a time when I was feeling especially inspired. I woke up early in the mornings to contemplate the exhibition and work on the poems that would be part of it. The exhibition would be about climate change and therefore, about nature. I wanted to weave the poems into a visual medium. I thought of the dresses I would sew to mirror some of the images in my poems.
At the same time that I was working on the poems, I went to Tbilisi, Georgia for a poetry workshop. I didn’t want to sightsee. I just wanted the aura of a foreign city to rub off on me. I had dreamed of taking this trip for a long time. In high school, I had a crush who was Georgian and introduced me to red wine when we sat in his yard for such a long time that it seemed the grass turned brown at our feet. I was finally going to go to Georgia to see the land he came from and there my creative life would blossom.
Out of monochromatic fabrics, I sewed some dresses to wear on the trip. They were blank slates as my body was in that foreign country, waiting to be decorated with inspiration.
I arrived in Georgia at dawn. When I entered the building where my Airbnb was located, darkness folded over me. I parted it as I wound my way up the stairs. When I got to the entrance to my apartment, there was finally a weak light. In the apartment, the balcony was the perfect place to write. City lights glowed purple and I listened to the ethereal music of Bon Iver.
The Writer’s House was the perfect place to have a poetry workshop. It was an old mansion with taxidermy on the second floor where construction was happening. I wasn’t interested in workshop though. I wanted to be alone with the city.
I spent time working on my poems while stray kittens circled my feet and mist coated my wine glass. A friend sat across from me also writing, our computer keys almost in synchrony.
I rarely thought about nature and still struggled with feeling close to it. I only remembered going to the lake with my parents. I thought of the cliffs, the buttercups, and finally, the beach glass. The man-made city would always intrude on nature. This was important to me. The poems are about intruding on nature.
After two weeks in Georgia, I returned to the United States. The exhibition never came to fruition. We gathered all we needed from the participating artists and got a rejection from one venue. We never pursued the idea further. By then I had lost touch with the dancer again, felt our vision break apart, but the nature poems still exist, living their own lives.