Keiko Hara, Topophilia- Ma and Ki, detail

Poets On the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women is directed by Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon and happens every September in La Conner. This year, poets visited the current exhibits and wrote poems inspired by the paintings, photographs, mixed media pieces and installations they discovered. Poets On the Coast welcomes poets at every stage in their career: from new beginners to highly published writers. For more information on Poets On the Coast, please visit us at
The changing images shown above inspired many of the poems here.
Woman as a Wall Hanging
               after From a Muddy Pond by Jeffry Mitchell
Scrape me,
boil me in lye
and stream bleach
all residue
until I am translucent.
I am ready
for ink to scallop edges
easy border
of long sought
interior curves
that keep joining
and rejoining
until obscure lines
become a pattern
I will wear as my own
signature skin.
            ~Mary Ellen Talley
Five Questions for a Liminal Photograph
            after Book of Life, by Kathleen Rabel
Why do you insist I look out
the window, past the sepia book,
ash tray, and cup into the lambent
light of Portugal, not Italy or Spain?
And why is the book fuzzed, somewhat
out of focus?  The view sharpens up
approaching the window, crisp focus
on wood frame, multi-limbed leafless tree.
Not spring here or summer or fall. It is
winter.  Still, the window’s wide open. 
Light floods in as far as a small plate
and bowl, highlights the grain
of the wood table top. The paint
on the window’s white frame is
peeling. Everything flows between
inside and out, pulsing whirlpool
of quiet, of repose. Has someone
just stepped away from that book
for a moment, run to the bakery?
Will she be back soon, write more
in a romance language on that open
page?  Or was she called away in mid-
sentence, conscripted to the next branch
on her own tree of life?
                        ~ Sylvia Byrne Pollack
       after Raven by Rick Bartow, 2010
The black mass sprawls across paper of cotton rag,
No signature left but two drops of raven blood,
and the dark energy behind the beady all-knowing eye.
Hand prints splayed for wings,
crimson stain outlines the scalp.
There is no living when you kiss
the pavement that way.
A golden Sunday drive beyond Sturgis,
sweet love clasped around your waist, hands
under leather that proclaims “Love free, ride free”.
Head nestled ear to shoulder blade
trusting the way forward to your sure grasp.
A mess of rough macadam
imprints the palms.
Did you soar or dive
while thinking your last thought?
                                    ~Laura Urban Perry
Cliff Edges I
Cliff Edges II

            art by Allyce Wood
How do I express in words
the spaciousness of a meadow
ripples in a river
cliffs that reach the sky
and not trivialize that beauty
and be bored by my own words.
If only I could use the artifice
of a picture frame
or the size of an etching plate
to restrict my vision.
Can I be like a painter
who with limited strokes
renders every blade of grass
ripple of a river
heft of a cliff’s
reach to the sky?
If I choose words
that shrink and simultaneously expand
the magnificence of what I see
I have painted my vision.
                ~Dale Sylvain
Maintenance Work
                after “Touching Glass #1, 2010” by Erik Demaine + Martin Demaine
Laughter, a cough.  There are herring
gulls outside.  I never knew glass teared up
when touched.  Sensitive skin apparently.
Bruises form easily.  That’s what happens
when molten glass floats on molten metal.
How the two ever cool enough
to stick together
is censored.
Here, the image is implanted, a bruise
caught forming, then ten bruises static
in infancy.  It is easy to trap them.
Sirens are heard down the street,
and even after they fade, the pulse
is still loud and cranky.
Still tired, he is touching
glass again.  More imprints, more bruises,
silence in knowing not even
a bag full of words
can save him.
Later he says they are fireworks,
a celebration.  How can we tell the difference?
The world is navy and white, like looking up
from the thermosphere.
Still we are tired.
We would like a better view.
  ~Tarisa A.M. Matsumoto
            after Lessons of the Greats Will Make Me Great (Maybe), by Ben Moreau
Will it end?
The world that is—puffed up
like a blue and white balloon
spinning against the weight
of our projections:
black on white white on black
positive and negative edge and contour
right side up upside down
mirror image mirroring the world.
I dream a man
man become dog
sloe-eyed beagle
beagle become bear
draped with amulets
of sun-bleached bone.
                        –Gloria Burgess
Approaching Sixty
                        My hands see the clay
                        And the clay murmurs to them.
                                    ~after Candlestick by Richard Fairbanks
She watches.
The potter leans in.
The clay shivers at the warmth in his breath,
then softens, yields.  Friction rises
as each responds to the rawness of the other,
a conflagration of co-creation
that ignites her own longing.
The hands and the clay see each other…
And they know.
They know.  And standing before them
she almost cannot bear to look,
yet cannot bear to look away,
this unexpected window
highlighting the darkness
that has enclosed her.
            ~Catherine Haynes
Celebration of Real Life
             after Car Wash by Efram Wolff
Here, then, in pastels and ink
is our world;
a society surrounding
the car-washing altar of
steel girders and spinning brushes.
Nothing we see is quite right;
if you don’t look closely you will miss it.
Brushes that turn into thorny bushes,
naked, chubby, three-armed
woman in the shower;
man with an L-shaped pipe
for a nose, and no eyes to see past it;
the piece of garbage
never washed into the hole
in the street.
We watch life perfectly airbrushed
every night during prime time,
in every commercial at Christmas,
in every Kincaid painting.
Here at the car wash
this is what we are.
Strange, even grotesque
in a world of soft colors;
beauty that is never captured
on nightly news
or daily dramas of projected lives
we strive to make our own.
No, here is where the gridiron hero
rapes the princess,
the students cheat to get ahead,
the politician lies to get elected,
the mother beats her children,
and they are not sorry when she dies.
But this is also not all there is.
Perfection happens,
happiness is here, life is good sometimes.
Don’t forget that.  
              ~ Tia Hudson


After the Flood 
            ~ after a September visit to MONA
With radioheads on we exited the car wash, 
eyes smarting in kaleidoscope: thirty-something views 
of mount so and so. A woman dreamed. Another iced 
a womb so cavernous a man or twenty could have exited
or entered. Narcissa fell for her reflection in a pool, 
her hair clouding her ankles. A blackout in force: 
rains forgotten by the earth made short work of rainbows. 
What devil traded us candles for night sticks, one for each eye? 
Small wonder, then, the blood that stains a petal red, 
until he asks for a cup of water and you are the cup, 
the chalice from which anything could flower -- saying 

come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you restiveness for all your days. 
                                     ~Hannah Lee Jones
Blue Ice
    after a monoprint by Maya Lin
Say that you are the continent
on the left.
I will be the jagged, slightly
tilted one on the right.
Say it takes one million years
for the tectonic plates between us
to align, just so.
You ask: will we fit?
I wonder: which of my ragged edges will live,
alongside your sutured shoreline?
We both ponder: if we become
one – what are the chances
that the thunderous joining
will become a place of beauty?
What dreams may shatter
at our convergent boundary?
Let’s agree now: although our
fault line may be wide, and even
as the blue ice melts and dissipates
below us - hold fast! I will believe strongly
in your symmetry, if you forever celebrate
my volcanic source!
~ Colleen Schwartz
                 after Silver Love Toronados
                       by Ginny Ruffner
There used to be blue sky.
We sometimes still feel its warmth
beneath the surface of our gray,
suck energy from the echo.
Torn edges and red rims
remind us of the whys
why we are separate, broken
why we swirl swiftly to forgetfulness
why we stay side by side.
~Bev Fesharaki
      ~ after Topophilia, by Keiko Hara
I could be weather, rushing moss
green plains sailing roads
that slide off to space.
Dare oceans, race tides
gather shells in broken kites.
When moody, hurl boats
or screech through red barns.
Huddle hills, bunched as bunnies
Spoon close, hunker down.
Clouds are good, but not chalk white
they should taste of clotted cream.
I’ll hang them like laundry
from branches in sun, waving on the line.
I could be sky when the tone is right
a chilled October morning.
Strokes of Cerulean, and Prussian might work
or the sea blue eyes I was lost in.
                                 ~Christopher Hannan
first, begin rehearsal

                after Topophilia by Keiko Hara

I am water—I trickle I splash I swirl. 
I surge, I burble, laughing
I twirl I whirl turning 
gurgle my song, fill the museum
the whole day long—I am water
I travel in creek beds
in river’s swiftly 
rushing torrents, or,
going heaven’s way—gushing     
or mammoth canyons.
Frequently the voices of Canada geese or
snow geese
a few at a time     
or in large flocks the eye can’t quite see the last of,       
first, begin rehearsal     
of large, nearly
silent wings flapping flapping in unison
lift as a silent band      
of followers barely clearing
the sedge grasses, wild rose bushes
dark brown cattails 
the reeds they feed on
beside the lake
the creek—softly singing their songs    
exulting in flight.
As they fly a muted gentle honking
sometimes louder honks
a quiet turn in the air
above the now-stilled pond.
A single drop of pungent water
plunges off
the rocky ledge, pings, 
springs deep 
into the water below
a gulp of the pool
an echoing “ploop.” 
The geese retreat in silence,
lift off again to reach
the morning’s cobalt blue sky,
its cotton ball clouds, and the secure
silence of being on the wing.
I gladly beckon to them,
offer the baubles
of my buoyancy.
       ~Millie Renfrow
    after Topophilia-Ma and KI by Keiko Hara
In the beginning
clouds were white
and round as cherub cheeks
skies and seas
were the same deep
nameless blue
not the blue of robin eggs
or jay wings
the Mother of  Mystery
had not yet invented those creatures
nor the language of color
with the exception of indigo
to describe her own eyes.
Without words
she painted the first poems
as echoing patterns
on her cosmic canvas
whorls of wind and wave
bubbles of salty frothing foam
cloud flowers
and bi-colored rainbows
white lightning
blue thunder
dripping dollops of rain
punctuations of planets
calligraphies of comets and
striations of shooting stars
streaking through the night sky. 
And it was enough
until the restless Mother
became so blind with boredom
she hurled her primordial poetry
into the Sea of Japan
where a few shards landed
in the daydream of an elder
artist as she fished 
cloud reflections
out of the deep blue
                ~ Susan Chase-Foster
Addendum to a Mother/Daughter Story
after Mrs. Rabbit with Blue Egg,
                        Richard Fairbanks, 1986
This isn’t just any rabbit.  Yes, she could
be from Mr. MacGregor’s Garden
            which my mother didn’t read me
            which I read under the covers
            with a flashlight
but it’s unlikely.  This Mrs. Rabbit has
a cobalt blue egg in her hands, a shrine
of sorts that shows up in dreams
in someone’s palms
but not the hands of a rabbit. 
Let’s not forget the laced handkerchief
in her pocket, she young like any woman
who believes in love. 
But now who really believes
in wearing handkerchiefs or aprons?
Or this potters clay so cobalt you can’t believe
it’s real?  In gifts from the dead?
Dreams live lives of their own.
            And here she comes, my mother
            who didn’t read to me
when she was alive, here she comes
my mother offering the blue egg.
         ~Susan Landgraf
Poem in response to a photograph 
              after a photograph by Kathleen Rabel
            (digital, rendered in pigment on paper)
Vivenda Santa Iria,
Penedo, Portugal
She comes for the beauty
for the peace
for the rustic simplicity
of white washed casement windows
opening on a winter fog sky
softening edges and corners
blurring the tile roof and stucco wall
 of the house next door to a grey wash
but the birch tree
where the camera is focused
is clear
it’s branch tips turned up
lichen on bark like a Rorschach print
like this photograph
a montage of light and dark,  a still life
bathed in marine light
that brings her back again
and again
to this room
with its plank table
the camera shapes in shadow
three sturdy bowls and barely visible mug
all artfully arranged, the leather bound
notebook laid open like an invitation
and in the lower right hand corner of the frame
the reflected image of a house
like every house in this tiny village on the Atlantic
four small panes spill light into low rooms
that smell of sweat
and the sea.
                  ~ julianne seeman
Creation Story
from Clay Chalice, by Richard Fairbanks
The base of the bowled chalice is sturdy as story,
made of clay like we are. Promethus stole fire
for the creatures he fashioned from water and mud.
On the sixth day, God spit in the dirt to make clay,
made us, and with a kiss on the nose, breathed soul.
Now, hydrogels transform biomolecules into protein chains
to form humans. Clay is the cradle of life
says science, says story, One thing we know,
we return to clay, home to earth.
The clay has its own wisdom says the potter,
you work in partnership. The Torah agrees.
Meanwhile, we take the cup to our lips and drink.
                   -Michele C. Bombardier
Five-Stroke Horse with One Eye   

The five-stroke horse
grazes on a gesso prairie
with others
of his two-dimensional kind,
cropping imaginary grass
and eyeing the occasional observer
with practiced ennui
until he turns with a snort
to his black-edged mares
toward the cross-hatched mountains,
and they trot away hoofless,
leaving the canvas bare.

- Lynn Knapp


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