Thursday, May 14, 2015


Years ago, I encountered a friend from New Iberia in a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Lafayette, Louisiana. He was standing before a rack of books, staring intently at the covers of books that he didn't bother to open. "Looking for something special?" I asked. He barely acknowledged me and continued to scrutinize the covers. As I'm curious about book lovers, I persisted. "What do you like to read?" He frowned, saying, "I never look for book authors or titles; I choose my books according to the color and design of the cover. If a cover attracts me, I buy the book. It's like opening a surprise package."

If my friend should see the latest cover of Pinyon Review #7, Celebrating the Arts and Sciences, he probably wouldn't look much further, and he'd be pleasantly surprised he had chosen a literary journal that would take him beyond the exterior of the publication. The vivid purple and green abstract design of the journal's cover rendered by Susan Elliott, co-publisher of Pinyon Review, is a real eye-catcher. Susan designs all of the Pinyon Review covers, but this one derives from an original painting she created as a watercolor background to accompany poems in Open the Gates, a book of animal-focused poetry by Dabney Stuart. And it's stunning!

"I pressed cellophane into the paint to create abstract designs which I incorporated into images representing forest, ocean, hot air balloon, sky, and land," Susan explains. "I worked on this set of watercolor backdrops while visiting friends in Jericho, Vermont. I recall spreading a dark purple sheet on their deck so I could splatter and splash with abandon. It was spring: birds and flowers popping out, choruses of spring peepers, long distance runs on forest trails..." (Readers will note that Susan's word pictures are as colorful as her actual paintings).

Susan says that two of the bird poems by Stuart needed a painting so she visited the Jericho Settler's Farm to buy eggs and asked if she could collect some chicken feathers. She then created "Quail" and "A Bird, But Who?" with swirling feathers in airy blue and ochre paintings. The dark blue-green and purple feather piece on the cover of Pinyon Review was also created that spring in Vermont. Susan brought it out of archival art boxes this year so that she could scan it, and after making a high-resolution scan of the piece, she enlarged the digital image just enough to emphasize the textures of the feathers and the play between watercolor pigments and rough watercolor paper.
Susan had a lot to say about the heavy, rough watercolor paper, which holds more paint (pigment plus water) in the textured grooves. "Normally, watercolor paint dries very quickly but with rough, heavy paper, you have more time to mix 'wet on wet'," Susan said. "This way, you can mix the colors on the paper and let them play together. When the water dries, there is more pigment concentrated in the grooves. The edges of the painting (which were masked with tape) also concentrate the pigment in beautiful patterns, as do the edges of the feather imprints." Voila! The cover of a literary journal that would have entranced my friend who judges books by their covers!

In addition, the Pinyon Review title page image, "Feather Jig," is a reconstruction of focal areas on the full painting. From the digital image, Susan extracted rectangles highlighting the play between paper, pigment, and feathers and arranged the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle-like design, which she described as jiggling "as much as they fit together, invoking a happy dance-like jig." The jig is reminiscent of Susan's personality—lighthearted with a lively dancing spirit.

Susan is what I'd call a "protean woman." She has formidable credentials with a B. S. in Botany and a B.S. in French from Humboldt State University and a Ph.D. in Biology from Dartmouth College, but today she concentrates on the artwork for Pinyon Publishing located on the Uncompahgre Plateau, adjacent to the San Juans of the southern Rocky Mountains. She paints, plays music, designs books, hikes, gardens, cooks, writes, and illustrates books. Her book credits include illustrations for Dabney Stuart's Open the Gates, drawings and paintings for Why Water Plants Don't Drown with Victoria I. Sullivan, and illustrations for Spilled Milk by Gary Hotham. She has co-authored Ophelia's GhostFall of '33, Remembering the Parables and Making the Most of WriteitNow4 with Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing.

Inside the latest issue of Pinyon Review, readers will find the work of eighteen outstanding poets, a short story, and more art by Jay Friedenberg. Among the poets who have often appeared in this journal are four whose poems represent impassioned social experiences and emotional reflections, including a nostalgic piece by Gary Entsminger.

Gary, whose recent debut book of poetry was Two Miles West, takes readers through a "Wall of Sound" (an excerpt below) in the summer of 1974 when:
he traveled with the band wore tee shirt and blue jeans like
the other guys climbed scaffold to place speakers in the Wall of Sound happy
for the job, already beginning to understand none of this would happen
[while] down front young women danced dresses gliding braless barefeet barely
touching the floor to Jack Straw China Cat Sunflower I Know You Rider
tell the folks back home this is the Promised Land callin'... 

The poem, reminiscent of the style of e.e. cummings and beat poets, is a toe-tapping, robust experience that causes the reader to want more of Entsminger's highly-charged poems. It begs to be read aloud with other people.

Michael Miller, winner of the 2014 Yeats Poetry Prize and author of Into This World and Lifelines, presents poems that underline the fears and sorrows of the human condition. "A Man Alone" captures a universal feeling of loneliness and existential awareness in such lines as 
At the feeder by his window
The rabbit nibbling the wet grass
At dawn in the small park where he waits
For the sun to rise above the shadowed hill. 

In "Fear," Miller's lyric is unrelenting as he articulates the familiarity of fear
in the night of the invisible scalpel,
In the bleeding end of the dark... 

Miller's poems are often startling insights into human vulnerability and reverberate with emotional power.

Luci Shaw, Writer-in-Residence at Regent College, Vancouver, received the 2013 Denise Levertov Award for Creative Writing. Those who have entered their seventh and eighth decades of life will identify with "Green Season," a succinct, sharp poem using the ordinary image of a barn to articulate the onset of aging: 
I turn the pages like old barn doors
peering into the shadowed spaces and
stalled beasts, wondering if I am
a fiction in my own wrecked, weather-beaten
barn of a life. The smell of rich
horse sweat and dung. The life
shivering beneath their flanks...

In sharp contrast, she gives readers the pleasure of "Flowers in Winter:"
...Infect me with joy!"
Though I'm here, inside my house,
I trace with the stalks of my hands how resurrected I feel,
relishing through frosty glass the winter snow that
covers my crocus bulbs, my hyacinths.

Shaw's delight in the natural world invites readers to get on with things as she attends to the business of creating hope with her delightful poetic vision.

New Orleans born Ken Fontenot, who now lives in Austin Texas, won the 2012 Texas Institute of Letters Award for poetry, and his sense of humor often unleashes itself on more serious readers.  In "It Wants to Stay," his tongue-in-cheek observation about dust reminds readers of their mortality in a revelation of the inevitable within the ordinary:
We breathe
the almost nothingness of dust
which survives us all.
Its reappearance trick
takes its time, arriving finally
as a guest announced.
Just run your finger
over the coffee table.
A mote of dust
contains a mote of truth:
it has the last laugh.

This issue of Pinyon Review is a keeper and represents the best of art and poetry. You may want to frame Susan's cover. Copies of Pinyon Review #7 are available at or order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

1 comment:

Julia K Walton said...

Very interesting to read about Susan's method for painting the cover of the Pinyon Review. Fascinating! We are here in the UK eagerly awaiting our copy of the new edition. Thank you for the taster!