In early 2020, I heard comments from poets and writers - - "My lectures were canceled", "No conferences" - - "I cannot write", "No motivation" - - "Because of the pandemic, we do not have to write", "Welcome to slow days...", or "Zoomed-out!"
I personally complained that my residency at the Writer's Room at the Betsy was canceled with other trips and events that I was looking forward to for months.
We all knew that the pandemic became more serious and heartbroken through time. I started hearing of friends' extended families in the east coast passed away, including my publishers' family members.
Though, one thing really cheering me up was exchanging photos between close poets. Occasionally, I received texts, (my phone never rang), and Gail Goepfert was one of them. I took pictures of tulips, grilled cheese sandwiches, and some silly, ordinary things.
I was delighted to see that Goepfert and her friend, Patrice Boyer Claeys, created their collaboration photo - poetry book. It was colorful and cheerful, but more importantly it was a friendship collaboration. Their pure creative process cleansed me.
"Wanna play tag?"
Like these children's conversations - - it sounded so light, but also complicated to have these friends once we were all grown up; especially, both were in the same poetry profession. For me, I always had doubts, "Is this work necessary?" "Do they laugh at me for whatever reason?" before I shared my ideas with my fellow poets.
While it is physically impossible to make honey from the sun, poets and artists can use that inspiration to fuel creative endeavors. Goepfert and Claeys used 2020 as an opportunity to create something together.
The Making of Honey from the Sun
by Patrice Boyer Claeys & Gail Goepfert
In the spring of 2020, Gail and I had just wrapped up our first chapbook collaboration about the pandemic. True to my relaxed fashion, I declared myself free to take a breather from the exertions of poetry. Gail, ever the encourager/task-master, had other ideas. She suggested I turn my attention to food, a subject I am passionate about. With a laugh, I told her to “get out of my hair,” but as we went our separate ways, her nagging voice rang in my ear.
I am an avid writer of centos, with thousands of lines collected from many poets. Scanning my notebooks, I found a quote by D. H. Lawrence that intrigued me, “Every fruit has its secret.” What could these secrets possibly be? I was certain the cento form, with its fresh associative surprises, would help me discover them.
Almost like using a Ouija board, making centos moves me into unexpected areas of thought and imagination.
I began creating short centos about individual fruits—blueberries, alpine strawberries, grapefruit, kiwi, peaches. Writing had never been such fun! The poems were coming together almost without effort, and—amid a pandemic—the results gave me unadulterated joy.
After sharing early poems with Gail, she said she would like to collaborate by trying her hand at graphic poems, but an early attempt with peaches left her uninspired and unconvinced of this collaborative plan. At a backyard gathering of our writing group, Plumb Line Poets, one of the members said, “If you photograph the fruit, you could make a perfect book for the coffee table, a kitchen store, or gift shop.”
When the idea surfaced of collaboration on a book where my part was photography, I was all in. I like new projects, things to keep my inventive mind from becoming creaky with disuse. And I have made books with travel photographs before; that aspect was not that daunting, but Patrice and I were both novices to “food photography.”
Our journey with fruit is probably best experienced in the video of The Making of Honey from the Sun. What I knew as an avid amateur photographer was that light and background and layout and framing all mattered.
The plan was to figure out what would be aesthetically pleasing and characterize Patrice’s poems, which we read aloud before each setup; the reading served as inspiration and motivation for the shot. We purchased bags and bags of fruit and used every surface we could find—front porch slate, cutting boards, tablecloths taped with duct tape to smooth wrinkles, copper-topped table, credenza, a burled wood side table, kitchen countertop, deck railing and so much more.
We plated or bowled with whatever we had in our homes--dessert plates that were my mother’s, Patrice’s china and mine, a random log from the fireplace, the bottom of her grown daughters’ Barbie barrel, a cheery tablecloth from Goodwill my sister had given me, and all manner of linens we gave a test run to see what delighted our eyes. Patrice’s kitchen skills energized the arrangements with a hedgehog of mangoes, spiraled orange peels, draped grapes, and strawberries tucked neatly into a wreath of juniper cuttings.
Because it was summer and I loved the idea of integrating natural elements, we plucked petals, chopped branches off trees, and picked native grasses. We were both always thinking about props. There were many reshoots and shuffling of props and fruit for a new pose. I wanted the light and the presentation to be as good as it could be.
I am sure Patrice lost patience with my “eye.” We had many laughs as she used an umbrella, a beach towel, and her own shirt to block the light and give us what we needed. It was important that we both gave the thumbs up to all twenty-three photos and the front and back covers. Some days we spent six to eight hours to pull together three or four shots. It was both more exhausting and exhilarating than we expected. Ultimately, it was one of the most fun photo challenges I’ve attempted.
Gail and Patrice Speak:
The poems offer an unusual twist to how we view everyday fruits, but we realize the coupling of the poems with the colorful, quirky photographs doubled the pleasure and caught people’s attention. The photos give people a door into the poems. We found that the combination of visuals with words has a broad appeal to both poets and people who do not have poetic leanings.
Just as some wines pair well with certain foods, our book was a happy pairing of words and images, poet and photographer.
Gail Goepfert, an associate editor at RHINO Poetry, is a Midwest poet, teacher, and photographer. Her first chapbook, A Mind on Pain, appeared in 2015, first book, Tapping Roots, from Aldrich Press in 2018. and Get Up Said the World was released in May 2020 from Červená Barva Press. Forthcoming books are Self-Portrait with Thorns from Glass Lyre Press and a collaboration with Patrice Boyer Claeys, This Hard Business of Living from Seven Kitchens. Recent publications include One Art, Rogue Agent, The Examined Life Journal, The Night Heron Barks, and The Inflectionist Review.
Patrice Boyer Claeys graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Manchester, U.K., and completed a Certificate in Poetry from University of Chicago. Her first collection, Lovely Daughter of the Shattering, was published by Kelsay Books in 2019, followed by The Machinery of Grace (2020). She collaborated with Gail Goepfert on a photography/poetry book, Honey from the Sun (2020), and on a poetry chapbook, This Hard Business of Living, due from Seven Kitchens Press in 2021. Recent work appears in The Night Heron Barks, SWWIM, *82 Review, little somethings press, Zone 3, Inflectionist Review and Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith.