For the Love of June

Welcome, summer! Yes, I know the summer solstice is still a few weeks away, but Minnesotans are in full summer mode. The gardens are bursting, the school year is wrapping up, we’ve put chairs outside so we can plop down and linger anytime we want. There’s nothing like living in a place that includes winter to make one appreciate these June days and their gentle offerings.

As I settled in to write this post just yesterday, I realized my poppies were starting to open. I wait for these giant flowers every year, adore their deep orange ruffly petals. My mother loved this particular kind of poppy, too. She had some planted alongside our house in Northeast Minneapolis when I was very small. One of my earliest memories is how she, too, waited for them to bloom. I think it’s no coincidence that the color of the walls in my office is poppy orange.

There’s a passage in one of my favorite gardening books, Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too by Cassandra Danz (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993), in which the author said of June, “This is the month that I dream about all year, the month that rhymes with spoon and moon, the month of flowers, the month of mid-summer madness, the month of ecstacy. June. Yippee.” (p. 113). This was one of the first gardening books I ever read all the way through. Danz was an entertaining teacher (she passed away in 2002), enthusiastic about all things gardening. I remember what she said about the month of June every year as I walk through our gardens looking for new blooms.

During those daily flower walks, I find myself feeling grateful over and over. Grateful for the wheel of the year that offers such variety, so many examples of how life unfurls, grows, recedes, then offers its remainders for the next cycle. The smallest piece of earth contains multitudes and we are stewards of so much more than we realize.

Happy June. May you have many blooms.

Photos by kcmickelson 2023.

Sharing Mother’s Day

This year, my granddaughter Camille’s twelfth birthday fell on Mother’s Day. My son Shawn hosted a brunch to celebrate both the birthday and all things mother-related. All this mother/grandmother needed to do was show up with some breakfast sausage. And Camille’s birthday present, of course.

In my head, Camille’s birthday got first billing. I’ve been a mother for over 40 years and, even though being honored never gets old, a kid only turns 12 once. It’s her last year of real childhood before teenage years throw her into a hormonal whirlwind. What I really wanted for Mother’s Day was for her to be deliriously happy.

Being a mother means never losing the desire to care for these other people who have popped up in my life – my son, daughter, two granddaughters, daughter-in-law, son-in-law. That desire hangs around regardless of a kid’s development into an adult, into an independent person who can take care of themselves. I hope my kids know this about me. I knew it about my parents, especially when they showed up at my house with things they thought I could use, like when my dad showed up with a bunch of paper towels because they were on sale and who can’t use paper towels? That still makes me laugh.

I loved my Mother’s Day. Sharing it – not just with Camille’s birthday celebration but also with my daughter-in-law – was perfect.

Lately, I’ve been keenly aware of another type of mother – mothers who have feathers. We have a wren family nesting nearby, just as we did last year and the year before that. Those wrens never stop singing before their babies hatch. Here is one of them, singing at the very top of its little bird lungs:

Motherhood is not only something to celebrate with brunch and birdsong. It’s also something to write poetry about. Two of my poems, “What I Love About Mondays in the Spring” and “Mothers Understand Each Other”, appeared at ONE ART: a journal of poetry on Mother’s Day. Have a look if you get a chance. Thank you so much to editor Mark Danowsky for choosing my work!

  • Read What I Love About Mondays in the Spring HERE
  • Read Mothers Understand Each Other HERE

photos by kcmickelson 2023

Diary From A Restless Spring


I’ll admit straight up that I’m not inclined to write or sit in front of a computer once winter leaves us. If you’ve read my work for a while, you already know this about me.

But here I am, sitting at my kitchen counter (great lighting, plants nearby, jazz on the radio), wringing words from my laptop, fingers hitting the keys with determination. This is what daily practice looks like.

All of us have something that we practice: exercise, hygiene, caring for someone else, managing a career or searching for one, spiritual expression, art, or the very basic getting out of bed on time. We have to practice whether we have motivation or not, not counting planned breaks. We all know we can’t just stop most of these things (like hygiene), but careers and art come and go.

Every so often, I wonder if writing is still the main path for me. It’s one way I make sense of the world, but it’s not always the one that makes me most happy. On warm days, I’m most happy outside, away from lots of people, with a camera in my hand and hiking shoes on my feet. If someone in my family is hiking with me it’s a bonus. If I can’t hear traffic noise, it’s another bonus. It’s been a long, long winter and I’m restless. This past week, that restlessness has hit a fever pitch. Sitting in a chair in front of a screen is excruciating. Still too cold to hang around outside while I drink my morning coffee, I’m thinking of trails to walk, places my partner Mick and I haven’t been to yet, watching which trails are flooded now that the snow has melted into the lakes and rivers. I pace around the house trying to figure out what to do with myself because all my usual indoor pursuits do not hold my attention.

These are the sorts of days that make me want to pack a bag and shut down my blog and all social media for an undetermined length of time.


A rainy day. I’ve been cleaning my tiny art studio that is crammed into a space in our laundry  room. I have a stainless-steel table on wheels right in front of a window that is cracked open for ventilation while I type. I just got done coating four tiny paint pours with varnish. Three of them are from a series I did last spring and the fourth is my favorite from this spring’s series. All of them were done for consideration as covers for Gyroscope Review at the invitation of my friend Connie. Connie and I started Gyroscope Review together in 2014, with our first digital issue in 2015. Since then, the quarterly poetry journal has taken off, made a name for itself. I’m really proud of the work I did there, especially being part of launching the now-annual fall crone issue.

I rotated off the staff in 2020, just as everything shut down because of COVID-19. Had the shutdown happened six months earlier when I was thinking about whether to leave, I would have stayed. I think. After five years of editorial work, I was restless. I wanted very much to turn my attention to other things. A pandemic is a tough time to make career changes, but editorial work is a hard thing for me to pair with the fluid time schedule I want for creative exploration and travel.

This restlessness is a pattern that I recognize in myself. I have about a three-to-five-year attention span for big projects and full-time jobs. I can point to past job changes and see that pattern quite clearly. Once I get bored and restless, I can’t stop myself from casting around for something new. There is very little that the old job/project might reveal that will hold my attention.

I think about all that now as I work through this antsy feeling that keeps me from sitting still. Bringing my laptop down to my art table has helped today, a change of place that shakes up how I write. I love this weird little space with my swivel stool from the automotive department at Menard’s; the collection of empty Ball jars and old yogurt containers that holds brushes, popsicle sticks, scissors, an X-acto knife, toothpicks, straws; the ball of kitchen twine by my right elbow; kitchen cooling racks repurposed to hold paintings while they dry; silicone pouring cups that were a gift from my son. I feel better in a space that does not look like an office.

How many of us like being defined as some specific thing – editor, writer, parent, grandparent? There are so many things to be, to do. Does being defined as one or another close off possibilities? It shouldn’t, but it sometimes does.

The older I get, the more I want to expand my possibilities. I’m not done yet and I’m annoyed with anyone who thinks I am. There is so much that hasn’t flowed through me yet.


Even on a rainy day, I have a space outside where I can be without getting soaked. I took an overgrown African violet to that spot today, set it on the old baker’s rack up against the back of our garage. The baker’s rack, which used to live in my friend Suzannah’s kitchen before she moved to San Francisco, makes a great repotting station for our plants. I shook out the roots and broke the violet apart into three pieces. The oldest piece is now back in the original pot with new dirt and some fertilizer specific to African violets. Its two babies are each in a pot of their own. All of them are in the north-facing window in the laundry room/art studio. I’m crossing my fingers that my propagation skills work.

Working with plants is as much of a balm as mucking around in my art space. Something green, something alive that I am responsible for forces me to pay attention. While I repotted everything, the birds in our back yard called to each other. It was a cacophony. It won’t be too long now until Mick and I can be outside to plant new dogwoods where our sick spruce was taken down, install a new native plant garden in the front yard, turn compost that formed over the winter.

I like the idea of turning compost as a metaphor. I’m turning myself over this spring, over and over come to think of it, and finding what changed over the last several months. What works now? What doesn’t? What has broken down into rich dirt for new growth?

It’s time to recognize those new shoots and give them some love. Growth is the best antidote for restlessness that I can imagine.

cover image courtesy of Prasenjit Haldar at

Of Birds and Warm Weather

By the time this post is public, it’ll be chilly again here in Minnesota. We are in the midst of a heatwave as I write this on a Thursday afternoon, temperatures in the 80s with small piles of snow lingering in shady, hidden places. Two weeks ago, family from Wisconsin arrived on our doorstep; when they went home two days later, we had to dig their vehicle out of the snow in the driveway. Today, my partner Mick and I inspected little purple scilla that appeared in the front lawn, and we attached a bee house to the backyard fence.

Right now, I’m sitting in the front of the open patio door listening to birds chatter and twitter outside. There is a particularly noisy crow who seems to have something important to say. This extraordinarily warm day (for Minnesota in April) feels like a forbidden luxury. Perhaps it is.

I was determined not to waste this bit of sunshine and warmth, so got up and out the door around 7 a.m. this morning with my camera. Mick brewed some coffee to take along. We headed to Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul along the Mississippi River. I’d wanted to go a month ago when the eagles were moving along the river, but our fierce winter would not cooperate. So today became birdwatching day.

There is a heron rookery across the river from the Kaposia Landing. We had a clear view of the herons in their nests, albeit from far away. They are magical to watch – huge wingspans, feet out behind them as they fly, distinct outline.

There were also tree swallows checking out the nesting boxes that we thought were for bluebirds. When we researched those bird nesting boxes, we learned that tree swallows will compete with bluebirds to nest there.

The place was also rife with red-winged blackbirds, all of them singing their hearts out.

After a long, nasty-ish winter, being outside among birds alongside the Mississippi felt like a tonic. A soul-soothing, heart mending kind of tonic that reminded me there is always a balance. Life finds a way.

All photos by kcmickelson 2023

Before you go….

I have a poem in the latest issue of Gyroscope Review and the cover art is also mine. Since it’s National Poetry Month, here it is! I’m honored to be in the company of many fantastic poets.

Talking About On Shifting Shoals with Poet Joanne Durham

On Shifting Shoals, poems by Joanne Durham (Kelsay Books, 2023). Chapbook, $17.00.

I recently had the pleasure of reading another poetry collection by Joanne Durham: On Shifting Shoals, her new chapbook published by Kelsay Books. Joanne agreed to have a conversation about the work for One Minnesota Crone. Here is that conversation, with OMC standing for One Minnesota Crone, and JD standing for Joanne Durham. I think this is a perfect kick-off to National Poetry Month. Enjoy hearing from a poet that I hope you come to love as much as I do.

OMC: I noticed that this collection contains little shells of poems, short shimmering pieces that hold large thoughts with few words. You’ve indeed chosen your words wisely, a topic of one of your poems, “Word Matter: Choose Wisely.” In your 2022 book, To Drink from a Wider Bowl, the poems were longer, the scope evolved from family ties. On Shifting Shoals has a more environmentally-based focus, centered on the coastal area where you now live, and it offers all of us those deep waters and oceanic currents that push and pull.

As I read your work while sitting at my dining room table here in Minnesota, it rained a cold March rain that chilled to the bone. That rain eventually turned to snow. We are far from the ocean, and yet you brought it to me in this chapbook. I could feel the pull, hear the waves, see the far-off horizon. Being on the coast offers a long view, an understanding of how tides change and cleanse. It shares eternal and universal metaphors for poets to work with.

What do these feelings from someone like me, a reader who lives in the middle of the continent, tell you about the reach your coastal poems have? 

JD: First, thanks for talking with me again, and for your thoughtful considerations about the poems. I think the ocean has an almost universal effect on people. I watch the tourists who come for a week, and they relax and play and laugh and move in ways I’m sure they don’t do most of the time at home. So many poets have written about the ocean, and yet we don’t really get tired of it. Its expansiveness, its constancy and yet its constant changes, its power and its beauty draw something inside us to the surface. I felt that I just had to watch, listen, and record – the poetry was already there. 

OMC: Tell me a little about the creation of these pieces. Were they largely a result of pandemic isolation or was there a broader timeline in their creation? Was there one spark or many?

JD: My husband and I moved to the beach a decade ago. I started walking on the beach most every day, and riding my bike around our small town, and I just quite naturally started taking pictures of things I saw – weddings on the beach, young girls dressed up as mermaids, the way kids run to the ocean the moment they get to the beach, and things in town – the carnival, the boardwalk, the butterflies that all of a sudden swarm one day, dragonflies another. The photos helped me to write the details that I might not have noticed otherwise. And then, of course, the changes with the weather, dealing with the annual threat of hurricanes, the strangeness of the snow that fell at high tide and left a path of sand to walk through. Living at the beach is an immersion in the natural world and it has an impact on everyone who is here. So, I also found the relationships between the people and the landscape fascinating. Really most of the poems in the book are about how people interact with this environment, for better or worse. There are new sparks of that every day. 

OMC: I noticed the title was pulled from the poem, The Hunt. Do you consider that piece the anchor of this collection? Can you expand on your answer a bit?

JD: Yes, I think “The Hunt” holds strands of most of the themes of the book, both human relationships and our relationships with nature.  On Shifting Shoals to me expresses the complexity, the mystery, the changes and destruction that are all so much a part of the ocean, and of us as human beings. “The Hunt” was one of the first poems in the book that I wrote, when I was still quite new to living at the beach. I think it captures some of the awe of the novice that I still feel, and suspect I always will, next to an ocean that’s been around for about 180 million years. 

THE HUNT by Joanne Durham

Walking along the shoreline
in January's cold clarity, my friend Sandy
spies a shark tooth, coveted treasure
of every beachcomber. Its smooth shine
catches her practiced eye.

She gives it to me, a novice
at these things, though my students
and I have read plenty about sharks,
how they occasionally mistake
a wave-riding human
for a creature of the sea, while we stalk
and slaughter millions of them, cut
prized fins from live bodies, toss
butchered remains into bloodied waves.

I tell her how eight-year-old Elmer cried,
That's not fair! No wonder they attack us!

Sandy thanks me for this shard of child sense
that hunts for justice through shifting shoals.
She tucks his words into her mind's pocket,
as I roll the hard edge of my fossil
between the warm fingers of my gloves.

OMC: Where can readers find copies of On Shifting Shoals

JD: I’m selling signed copies from my website, The book is available from the publisher, Kelsay Books at, and on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. My local bookstore in Wilmington, NC, Pomegranate Books, carries it as well. 

OMC: Any final words on the inspirations you take from the ocean/coastal habitat? 

JD: I’ve always loved the ocean, been drawn to it on the east and west coasts of this country, and everywhere else I’ve travelled I always gravitate to the sea. But living here has allowed the ocean to settle inside me. I hear it as I go to sleep and awaken to how sunrise over it surprises into a new day. It bathes me in gratitude for its generosity, while I’m fully aware of its potential treachery and how we might find our home washed away in the next hurricane. Permanence and change, immensity and smallness, safety and fear all mingle together here and make contradiction such a clear reality. Life lessons just wash up on the shore every day. 

OMC: I love your answer here. “Life lessons just wash up on the shore every day.” This is a thoughtful collection of work and I sense that you have many more books that will emerge from your proximity to and interaction with this constantly changing coastal place. 

And now for something completely different – what are your plans for National Poetry Month?

JD: I’m going to get new ways of seeing from National Poetry Month – I am having cataract surgery on April 3! So I hope it will bring new insights and out-sights. I’m not someone who can or really wants to write a poem a day; in fact, I think I will slow down a little in April, go back among my journal entries and try to turn some of the things I’ve jotted down into poems. When I was a teacher, my students and I shared poetry every day, so Poetry Month wasn’t really any different. Now that I’m retired and live by the ocean, I’m so lucky that every day can be poetry day all year long. 

OMC: That is spoken like a practicing poet. Yes, poetry is all around us every day if we just take time to notice it. Thank you so much for being in conversation with me about On Shifting Shoals and its conception. And, good luck with the cataract surgery. I look forward to learning what you see differently.

When Making Lasagna on Sunday Afternoon Feels Miraculous

The never-ending snow floats past the bay window where our houseplants hang out, clean our indoor air, and provide respite from the white landscape of a Minnesota winter. The last time I checked, the snow pile outside the front door formed from our many winter driveway clearings is taller than I am. Some of the flakes hitting the driveway right now melt on contact. 

In our kitchen, I open two cans of whole peeled tomatoes, empty them into a strainer over a big bowl. I break them open with my hands, one by one, to take out the fibrous core bits. Juice drips into the bowl thick and red. A bit of juice erupts from a tomato between my thumbs, squirts onto my sweatshirt. The sweatshirt is old anyway, so it doesn’t much matter. When each tomato has been squished open, forced to bleed into the strainer and bowl, I turn my attention to dicing an onion, mincing garlic, heating olive oil in a large skillet. 

I’m making marinara sauce on this Sunday afternoon, which will be followed by roasting zucchini, steaming spinach, and assembling vegetable lasagna for our dinner. There is nowhere else I’d rather be than here, working with my hands, engulfed in the aromas of vegetables cooking, spices offering their assorted notes. 

Daylight savings time kicked in overnight. This is the first year in a long time that I didn’t feel grumpy about the time change. Usually, it irks me that we move our clocks back and forth so people can be more comfortable with the available light at the end of the work day. Time is a construct, an organizational tool; it doesn’t change the actual amount of daylight. The sun and moon and stars will move how they’ve moved for millions of years no matter what we do. But, somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that moving the clock around to a new time is what we need to do to get the most out of the length of our days. In a society that offers flex time and remote working and never really seems to stop, this no longer makes the sense it once might have. But I’ve stopped caring. I’ll do what I’m going to do no matter what time it is.

There is a pot of flowering bulbs amidst the plants in our bay window in the living room. It was a gift from our neighbors across the street after we kept their driveway clear of snow and picked up their mail while they were away last month. There are pinkish-purple tulips, tiny yellow daffodils, purple hyacinths that scent the whole living room. The daffodils, first to bloom, lean into the sunlight; if I turn the pot around, they lean the other way. I find it fascinating when plants do this, that they know exactly which way to turn to get what they need.

The marinara sauce turns out thick, chunky, and rich. I give the sauce a whirl in the food processor, put it back in the pan, add basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sugar. I cover the pan, leave it on the back of the stove until I need it. 

There is something about working with vegetables in the winter that feels miraculous: bright green zucchini in my hands, yielding beneath my knife, turned into perfect little half-moons that I toss with olive oil, spread on a parchment-covered baking sheet, slip into a 450-degree oven. It roasts until tender and browned in spots. Meanwhile, I put an entire package of baby spinach into a steamer, wait for it to wilt, run it under cold water, squeeze the water out, chop it up. That these plants, which I could not grow in my yard right this minute, are here in my kitchen really is a miracle even if we don’t usually think of it that way. Who goes down the aisle of the grocery store and tallies up the miracles? Maybe we all should.

Once the lasagna is assembled, I take my time washing all the dishes and utensils I used to make it, wipe the counters, pour a glass of wine. I put the foil-covered lasagna in the oven at last, its finish time expected somewhere after 6 p.m. I sit at the dining room table facing the window, watch the sky shift from sun almost coming through the clouds to a dull gray. Wind huffs through the pines in the backyard, snow shaking loose from a few branches. All winter, I’ve looked out back for the owl that used to hang out in our neighborhood; I haven’t seen it anywhere. A Prince song comes on the local radio station I’ve been listening to all afternoon: When Doves Cry. No doves in the backyard either.

The oven timer sounds. I take the foil off the lasagna, put it back for a few minutes to brown. The aroma wafts up into my face: tomatoes, cheese, spices, zucchini, spinach. A medley. In the next half hour, my partner Mick and I will sit down together, savor this food, this house, this life here in Minnesota. 

And we will know that what we have is good. Very, very good. Miraculous.

cover image courtesy of Hansuan_Fabregas,


This past week, a coating of ice dressed up every tree around here. It coated the streets and sidewalks, too, but I still found it beautiful.

Oak leaves bejeweled.
Icicles on every oak branch.
A fairy-tale crabapple tree.
The birch tree in an ice garland.
White pine needles like spun glass.

While we wait for the spring equinox this month, winter gives us a little reminder that it, too, offers delicate, temporary beauty.

Happy March.

all photos by kcmickelson 2023


As I type this post, it’s Valentine’s Day. I spent the day caring for my baby granddaughter Maeve. It’s raining and raining, damp and chilly and gloomy. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in front of our fireplace, my partner gone to band practice for the evening, and thinking about what an un-Valentine-y day it felt like.

It wasn’t the childcare or the non-stop rain or that Mick’s band really needed to keep their weekly practice on the calendar (upcoming gig) that made this day feel un-Valentine-y. It was the pall cast over this sweet day by Monday night’s shooting at Michigan State University. Another shooting. More lives lost. Another story that should horrify us all. The knowledge that nothing is going to change right this minute, no matter how ridiculous it is that the United States is locked into its love and defense of the right to carry guns.

I try to remain hopeful, to carve out sanctuaries with art and literature and family time, and to support efforts to change the national conversation about Second Amendment interpretations. All the bloodshed that has occurred in just the last 10 years alone should have sparked significant change in our laws, but that didn’t happen.

What the hell is wrong with us? The way that people line up on one side or the other of this whole issue, digging in and refusing to think beyond their own little cranial cavities, puts us at a stalemate. Meanwhile, people die every day from guns in this country. According to the Sandy Hook Promise website, 12 children die from gun violence in America every single day. That comes to 4,380 kids a year. Teachers die. Parents die. Co-workers die. Bystanders die. All of these people were loved by someone.

My last post talked about keeping One Minnesota Crone a sanctuary, but today I just couldn’t. There has to be a way out of this vise-grip of an idea that America’s freedom is entwined with the ability of every single person to have access to firearms. It has done us no good. Violence is not going to be solved by the ability to carry concealed weapons so that the bad guys will be deterred (news flash: they won’t), and we are numbed to the scale of what is happening here. Eye-for-an-eye thinking just ramps everything up.

Every day I worry about my son, who teaches at an alternative high school, and about my daughter-in-law who teaches at a charter high school, and about my daughter who works in HR at Target. All of them are potential targets. I worry about my oldest granddaughter who is now in middle school. And then I have to do something with all that worry, which is why I write, paint, take photos, meditate.

But I have to do more than that. I was on Facebook earlier, commenting to a friend who is on the faculty at Michigan State, about taking my anger and concern to the voting booth, using my dollars to support those who are able to shift the national conversation around gun access. But that doesn’t feel like enough in this moment either. Mick and I marched at the Minnesota State Capitol after the Parkland shootings, listened to others who were victims of gun violence, felt hopeful that something would happen. That was five year ago. Five years. How many lives have been lost since then?

CNN reported today that there have been 67 mass shootings (meaning 4 or more people shot in one attack) in the United States so far this year. That’s more mass shootings than there have been days so far in 2023. In checking the Gun Violence Archive, I discovered that there were two mass shootings today and another one yesterday that I wasn’t even aware of. And as for my question above about how many lives have been lost to gun violence in the past five years? The answer is 91,247, not including suicides (source: Gun Violence Archive).

This is unacceptable. On this rainy Valentine’s Day, my heart hurts.

My Creative Spark Journal

Prologue: As I got this post ready, I was keenly aware that I was not going to address what is going on in the United States – and the world – right this minute: multiple mass shootings, another Black man killed by police, the loss of women’s rights on 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the continued assaults by Russia on Ukraine, and so much more. All of these things flow into whatever art we make, into the statements we put out into the world as creative people. I thought about how One Minnesota Crone can offer a refuge and it felt like that’s exactly what was needed right now. A refuge. A reminder that our creativity matters, that our voices will do what they need to do at exactly the moment when it’s right. A thoughtful piece of art that has taken time to craft will have its impact.

My creative spark journal

I have a 4X6″ Canson sketchbook, black covers, heavy paper with a little tooth to it, binding loosened from years of use, that lives on my writing desk most days. Inside this sketchbook are sketches done with words: quotes, memories, flashes of thought scribbled in my favorite Cretacolor Monolith 6B pencil, quick-writing pens filched from credit unions and dental offices and veterinary clinics, Flair markers in assorted colors, colored pencil. The first dated entry – and they are all dated – is 3/20/11; it’s a six-word story about zombies (yeah, I know – what the hell was that?). I have scribbled in this book off and on for 12 years. The one requirement for anything that gets put onto these pages is that whatever it is, it has made me stop, inhale sharply, caused the word “wow” to erupt from my lips, or ignited a cascade of images that light up my mind. The zombie thing was absolutely image related. I even drew a little monster hand pointing to a bowl of frosted flakes. Must have been breakfast time.

The first entry in my old sketchbook makes me laugh every time I see it. I’ve never done anything more with it.

Words and ideas that matter to me used to be picked apart on the pages of journals that I kept for years. I’ve seldom done daily journaling, but frequent journaling was a huge part of what I thought I needed to do as a writer. I processed everything in those journals – parenthood, politics, religion, sex, love, travel, anger, grief. Those pages were for my eyes only. Once I got the little sketchbook, the shift away from frequent journaling began its slow drift. It made more sense to me as a poet and essayist to have fragments from which to work; their succinct nature suited me and gave the next thoughts broad leeway. If someone read my sketchbook out of curiosity, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I didn’t need to process everything as much as I needed to understand there are a lot of paths to creative work. And there are a lot of creative mediums in which to muck around.

Biology often shows up in my sketchbook.

Lately, I’ve been scribbling a lot of fragments in the little sketchbook as I’ve read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. I started the book months ago, knowing as soon as I began it that it was a text for which I would have to slow down. I read several other books concurrently, but none of those nudged me to copy quotes and thoughts into my sketchbook. Braiding Sweetgrass did. Over and over, I found myself putting my finger on the page, looking out the nearest window, and thinking about how I take care of the earth. Then I would have to scribble something down, think about what to do with this bit of wisdom, that piece of the story of how the United States came to be, or some scientific fact about fungi and algae and symbiosis. The little sketchbook had been sitting on my desk for weeks, unopened, and then boom – there was much to add.

Quotes from Robin Wall Kimmerer have hit home too many times to count these past few months.

I love that this is how the creative process works: we move along looking around, reading, watching, asking questions, listening, and then there it is, the piece of art or literature or fact that we cannot resist engaging with. The thing that we turn over and over in our heads. The one that our partners get tired of hearing us talk about, so then we must stop talking and start making something. Craft our response in whatever form works that we then send out into the world to see if anyone else engages. Even if no one does engage, we’ve still had our own epiphany that might change how we inhabit the world. We’ve still learned something.

Creative work is never wasted. I’ve had moments when I’ve questioned the value of making a poem that maybe three people might read, or a painting that is destined to either live in my basement or get painted over, but not anymore. It all affects the next project and the one after that and the one after that. Ultimately, it affects how I live in the world and the excitement with which I welcome each day. 

I don’t miss my old habit of frequent journaling at all. My little old sketchbook is a great collection of sparks and memories and ideas. It’s almost full. I have a new one, the same kind of Canson 4X6″ sketchbook, ready to take over. The new one sits on the windowsill above my painting table, its stiff binding waiting for its invitation to loosen up and let the covers flop open to reveal clean pages that beg for their turn to hold a spark. I have no doubt there’ll be plenty to put in there. 

The new journal, hanging out in my art space, waiting its turn.

New Year, New Energy

As I type this post, I’m relishing having time for creative work of all sorts. I spent a few hours this week playing with poster design for a friend’s band – the one in which my partner Mick plays saxophone. I’d forgotten how much I like doing this kind of thing, playing around with page layouts and borders and fonts and soft edges on photos. My challenge is always not to overdo any special effects, to remember that one font is all that should be present and it sure as hell shouldn’t be comic sans. My son the artist has made sure I know these things.

This cover was a collaboration with my friend Constance Brewer. I did the background painting, she did the overlaid print and text.

My friend and off-and-on poetry/art collaborator Constance Brewer and I have also renewed our commitment to working together on some poetry this year. Somewhere along the way during the pandemic, my desire to work on poetry left me and I knew it was time to just let it be. That was a good decision; this is a welcome shift at what feels like the right time. I’m a big fan of taking breaks to regain/realign perspective and refill my creative reservoir. And I’ m grateful for other creative friends who understand the way creativity ebbs and flows.

What do others do to fill that reservoir? In the past, I’ve recharged with travel, reading, hiking with my camera, cooking, going to the movies. Sometimes a long conversation will do it, but not always given my tendency to be quiet when I need to recharge. Often, time just sitting outside somewhere without people is enough.

That said, I’ve been thinking about what 2023 might look like for creative practice and inspiration. Where to get it. How to keep it going. Doing band posters and collaborating with Connie are a start. There are already two trips on my 2023 calendar, one to Seattle and one to France. I got a new camera in the fall, so am thinking about where to hike when the weather is warm enough that cold fingers aren’t an issue. And there are assorted art surfaces in my basement waiting for me to put paint on them. There are ample opportunities to learn and create.

This is as close as I ever get to anything designated as a resolution.

In other news, I was invited to contribute a poem to a SongSLAM team in the SongSLAM Minneapolis that took place at the Ice House on January 6, 2023. Twin Cities musicians/composers Melissa Kristin Holm-Johansen, Scott Senko, and Bryon Wilson chose the poem Fall Farmers Market from my chapbook, How We Learned to Shut Our Own Mouths, as lyrics for their composition.

Here’s the poem:

Fall Farmers Market
by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Splotches of red, green, purple, orange and yellow 
Monet together until I put my glasses on,
grocery list in hand, morning air crisp, clear.
Farm trucks form two parallel lines,
back ends facing each other,
tables straining beneath this morning’s harvest.

I can’t resist the warty pumpkins
even though Halloween is over a month away. 
Nor can I pass up perfect purple eggplant, 
cherry tomatoes of red and gold,
shiny orange peppers,
earthy inky beets with bits of dirt
still stuck to their skins.

I dream of baba ghanouj, vegetable kebabs,
sheet pans of roasted goodness.
In this moment, pandemics seem far away, 
cruelty impossible in the face of such abundance. 
All I want is to cook for everyone,
show them the many colors of love.

And here’s an audio from the rehearsal:

The team placed third in the competition. How cool is that?

Not a bad start to 2023.