Stamping Out Poetry


November 22, 2017 by Jean

art bookI am really not advocating that we forcibly eliminate poetry from the world. “Stamp Out Poetry” was the title of the art class I took this month at the Senior College. It was taught by a team of two women, paper artist Karen Brooks and retired social worker and poetry aficionado Kathryn Tracy. The idea behind the course was to combine paper art and poetry in a project where each student would create an accordion art book combining designs created with rubber stamps and a poetic text of our own creation or choosing.

This course was way outside my comfort zone. I don’t think of myself as artistic (although my affinity for both photography and gardening suggest otherwise), and I have long suffered from “poetry anxiety.” When I was in my thirties, a friend asked me to read a poem at her wedding. I was in a cold sweat about it until another friend wrote out the poem for me in sentences and paragraphs.

In the first week of class, we began by talking about words and poetry and then learned how to create rubber stamps using Speedball linoleum cutting tools and a carving block of soft rubber-like material. Kathryn immediately put me at ease about the poetry component by saying that the essence of poetry was attention to the nuances of language and attention to the small details of life. I am a self-professed “word nerd,” and I am definitely good at paying attention to the little things in life. If I didn’t have to worry about rhyming and meter and poetic form, I was good to go. By the end of class, we had created two rubber stamps, and I had managed to use the tools without drawing blood. It was fun to learn the basic skills involved and to admire one another’s designs. For homework, we were asked to make a list of words that “ring” for us, and we each chose an illustrated children’s book to take home for inspiration.

By the time I arrived for the second class, I not only had my list of words that “ring” for me, I also had composed the text for my art book. I knew I wanted to evoke the seasonal transition we were in the midst of, and my words were inspired by my observations of my garden:

Phlox fades

Asters bloom

Leaves turn

… and fall

Frosty morns

During class, we created one more stamp (I actually did two, a phlox flower and an ice crystal to represent frost) and then learned how to make the front and back covers of our books. I decided to have my covers represent the beginning and end of the seasonal transition, with the front cover covered with phlox flowers and the back cover with an ice crystal design.

In the third and last week of class, we created our books by gluing the covers to the pre-cut and folded accordion pages and then put the stamped designs and the lettering onto each page. I was sweating this part of the process, because the two-hour class didn’t seem very long to get all this done. During the week between classes two and three, I had made all the stamps I needed for my book. In addition to my phlox flower and ice crystal, I now had an aster blossom and three different leaves (a maple leaf, an oak leaf, and a beech leaf). The lettering was what I was really worried about. I am terrible at printing (we only learned cursive in my childhood Catholic school), and my once-lovely cursive writing has deteriorated as a result of arthritis in my hands. When Kathryn asked me if I wanted to hand-letter my book or use letter stamps, I chose the stamps. That turned out to be a mistake; stamping letters was much harder than I imagined it would be. My letters ended up smudged and crooked, creating kind of a poetic ransom note effect.

In the end, I didn’t succeed in executing the vision for my book. Most of my classmates had simpler designs and texts and much more attractive results. In the past, I would have run away from my sense of failure by shrugging and saying, “I knew I was never any good at this kind of thing,” and I would never have tried it again. But one of the benefits of aging is the freedom from pressure to succeed and the resulting willingness to take some risks – and the time to be more persistent. One of the lessons of the class was that creation and analysis are very different processes (one right-brained and one left-brained) and that you can’t do both simultaneously. In the days after the course ended, I thought about my classmates’ books and what made them more successful than mine. In addition to the mess with my lettering (which I can correct by hand-lettering and doing it much more slowly and carefully), I realized that the stamps I designed were smaller than everyone else’s and that my designs ended up looking too cluttered and busy. I also realized that making the front and back covers entirely different did not work well. I’ve already cut new, larger stamps for my flowers and frost crystals, and I intend to create a new art book with the same text to see if I can come closer to my vision.

10 thoughts on “Stamping Out Poetry

  1. Jean R. says:

    I would have loved that class. I’ve made stamps before with linoleum and rubber and I have a friend who makes cards and clothe bags with stamped designs on them and she sells her creations at craft shows.

    It’s good to get out of our comfort zones and you learned an important lesson with anything in the visual arts and crafts area…there is always room for improvement the next time around.

  2. Sue McPhee says:

    Jean: I LOVE the poetry you wrote! It speaks to the depths of my soul. 🙂 Being a fellow “word nerd,” I found them perfect in every way. Creation is like a story… it can have a beginning, middle, and an end…. but… sometimes.. just sometimes….no end. And the meld of left and right brain are the perfect marriage… well… almost perfect. Over the years I’ve had to tease out the elements of both, in career, family and performance art. They seem to go hand in hand. And speaking of hand, hand drumming helped me to do that a lot.
    I am very fortunate. I have received an amazing gift in my twin 3-year-old grandchildren. You gotta be right on top of things with them, 24/7, left brain, right brain clicking away continuously to side-step catastrophe and lend support, all the while generating fun! But these are not the only places where I have to get that left brain/right brain thing clicking away. Doesn’t ALWAYS work smoothly, but I am grateful for all opportunities to do so.
    I am very impressed with your poetry, your stamping, and your joie de vivre!

    • Jean says:

      Sue, I remember when you won the poetry contest in high school. I learned you had talents that I was previously unaware of (and I also learned two new words, “plight” and “paucity”).
      I tend to be very left-brained, so sometimes I need to just get my left brain out of the way to give my right brain a little room to create. 😉

  3. Dawn says:

    Such a lovely experience, Jean! It’s so good to step outside of our comfort zones. I am learning how creativity can be both scary and wonderful! You might enjoy reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She speaks to this idea in her powerful book.

    Be proud of your book and the lessons that it has taught you! I love your word images and the stamps you created. You could also present your art and poetry in another format ~ a piece of framed art! Print your words on paper or cardstock, then stamp your images around your words, possibly creating a wreath or a frame.

    So glad you are continuing to grow as a poet and artist! Cheers to the unexpected surprises that retirement brings us! While my garden sleeps, I embrace creative time in my little paper crafting studio downstairs. It’s such fun to blossom in new ways! ♡

  4. Diana Studer says:

    I have another post waiting to be read
    Her learning curve as she experiments with new techniques fascinates me.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, Thanks for the link. I love her block print trees and branches. When I redid my stamps, I did them with photographs of the real thing open in front of me, which I found made the sketching easier.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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