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Segue 10: Fall 2011  ||  Nancy Scott


about the author


Nancy Scott is the current managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in New Jersey. She is a collage artist as well as the author of two books of poetry, Down to the Quick (Plain View Press, 2007) and One Stands Guard, One Sleeps (Plain View Press, 2009); and two chapbooks, A Siege of Raptors (Finishing Line Press, 2010) and Detours & Diversions (Main Street Rag, 2011). Nancy was a caseworker for the State of New Jersey for many years, working with homeless families, abused children, and those with mental health issues, and her experiences have informed many of her poems. Her poetry and/or collages have recently appeared in online and print journals such as Slant, Pemmican, Poet Lore, New York Quarterly, Mudfish, Sea Stories, qarrtsiluni, The Meadowland Review, and Journal of New Jersey Poets.


about the work


I became interested in ekphrastic poetry (poems inspired by works of art) about ten years ago and used the last line from an ekphrastic poem I’d written as the title for my second poetry book, One Stands Guard, One Sleeps. Last year the genre reemerged as a workshop assignment, and I have since compiled a manuscript of like poems (working title is On Location) that brings together art, poetry, history and memoir. I really enjoyed compiling this manuscript, which includes the three poems in this issue of Segue: one after the work of a Russian artist, the other two after a Swiss and a German artist. In the spirit of people and place, a recurrent theme in most of my work, the manuscript also includes poems after work by French, Danish, Nicaraguan, Belgian, American, and Hungarian artists, and one poem after a collage I created.

The manuscript is dedicated to my grandfather, who was born in Russia and emigrated in his late 20s. The first part of the manuscript consists entirely of poems inspired by Russian artists. Since I was never able to discover much about my grandfather’s childhood (he focused on building a successful life in America, rather than harking back to the “old country”), it is probably not a coincidence that browsing a flea market for materials for my collages, I purchased several old Christie’s and Sotheby’s catalogues, which dealt exclusively with auctions of Russian works of art, primarily done in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My grandfather was Jewish and was not permitted to travel freely in Russia, so he would not have been familiar with these paintings, though I believe he would have known about the historical events and recognized descriptions of the countryside.

With all three poems, I did research. For "Self Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle," after having searched the Internet, I decided I wanted a hard copy about Arnold Böcklin’s life and work. Finding scant choices written in English, I arranged to have one book imported from Massachusetts through our local library system. It took two months for the book to arrive, and although I could only keep it for two weeks, it was well worth the wait. For "The Chicken Coop," I researched the artist online and found some information, which seemed irrelevant to the poem, whereas for "Peter and Paul Church," I included historical information to flesh out the poem. Much like creating a collage, I gather material/information, assess it, then toss what doesn’t work.

A challenge for me in writing poetry has always been to control the craft. What is point of the poem? What am I trying to communicate? I tend to overwrite, but having developed a thick skin over the years, I’ve also learned to cut, and cut some more, and if I get lucky, something unexpected and enduring will emerge. With a framework in place, I revise endlessly, switching lines and stanzas, changing line breaks, correcting syntax, examining every word, including “a” and “the,” to make sure I’ve said exactly what I want to say. I will let a poem simmer, occasionally for years, and find I’m still not satisfied with it, or, upon reflection, I will go back to an earlier version. In addition, how a poem sounds when it’s read aloud and how it looks on the page are very important to me. I also want the title to do some work. I hate poems titled “Untitled.” With these three poems, after I had created new titles with epigraphs referring back to the artist, I decided that the artists’ titles worked much better and borrowed them.


Nancy Scott on the Web









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