Viewing entries tagged
Nancy Maxson

Dwelling in Possibility: Adrienne Rich, Poetry, & Printing

1 Comment

Dwelling in Possibility: Adrienne Rich, Poetry, & Printing

Dwelling in Possibility:

Adrienne Rich, Poetry, & Printing

An introduction by Emily Hancock

Adrienne Rich. Photo copyright by Robert Giard.

Adrienne Rich. Photo copyright by Robert Giard.

There are some touchstone texts that seem to be always current, always resonant with wisdom, always “present” with us, whatever the year and however much the political and/or personal landscapes may have changed. 

Many of the essays of Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) are such touchstones. I first encountered the transformative work of this American poet and essayist in graduate school, in her prose collection Blood, Bread, and Poetry, in which she declares (with Audre Lorde) that poetry is not (and poets are not) superfluous, but as necessary and nourishing as food and air to the person—the people—we might be and become. Poetry is communion and it is frontier—the meeting of the other and the self.

Jacket for St Brigid Press' edition of Adrienne Rich's essay, printed letterpress on Thai mulberry "water drops" paper.

One of Rich’s essays, “Permeable Membrane,” is this sort of text—invigorating, relentless, and charged with readiness to affect (infect?) the reader with its power and possibility. Again and again. First published in 2006, “Permeable Membrane” is a short piece capable of waking us up, of challenging our complacency, our silence, and our siloed existences.

Convinced of the inseparability of art and society, poetry and politics, Rich argues for and invokes a relational understanding of language: "Art is a way of melting out through one's own skin. 'What, who is this about?' is not the essential question. A poem is not about; it is out of and to.” As individuals and communities and a nation, we exist in a dynamic ocean of thought, culture, politics. We’re in the conversation—“root-tangled in the grit of human arrangements and relationships,” as Rich writes—whether we know it, like it, or actively participate in it or not.

Rich navigates both mystery (the “ghostly” presence and process of writing poetry) and politics (solidarity movements, dictatorship, and the American political machine) with equal subtlety, drawing from sources historical and literary to illuminate the world we find ourselves in as well as some of the choices and consequences that are laid before us. With the precision and prescience of an artist who has her finger on our pulse, Rich’s essay that was first published 12 years ago reads like it hit the newsstand this morning.

St Brigid Press' letterpress printed edition releases on March 8th—International Women's Day.

St Brigid Press' edition of "Permeable Membrane" was hand-set in Goudy Old Style type (cast by Patrick Reagh in California), printed on a hand-cranked press, and sewn by hand. 

Why print something that is still available in numerous books and anthologies? One answer is that part of the job of craft is to make new what is not; to re-new and re-connect us, from the craftperson’s hand to the receiver’s. From me to you. An energetic and artistic renewal, and a conversation, happens in this process. The poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield says, “A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from the tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.”

Another answer is personal to me: as much as I believe in and engage with the fantastic literature that is emerging daily, I believe in and desire to offer anew the already written—works like Rich’s and Thoreau’s and King’s that for years have been leaping off pages, enlarging perspectives, and spurring creative engagement. Each time we return to these touchstones, their wisdom becomes present again, positive change for our communities becomes possible again, and we become empowered again.

My hope for offering this edition of Adrienne Rich’s “Permeable Membrane” is that you may lean with her into the conversation and perhaps join more consciously in the great current of art that is making and re-making us, the poetry that is “language intensified, intensifying our sense of possible reality.”

If you would like to order the St Brigid Press edition of "Permeable Membrane," please click HERE. Scroll down below for additional details and photos of the booklet and the process of creating it.

The booklet's technical specs:

  • Hand-set in Goudy Old Style metal types, with Phenix titling.
  • 16 pages, letterpress printed on Mohawk Superfine text paper, with Thai mulberry paper jacket.
  • Frontispiece print is a digital reproduction of an original watercolor by Nancy Maxson, commissioned specially for this publication.
  • Hand-sewn with Irish linen thread.
  • Limited edition of 190 numbered copies.
  • $28 each.

Very special thanks and appreciation goes to our friend and collaborator Nancy Maxson, who created a marvelous watercolor painting, entitled Mirror, to accompany this edition of "Permeable Membrane." The painting was digitally reproduced on fine vellum paper at Bailey Printing in Charlottesville, and serves as the frontispiece to the edition.

Thanks also to W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., for permission to reprint "Permeable Membrane."

If you'd like to read more of Adrienne Rich's prose writing, here are a few titles to get you started:

  • A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008 (the collection in which "Permeable Membrane" appears)
  • Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations (which collects Rich's earlier essay, "Blood, Bread, and Poetry")
  • What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics

Some photos of "the making of" our edition of "Permeable Membrane": click the images to see a larger photo and accompanying text.

1 Comment


An Interview with an Artist ~ Blue Ridge Poet and Painter Nancy Maxson

Copyright Nancy Maxson. All rights reserved.


PODCASTS from the PRESS: Volume One

“Poetic Invitations to the Present:

An Interview with Blue Ridge Poet and Painter Nancy Maxson”

Having just had the pleasure of publishing her second collection of haiku, we recently sat down with painter and poet Nancy Maxson to find out more about her art and her inspiration. We had a delightful time wandering in the fields of creativity and humor, beauty and the natural world. We invite you to listen in with us via the podcast, or read the transcript below (illuminated with images of Maxson’s watercolors and excerpts of her haiku), as Maxson shares about artistry and life in the present moment.

All best,

St Brigid Press

LISTEN to the PODCAST conducted on October 23rd, 2013, at St Brigid Press (about 14 minutes, in mp3 format) ~


READ the TRANSCRIPT of audio recording (edited for clarity) ~

EMILY HANCOCK:  Hello and Welcome to “Podcasts from the Press!” This is the first in our series of live interviews with authors and artists, conducted here in the studio of St Brigid Press in Afton, Virginia. I’m your host, Emily Hancock, and we are delighted to have with us today artist and poet Nancy Maxson.

A native of Maine who spent time living and working in Colorado, Nancy now makes her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. In her bio, she says she’s been fortunate to travel the world a bit, to be a lifelong student of the religions of Asia, and to have learned most of what she knows from her kids and her dog. Nancy is the author of two collections of haiku ‑ Shaking the Wild Persimmon and Tasting the Wild Strawberry ‑ and shows her vibrant watercolor paintings throughout the region. Nancy, welcome to St Brigid Press, and thank you for taking time to chat with us today!

NANCY MAXSON:  Well, thank you very much for inviting me! I’m delighted to be here.

HANCOCK:  I’d like to start with the observation that, in both your first two books of poetry, the word “Wild” appears in the title. What is the significant of that?

"Tasting the Wild Strawberry"

MAXSON:  Well, that’s a fun question to think about. I have the sense that “wild,” for me, is not just the opposite of “tame,” but it has sort of an “escape” sense to it. Haiku give me a chance to escape from where my mind spends a lot of time, and that is the past and the future. And it allows me, invites me, in fact, to be the present and be in the present. So, I see that as a wildness that’s necessary to our humanity, somehow.

HANCOCK:  That’s interesting – an invitation to the wildness of the now.

MAXSON:  Well, maybe we take it for granted that we’re always right here, right now. I’m of the age that “to be here now” was a very important thought at one time, still is for me, and it’s easy to not be here. It’s easy to be too responsible in thinking of the future, and too sad -- or happy, even -- about a past that’s gone. And, to be invited to be in the present, with the joy of that, seems to me a real mini-vacation.

HANCOCK:  That really comes through in your work. Speaking of “the present,” you now live here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the beautiful Blue Ridge. I wonder, what effect did moving here with your husband from Colorado have on your creativity?

MAXSON:  Well, it gave me new eyes, in fact. So I learned to play a lap dulcimer that I had only been thinking of as a piece of art hanging on our wall, when we lived in Colorado. And, in the same way, I picked up the paint brush and was able to see new colors and new light (or at least light in a new way). And all of that just sort of lead to some literary curiosities. I have loved the idea of small things: small literary things and small artistic things. [For example, the] Persian art of the 17th century is very impressive to me, in the fact that it’s maybe 2 or 3 inches by 2 or 3 inches, the framed pieces.

"Lap dulcmer." Copyright Nancy Maxson. All rights reserved.

HANCOCK:  With such extraordinary detail, in such tiny real estate there!

MAXSON:  Yes, such extraordinary detail – a whole world. And that’s what also lead me to the haiku, which I’ve liked since I was in fifth grade, just because they are so tiny and so powerful. They’re just like a spice that you crack open, and all of a sudden you are just more so here, just here. So I’ve loved that.

HANCOCK:  That’s a fantastic description. Would you grace us with a little spice from your books? Read two or three haiku for us, so we can get a little taste ourselves?

MAXSON:  Well, sure! Haiku is an interesting, three-line, one breath poem. I’m sure that most of you know this, but I was always amazed. [G]iven that it’s of Japanese origin (in the 17th century, a fellow named Basho started writing these little quips), and I’m not Japanese and I’m not in the 17th century, I’ve sort of adapted the notion of the haiku as something that has a moment in it where you know the general season, you know the general topic, and then you are invited to just look at your response to something right in front of you. So, here’s one, about a little creature that lives in my back porch:

Powder-post beetle,

        woodchip pyramid builder,

making me homeless

HANCOCK:  Yes, that’s a Blue Ridge poem, isn’t it! We share space with lots of critters, who sometimes want to eat our house down ‘round us.

MAXSON:  It is a Blue Ridge poem, yes. That’s what it feels like! How about this one:

One   Two   Three   rainshowers

        climb over the hills

easier than I wait for you

Copyright, Nancy Maxson. All rights reserved

You get the sense of passing time, and yet of being some place very specific, very immediate.

HANCOCK:  And the distillation of that – a handful of words. As you say... what was that part about the breath and haiku?

MAXSON:  Yes, it’s a “one breath poem.” Because we sort of live one breath at a time, don’t we? How about [this one] – “Crabtree Falls” is a local place that’s a beautiful falls, one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi. So, here’s one for that:

Falling for Crabtree Falls

        my love, all mist and shadow,

sparkle and spray

HANCOCK:  That’s lovely. In your newest book of haiku, Tasting the Wild Strawberry, from which you just read, you write, “Haiku stand ready to reveal the visible.” When I first read that, that took me by surprise – “Haiku stand ready to reveal the visible.” Could you say a little about what you mean by that?

MAXSON:  Well, I’m delighted that it took you by surprise, because the rest of the book was sort of more automatically written than that first line. I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting that first line, simply as an introduction to a book about haiku that, perhaps, would entrance people and entice them. And it is supposed to surprise us. I think that we spend a lot of our time not in the present, so if the haiku can “stand ready,” like a little regiment of creatures waiting to awaken you, then that’s fabulous. Haikus aren’t a literary form that use simile or metaphors. They’re not talking about something that’s talking about something else. It’s actually talking about what it’s mentioning, and it’s right in front of you. So, they “stand ready,” actually, to remind you that whoa! here you are! Right here, right now, this moment. And to give you a sense of a-ha! or at least a sense of pleasure, or some emotion that opens you up to your humanity.

Copyright, Nancy Maxson. All rights reserved.

HANCOCK:  Yes, feeling your life. As it happens. And I’ve wondered – is there, for you, in the past however-many-years since you have taken up music and painting and literary writing, poetry, is their a connectivity between your poetry and your painting?

MAXSON:  Good question. I guess I’d like to think that there is, that words have a certain rhythm and color to them. And we live in such a beautiful place that evokes all kinds of responses. I live in the middle of the woods, and, as the powder-post beetle reminds me, I do not live alone. So, John and I see the mountains and the woods changing all the time, and that allows me the freedom to connect with each new day. In some sweet way, usually.

HANCOCK:  And that really comes across in your visual work, as well. Your watercolor paintings are such wonderful, alive creations. They’re full of bright or quiet energies; sometimes I find an impish joy in there; and sometimes, like in your poetry, just distilled beauty. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to painting? I’ve had the pleasure of being in your studio – there’s wonderful inspiration all ‘round, including windows looking out on the woods that you are surrounded with. If you would, say a little bit about how you approach your watercolors.

MAXSON:  Well, I’ll tell you I have a round window that looks out on some wonderful green moss that reminds me of visiting some gardens in Japan. It’s interesting how your imagination can take you everywhere. And yet to sit and look at this moss out of this window at this particular time, is a mental place that I go in order to find the colors to play with. If haiku is a one-breath poem, a lot of my art is a one or two, three, four-minute colorful poem. Poems with colors, that I suspect reflect a lot of the exuberance that I feel in life, as I am able to experience it.

Copyright, Nancy Maxson. All rights reserved.

HANCOCK:  Indeed. Lastly, if you could talk about who have been some of your artistic and poetic inspirations. Some of your comrades-in-creativity, so to speak.

MAXSON:  Well, that’s always tricky because I haven’t had formal lessons in either music or art, and not much literary background other than I love to read Billy Collins and Kay Ryan and a few other good poets. Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe and Mark Rothko were all stellar people in my toolbox of heroes, that I have read as much of what they’ve said about their art as I have seen their artwork. I think it’s very telling to read, especially Georgia O’Keeffe’s work about her color and her simplicity and her getting-to-the-nub of things. That’s very very warm to me; it’s so inviting. It says, “You can do this, you can walk out into the mountain, into a star,” as she says, “and just be there and see it.” And Picasso and Rothko were totally crazy, in some respects awful people, and yet they had an ability to see color and organize it in a way that was very life-giving to a lot of people. But especially Georgia O’Keeffe, in both her writing and her art, is particularly inspiring. I have a Buddhist tanka and a picture of Georgia in my studio, and between the two of them I hope there’s some good vibes in there!

Copyright, Nancy Maxson. All rights reserved.

HANCOCK:  There certainly must be, Nancy, because your work is wonderful. And this has been such a delight. Thank you so much for coming over to St Brigid Press and sharing with us about your art and your artistry, the poetics of the present moment.

MAXSON:  Thank you! It’s a pleasure.

HANCOCK:  And thank you for being the first in St Brigid Press’s podcasted series of interviews with regional authors and artists. For more information about that, to subscribe to “Podcasts from the Press,” and to learn more about Nancy Maxson’s book of haiku, please visit us online at To see her paintings, cards, calendars, and more, visit Stone Soup Books in Waynesboro, Virginia, or Over the Moon Bookstore in Crozet.

Thank you, and all best from the Press.

© St Brigid Press, 2013. All rights reserved.

No portion of the audio or transcripted interviews, images, or excerpts may be used in any form without written permission from St Brigid Press.

For more information, please contact us at

Podcasts from the Press



"Podcasts from the Press" ~ Interviews With Authors and Artists

Podcasts from the Press Warm greetings from St Brigid Press!

We are happy to announce today the launch of a new production from our studio:

Podcasts from the Press.”

As the print shop and bindery have gotten under way here, we have had the pleasure to connect with many artists and authors in our region. To further honor, engage, and share with this growing community, St Brigid Press has begun recording live interviews with some of these creative voices. Hosted by the Press’s resident printer and poet, Emily Hancock, these lively conversations will be offered here on the website as podcasts and as transcripts.

Our next post will be the first interview, with Blue Ridge poet and painter Nancy Maxson. You'll be able to listen in to our fun talk about her art and poetry, and read along with the transcript, illuminated with images of her watercolors and excerpts from her haiku.

Thanks so much for joining us as we chat with some of the authors and artists who gift our days with beauty, challenge, and vision.

All the best,

St Brigid Press



"Tasting the Wild Strawberry: Blue Ridge Haiku"

TWS -- Cover Warm Greetings from St Brigid Press!

We are delighted to announce the publication of artist and author Nancy Maxson's second collection of poetry ~ Tasting the Wild Strawberry: Blue Ridge Haiku.

Nearly sixty new haiku evoke the beauty and surprises of a life lived in these Virginia mountains. With humor and deep insight, Maxson gives us a poem's-eye-view of her journey through the seasons of a year; in the Introduction, she elaborates upon the artful and spirited aesthetic which inspired this work.

The book's design and hand-crafted execution seek to reflect the nature of the poetic form, as well as Maxson's mindful sensibility. Each edition is 6-inches square, with black covers of Nepalese Lokta paper, decorative interior papers of red Thai Unryu, and a warm-white text block of bamboo paper. Binding is in the traditional Japanese style of 4-hole stab binding, with red linen thread. Cover and interior art is from Maxson's original watercolor, "The Strawberry Seeker." Produced in a limited edition of 100 numbered books.

Available now in the St Brigid Press Store, and, for those of you near Waynesboro, Va, at Stone Soup Books and Cafe. For more information, contact us at stbrigidpress[AT]

Best wishes to all for a lovely summer!

St Brigid Press

Gluing the decorative papers that illuminate the seasonal title pages.

Punching the holes for the Japanese 4-hole binding with a bookbinder's awl.

Sewing the book with red linen thread.

10 finished editions of the book, "resting" overnight in the nipping press.

Title page, with beautiful red Thai Unryu endpapers.

"Spring" title page, with decorative Thai Unryu papers.

Close-up of "Summer" title page.

Colophon, on the final page of "Tasting the Wild Strawberry: Blue Ridge Haiku"

Author and artist Nancy Maxson, holding her new book, with printer and bookbinder Emily Hancock of St Brigid Press, at Maxson's reception at Stone Soup Books and Cafe, Waynesboro, Va, on Saturday, June 29th, 2013.



The First Day of Summer at St Brigid Press

Come, shamanic bee,

turning light into sweetness:

pollinate this dawn


Warm Greetings, Friends,

The above haiku is the opening poem of Summer in a new book by Nancy Maxson, Tasting the Wild Strawberry: Blue Ridge Haiku, forthcoming from St Brigid Press. In this, her second collection of poetry, Maxson explores the seasons of the year and of the heart in fifty-six wonderfully distilled, 3-line gems. Known throughout the region for her fine watercolor paintings, we are thrilled to collaborate with Maxson to produce this limited-edition, letterpress printed, hand-bound collection of her written work.

Below are a handful of photos from some of the stages of creating Tasting the Wild Strawberry. If you are in the Waynesboro, Virginia, area, please drop by Stone Soup Books next Saturday, June 29th, for Maxson's art opening and book launch reception. Books will be available for purchase at Stone Soup and through our website here, as of the 29th.

Very best summer wishes to all,

St Brigid Press

Cutting large sheets of fine paper from their from-the-mill size of 27"x40" down to a size that will eventually become our 6"x6" book.

Forming the bodies of the poems, letter-by-letter and space-by-space...

The letters and spaces are gathered into words, which are gathered into poems, which are gathered into a forme for printing each page.

TWS and CandP

The last stop: the Bindery, where the book's covers and pages will be sewn together with linen thread.