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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.

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Podcasts from the Press