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By Chuck Keller
Superman had this trick where he would cup a chunk of coal in his hands and using his super-strength would compress it so much that it would become a diamond. Well, that’s what a poet does. And that is what Alexandra (Alex) McIntosh does in her collection of poems, Bowlfuls of Blue. The title is a line in her poem Constellation.
She mines what is common to all of us - family, relationships, nature - and she makes connections that we may not normally make. Her work is approachable, thoughtful, and deliberate. Each piece can read as a meditation, something to think upon for the day. There is no need to rush. To see the world through her eyes is to be rejuvenated, to see the magic of the world, to have hope.
We sat down last week for a delightful chat about her book, her writing process, influences, and life. We sipped iced tea as Grizzly, her poodle, lounged on the deck at our feet.
Her love of nature is deep. Her undergraduate degree in Adventure Leadership tied together critical thinking, leadership, and nontraditional education into an interesting major. She speaks enthusiastically about her studies. “It challenged my view of intelligence and education because school always came easily to me. So I got interested in how people learn and the things that challenge us,” she says. The natural world is ta great classroom.
Eventually she pursued a masters degree at Northern Kentucky University. While there she took a summer class at Miami University and the professor encouraged her to apply to the MFA program. Long story short, she pursued two masters programs simultaneously. She now teaches at Cincinnati State and NKU.
She initially thought her book would be about her journey on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage trail in Spain, but “it evolved into being about my place in the outdoors as a whole,” she says. The book is about her relationship to the natural world and family. She says, “It’s about seeing myself as a member of a community. The more I feel connected to the natural world, the more connected I feel toward people.“
McIntosh says that “I take a lot of notes on my phone, phrases I hear, or articles I read. I note phrases or ideas. And then I’ll go back and take some things to put into a poem.” She refers to her notes as “souvenirs” which is an interesting use of the word because she brings something interesting home each day from her journey into the world. Poets stretch our definitions.
Her poems chronicle her discovery and the meaning of an event, an image, or a “souvenir” and then guides the reader to an epiphany. Part of her outdoor training was being a good guide and that applies to her poetry. She guides the reader. She presents an experience and a reflection and each one owns that moment. She says, “I am open to what will be. I try to find something new.”
“What I like about the outdoors is trying to learn the names of things. When you know the name of a tree, it gives you a new appreciation for it,” she says. Poetry resonates like music. Each is a language that conveys an idea or a truth.
A lot of people think of poetry as being inaccessible or hoity-toity. It isn’t. Poems are the gems of our language. “Poetry allows us to get past language, to get down to the bare bones. Language is the finger that points to the dog…. I try to strip away all of that distraction to get to the emotion and what is the truth behind it,” she says.
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McIntosh drops these little gems into our conversation. “Poetry is definitely a meditation on the world and on my place in it and how to see the world better…. We read because we like to see the world through other people’s eyes …We read for companionship. I read poetry to know that I am not alone. Poetry puts names to things that I’ve felt for a long time…. Poetry captures and preserves the now even though you go past it. I write to capture these little moments where I feel connected to the world.” They are the spoken snapshots of life.
“Poetry is an artifact of being alive,“ she says with a smile that exudes the joy of living.
McIntosh says that, “I’ve learned that it’s a practice to feel connected the natural world and to myself. And like meditation, it gets easier when you do it every day.”
I enjoyed reading Bowlfuls of Blue and I will return to it to meditate with her on the wonders of nature and our relationships.
You can purchase her book ($18) in multiple ways:
- Assure Press at www.assurepress.org
- Message Alexandra McIntosh on Facebook for a signed copy
- Locally owned bookstores, the Blue Marble and Roebling Books, will soon carry it.