Clayton James, Untitled (white pot), 1980, clay, 11 x 21 inches diam. MoNA, Gift of Carol Huntley and Sam and Bea Hellis, 2011.238.007
Clayton James, Untitled (white pot), 1980, clay, 11 x 21 inches diam. MoNA, Gift of Carol Huntley and Sam and Bea Hellis, 2011.238.007

Poets On the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women is directed by Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon and happens every September in La Conner. Participating poets explore the current museum exhibits and write poems inspired by the variety of art works they discover. Poets On the Coast welcomes poets at every stage in their career: from new beginners to highly published writers. For more information on Poets On the Coast, please visit:

Tower Window
            Inspired by Clayton James’
            “Untitled” ceramic
I don’t have hair like Rapunzel’s.
There is no door.
No prince in the woods.
Five pomegranates fall
in the rain. Or maybe they’re ropes
of lightning.
The landscape in this story
has no blackberry mazes
or thorns to blind an eye.
In the back of the tower
a bear paw. After
the forest fire
I settle in.
Smoke holds the sun
for ransom.
            - Susan Landgraf

Sometimes, Wild Plums Weep
                                  after Kelly O'Dell's Remain(S)
My father’s first grocery shop, where once
he’d stacked bushels of sweet summer corn,
rows of watermelon, and peaches by the peck
outside the shop door, with the bell that rang
crisp and pure as a prayer.
My childhood home, where once
blue hydrangeas and white honeysuckle
spread their roots beneath our front porch, and 
dripping swimsuits hung along the rail.
Spiders knit lacey webs that lasted all summer.
My elementary school building, where once
Peg Leg Bates tap danced across our creaky
gym floor, a wooden stump strapped to his thigh.
And when he jumped!—arms and legs straight out,
he looked like a starfish shooting for the moon.
There, still standing in a distant corner
of the schoolyard, the small copse of wild plum trees
where once, I’d slipped between the trunks, into their
shady circle to steer a pirate ship, fly a rocket
or let down my hair from the castle turret, calling
to my friends, "Let's pretend...."
Overgrown, my once secret space gives me no entrance.
Along the tree trunks, glinting in the August sunlight,
amber tear drops cascade down the bark. I study
the bits of black, flecks of brown inside each drop, looking
for shapes of my past—a bell, a web, a starfish—
for something of me that remains.
         - Merna Dyer Skinner
Nothing is Forever
        after Kelly O’Dell's: transient(h)ours
Your furrowed brow
straight as if ironed
Her hair, the color
of nickels and dimes
My memories
myopic shards of broken glass
Their laughs
an endangered species.
      - Phylise Smith


Lobster Retrospective at the Museum of Northwest Art
The glass lobster, singular, spotlit,
blown deep ruby red and barnacled
in cobalt -- its glossy ink-beaded eyes
follow my every move around the exhibit --
p,erfection with articulated glass tail,
its antennae at the ready,
and those claws, precisely teethed,
grander than any I’ve ever seen.
I can only imagine the taste
of their sumptuous New England
meat if I were to risk everything,
break into the immaculate glass case,
and pull the lobster to a more certain
death. But it is all wrong. Each summer trip
to Rockport, MA, in a sun-deprived
lobster shack taught me that. Men
in slick plastic overalls the color of seaweed
jawed loud orders over my head. At eye-level,
the lobsters heaped in their slimy, perspiring tanks
lumbered over each other, for what? The less agile
lobsters, I assumed buried alive
at the bottom, often lived with a single claw;
headless antennae rested with them
like swords separated from their hands.
I didn’t want to think any of this gore happened
here in the tanks in the cramped, chilly shack,
where my grandfather held my hand tight,
but I knew it was inevitable as the men risked
their fingers to their hands into the tank
to grab one or two of the ugly things
for someone’s dinner. How anyone, let alone
my family, could eat one I never understood.
Yes, the artist got it all wrong. My grandfather
now dead thirty years. I crave the taste of lobster,
the Pacific Northwest no place for one,
glass or otherwise. And I, too, am alone.  


              - Sandy Yaonne



Keep Hoggin' the Mattress

                                  after The Pair, acrylic on canvas,
                                   by Whiting Tennis

It's crowded here
on the right side of the bed.

Layers of your largeness
push and pulse.

I guess you've never heard
about personal space,

those hula hoops of courtesy,
humility's careful handshakes,
the sacred circle of self.

Ignore the guidelines darlin'
and keep pushin'.
You stretch me.
You make me taller.

               - Bev Fesharaki



The 5th Stage of Grief
                after Barbera, by Clayton James
When the soft muzzle of death
comes for me I will be opaque,
faceless. When that small
paw gives the last dig—
it's time to go—
I will have been seen by
love. I will gratefully follow
that old dog, shuffle through burnished
woods, between the gems—
holy stones of turquoise trees.
I shall have no fear, but one shoulder
forward into sacred sky, one
hand on her harness, as she
leads the way.
                  --Susie Hale

The Work
after a painting and sculpture exhibition
by Whiting Tennis, September 10, 2017
The human hand’s in it.
These forms- black, white foreheads,
breasts in corrugation, shoulders
hewn to solid block- cast the shadow
of elbow, wrist, finger joint. Only
we know this. You can’t explain it
to monkeys, birds, housecats.
All these songs of new relation,
laws and figurings like the voice
of trumpets, drawn down to line.
Like the long work of order. So.
Come up, son. Daughter, take
your turn; there’s space enough here
to hang your universe, its pristine
parameters as tensile as a Calder.
This is your allotted thread
through the dark meander;
its current lies silver, and it shines
from your palm like a lifeline.
          - Laura Walton Alle



How Trees Are Born


                   In honor of Clayton James’ painting “Barbera”
What remains
after we have walked all our forest
paths, when our boot soles
are slim as shadows and our
hair grows translucent as meringue?
Will we become a birch, whispering
the secrets we once held close
to the lengthening sun? Will we run
out of chances
or is there always one shiny beetle,
or an ear of skunk
cabbage to remind us of the joy
of sunlight that rests one warm
palm against our cheek?
She could no longer walk,
ravaged to seventy six pounds
and withering, but still
flashing with blue-eyed
tenacity, still cracking
jokes. Even at her final Death
with Dignity
she went out with a Tupac poem,
and her brother, her best friend,
came to her funeral
from prison, only the second time
in 17.5 years not in enforced orange,
a khaki jumpsuit instead, one could almost mistake
the chains on his wrists
and belt for gangster-chic.
Sam Elizabeth, Barbera, may all of your
paths now run free,
free from pain and wheelchairs,
free from a brother behind razor wire,
a dead sister and stepfather, another sister
broken from drugs, so much
May the other trees laugh
their dances, welcome you
into their celestial forest,
peel off your skin suit, usher you
radiantly into your next birth
of wet light.
              -Kristie McLean

      After viewing painting “42” by Whiting Tennis.
Streetscape of 20 lines
And crosswalk of 8 lines
And lamppost, back and blue, 7 lines,
And 9 lines for the courthouse.
The parking lot has over 42 parallel lines.
You figure it out.
She squeezes out flat from behind a black cube.
Oil spill.
Worms her way up 9 steps to the X building.
Glassless window.
Peers out at a blue rectangle thinking,
where are the birds and who are you?
A statue in the park is a fist made from 1 continuous line.
White particleboard lying in the street.
She dives over it and slides under a 6 line table.
Red paper. Outline of a pen.
Her tentacle arm snakes up and scrawls,
“Sorry, I can’t live here anymore.”
Her head, if you want to call it that, throbs.


                              - Jane Walster



Searching for the House That Time Built


             - after Whiting Tennis, “Untitled Pole Painting #1”


A few sticks of oak

tethered to the ground

in a landscape of blue hills

and graceful herons

with only the friendless wind 

to brush away the morning mist


Hollow libraries of bygone lives

remember medieval creatures, 

old as Methuselah, who once pondered

the exploits of moss-green crystals

with mysterious Saxon gods 

and tinsel-bearded Sumerians


The centerpiece, a solemn bookcase 

now veiled in a tangle of shadows,

confirms its significance as sanctuary

and guardian of the endless stories

bestowed on loyal men and valiant women


What is this place? 

paradox, puzzle, enigma

a stronghold for ancient hymns, secret pacts,

and odes to the murky moon


     - Lea Galanter



Big Grey Monsters


            after the painting of the same name by Whiting Tennis

            with thanks to Sharon Olds


It moves when we move, swollen

pulse. It multiplies when his lips

part, when votes cast like trawling nets


harnessing fists. It takes everything.

Takes over, scrapes gray land, all drought

and hunger, equally beast


and machine: colorless, bloodless

against an earth furrowed and divided,

now devoid, and even when there's no air


left to breathe, it lives, clawing 

desperate with moth mutated hands. 



       -Stacey Balkun



At Sixty-Two


after Kelly O'Dell's exhibit, "Nothing Lasts Forever"


The brownness of my hair,

the contours of my face,

the times that you are there

supporting me with grace,


the power in my punch,

the frequency of sex,

the gals with whom I lunch,

the kisses turned to pecks,


the soaring of my breasts,

the friends remaining true,

my tolerance for pests,

what I can share with you,


the comfort in my hips,

the sharpness of my brain,

the cuss words on my lips,

the stuff I can retain.


My parents now are dead,

my siblings are estranged,

we lie like logs in bed.

My God, how things have changed.


      - Susan Blair




what courses through
slender bones
                        gray brown grain smudge
                                                                        without landscape
black lashing laces
                                                the slender
descending limbs
interior spiral at the altar
                                                some are criss-
                        cross legacy
of lost branches
                                    smooth slice
                                                                        jagged cut
              we find
close conjoining                                              forms open windows
                                    the hopeful
                                    call it trellis
                                    life raft
                                    quilt bridge

   -Mary Ellen Talley


Whiting Tennis, Artist
          Paintings, Drawing, Sculptures
          MONA, La Conner, WA

The wall--
closely covered,
images framed,
shapes cut from

varied thicknesses
of drawing papers--
He drew with both
hands at the same

Using chalks or crayons
or paints, two or three
colors each-- no more--
intense reds, oranges,
yellows, shades of blues,

greens-- some only
shades of grays, or
dark browns. Images
suggest plants, trees,
animals, birds, humans,

cities, fields, valleys,
mountains, clouds.
The mystery of draw-
ing with both hands
at the same--

spirits of the artist's
mind-- entice my
mind to find the
essences of his life.


     - Millie Renfrow



Impermanence, Or, How We Remain In Place While In Motion
Cascade Mountain portraits necessarily include deep forests,
Metamorphosed granite, strokes of snow, and swaths of cerulean-cadmium lakes.
What if flames consumed the trail and crossed over the river?
And compound clouds ashen to complement our view?
What if there was suffering in that sky?
Glaciers move, their motives hidden in plain sight.
Gamsol and oils on a palatte. On a canvas.
A postcard. A place in time. A reminder.
A conscientious objection, a refusal to fit into the mold.
A life worth living.  A blight worth the fight.
A labor camp pretending to be an artists colony.
An artists colony disguised as a labor camp.
He places this peak in this one moment in time, this one space
Reflects the unrequited desire for permanence.
“Who’s to say who makes a difference to whom in this world?”
Kathryn H. Thurber-Smith
Sept 13, 2017
                    Inspired by “Snow King” and other artifacts from the exhibit
                   “Clayton James : Art and Archives
                   MoNA - Museum of Northwest Art



Museum of Northwest Art


The Museum of Northwest Art connects people with the art, diverse cultures and environments of the Northwest. 



MoNA collects and exhibits contemporary art from across the Northwest, including Alaska, British Columbia, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.