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Organic Poetry

Alphabet of Wax

When Debra asked me to write poetry about her work for a catalogue, I suggested collaborating with John and Roberta Olson, two of the most engaging, unique and playful poets in the Puget Sound region. With roots in surrealism, they move easily in the realm of spontaneous writing.

I'm convinced a projective (spontaneous) writing process allows a poet a greater opportunity to translate the energy of external sources into verse. The poems I wrote for this book use energy projected from the sources of the pigments Debra uses, the lakes, mountains and rivers of the Northwest (and other areas) from which she gets inspiration, my own experiences and my deep feelings for this amazing woman and her work.

On September 12, 2005, after a quick demonstration and explanation of Debra's process, John, Roberta and I began to write, focusing on a particular painting and taking turns suggesting writing exercises. We wrote Exquisite Corpses, Language Events and timed writing exercises. Michael McClure says: To write spontaneously does not mean to write carelessly or without thought and deep experience. In fact, there must be a vision and a poetics that are alive and conscious. It takes years of training to be able to write spontaneously with any real success, and while the degree of difficulty is higher, the payoff is as well. The same in painting spontaneously, as Debra's work demonstrates.

There is a radiance in her paintings, a consciousness and heart-centered intelligence that's been informing Debra's life and work for decades. She titled one of her recent exhibitions: Washed by Compassion and Light after a line from a Tibetan Bon invocation and it fits her work well. Any of the poetry represented here that comes close to living up to this title gets its power from the fields emitted by her work, the vitality of the poetry of the Olsons and my love and admiration for the artist who is honored in the pages to follow.

To get the full effect, there is no better experience than seeing Debra Van Tuinen's paintings up close, texture being such a vital component, but the representations in the photos printed here and in the alphabet of wax of the poems written on that late summer evening, may give you some sense of her work's tremendous emotional vitality.

Paul Nelson
Slaughter, WA
14, September, 2005


Almost Sunrise
Breaking Through
Dusk's Transition
Golden September Sunset
Indian Paintbrush Memory
Letter 1805 (Her Summer Lightning)
Low Horizon
Old Growth New Life
One Last Autumn
Pearlescent Sunset Thursday
Red Erasure River's Edge
Three Elegant Airs
Wave Masquerade