Jessie Lendennie

Landscape and Poetic Consciousness
                (a work in progress)


When I was a child in the Mississippi Delta area of Arkansas,I would sit for hours looking across the flat sweep of cotton fields. To me this was a place where everything was possible-a magic world based on thought (whatever I could think about, would be). The landscape dictated this, I've always felt. Everything was possible because the world was big enough. Growing up I began to pace an fervent emphasis on freedom (which I equated with physical freedom); and developed a need to move freely and a deep need for wide landscapes. Equated them with that moment of timeless potential. The mind resting on emptiness all things possible: The landscape of creation (creative readiness)

There are many theories about where our life forming tendencies come from but I've always known that landscape played a huge part in mine. Physical freedom became wedded to emotional and intellectual freedom, and certainly creative freedom, in my mind.  My  love of words developed from writing stories in my head and reciting poetry in class - words were the imagination implemented the sound which could lift me up; present a holistic knowledge. A response to adversity. Sounds, which formed the right words; Moved in the right direction; Played a part the creative spirit of the world. Poetry came closest to this for me, and it was to poetry that I clung; returning after long battles in the 'outside' world. Poetry was a special friend who was unconditional in understanding.  I had somehow made the decision to be a writer before I could physically write; the landscape spurred me on. One pecan tree in the middle of rows of budding cotton plants; and the space which stopped the mind. Mud, wind and rain, leaves in ditches like racing boats on a last, desperate adventure. A kitchen light reflecting on the willow tree and the outside pump; ice cracking hanging from skinny trees. All registered deep within me; and had a sound, a universal sound that could be shared with others. This is so profoundly true that I see those moments now and everywhere, and they are the reason that I still  believe in life, and the reason I write, read and publish poetry.

The spirit of the landscape of 1950s Arkansas is a fixture in my emotional life. When we moved from outside Blytheville to the center of town, I moved my allegiance from the cotton fields to Walker Park and its trees. My friend, Barbara Webb, and I spent hours in the park and its seasons are still with me. Landscapes of the mind so completely reflect the landscapes which marked us as children.

When circumstances lead me to establish a poetry press it had to develop with  a bias toward the nurturing of spirit and the knowledge that many voices must go to make up the diverse language of a literary canon.

The insight poetry affords belongs to everyone; and can be expressed in various ways by everyone. My policy as a publisher is democratic;  that love of  freedom makes it impossible for me to hold an elitist position about literature. Craft is crucial, but innovation is the first step; poetry is revolution, not surety. The invitation to express has to be given and it is the duty of the society: to nurture its various voices. I've always understood perfectly how poets in repressive regimes suffer. Without the underlying sound of a nation, honored and encouraged, the nation's soul cannot exist; without the space to experiment, refine the rough edges of knowledge; poetry cannot thrive. I believe in the human spirit as a force for good. Not a traditionalist as such,  I do look for personal insight expressed in the universal;  eclectic, perhaps, and, arguably reflective of the 18th century notion of the individual as supreme. I count Shelley's 'A Defense of Poetry' among the great treatises on poetry. And  this, perhaps it's not a literal definition of 'poetry' that I mean, but the spirit is embraces and gives shape to. When a poet has produced her work made the deal with herself which is necessary given herself permission to create all crucial stages sometimes acknowledged, sometimes unconscious then the work must take shape in the world and the dictates of society , the creative atmosphere, must be evaluated ( against the poet's contribution). This evaluation is necessary for the poet to develop, but it is the area delineated by the society's literature and therefore defined by consensus.  It is just as deadening to the creative spirit to have an overdeveloped notion of what constitutes literature as to have repressed it. The crucial step from sound and insight to expression and relevance must be strong and the poet must develop the ability to nurture her creative spirit from within.



(photo by Crystal Jones)