Diana Randolph, Beacons of the Earth and Sky, Savage Press, 2012 [available through author, oiabms(at)cheqnet.net]
Reviewed by Hope McLeod
Sometimes a person is born with abilities to be both poet and visual artist. Diana Randolph from Drummond, Wisconsin is such a artist. With her new book, Beacons of the Earth and Sky: Paintings and Poetry Inspired by the Natural World, (Savage Press 2012), Randolph seamlessly combines these two sides of her artistic personality, creating a multi-dimensional experience for her readers.
“I write poems about things I can’t paint,” she said, “and paint images for which I can’t find words.”
At first I thought I’d be disappointed by this book, because I’ve known Randolph first and foremost as a painter for twenty-two years, and only occasionally as a poet. I ‘d heard a few of her poems from time to time at readings, but had no idea to what extent her poems inform her paintings and visa versa.
Randolph has taught hundreds of burgeoning artists how to paint dreamy pastels. But what they don’t know is how close her journal sits to her easel. Drawings merge with lyrics in her notebooks. Words form as sunsets burst into flames onto her canvass.
Her poetry lacks intricate rhyme or complicated meter. Instead she uses ordinary speech to craft minutely extraordinary experiences. In the first few lines of many of her poems you think you’re going for a walk in the woods to get some exercise, when all of sudden both word painting and real painting ignite onto the page and you’re transported to a Roman Catholic cathedral with floor to ceiling stained-glass-windows looking out onto not only a forest but a wonderland.
It’s not all about sweetness and light, however. She touches on war, its futility and insanity. She waltzes through National Parks and sleeps out under the open sky on the Appalachian Trail and can’t help but feel the pain of the earth’s degradation. She’s never in a hurry with her words or her ponderings.
Roger Rosenblatt, author of How to Write Great, says, “The writers we admire most are propelled by a mixture of innocence and chutzpah – the nerve to write big coupled with the childlike need to cultivate the virtues they have always believed in.”
This describes Randolph to a tee.
My favorite poem is “The Gathering” for its subtle and suggestive beauty. Every word is tatted to the next one with lacy perfection, telling a whole story in three brief stanzas:
At the gathering
they stood proper and poised,
covered with white frocks
and draped with lacy shawls
the sun beat down
and heat rose from the limbs.
Their shawls slid down
hanging in loops
then slipped off entirely.
Some discarded their gowns
Others flung them off
right to the ground
exposing a raw nakedness.
This is how trees
gather in the forest
during a lusty, winter thaw,
soaking up the rays
of the February sun.
This poem is filled with optimism and renewal, a theme often repeated throughout Randolph’s work.
In her first verse Randolph uses a series of hard sounding consonants, setting the stage for “proper and poised.” However, as the shawls slide down she applies a slurry of alliterative words as if the words themselves were melting to the ground.
Her poems rarely rhyme. Their strength lies in imagery and imagination, as bold as her paintings,
The book is divided into five sections: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Seasons. Randolph takes many journeys into the woods, on her skis, backpacking with her family. And though her footpaths often lead to National Parks and wide open prairies where cowgirls gallop across the page, she always comes back home to the intimacy of her flower garden and her northern Wisconsin woods.
Like the many grains of sand that make up a Tibetan mandala, when all of Randolph’s sweet, simple stories are put together, it’s a colorful and perfect reflection of the preciousness of this life – a breath-taking few hours hiking up and down the mountains of her imagination.
Randolph’s exploration into the natural world goes way beyond a travelogue. Her terrain is unique, off the beaten path, and unlike anywhere you’ve been before.
Hope McLeod is presently a Staff Writer for the Bayfield County Journal in Ashland, Wisconsin, and a contributing writer to Wisconsin Trails, Home Education Magazine, and The Ashland Daily Press. She has one published chapbook, The Place We Begin, (Herd a Word, 2012). Other publications where her poems have recently appeared include: WritersRead Volume I (Little Big Bay, 2013), Raven 2012 “Voices of the North Woods,” and Millenium 2013. Hope is the Northwest Regional Representative for WFOP. She lives in Washburn and is married to musician Bruce Bowers. They have one daughter, Yazmin, also a musician.