MEMORIZING SHADOWS, INSPIRATION FROM THE ARIZONA TRAIL AND STONE WISHES ON THE COLORADO PLATEAU
Because we couldn’t go hiking together in red rock country this spring, a friend offered two chapbooks of poetry written by a woman who loves canyons and deserts as much as we do. My friend is correct. Heidi Elizabeth Blankenship’s poems exactly capture the stark edges and soft curves, the stunning ambiance of that harsh yet fragile land. Memorizing Shadows introduces poems Blankenship drafted while hiking the 800-mile Arizona Trail north from Mexico to Utah. Stone Wishes takes the reader onto the Colorado Plateau, celebrating the stone, the sun, the wind, and the water that can be discovered there.
As important to her writing is the artistry that accompanies Blankenship’s words. She illustrates Memorizing Shadows: Inspiration from the Arizona Trail with her own paper cuts, what the German’s call scherenschnitte and the Chinese call Jianzhi, two-toned reflections of scenery in abstract lines and shapes and forms.
For Stone Wishes, Blankenship collaborated with photographer Michael Salamacha. Together, his images and her words illustrate canyon and desert themes that are omnipresent when hiking on the plateau. I was charmed, too, by Blankenship’s cautionary comments. “Keep secrets.” Places are unnamed in Stone Wishes, purposefully so. “Keep secrets.”
I’m sure I have hiked and boated many of the routes that Blankenship followed, but I promise I will keep her secrets in this review. One place, for example, I know I have happily canoed, “Where we go as fast/as the river/takes us/unwinding” until we are “lost/in the spell/of rivertime” Another spot is ravaged by fire. There, we hear not “howling coyotes,” but “trees/with the wind/rushing past/their charred,/barren/trunks,/ thousands of skeleton/sticks/screaming.” I think, too, of how often I have climbed to ancient ruins. “Secrets in these canyons/ dwell under slickrock ceilings:/the rounded stone doors/of granaries/crumbling walls/of abandoned houses/handmade/with bricks/ and canyon mud mortar/galleries of rock art/fragments of painted pots.” Blankenship’s words float down a page, they urgently shout, they pile images together in a heap.
What I like most about her writing is her ability to capture the special red rock ambiance I mentioned earlier. Some visitors are overawed by the voodoo shapes, the vast distances, the fear of the unknown. But those of us who hike there regularly know the world Blankenship sees, a terrain to be respected to be sure, but also a landscape to be embraced with great affection. Her words bring to mind many happy places, a few scary experiences, and a host of precious memories. Yes, I’d rather be in canyonlands today, but reading Blankenship’s poetry in Memorizing Shadows and Stone Wishes is the next best thing to hiking there. – Ann Ronald
Bookin’ with Sunny enthusiastically supports Independent Bookstores and Public Libraries.