In the late July swelter and dragonfly buzz of the summer of 2011, we began a poem correspondence, based on no prompts, no assignments— just that we were to send a poem at least once a week, maybe more if we were lucky. We were just going to hold each other accountable knowing someone was waiting for our poem three states away. Happy mail. Turns out he’s one of my few friends who still loves the tactile pleasure of writing letters—an easy enough project I thought would surely end by the time I visited him in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana that September.
But something happened during that visit that made us change our minds. We toured the Bloomington Community Orchard, and he showed me around his own organic vegetable garden, and the native persimmon and serviceberry tress scattered around campus. It dawned on us both that we could and should continue our poem correspondence with more of a direction and focus on the good work we were doing in our own backyards, work that very often leads to a line or more of poetry while we each work and fuss and fume over our plots of earth. In Fredonia, I focus much more on flower gardening—when those bulb catalogues full of perennials and shade-garden delights start arriving in the thick of winter here, I start dog-earring the pages of my new cravings, start sketching out where my new additions could go. Ross’ own backyard is a marvel of sustenance for his kitchen and gifts for his friends. How lovely to be sent on my way back to New York with a few peppers and potatoes and a couple heads of garlic from his garden when my time with Ross and his students was over. Here, then, is how we made sense and record of a full year in our respective gardens. Over the course of the year, Ross was also able to visit my family and flower gardens before we boarded a train together for the Millay Artist’s Colony in the Berkshires in upstate New York. There, we revised and finished this series of epistolary poems.
It is our hope that some of the pleasure and anxiety of tending these gardens—which is to say, tending to ourselves, our relationships, our earth—comes through in these poems, written over the course of about a year. There’s bounty, yes; but there’s loss and sorrow too: like a garden, like a life. But as the leaf buds start swelling, as they start, even, unfurling—right around the corner!—it’s time to focus on bounty: sing at the crocuses, get those peas in. Make friends with someone who has a rhubarb patch. See if the community garden has a plot with your name on it.
-A.N. & R.G.