This weekly series highlights people in my writing circles who are exemplary literary citizens. I encourage you to look them up, buy their books, find them in the library, or otherwise read or support their writing lives.
This week, we meet literary citizen Jenifer Browne Lawrence
I’ve known Jenifer Browne Lawrence for a couple of decades now. She was a member of a private group of writers I hosted quarterly in my home from 2001 to 2008. This was before the fatigue of MS imposed itself on my life and I had to start letting go of certain activities—even the most beloved ones, like spending time with writers in an intimate setting—because they were consuming too much of my energy to sustain.
I suppose she was a “new” poet then, but there was literally nothing amateurish about her verse. I absolutely loved the intersections she wove with words into a fabric of natural imagery, deep loss, and feminine identity.
In 2008, she joined me as a passenger on a trip to the Oregon coast, and the experience of chatting with her in my car after leaving our group’s retreat (at the marvelous Sylvia Beach Hotel, not to be missed for writers and readers everywhere) still stays with me. You learn the most interesting things about people on road trips, not least of which was her affinity for cars, something I did not expect.
Though MS may be the ghost that haunts my writing life past, Jenifer is one of those from the group who has been a steadfast friend. And that’s saying something, as it’s a common problem for people living with a new diagnosis to inexplicably lose friends by the wayside.
So why not just call her a friend and leave out the literary citizen part?
Jenifer and I follow each other in social media. And when I started sharing out book banners, awareness graphics, links, etc. pointing to Intention Tremor, she was among the first to share them to her feed.
Listen up: Retweeting is a big deal! It is one of the best ways to expand the reach of digital content. She has a lot of friends who might be interested in my work (and vice versa). I count on people’s RTs and other digital shares as part of my own debut book promotion because, hey, during a pandemic, it’s one of the only ways left to safely present your book before potential readers. I mean, until bookstores open up to live audiences again, most of us are stuck in the virtual space.
But this is the most important thing: I never asked Jenifer to RT anything. We’ve never had that conversation (“Hey, can you help me promote my book?”). She just does it. Consistently. Without expectation of any reward. Hello, literary citizen!
Of course, I’ve thanked her more than once, but I’m going to thank her again, right here, because what she does to help me, without even blinking, means more to me than can be expressed in a DM in Twitter. Thank you, Jenifer!
Read Jenifer’s work
I cherish her first book, One Hundred Steps from Shore. I remember first buying and reading it and feeling that whoosh that happens when I encounter poetry that resonates in my mind’s ear like the crystalline pitch of a tuning fork.
I also loved being set down right inside the regional locale, familiar and comforting to me in a way that I am still trying to find the words to evince in my own work.
But then Jenifer came out with Grayling. What a gorgeous book that pushes us further into the complex, gorgeous, and mystifying terrain where she lives and breathes.
Nature writing for healing and escape
Thoughts of both of these books inspire a recollection, of me encountering comments in writing groups before I met Jenifer, in which some of the members cast aspersions upon “nature writing,” because to their minds, it wasn’t “grounded” enough. It was frothy, insubstantial, without merit. Optional.
This was back in Chicago, where people really must make a concerted effort to even have a relationship with nature. So that might explain some of their access issues to “nature writing” (though, let’s be honest: so much of the natural world surrounds and invades the city: the forest preserves, Lake Michigan, the extreme weather).
I wish I had this book to give to those poets back in Oak Park and Barrington and Schaumburg and the city proper. The immersive nature of Jenifer’s writing is transcendent yet relevant, grounding, and meaningful even to the reader living on the grittiest pothole-ridden block of any megalopolis. If you need to escape the tyranny of city life, both of these books will do the work of transporting you.
Now, when I think of “nature writing,” I don’t think of quaint rhyming poems that talk about roses and violets (yes, that is a stereotype that needs to go, there are so many powerful examples of contemporary nature poetry that obliterate this antiquated notion). Instead, I think about these wondrous, soul-healing meditations by Jenifer Browne Lawrence. Nature is more than just objects in a landscape, it’s the relationship between the external and internal worlds, spaces we all occupy. So few of us can unpack these spaces with such finesse.
Read a fantastic conversation here between Jenifer and Jordan Hartt of Kahini: “In the Company of Trees: An Interview with Jenifer Browne Lawrence.”