Wednesday, January 8, 2020

An Interview with Celeste Parsons: Nelsonville from A to Z


An Interview with Celeste Parsons: Nelsonville from A to Z
by Gina McKnight

It is a great opportunity to reside in a community where the arts take center stage. Meeting Celeste Parsons for the first time in my barn office, I knew she had a lot of creative ideas to share. Since that meeting, Celeste has seen her creative idea for Nelsonville from A to Z come to fruition. It is a collection of poetry by local poets celebrating local iconic places and people. The book was launched in collaboration with Stuart’s Opera House and the royalties from book sales help their Arts Education Program. Local artist, Hannah Sickles, created stunning illustrations, adding aesthetics and integrity to each poem.

Celeste lives outside of Nelsonville, Ohio, in a log house built on a former dairy farm, with her husband Jim, her Westie dog Spook, and a revolving population of deer, turkeys, chipmunks, hummingbirds, and other wildlife. She enjoys gardening, anything having to do with fabric or thread, reading, and bicycle touring with Jim on their tandem bike (64,000 miles since the year 2000, and counting). She is also an enthusiastic member of the ABC Players and thinks of Stuart's Opera House as her second home. She has written poems, plays, technical documentation, and newspaper articles since childhood. Nelsonville from A to Z is her first published book.

Welcome, Celeste!

GM: How did you come up with the idea for Nelsonville from A to Z?
CP:  My husband and I visited Berea, Kentucky for his birthday trip a couple of years ago, where I bought the alphabet book A is for Appalachia.  My first thought when I saw it was, "What a lovely book."  My second thought was "We could do something like this for Nelsonville."  I talked with Hannah Sickles, the illustrator, and with Emily Prince from Stuart's Opera House, and things just developed from there.

GM: The artwork is beautiful and follows each poem perfectly. Do you have a favorite poem in the book?  
CP:  I hate answering "what is your favorite" questions, because I have such a hard time picking just one.  I love the maturity and depth of the thoughts expressed in "M is for Mine," especially the last three lines:  "M is for the mines / For the history that runs through our veins / Like the endless tunnels below our feet."  I love all the different viewpoints of the different poems--many of the subjects seen from outside, but some reversed.  For example, in "N is for Nelson House," the house talks to the reader, and in "Y is for Yesterday," the poem "speaker" is one of those buried in Fort Street Cemetery.  I love the way that some poems focus on the past and some are looking at the future.  And I absolutely love the way Hannah's illustrations capture all of the subjects.

GM: Do you think the book has been well received? What feedback have you heard about the project?
CP:  Everything I have heard has been very positive.  I've been amazed that some readers from other cities have asked about placing the book in their local libraries!  There really is something here for everyone, whether a local resident or a visitor.

GM: Working with you, Celeste, has been a great experience. I am excited for future collaborations. What is on your literary/creative horizon?
CP:  I'm working on a children's book, When I Run Away from Home, that's a re-work of something I gave my parents years ago.  I'm illustrating this one myself, using colored pencils, and it has been both a challenge and a lot of fun getting my hand back into that kind of art.

GM: What is your advice for novice poets/writers?
CP:  I don't think there is any one way to start writing.  One thing I found out while working on Nelsonville from A to Z is that it is quite hard to write a poem about a specific subject!  Most often, I find that a particular phrase pops into my head or out of my mouth--sometimes serious, sometimes not--and I say to myself, "That needs to be a poem."  But whatever your source of inspiration, you have to love language, playing with it, expanding your vocabulary, feeling the rhythms even when you don't use a strict meter.  And you have to be willing to rewrite and rewrite until the result finally feels whole.

GM: In your opinion, what makes the perfect poem?
CP:  Oh, gosh, that's another question that's very hard to answer.  Probably the joining of a thought, an emotion, and a phase in a way that seems new and encourages the reader to think about what you've said beyond  the time it took to read it.  An example that pops into my head is from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T. S. Eliot:

I grow old . . . I grow old. . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
  Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have always thought the last two lines are a perfect expression of sadness and resignation.  Prufrock can hear the mermaids, but he knows he is not the kind of man for whom they will sing.  There is nothing "poetic" or high-flown about the words Eliot uses; it is just the juxtaposition of word and thought that touches me.

M: List 10 things your fans may not know about you...
CP:  1)  I love anything to do with thread--quilting, knitting, embroidery, bobbin lace.
2) I read constantly and omnivorously.
3) I never thought I would like kale, but I do. 
4) My husband, Jim, and I do as many errands as possible riding our purple tandem bicycle. 
5)  Between errands and annual trips, we have ridden over 67,000 miles since 2001. 
6)  I love puns, the more outrageous the better (inheritance from my dad).  7) I have a West Highland Terrier who likes to eat carrots and green beans.  8) I collect pigs and owls. 
9) I am an enthusiastic member of our local community theater group, ABC Players. 
10) I want to take a donkey ride into the Grand Canyon on my 90th birthday.

Nelsonville from A to Z is available in hardcover edition locally from Stuart’s Opera House, Rocky Outdoor Store, and Nelsonville Emporium (all of Nelsonville, Ohio); Little Professor Book Center (Athens, Ohio)
And online from Amazon and Barnes&Noble

From LIVE LOCAL, Athens, Ohio December 2019

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