aspen

The male flowers of Populus tremula, or aspen. (Photo by Sergey M. Sazhin)

For half a decade, poets Kierstin Bridger and Beth Paulson copiloted a collaborative venture in downtown Ridgway they called Open Bard.

Distinguished poets from all over the West were invited, and lovers of language from all over the San Juans were encouraged to read a work or two of their own — or simply to show up at the Sherbino Theater, fortified (perhaps) with a generous pour of pinot noir and inspired (certainly) by a shared love of words, to soak in the creative camraderie. The two scribes — who were central to so much great reading and writing in Ouray County over the past five years — remain supportive of each other’s work. Bridger, however, now lives full-time in Telluride. With autumn — which is to say, poetry season — officially upon us, the two writers are refocusing their creative outreach closer to home.

Next week, from Oct. 3-7, Bridger will host “Writing in the Deep,” a “writing, art and discovery retreat” along with fellow scribes Lisa Allen Ortiz and Sam Roxas-Chua at Bear Creek Lodge, Mountain Village. The event, which will include writing workshops, shared meals, morning yoga and an optional “guided big hike,” is designed to encourage writers to soak up as much as they can from each other, in multiple milieus (visit kierstinbridger.com or email kbbridger@me.com to learn more).

Paulson, meanwhile — first official Poet Laureate of Ouray County — has broadened Open Bard’s reach by opening it to more than poetry. She’s turned it into a literary series, and the first guest of the new season is bestselling author Pam Houston, who is famous for her collection of short stories, “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” Houston will read at Open Bard’s kickoff event for the 2019-2020 season, which takes place Oct. 7 at the Sherbino Theater at 6:30 p.m.

Paulson has not only been busy programming Open Bard’s new season solo, she’s been extremely productive when it comes to her own work: She’s coauthored a new book, “Images of the Mountain West,” with her husband, Don Paulson, “that marries his photography with my poetry,” combining 48 images with a similar number of poems.

About three-quarters of the poems are new, “and have never been published in any other book until now,” Paulson said. On Oct. 6 from 4-6 p.m., the Ouray Bookshop and the Ouray County Historical Society will host a reception for Beth and Don Paulson’s new joint publication, featuring food, drink and “probably,” she said, “a short reading, craft talk and PowerPoint photos” on display in the bookstore.

The book is physically small, just 8-by-10 inches — “We call it a coffee table book for small tables,” Beth jokes — but its diminuitive size belies the huge amount of focus and creativity that went into it. “Don and I had been encouraged for years” by the Ouray Bookshop’s former owner, Robert Stoufer, to collaborate on a book, she said. Finally, “Last winter we just decided to try putting a selection of Don’s photos together.”

That was the beginning.

The idea was then for Paulson to write poems based on the images, a seemingly daunting assignment, even for a former writing professor who also taught local poets in monthly get-togethers at the Ridgway Public Library.

“At first I didn’t think I could write poems from a photo,” Paulson said frankly. But because so many of them were taken in this region — and because Paulson is an avid outdoor adventurer — she was familiar with the locales. “The fact that I was able to recall the experience of being in all the places made it a challenging but rewarding project to revist the photographs this way,” she said. Occasionally, neither of the Paulsons had to go far for inspiration. In “Green Hearts,” he captured an image of spring outside the couple’s home; she married words to it. There can be no true appreciation of wonder without an understanding of pain — of the sweet without the bitter. Paulson’s words, always scrupulously chosen, now carefully matched with photos, deepen ones’ perception of beauty.

Green Hearts

New leaves are spiking outside my kitchen window,

pale, delicate, unfurling from a bare aspen like tiny scrolls.

Underneath it long fingers of iris have pushed up

from bulbs hiding in the moist mystery of earth.

Another sign, yesterday I saw yellow forsythia

sprung out from a tangle of branches in the garden.

At the sink I stand in awe, no word for these gifts,

I who have also felt the broken will of the body,

been lost in the dark, uncertain alleys of the mind.

Even in my unsteady hand, when I hold up

this clean glass to a beam of light, it reflects back

through the window an offering of green hearts.