On Nature, Creativity, and Connection

An Interview with Featured Artist Kelly DuMar

by Kristin LaFollette, Mud Season Review Art Editor

“That’s the takeaway I’m aiming for as a therapist, workshop facilitator, or coach: deep listening, an authentic invitation to share truth and beauty, and permission to write no matter what.”


Kelly DuMar

Thank you for contributing your artwork to #61 of Mud Season Review! You mention that these images were taken “on [your] daily walks on the rural river and brook habitat of the Charles River.” Tell us about this and how your environment impacts your creative process. 

I started my daily blog, #NewThisDay, seven years ago this coming August. Daily walks have been my practice for years, and for the last twenty years, I’ve lived in the woods on the rural Charles River. It’s when I’m outside, daily, experiencing nature’s immediate weather––sleet, snow, sun, wind, rain––that I feel whole; body, mind, and spirit are present, and I’m aware of being alive and part of nature. Nature’s organic cycles teach us everything we need to know to live a meaningful life and approach a meaningful death. In nature, observation becomes acute, and deep observation is the source of spirituality, reverence, and poetry.

I take photos of what any habitat offers in the season and weather I’m walking in. It’s about learning: What is this wildflower? The name of this tree? This beautiful lichen, what is its purpose? Why is a swamp essential? How is it serving the animals and organic life that live here? How is it serving me? All these questions become the source of my creative writing, as in this excerpt of my poem, “Woods Cycle,” published by Thrush Poetry Journal:

I.

Leaf of cracked copper
lace crusted and grayed

you are floor of November.

Leave your material
your finite, your matter

less organ, more humus
more scatter.

Spring, sprout more
hemlock, black tupelo

moss, maple and swamp
wild blueberries––

anemones.

Your artist statement says that you “photograph what [you] find as [you] find it with [your] iPhone 11.” As a photographer myself, I’m impressed by your ability to capture these beautiful images with an iPhone. Do you shoot all your photography on an iPhone? Why did you shoot this particular series with an iPhone?

My iPhone camera has taught me how to see nature in a most intimate and spontaneous way. It’s easy to carry with me on long walks, and I can conveniently transfer the images I like onto my laptop. Also, any editing happens easily in the moment. When I take the shot I want to keep, I do any cropping or enhancements right then and there; this produces a pulse and a thrill and a feeling when I return home that I have been aesthetically juiced up. 

The iPhone is the only camera I use. I had to learn how to take images the iPhone can capture well through trial and error. It’s an excellent tool for close-ups but not so good for vistas. The iPhone has become attached to my hand and my eye––like a sensate part of my body. It’s the “eye” of my iPhone that allows me to feel deeply involved with nature’s mysteries, truths, and beauties.

Your artist statement also mentions that “[your] images communicate the throb of a moment of enlightenment: an integration from unconscious knowing.” Talk about how you see this coming through in the series.

My husband asked: Does the Charles River make the best ice? Could you find these images anywhere else? No, I definitely couldn’t find them somewhere else! I have to really be familiar with a place and love a place to be given this kind of sight, I think. These images emerge in a kind of intimate conversation. The images are there, formed in the ice, whether I see them or not. It’s like conversation between friends or loved ones: what’s revealed is revealed because of the conversation and the receptivity to insight and revelation. 

You produce the monthly open mic for the Journal of Expressive Writing and facilitate Aim for Astonishing, workshops focused on photo-inspired creative writing. Tell us a bit about these projects/opportunities.

Creative writing groups offer necessities: belonging, self-expression, intimacy. Our wounds and gifts are seen and taken seriously by others. It’s my passion and joy to create environments where writers can see and be seen. Anyone can sign up to read at the Journal of Expressive Writing open mic: http://www.journalofexpressivewriting.com/open-mic

In my photo-inspired creative writing workshops, personal photos are the prompt for creative writing across genre. I encourage writers of all levels to open boxes of old photos from the attic, or to look at your photo stream to select arresting personal photos. We mine the deeper meaning of an image by putting it into words. The photos we save show what we care about and hope to preserve, what moves and mystifies us, and the people, places, and experiences that bring meaning into our lives. Being in a workshop with other writers initiates powerful conversations that connect us to our spirit and nurture friendships. 

In addition to your work as a photographer, you are also a poet and playwright. How do you see these identities intersecting? 

Let me answer with my #NewThisDay blog entry from August 19, 2019:

I look at the wild, spontaneous growth of all the pumpkins and gourds and squash springing out of my compost heap with their bright yellow blossoms and running crazed all over the poor shrubs I recently planted near there. And I found, when I went inside, the quote by the musician Stephen Nachmanovitch, whose book, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, has been a favorite of mine for years. His quote about letting our creativity be as profligate as nature is so heartening. Because it reminds me not to ever feel that any writing is ever time wasted. If the raw material for a poem never gets developed, if a play script never reaches the stage, it’s okay. I have enough creativity to last me a lifetime. Not everything I write needs to be finished and sent out into the world for it to matter to me. If the bunnies of the yard that Charlie chases daily do not consume the pumpkins, or if the deer or groundhog or other animals don’t get them first, then they will sit on my front step and become jack-o-lanterns and then I will toss the rotten vegetables back into the compost pile and the seeds will nestle into the hearty, rich compost and germinate for next year. I also thought quite a bit today about my blog and the monarch butterfly. How you, my readers, are like monarchs. You touch down, visit me here. I know you are here, I feel your presence, whether you tell me or not. Your visits here make me feel as hearty and necessary as a pollinator. Your attention, your beauty, is necessary to me. It fuels my creative life.

Where can we find some of your writing?

You can find some of my work in the following venues:

“Snug,” “Wishes,” “3 Cents,” and “Our Little ‘Rush’” in Thimble Literary Magazine
“Start Autumn” and “Scattering” in The Dodge
“August, Old Brickyard, Chilmark” in On the Seawall
“Woods Cycle” in Thrush
“Heaven and Earth” in Palooka 
“Everything Blows Away” (10-minute play) published by Senior Theatre Resource

You also previously worked as a therapist. What was the journey like as you transitioned from your role as a therapist to what you do now as a creative, workshop facilitator, and coach?

A writing participant in a group told me recently, “You make us feel as if our stories really matter.” That’s the takeaway I’m aiming for as a therapist, workshop facilitator, or coach: deep listening, an authentic invitation to share truth and beauty, and permission to write no matter what.

What are you currently working on?

I’m excited that Lily Press will publish my newest hybrid poetry collection, I poached a portion of my mother’s love letters to my father, in January 2023. These are erasure/found poems I created from the collection of letters my mother sent my father in the year before they married, 1953-1954.

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