A new book by Janet McMillian Rives, a Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church member, will be published by Finishing Line Press in late May 2024. In “Thread: A Memoir in Woven Poems”, the author reveals connecting filaments of nature, place, family and friendship over her lifetime. From a “snow day” in childhood, to years living “in Paris”, to the “blaze” of a southwest desert, to being “called to stay” in the Midwest to finally moving “ahead” into retirement, she weaves prose narrative through her poetry. These hybrids capture the transitions of life in a lyric tapestry. Below is an interview with Janet about her writing.

When did you first become interested in poetry?

When I was a child, my parents had a book (which I now have) called One Hundred and One Famous Poems. My father taught me my first poem, “Little Boy Blue” by Eugene Fields.

How long have you been writing and publishing poetry and what do you like to write?

I started writing when I moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa in 1984 and soon after, began to publish poems in anthologies and inLyrical Iowa”, the annual publication of the Iowa Poetry Association. I like to write poetry and memoir essays.

Have you published other books of poetry?

Yes. In 2020, Finishing Line Press published my first chapbook of poetry, “Into This Sea of Green: Poems from the Prairie based on my years in Nebraska and Iowa”. “Washed by a Summer Rain: Poems from the Desert” was published by Kelsay Books in 2023.

Your new book has a subtitle, A Memoir in Woven Poems”. What is a woven poem and how did you come up with the idea of writing in this hybrid form?

About five years ago, I took a writing class from Molly McKasson through the Learning Curve of Tucson. When I said I liked to write poetry and memoir essays, she suggested I try combining those two forms and call the result a “woven poem”.

I took poems which I had already written, broke them into segments and interspersed memoir narrative. My manuscript of woven poems was edited by Meg Files, who also teaches classes for the Learning Curve. My thanks go to Molly and Meg and to Marge Pellegrino, another Learning Curve teacher, for their instruction and encouragement.

The covers of your books are striking. Can you say something about them?

The covers of my chapbooks were created by Kim McNealy Sosin, my friend and former colleague at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where we were economics professors. Kim is a photographer who applies artistic techniques to her photos. We have collaborated on several poetry/photo-art hybrids which have appeared in Raw Art Review and Beyond Words. I am grateful to have her work grace the covers of my books. “Thread: A Memoir in Woven Poems” can be preordered from Finishing Line Press online at janetmrives.com.

Aside from this upcoming book, Janet’s other book titles are referenced on the Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church website at mountainshadowschurch.org (see Member Musings), where several authors that are friends of church are referenced.

In fact, these authors and others have been invited to a Meet the Author Sunday during fellowship following our regular worship service that begins at 10 a.m. We’ve asked the authors to engage with our congregants and guests and to bring copies of their books for signing, selling and discussion. We are hopeful that this article and the upcoming “Meet the Author” opportunity will encourage new guests to come to Mountain Shadows and find it to be welcoming and a place that encourages individuals to develop and share their God-given gifts. We are associating this effort with practices of a faithful and fruitful congregation whereby, among other things, we demonstrate radical hospitality and extravagant generosity to our community.

We want individuals from the broader community to feel safe in coming to our church and empowered to share their talents and gifts. Using the “Meet the Author” forum, perhaps a struggling writer, not associated with our church or any church, might find solace in meeting a group of new friends who share writing as a passion. As our church begins implementing a new strategic plan for growing God’s kin-dom, we are open to new ideas for finding opportunities to engage with our surrounding community. For anyone with a passion about writing and reading, come and share your talent, gifts, insight and questions on Sunday, January 28. Perhaps new inspiration will stir in you.

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