Martha Skogen, an American poet, artist, designer, and researcher, writes about how her book sprang to life from creative opportunities in Trondheim. ‘The Glass Tree’ is a collection of Martha’s poems, illustrated by international children living here.
I have written poetry for as long as I can remember and dreamed of making a book for equally as long. However, I rarely shared my poems as poetry was a quiet and personal space for me. That changed in 2019 when I coincidentally attended Poesikveld (Poetry Evening), an event sponsored by Trondheim’s Litteraturhuset. That evening, as I sat in the corner with my young son, the host called for volunteers for the open mic. My son whispered: “Mommy, why don’t you try?” and to my astonishment, my hand went up. Suddenly I found myself at the front of a room full of people waiting for me to speak.
It was a sink or swim moment.
I stood up straight and gently read a few short poems from my tiny journal. The respectful silence was profound, yet I noticed people nodding, smiling, or even becoming emotional. People’s faces were full of thought. Then the glorious quiet became a thundering applause. Astounded, I scuttled back to my beaming son. Something incredible had just happened. I had experienced the power of words with people openly and turned a corner. Not surprisingly, I became a regular attendee at Poesikveld. The people there were incredibly supportive and often said, “you should write a book”.
The seed was planted.
I gathered poems from my full binders and wrote new ones, sometimes sitting by myself for the entire night. The book seemed to almost make itself. Meanwhile, I began to understand that my poems needed something more... something visual. As a designer and artist, I could do my own artwork, yet I wanted another view. I yearned for something unique.
The answer was hiding in plain sight.
I knew that children would bring something beautiful and special to my poems. An idea crystalised: I would ask children to illustrate some of the poems in my book. I approached Trondheim International School to pitch my idea and I was thrilled by the immediate support.
I was honoured to conduct a one-day workshop with grades 1-9 and the students’ work blew me away. They visually rendered the poems in clever, fascinating, and sophisticated ways — even some of their teachers were surprised. The student group is incredibly diverse which added a certain magic. I strongly believe that multiculturalism and diversity are worth celebrating and add to poetry’s power to explore the human condition. So I wanted my book to practice, not just preach, an inclusive approach. As the children handed me their work, I knew the book was truly making itself. Indeed, some of their interpretations of the poems have changed how I view the world.
Post-pandemic, the book was ready and the creative support I’ve experienced in Trondheim just kept being reaffirmed. Elusive Worlds, a new local publisher focused on featuring new voices and ideas took a chance on The Glass Tree, and the wonderful people at Skipnes Trykkeri up in Heimdal printed it (they also print The List). I am excited that it is currently available in bookstores and libraries around town. I am also deeply grateful — especially to Poesikveld. If I hadn't attended that special evening (and many thereafter), I would not have gained the courage to make a book.
Working with children as legitimate artists, especially in literature, is unprecedented. And this new literary genre sprang up from the cultural life of Trondheim! So I continue to support poetry events in Trondheim, such as PoesiKafé and Poesipub. These events welcome internationals and offer support for creative literature, no matter whether you are a novice who’s yet to put a word to the page or a published poet.
So my advice to you is: just go and join. Raise your hand for the open mic. Trust yourself. Write. You are safe. Challenges, and rewards, await. Try it. You will not regret it. Listen. Think. Observe. Enjoy others’ poetry even though it may be unfamiliar. Visualise images as they spring from words. Meet people. Keep writing. Break boundaries. Be inspired. And most importantly, let it all unfold.
This article first appeared in print in The List Winter issue 2022.