The Poetics of Ephemera: A Portfolio of Work in the Book & Paper Arts by Kristy Bowen

A Process Note

My roots and education are in writing, and for about the first 30 years of my life, words were enough to sustain me. To tell the stories I needed to tell.  To express the things I want to convey.  In 2004, there was a subtle shift in tectonics and a move in a more visual direction, that at the time seemed entirely a folly, but would eventually become a huge part of what I consider my artmaking. 
Part of it were the designs I was beginning to make for the  dancing girl press chapbook series–taking another writer’s work and finding or creating a fitting cover.  Part of it was a dissatisfaction with the limits of language.  Sometimes, projects are conceived as visual endeavors that merge with written pieces.  Sometimes written pieces demand a visual manifestation.  Ideally, they both develop in tandem and with each other in mind.   I feel like over the years, they have begun to inform each other even when attempted separately.  Working with collage has changed the way I construct poems.  Writing poems has formed the way I use text and typography in visual pieces.   Considering books as object, especially less traditional ones, has informed the way I create content and vice versa. 


from Lunarium



fable moon

Ultimately, I am misnamed. Somewhere a girl twirls her hair and moves, cherry-lipped through a shopping mall, sweetness aching in her molars and fingertips. I write pretty bird, pear tree, perfect peach and the universe stutters. I write how to manuals on desire. How to be your own best friend. How to disappear in a room full of strangers. But I feel like it’s already been done. In the beginning, I could not tell stars from snow. In the restaurant, I looked away and said you frightened me, but how to convey the boxes filled with paper and the polaroids fading under my thumb. The joints of my fingers ache and want is complicated by bath tubs and bra straps. Gin fevered, I file it under missing evidence. File it under restraint. I am the exact same percentage of water as an anemone. You say, it’s nice, but is it necessary? Consider the oldness of the universe. I file it under desire.




whiskey moon

You say only at the end does it all make some sort of sense. I dye my hair and it’s a little too red. Wind whips me around corners and I look like a girl who has fallen in with love with fire. It’s terrible the way things fall together like this. I put lipstick on and kiss the mirror with a greasy pout. I am dying to see how it all turns out. I wait patiently, making paper flowers and looking up synonyms for ubiquitous. You bring me four kinds of strawberries and each one overpowers the others. You bring me four finches and all they do is linger at the top of the curtain rod and make a lot of racket when we fight. Just because you don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Like gravity. Like longing. It’s terrible the way things come together like a zipper being pulled up, zipped out. You bring me four kinds of bourbon and I wind up crying on the fire escape. Only at the end does it all make some sort of sense.




honeyed moon

By now, the peonies outside are all rot and rotation. I spill a glass of wine and it breaks your heart. Spell out love on your back. Wait. Sometimes, I am dark inside and moist, like a hallway between two oceans. Sometimes it takes decades, like saying a word over and over. Finding the error in the map, folded and folded. In the bed, small animals move in and out over my sternum. I wait for some other disaster, something bigger than this desire of holes, full of teeth. Sometimes it takes century, the word like a stone falling from a very high place. I am smooth inside, hollowed out and filled with nectar. At the same time, lean and liquid and overflowing. Let’s pretend we’ve just met. Lets’ pretend we’re strangers. I am still dark inside like a fox. Let’s pretend we’re sleeping. Let’s pretend when the animals come for us.





from At the Hotel Andromeda




Dear J.

Dear accomplice. Dear hatch. I have unlaced my shoes. Have swooned against the white basin. Have broken into the box beneath the bed like a killer, hunting string and tiny bottles. Have gutted the fake sparrows just yesterday and pulled out their tongues. Dear ether. Dear torrid and marrow. In the kitchen, I held a ball bearing and died of mercury. Of heartbreak. Learned the intricacies of velvet purses. Danced. Wandered Coney Island til I was sick with nostalgia that wasn’t even mine. Dear long division. Dear poison thread. Dear cartographer. I was the bird in the window, the butterfly with pinned wings. The pirouette. The pas de deux. It makes no difference now. A bit of mesh, a bit of lace, and I’m singing. I’m broken. The stars outside the window very fake and yet I love them. I’ve kept all the letters. They please me to no end.




experiment in miniature



As always, I’m devastated by that shade

of blue. The hint of hotel rooms

and anything French. Tend to fall

for the short notes, the staccato.

This seasick vibrato, like the girl

that opened her mouth so wide

you could hear the wind inside.

Her wreckage of trees and wheel spokes.

One dance card, then another.


No one loves a brushfire, or worse,

a dirty blonde. The grotto with a thousand

bones rinsed so clean it was erotic.

You might carry them home in your pockets

like birds with tiny marbles for eyes,

newspaper where their wings should be.

Might cut their tongues out.

might name them for your own.




in the night theatre



there are far too many entrances

and exits. The girls who love

black shoes and vodka come and go

in the blue light, hiking up their skirts

and running their fingers along the edge

of the butter dish. They are easily subdued,

seduced by surgical pins and shards of bottle glass.

Now we’d call them nervy, a piece.

Insect-like, they collect more than their

weight in fishing line, tangles of silver

tinsel. Bent over the baby with a globe

for its head, its body a jar of watch parts,

they don’t feel a thing when the lights go out.

Don’t feel a thing when it’s emptied.





from Ghost Landscapes




Each morning, I am sticky and bright with wings,   broken with mock orange and overcooked eggs. Sometimes I dream I give birth to a horse in the middle of the train station, all unweildy legs and dark fur rippling. Once, I could create a space inside me and fill it with curious spindly creatures that called me mother. Once, I could create a space even INSIDE the words to hold off the dark. Could bring into being something that pushed along the edges and wove itself into the framework of my architecture. Now, I’m all void and riverbeds, the inside/outside game where I lose every round. Where my molars are aching and useless and as large as a thoroughbreds when I bite down on the conductors thumb. When I take the bit and fall asleep for days while he slowly strokes my hair.





When the conductor loves me, he does so with novocain and surgical wire. The dogs in the yard snarl as the field beneath the fir trees trembles. The conductor’s wife tells me to shhh, and I dream of her lovely hips, a jar of sea glass, the tiny fish in my throat that eventually will evolve into wings and teeth and fleshy tether. Together, she and I watch footage of a woman eating wedding cake and crying. She paints my eyelids the deepest azure and smears my lipstick. The conductor keeps drowning cats in the barn and calling me Sarah. The gate in the yard swings open, then shut.





from dreams about houses and bees


house destroyed by water, by wind

Darling, even now the closets are moth ridden, damp riddled.
No sooner have I put away the blanket, it returns sodden and
sullen to the bed.  Who is to say distrust is not parallel to affection
in equal measure?   To prefer Would you rather? to
Did you ever?  Spring distillates beneath the floorboards every
every March, and every March, I am brittle and predictable, trawling the
breakwater, demanding and hoarding every complement like
wet newspaper. There are tiny plastic horses hidden in the sideboard, and I
am afraid they are drowning.  That we all are.  Their sighs as
soft and cottony as the nest of hair I keep in the brush, the blight
that blooms the back of anything left unmoved for too long.  I have
oceans of scales that shift inside my lungs when I speak.  An entire
household of moldy accordians and curling linoleum.  I place a shell in my
mouth and hope for the best.  The horses are revealed to be dead
then alive then dead again.





house made of ghosts and small animals


For every love song, there is a broken dove skeleton
rotting in the eaves. A leaving, that requires
nothing but the door opening and closing just once.
A heaviness of suitcases and floor lamps and
record albums piled awkwardly in the trunk.
You see, my motives are mud dark, made of larkspur
and longing.   Soon you will find me replacing each dish
and hairbrush in someone else’s house,  replacing
p with q and mucking up the quick exit.  Will find me
ravenous and bleeding beneath the weedy undergrowth.
For every broken promise, I give you a ring of roses.
A prolific number of tiny mice inhabiting the baseboards.
Animal, vegetable, mineral.

The terrible goblin heart of my goodbye.




house of beautiful drownings


Believe it or not, the ghosts in my fingertips
love this sort of drama. The ache and swallowtail.
This museum of unruly saints. Every time they
come looking for broken windows, they leave
with rotting boards. With a shipwreck softening
in the space under their tongue. All my suicides are full
of wasps and winsome. Lady-like and decaying.
Once I could say I kept my deceit in my ribs, but my ribs
are serrated. This body, like all bodies burning dry and moving
heavily through the world. Sometimes, between the wars,
we set things on fire in all the backyards in all the neighborhoods,
swam in all the rivers, named all the things that frightened us.
Drowning. Poison. Spiders the size of our hands.
We were fast, fastened to the back of something
that looked a lot like hope moving up and over the midwest.
Now,   I go out with my coat undone and come back witch-limbed
and reeking of ditchwater. Swollen, swerving toward
blind curves and blacked out houses. If unhappiness is the new happy,
I’ve been shoplifting magazines and perennials. I plant them in perfect
circles around my busted washing machine.
Around my sequin-lined smile.



A writer and artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of six full-length books of poetry, including the recent salvage  (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and major characters in minor films (Sundress Publications, 2015),   as well as a number of chapbook, zine, and artists book projects. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and editing a chapbook series devoted to women authors Her seventh full-length collection,  little apocalypse, is due out from Noctuary Press in 2018.