Better harmony: Dad and daughter work on first book together
by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Dan Pohl and his daughter Jessie, Moundridge, decided to do something new together: publish a book.
Dan has taught at Hutchinson Community College (currently English, English composition and German; in the past, psychology and marriage and family courses) for 31 years, and has been writing poetry for more than a decade. Jessie is a junior art major at Bethel College.
At the beginning of this year, Dan saw his first book-length poetry manuscript come off the press as Autochthonous: Found in Place, with pen-and-India-ink drawing illustrations by Jessie.
“I’ve been writing poetry for 12 years ago, off and on, here and there,” Dan says. “[More recently], I started writing seriously, as in constantly. I’d see something interesting and then jot it down – those snapshot moments.”
Although he had produced a couple of chapbooks, “It took that long to gain enough courage to publish something [with a press]. The hardest thing for a writer is to put your stuff out there.
“The last two Kansas poets laureate had their contests listed on the Kansas Poets web page [kansaspoets.com], so I started entering and I started winning. That began to bring things to life. I began meeting some interesting, intelligent people across the Kansas poetry landscape.”
Two years ago, he approached Kevin Rabas, instructor of creative writing at Emporia State University, and Larry McGurn, a co-founder and board member for Washburn University’s Woodley Press (Rabas is also on the board). McGurn now chairs Woodley’s Manuscript Selection Committee.
The Topeka-based press is devoted to “exposing individuals everywhere to the work of talented Kansas writers.”
Dan found out his manuscript had been accepted just after Jessie completed her freshman year at Bethel.
“Jessie had started studying art and bringing home pictures,” Dan remembers. “We started framing Jessie’s art.” Realizing he’d need an illustrator for his book, “we began putting two and two together,” he says.
“He just asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said yes,” Jessie says.
“He’d choose a poem he wanted illustrated and describe it for me. I’d show him something or I’d give him different ideas and we’d talk about it. Then I’d try to incorporate that as much as possible.”
This was Jessie’s first try at book illustration, and it required some different artistic discipline. “We’d have to decide how they were going to set the art on the page: horizontal or vertical. We’d have to size the drawings to fit.
“The art I do on my own is more surrealist,” she continues. “But I have a love for pen-and-ink work. And I’d like to be well-rounded [as an artist]. So I thought, this could be a good experience.
“And it was. I did enjoy it. It tests your limits – you’re a surrealist and your dad says, ‘Draw a cat and a dog.’ It was different to try to do something ‘on order.’”
“I’d ask something like, Can you draw an Indian shaman raising his hands up to the sky?” Dan says. “Her image was even better than what I’d imagined. In the poem ‘Beyond Mexican Heat’ [the one with the cat and the dog], she got the eyes just right. The dog looks miserable.
“Larry McGurn was impressed with Jessie’s ability to go into several different genres,” he adds.
“It’s been fun to see Jessie’s excitement about this collaboration with her father,” says Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel assistant professor of art. “As her professor, I’m also glad to see that she’s been able to push herself into new subject matter. Who knows what future doors this could open for her down the line?”
“[Dad and I] know how to talk to each other, to be patient with each other,” Jessie says. “To see these two things, writing and drawing, becoming something that wasn’t in the world [before] – that’s a wonderful process to watch.”
“I trust her to know that [the book is] going out to people who want to be entertained, to enjoy it,” Dan says. “It’s like families who sing – you just get a better harmony.”
The book’s title, Autochthonous: Found in Place, comes from an item Dan “ran across in a science magazine. It is a geological term that means ... that a species or a singular rock formation is found only in that one particular spot on earth.
“That’s exactly what this book’s about – the people and places of Kansas and the things we do here,” Dan say.
He continues, “[Finding that term when I did] was a happy coincidence. It just came together. I’ve heard other authors say that same thing.”
Dan has enough poems for a second book, Unpaved Roads, which he and Jessie are already in the process of planning.
The North Dakota Quarterly has accepted Dan’s poem “Gone” for their William Stafford centennial celebration edition. Because of this, Dan will present the poem to poets and dignitaries at a corresponding event to honor Stafford, to be held March 31 at Washburn University.
“I’ll be reading with other Kansas poets – Rhonda Miller, Roy Beckmeyer, [past Kansas poets laureate] Denise Low and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and Bill Sheldon, a fellow instructor and good friend at Hutchinson Community College. We’ll sell books and Jessie’s prints. There are other readings of Autochthonous planned in the region, too.”
Dan’s Pohl’s book of poetry, Autochthonous: Found in Place, can be ordered from any local bookstore such as Hastings in Hutchinson or Watermark Books in Wichita, from Woodley Press via www.washburn.edu/reference/ woodley-press/ or through Amazon.com.