Nancy Canyon

[featured image is “Pond Lily” by Canyon]

Nancy Canyon’s Saltwater (Independent Writers’ Studio Press, 2014, 2019) maps a life’s trajectory from childhood abuse and loss to healing. Though the chronology is from childhood to womanhood, the poems also march from a closed, inner space, claustrophobic, smothering — to an openness where even “skin to skin” contact evokes “meeting in the wilds, / running in meadows.” On the back cover, Mary Gillilan describes how Canyon “bares her soul in order to free it in poems told with white-knuckle honesty” — concluding, “Saltwater delivers the life of a woman from the inside out.”

I emailed Nancy with a few questions and she emailed back, generously sharing her publishing history (a novel, Celia’s Heaven, and an ebook of short-short fiction, Dark Forest, a memoir, forthcoming) and her influences:

I have put together a number of poetry books that I haven’t published yet. They sit on my computer, waiting I guess for a big collection of my poems, since I have over 150 poems in just one file. Many poems I’ve written during February Peace Poem month, April poetry month & August postcard month. Most of the poems I have published are in anthologies, such as Take a Stand: Art Against Hate, This Uncommon Solitude, and For the Love of Orcas. I favor World Enough Writers and the work Lana Hetchman Ayers does. I have a poem in her anthology Ice Cream Poems titled “Outdoor Theater Church.” And another poem, “The Thing He Secreted,” in Last Call. And I do love Crab Creek Review, where I was a fiction editor back in 2007. The journal was then run by some of my good friends Kelli Russell Agodon & Annette Spaulding-Convey. Kelli and I went to graduate school together at PLU. She is the person who got me started writing poetry. Writing poems helped my fiction, and it gave me a reprieve from writing long documents.
Nancy is also an accomplished artist (see her website to learn more) — no surprise as you can see both the arc and the artistry in the poems: some quite short, some in blocks of prose, some in shapes, but always with an artist’s deft touch  (“eyes vacant / as flat primer”). I asked Nancy about how she ordered Saltwater and she confirmed my suspicions: “As for ordering poems…I like connecting the story, color, theme or image within a poem to those elements in the next poem.” When I went back to the book, I could see this pattern everywhere. One poem, “Outdoor Theater Church” includes lines of a new father’s commands; the next poem, “Housekeeping,” begins “Father says: Clean your bedroom.” In later poems a twist of green in one poem leads to a raven’s whirling dance in the next.
It was a challenge to choose just one poem, but I think this one. It’s a late poem in the book, but the “sleeping children” carried at the end took me straight back to the opening:

Night Dance

A raven danced on my roof tonight.
He whirled beneath a silvery moon
dangling from an invisible thread in the sky.

Raven’s black eyes darted, lustrous wings
unfurled, feathers ripped through chill
of night air, gathering me into an embrace.

Like a coin flicked by a child, we spun at the peak,
burning a smoke signal of gratitude to Great Spirit
for carrying sleeping children in His arms.

—Nancy Canyon


I once traveled to Litfuse with Nancy and shared a house with her and two other poets. This morning I feel as though I just spent several hours talking about our childhoods and reading poems aloud, sipping coffee on the back porch like old friends. Next we’ll be breaking out the Merlot and putting our feet up.
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