A Little Gypsy and Her Friend, The Tiny Jew

When I was in graduate school and in the midst of a blustery, winter residency up on Whidbey Island in the San Juans, my thesis advisor and poetry legend, David Wagoner stated at breakfast one morning—apropos of nothing we’d been discussing—the importance of keeping company with different creative types. “Painters,” he half-growled, half-whispered in his sweet baritone, “the photographers, the other artists. They’ll keep you sharp, keep you writing prolifically.” And then David went back to his quiche with shaky hands and slow-blinking lids. Nearly everything he said was gold, and I’m lucky to have gulped down every nugget.

I’ve been thinking about my master’s studies a lot these days, so nestled as I am once more in the warm cradle of my poetry roots while putting together The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss, my current anthology project. I never could have guessed that my training and education would eventually lead me to a project such as this—one that has grown far beyond my own stories and imaginations. Something so wonderfully kinetic doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in solitude; with every day that passes and bit of progress made, I realize how fortunate I am to work with so many talented artists from such varied backgrounds.

With contributors like Susan Firer, Phillip Memmer, Dana Gioia, Carolyne Wright, Stefanie Freele, Charles Webb, Kelly Davio, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Scott Starbuck, Rachel Mehl and Caleb Barber all lending their voices to the collection, it’s no wonder I’m already over-the-moon-thrilled to see this thing take its shape. But behind the scenes, there’s so much more taking place to make me feel near to bursting with pride.

When, at the eleventh hour, the cover art my publisher and I had agreed upon for A Real Emotional Girl was essentially banned by some of the folks at Barnes and Noble, I had a secret weapon: my dear friend, Anastasia Lake. Ana is a beautiful woman, a gifted artist and skilled graphic designer who was willing to step in and rescue my book cover with masterful ease.

Born of Serbian descent, Ana jokingly refers to herself as a “gypsy,” and naturally I, being of Russian and Jewish heritage, make up the “Jew” in our diminutive-statured pair. As close friends, we have a blast together without fail. As a pair of young artists, we’ve quickly come to read each other’s minds with the fluidity of those who’ve worked side by side for years. Collaborating with Ana on the cover art for The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss has been every bit as creatively satisfying as it was the first go-round, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

Yet again, I’ve seen my dear David Wagoner’s sage advice bear fruit: surrounding myself with the brilliant designers, photographers, musicians, painters, and phenomenal writers I’ve come to know and love over the years has proved one of the most beneficial nourishment to my own creative processes. Art begets art—it’s contagious, infectious. By its very nature, it wants to spread. To share and be shared.

This anthology project, above all others I have worked on and likely will ever produce, is about contributing to the ongoing dialogue about the human condition. This one isn’t about what I’ve been through, how I see the world, or what I have to say.

It’s about the experiences we all must share, about the threads that stitch each of us together whether we like it or not—piercing through muscle and viscera and heart. Some wounds heal, some do not. People need to talk about it, and artists know how to get the conversation started. All I’m doing is getting the gang together, beginning with that adorable gypsy, this little Jew, and a few other incredible ragamuffins spread all over the globe.

If you feel the fever, it’s not too late to join in. Don’t rob our crazy little project–or the world–of your voice. Contribute, speak up. Shout it from the rooftops. Email me at tanya@tanyachernov.com to submit to the anthology.

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