Monday, August 2, 2010

The Writing Life: Myra Albert Wiggins

Many years ago I believed that writing prose was easier than poetry. It was the hubris of a newly minted MFA that had me believing this. What a great misconception to hold onto. My ignorance allowed me to write an article on the coming of the trains to the Northwest, "Train Time", which was included in Best Essays  Northwest. Now I'm working on an article about Myra Albert Wiggins (pictured on the right) and finding it  rough going. I've written over a dozen poems about Wiggins, her husband, her grandmother and her art work. And yet my essay is resisting being written. Maybe this is one of the steps in writing that I tend to forget about. How even when you know your subject intimately (I've been writing about Wiggins for several years now) it is never "easy".

My yet-to-be-completed article focuses not only on Myra's unconventional life, but also on the process of writing poems from photographs and historical documents. One thing I love about writing (after the fact) is that I learn things I wouldn't have been able to articulate without the writing. If anyone has questions on writing poems inspired by visual art, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below.

Oh yes, the photograph? That's Myra in costume while on her "Cruise of the Christians" en route to the 4th World Sunday School Convention in Jerusalem with her friend, Mrs. Park. The women are in costume and Wiggins is the photographer as well as the woman on the right.


  1. Interestingly, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has nothing on Wiggins, somewhat to my surprise, and when I searched the holdings of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, it, too, produced nothing, although the Wikipedia site indicates Wiggins' work is in the permanent collections. Perhaps I'll ask Joan of Art at SAAM about her.

    In preparing to write your poems about Wiggins, were you able to locate her work and sit with it or study it first-hand? And, if so, how do you think that experience informed your writing then or works itself through your writing now?

    (An aside: Alfred Molina came to the Phillips Collection to spend time with the Rothko paintings in preparing for the role on Broadway. I was privileged to see his performance. Clearly, he understood what Rothko was going for in the paintings.)

  2. Hi Maureen,

    There is one book on Wiggins' life, Witch of Kodakery, by Carole Glauber. I used her book, the Frye Art Museum catalogue of "Pioneer Women Photographers," Wiggins memoir, her poems, and my imagination when writing the poems. I will write a more complete answer to your good question once I've had coffee.