By LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY — "Journey to the Centre," a new book by Traverse City poet Ann Bardens-McClellan and Frankfort artist Eileen Paul Millard, is a walk through a gallery of images shaped by words and art.
It gets to the heart of life by exploring Bardens-McClellan's inner and external landscapes and Millard's rich worlds of color and shape — at the same time.
This is their second collaboration as poet and artist. The first was "Stone and Water," published by Canoe Press in 1992.
Both are retired teachers. Bardens-McClellan, a Central Michigan University English professor, taught until 2000. Millard, a Frankfort elementary school art teacher, retired in 2011 after 17 years of teaching.
The bulk of Bardens-McClellan's 44 poems and Millard's accompanying art in the 90-page soft-cover have been in the making since the mid-1990s. One drawing of Millard's son Alec, called "Waiting," goes back to 1981. He was born that year.
A mother of five, Bardens-McClellan went back to school at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln after her children finished college. She began writing poetry at age 45.
Millard, who also has a daughter, Elena, earned a bachelor's in fine art from the University of Michigan and a master's in art education from Eastern Michigan University.
Some of the poetry in the book was written specifically to go with Millard's art — a mix of watercolors, handmade paper, crayon, paper pulp, collage and triptych, but Millard drew only one sketch — "The Sphinx of Jazz" — especially to fit a certain poem. Bardens-McClellan chose most of the pairings.
"It has made me see my art differently," Millard said of the process. "When you make an artwork, you often have something in mind or idea. Or if it's spontaneous, it gives you other ideas. To read the poem Ann selected would fling me into a totally different idea. It broadened my idea of my art."
The two met about two decades ago through a mutual friend who saw similarity in their work. They also conduct "word and color" workshops.
Work on the project began in 1995-96 when Bardens-McClellan took a sabbatical and moved to Frankfort in order to have daily access to Millard's work.
"It was a magical year," she said "I wrote every day surrounded by Eileen's stunning artworks."
At the time, Millard had been creating mandalas from handmade paper, which inspired Bardens-McClellan to delve into symbols and myth.
In 2001, Bardens-McClellan was diagnosed with cancer and poured her heart into her writing.
Her poems span life experiences — beautiful, poignant, tough, sad and joyous — and also her love for the natural world and her deep look at life's mysteries.
The book opens with Millard's "Mind Light," an acrylic and wood on canvas from her Shield series that is also used on the cover. On the opposite page is Bardens-McClellan's poem, "The Centre."
"I learn to break the code," she wrote in two lines of the initial 14-line poem.
"It's autobiographical, but it isn't," Bardens-McClellan said of her poetry. "The impetus for the poems generally come out of my life but then I work to make them more universal. The more I work with a poem, the farther it gets away from the autobiographical event."
"Journey to the Centre" is available at Horizon and Brilliant Books in Traverse City and The Bookstore Ltd. in Frankfort. It sells for $18.95.