Pictograph (back cover)


“An act of communion.” —YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA
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“If you would learn the earth as it really is,” N. Scott Momaday writes, “learn it through its sacred places.” With this quote as her guiding light, Melissa Kwasny traveled to the ancient pictograph and petroglyph sites around her rural Montana home.

The poems in this collection emerge from these visits and capture the natural world she encounters around the sacred art, filling it with new, personal meaning: brief glimpses of starlight through the trees become a reminder of the impermanence of life, the controlled burn of a forest a sign of the changes associated with aging. Unlike traditional nature poets, however, Kwasny acknowledges the active spirit of each place, agreeing that “we make a sign and we receive.” Not only do we give meaning to nature, Kwasny suggests, but nature gives meaning to us. As the collection closes, the poems begin to coalesce into a singular pictograph, creating “a fading language that might be a bridge to our existence here.”

Publish Date
5.5 × 8.5 × 0.25 in
4.4 oz

Melissa Kwasny

Melissa Kwasny is the author of seven collections of poems, including The Cloud Path, Where Outside the Body Is the Soul Today, Pictograph, and The Nine Senses, which contains a set of poems that won the Poetry Society of America’s 2008 Cecil Hemly Award.

Praise and Prizes

  • “These poems have brought me to my knees, a new catechism founded on the breath of ochre and stone. Among the careful script of the ancients, Melissa Kwasny’s vision has superbly located what it means to be human. What it means to seek answers, to mark the passage of time, and to leave behind remnants of hope for those to come. Through these poems of cosmic examination, we are reminded again and again that we were here. And we remain.”

    M. L. Smoker
  • “One feels, reading this book, that it could be read in any direction, begun at any point and still lead to beauty… . Reading Pictograph returns me to what poetry can be: a passage into life, a wonderment and awe at what is seen, what is remembered, and what disappears.”

  • “In Pictograph each prose poem is a compass that locates us within intimate natural details up close, never blurring the emotional optics of acute revelations. These praise songs turn a keen eye to the elemental made spiritual—the gift of breathtaking focus. Here, the pictographs and petroglyphs are alive with celebratory observation that connects to the good earth. Indeed, Pictograph is an act of communion through deep seeing and singing, and every glimpse rewards us.”

    Yusef Komunyakaa
  • “Part elegy, part ontological meditation, part fierce celebration of nature’s relentless evanescence, these luminously stunning poems interrogate what it means to be human—the profound yearning and profound spirituality of both human observation and human expression. In a gorgeous palimpsest, poems emerge in concert with ancient pictographs, only to become transformed into pictographs in and of themselves. I feel myself forever inscribed by the timeless art of Pictograph.”

    Lee Ann Roripaugh
  • “Melissa Kwasny makes us look, really look, at the ancient pictograph and petroglyph sites near her Montana home, which she describes in lush but exacting detail… . Beautifully coherent and immensely satisfying.”

    Library Journal