When COVID-19 wrecked her in-person book launch in downtown Camas, local poet-photographer Joann Boswell did what she does best: she got creative.
“I was going to do a book launch at Beer at a Time on May 29, but the pandemic delayed the book release and live events, so now I’m having a Zoom book launch.”
The online event, which begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 27, will celebrate Boswell’s 306-page “Cosmic Pockets” book of poetry and photographs with an international blend of poets and musicians.
“I’ll be reading eight poems … and have invited a couple poets to read their poems, as well. And there will be a couple guest musicians, including Garbanzo Jeans, whose identity is secret,” Boswell said. “People can buy the book directly from me and I can sign on Zoom and arrange a pick-up or dropoff, and my publisher will offer free shipping as well if they want to buy through the website.”
Boswell is hoping locals will not only watch the online book launch, but also support Beer at a Time, which had offered to lend the author their downtown Camas space for free.
“Maybe if you live locally, you can buy a growler or something from Beer at a Time (before the online book launch),” Boswell said.
Billed as “poetry and photography for sci-fi loving skeptical mystics, mothers, feminists, all,” Boswell’s “Cosmic Pockets” has gained several flattering reviews.
Ed Higgins, a professor of writing and literature at George Fox University in Oregon — where Boswell earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees — reviewed Boswell’s book for Christian Feminism Today magazine.
“Cosmic Pockets,” Higgins wrote, “draws you into the immediate, intimate conversation with Boswell’s varying subject matter, which ranges from personal autobiographical experiences to the universals of human joys and sufferings.”
Boswell, who moved to Camas in 2015 with her family — her husband, Matt Boswell, is the pastor of the Camas Friends Church and the couple has three young children: Clara, 8; Renee, who turns 6 next week; and Teddy, 3 — says her poems may challenge many readers.
The book follows Boswell’s “evolving understanding of faith,” she says, and gets real about spirituality, motherhood and being a feminist woman raised in a conservative Pentacostal family.
“I was raised in an evangelical family in Roseburg, Oregon, in a Foursquare denomination,” Boswell said.
Her family’s church was theatrical, with loud music and bright lights — something that appealed to a much-young Boswell’s love of the theater.
“But, as I got older, I was troubled by the production value quite a bit,” Boswell said. “I began to question some of the theologies that had bothered me as a child. As a female, I was taught to not really question those things. But my parents also taught me to be a critical thinker.”
A former high school theater teacher who has been writing poetry since 2004 and taking natural light photographs since 2000, Boswell said she didn’t set out to write a book of poetry. In fact, there are many days when she needs to re-read the positive reviews of “Cosmic Pockets” to remind herself that she’s not “an imposter.”
“It’s really incredible to read the reviews because I didn’t set out at the beginning of my life, saying, ‘I’m going to be a published poet,'” Boswell said. “To have this be happening feels really wonderful, but I also feel like an imposter because poetry is so subjective. I have a very unique voice, which I really love, but sometimes think, ‘Maybe I’m kidding myself.’ I start wondering if it’s not any good. When I have doubts, when I start to feel nervous about the book, I go back to the (positive reviews and blurbs) and feel encouraged.”
Boswell, who recently started a new job as the poetry editor for Christian Feminism Today’s “Untold Volumes” section, has published her poetry in journals and magazines, but “Cosmic Pockets,” published by Fernwood Press, is her first book of published works.
She credits a good friend from her college days with helping her renew her love of poetry.
“I have a variety of things I do artistically and professionally. For a long time, music was my main thing. Then theater. Then theater mixed with teaching,” Boswell said. “Poetry took me by surprise.”
Boswell wrote poetry when she was younger, but said she gave it up for nearly a decade when she returned to school to earn her master’s degree in teaching, started a job as a high school theater teacher, married Matt and became a mother.
When her youngest child turned 1, Boswell connected with her former college friend, a poet, and the two women started sharing poems on a weekly basis.
“She kept reminding me I loved writing poetry,” Boswell said of her friend, Lis, who also will read during the June 27 Zoom book launch.
Boswell wrote poems whenever the mood struck. She wrote about motherhood, spirituality, feminism, science fiction, Bigfoot, Santa Claus, you-name-it.
The end result is “Cosmic Pockets,” a book containing 88 poems and 142 full-color photos that will, according to its author, “complicate your understanding of what the world is and gift you with narrow glimpses of what might be.”
Who will love this book? Boswell said she warns people, even members of her progressive Quaker church congregation, that they may find the book “offensive.”
“I guess my target audience would be anybody who wants a really honest look at what it’s like to grow up female in this part of the country in an (evangelical) Christian home,” Boswell said. “I don’t hold back on religious views, political views and my views on the patriarchy.”
To learn more about Boswell, visit joannrenee.com.
To get information about the June 27 “Cosmic Pockets” book launch, email Boswell at email@example.com.