Sue for two

"Islanders who know Sue Hylen as the park district's energetic cultural arts supervisor might wonder how she found time to write Double Exposure. In the midst of a busy life I just said 'I must do this,' Hylen says. Plus, I work with a lot of artists, and this puts me inside the process they go through. The publication is Hylen's first, although her writing has appeared in Exhibition Magazine, Stone Country and Spindrift, among others.Hylen, who turns 50 this year, calls the book her mid-life adventure. Double Exposure is more than an exercise in empathy, though, or a fun challenge; the chapbook is a fully realized work of art. The perspective that defines mid-life - mortality ahead, two-thirds of life behind - enables the poet to render a subtle and complex distillation of personal experience inaccessible to a younger writer. In Double Exposure, photographs of the natural world and written images of nature find their correlative in the emotional realm. Fused with Hylen's experience, they produce images of striking power.The carefully culled and sequenced poems move thematically from tension to release. In unsparing, self-revealing language, Hylen delineates anger, conflict, love and passion. I see the book as a story of poems and pictures that progress with an overriding theme, Hylen says. The pictures and poems are the overlapping landscapes and times of my life, and the overlapping roles - daughter, mother, sister, wife.The title poem speaks - as do others - to the double exposures of past and present, East Coast and West, physical world and psychological landscape:Beyond Murden Cove gulls soar into thin sky,like a lifetime of my father's kites,now free on broken stringsover Puget Sound, over Rye HarborHylen intended poems and visual art to have equal weight. She emphasizes that the photographs were not taken to illustrate a particular poem, but inform the text more subtly. In a 1997 photograph taken the day after Hylen's father died, five birds are perched so far apart on snowy twigs that the space between is what one sees. That image accompanies the poem Midwinter in New Hampshire (1980), in which a young woman walks alone in a dark landscape. Hylen credits poet Bob McAllister with encouraging her to write candidly. Hylen had found McAllister's and Nancy Rekow's writing workshop in 1986, after her second child was born.I liked him because he challenged me, Hylen says, and the whole approach was to write about what's closest to you and to be honest.Kris Henshaw, for whose recent book of poetry, Sifting Through Stones, Hylen did the photos, helped determine the order of poems. Kris helped me so much, Hylen says. She built my confidence. I would have thrown it into the garbage can, but for her.When Double Exposure was ready to print, Hylen decided to self-publish. She had found that publishers were uneasy about her dual role as writer and artist. In addition, Hylen knew she could handle her own promotion, utilizing skills she had honed for the park district.Claire Russell of clairVoyance Graphics designed the chapbook, a handsome production of remarkable poems and art. I hope this book will encourage others, because that's the whole basis of my job and philosophy, Hylen says, and because there's nothing like a project to put a little more life in your life. * * * * *Poets Sue Hylen and Ellen Wright will read at 3 p.m. Jan. 7 at Eagle Harbor Books. Hylen will read at Pegasus Coffeehouse with poets Kristin Henshaw, Leigh Kennel, John Davis and John Willson, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 9. Double Exposure can be purchased online at, or call 842-3566. "

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