Poetry and Pictures

Maureen Hand and Jane Riley sign a copy of their book for a fan. Photo by Scott Mulford.

This past Saturday, Maureen Hand and Jane Riley held a book signing for their collaborative work Lemon Meringue Pie at Midnight at the Amsterdam Free Library.

The pair gave a presentation on their book, a collection of 57 pages of photos and poems. Hand read several of her poems and Riley discussed the photo for each selection.

However, it wasn’t the first time they had worked together on a story.

“We actually wrote an article on snowshoeing,” said Hand referring to an article published in The Conservationist magazine.

“She’s Lucille Ball and I’m her Ethel,” said Riley. “She talks me into crazy things.”

The project began last year as both artists recognized how each others talents had progressed. Riley had been taking photos for over 20 years and was published in the national magazine Peterson’s Photographic, and Hand had been writing poetry for ten years and had poems published in the Literary Gazette

“It’s motivating,” Hand said to the audience. “I need something to motivate me to write. So I started sending [poems] in.” Her poems touched on subjects that included her granddaughter Emily.

“It took me seven years to write this poem,” said Hand of her poem Roots. In the book, the poem is accompanied by a photo of her granddaughter sitting on the roots of a tree during a hike they took at Tenet Creek Falls near Northville, NY.

The photo took Riley only three minutes to produce. Many of the other poems also had photos from the local area.

For the poem Far from home, a stained glass window at St. Mary’s Church in Amsterdam was featured. That photo took a little longer to produce.

“We had to go twice,” said Riley. “It was difficult to get the shot because of the height.”

The window has an image of soldiers from every different branch of service.

“We were in St. Mary’s Church at the altar and found the picture for Far from home,” said Hand. “We ended up loving that picture.”

St. Mary’s Church was the setting of another photo for the book. A stream near Speculator was used for Canoeing on the Kickapoo. A cemetery in Canajoharie, a rocking chair in Syracuse, and a table at Russo’s Grill provided the settings for other poems in the book.

The title for the book also had its own story.

“It took three shoots to get the picture,” said Riley of the title photo. “We wanted it to look like midnight. Look dark. Tell a story. The third time we got smart. Stephanie (Persico) knew how to make a pie. But nobody drinks wine with pie. We needed a little composition.”

The photo featured a sliced lemon meringue pie with a couple of glasses of red wine. And while the red wine was simply root beer and cranberry juice for the photo, the title was meant to draw attention.

“We thought it was catchy,” said Hand of the title.  “We were looking for a catchy title. Why not use Lemon Meringue pie at Midnight?”

The original title of the poem was Requiem. It featured a photo of an angel in a cemetery, but the pair didn’t think it would draw attention.

“Someone bought the book on Amazon because they had to see the title,” commented Riley. “The title was something that would pull you across the room. The original title would not pull you across the room.”

Those at the book signing  wondered if the two would do a sequel.

“If we do it again we have some ideas,” answered Hand.

Jane Riley (left) and Maureen Hand (right). Photo by Scott Mulford.

According to the authors, they published their work through Troy Book Makers who own The Book House  in Stuyvesant Plaza and help self published writers.

“They do a lot of work,” Riley said. “They give you a summary of the costs and do a professional job.”

Lemon Meringue Pie at Midnight is available locally at The Book Hound, Old Peddlers Wagon, and The Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam. According to the authors, they have had success selling on-line as well as locally.

“We never thought we’d sell them this quickly,” Hand said. Adding that the book’s first printing sold out on Amazon leaving the them to contemplate a second run and reflect on the yearlong creative journey to publication.

“Looking back I thought it was fun,” Hand said. “It got me writing and thinking of writing. I need motivation to write. I wanted to write fiction but now I love poetry.”

The two artists mentioned they will be holding a workshop in May at the Amsterdam Free Library to help budding artists looking to be writers and photographers.

Following the presentation the pair complimented each others work.

“Her poems are flashes of life that fly by all of us,” said Riley of Hand’s poems. “They’re simple, short and not complicated.”

Hand said of Riley’s work, “They are so much more than snapshots…they just have so much emotion. ”

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.