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Poems & photos - Former teachers publish their first book

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - Updated: 10:22 AM


Only Jane Riley's closest friend was able to motivate her through the simultaneous loss of a spouse and breast cancer diagnosis by encouraging the completion of their first published book.

"I very easily could have rolled up in a ball," Riley said Monday, sitting next to her friend Maureen Hand. "She said, 'No, no. We have to finish.' Otherwise I couldn't have."

The two local women, both retired Amsterdam High School teachers, have published their first book of poems and photographs entitled "Lemon Meringue Pie at Midnight."

Hand, who wrote the poems, and Riley, who took the photos, have been friends for 35 years, but only last year caught up with each other's artistic side.

"We got together last year and it had been a very long time since I had seen anything she wrote and it had been a very long time since she'd seen my photography," Riley said. "We both went, 'Oh, wow. You got good.' We were impressed with the direction we both had taken."

Working with The Troy Book Makers, the pair published a small book of poems and corresponding photos in December, though they both admit it was a long, rocky road.

"If she had called me in October, November of this year and said, 'I can't do this,' I would have said, 'Good. I hate it. I don't want to do it,'" Riley said. "But then, when it was all over, we both said, 'That wasn't bad.'"

Hand laughed and added, "Yeah, let's do another one."

The interest, the pair said, is there and it's likely they will publish another set of photos and poems, but nothing is set in stone.

"It's fun," Hand said. "And it motivates us."

"We have fun," Riley added. "We always have crazy fun together."

They said the book is a potpourri of very "readable and relatable" poems.

"They're short," Riley said, "but they're full of emotion and impact. They're not difficult to read."

Hand, who was an English teacher at Amsterdam High School, said she knows how poems can be overanalyzed in the school system, but these aren't the kind of poems readers have to pick apart.

"I never liked, when I was young, poetry that you had to have a guide book to see what it means," Hand said. "I'm afraid maybe I did some of that to my students. That's how I was taught. What does a poem mean? I've learned that it means whatever you think it means."

The photographs, which Riley said she's transformed "from snapshots to fine art images," are a mixture of pieces she's had in her collection and shots she and Hand designed and produced specifically for a poem -- such as the cover image of a still-life table setting with a meringue pie and glasses of wine.

Riley hopes to hold workshops on how to accomplish that transition in May.

Saturday, the two will participate in their first book signing at the Amsterdam Free Library beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Hand will read her poems and explain briefly where the ideas came from. Riley will present her photographs on a screen to accompany the reading.

Their book will be on sale and they will answer questions from the audience.


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