To help heal our planet and ourselves, we first have to look outward to go inward. Jen Payne’s new book of poetry and photographs inspires us to do just that. Using the unique and cohesive symbol of the pocket dental flosser, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind explores nature and our place within our environment.
While it is not unusual to find a book’s theme related to nature and loss, Payne’s book turns loss personal and unnecessarily tragic by showing the wastefulness inherent in our actions. Payne directs the focus on the environment by her obsessive collection of photos of discarded dental flossers which serve to remind the reader of our most common actions and the consequences of those actions.
Shaped like little coping saws, the flossers are depicted lying where they were found—on pavement, pavers, dirt, concrete, and rock. Such common objects become centerpieces of individual works of art, but in their careless beauty, there is a glutted feeling of unwellness as if we, in our thoughtlessness, are too much for nature.
Payne’s poetry is the nuanced, living force of the collection. What drives that force is a love of nature’s beauties, a love that Payne wants readers to experience.
I will preach from the pulpit,
soar reconnaissance with the pileated,
nursemaid a wood duck’s brood,
survey the marsh with an egret,
meditate with the painted turtles
on a rock or the pine felled in a storm,
no matter, my profit immeasurable.
Though readers can feel the redemption of going inside ourselves to be at one with nature and the spiritual force, Payne continues to remind us how close we are to losing it all by our wastefulness.
On a personal level, once I finished reading Evidence of Flossing, I felt more in tune with nature and more mindful, but also began to notice what I had never spotted before: little plastic-framed flossers lying on the ground. Here is the flosser I spotted in the parking lot at the bank the morning after I finished the book. That was the first of many.
Soon after, I visited my dentist and told him about Payne’s book. He said that when we invented the flosser (and he did say “we”), we thought, as with much technology and “progress,” that they were an improvement over pieces of dental floss, never foreseeing that they would add to the waste on our planet. He wondered if birds get their bills caught in the flossers. Since I have been cutting apart plastic six-pack rings so that wildlife do not get stuck in them my entire adult life, I saw he was right about the dangers of the design. At least loose dental floss can be used by birds as material for their nests.
Look how Payne’s book got me thinking about the environment and sharing with others. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is inspirational, lyrical, instructive, and not to be missed. It is a book to be shared with others in a groundswell of caring for Earth and all our planet’s inhabitants.
Click on the book cover to purchase through Amazon.
Book Cover, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind (Flosser No. 007-1214 – Diner, Connecticut, December 2014, by Jen Payne)
About the Author:
Jen Payne is inspired by those life moments that move us most — love and loss, joy and disappointment, milestones and turning points. Her writing serves as witness to these in the form of poetry, creative non-fiction, flash fiction and essay. When she is not exploring our connections with one another, she enjoys writing about our relationships with nature, creativity, and mindfulness, and how these offer the clearest path to finding balance in our frenetic, spinning world.
Very often, her writing is accompanied by her own photography and artwork. As both a graphic designer and writer, Jen believes that partnering visuals and words layers the intentions of her work, and makes the communication more palpable.
In 2014, she published LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, a collection of essays, poems and original photography. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is her second book.
Jen is the owner of Three Chairs Publishing and Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993, based in Branford, Connecticut. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Branford Arts and Cultural Alliance, the Connecticut Poetry Society, Guilford Arts Center, the Guilford Poets Guild, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Installations of her poetry were featured in Inauguration Nation an exhibition at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven (2017), and Shuffle & Shake at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (2016). Her writing has been published by The Aurorean, Six Sentences, the Story Circle Network, WOW! Women on Writing, and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.
You can read more of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing, http://www.randomactsofwriting.net.
A big thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for including me in this blog tour!
43 responses to “Book Review of Jen Payne’s “Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind””
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Hi Luanne. Thank you for this thoughtful review of Evidence of Flossing. The flosser phenomenon is quite amazing, isn’t it? How we start to see them and wonder at their implications once we bring them into our consciousness? It is so important to be mindful of these things, to wonder at their impact…and ours…on this rare and wondrous planet of ours. xoxo
Thanks for writing this beautiful and thought-provoking book, Jen! It is indeed “rare and wondrous”!
I’ve never been able to work those dental flossers anyway. The string is easier for me (but I guess wildlife can get tangled in it).
I think we have to be mindful and less wasteful but wild things bring their own dangers. Tiny ticks spread Lyme disease and mosquitoes kill millions spreading malaria etc. Beavers change entire habitats and tigers kill other cute little animals and even their own children.
Seeing humanity always as the enemy usually leads to more hatred and waste. Humans are part of the world in all its beauty and waste.
It is true we all – humans and other creatures – inflict damage and dangers. It’s just that human have the ability to make choices about their behavior.
Very true, Jen, but it just seems that despite this ability we’re unable to fully comprehend the consequences of our behaviors until after. Sigh.
So very sadly true.
I can’t work them either!!!
Such an interesting perspective on the environment…so much escapes me. It’s like I’ve made a lifetime practice of assuming nature will be here.
Wrong. I can’t bear to think of the loss.
It can get overwhelming, but I think one of the “meanings” behind the flossers is that every little bit counts. Every little bit of damage, yes, but ALSO every little bit of awareness, right? : )
I can’t bear it either, Sheila!
What an interesting post, Luanne. Evidence of Flossing will go on my “to read” wish list. The inter-connectedness of everything becomes more apparent daily. With so much happening to wreck harmony with nature (don’t get me started), it is necessary to do whatever we can. A special kind of mindfulness needed in these times. That, and courage.
COURAGE. Yes! Yes! Courage to face what’s happening, and courage to make the change within ourselves…
Beautifully written, Elaine! And thanks for reminding about the courage needed!
While I like to think I’m aware of the waste I create, I’m sure my grade is still a dismal C or D, and I would not have thought of this with the dental flossers. I don’t use those kind myself, but I have, on occasion, bought them for my sons, thinking they’ll be more likely to floss if they have something like that. Guess I better rethink that.
Every little bit counts, right? My project for 2017 has been remembering to bring bags to the grocery store and not use the plastic ones. It’s just about making efforts – here and there – as much as we can…and being aware of the changes we can make individually to make a bigger difference collectively.
I bring reusable bags to the grocery store too. Now, if I could just get my husband to remember to do it too…
My grade is dismal, too, but I keep trying to improve.
I don’t even know if we have that type of flossers here Luanne – and flossing in the street? Nope, that doesn’t happen (yet) either. What an amazing book to bring the attention through something seemingly so insignificant to the enormity of our wastefulness and carelessness. I’m both enchanted by the talent and appalled at some of our lifestyle choices!
The first one I saw was in 2014, and it seemed odd and out of place. Then I started seeing them ALL OVER. Now, more than 100 photos later…well, yes, appalled, and called to action. It all starts with awareness – attention. Then action.
LOL, I’ve never seen anybody floss in the street. It’s hard to understand how they all get on the street. Do people actually use them out there? Or do they fall out of women’s purses? It’s a creepy mystery!
Living on a beach brings one closer to what we are doing to the environment. The fact is plastic never goes away. It gets smaller and is then ingested inadvertently by animals. Our shore is lined with small fragments as well as large plastic items. If only people would stop using it and then throwing plastic into the sea.
John, when I was doing research for this book, I discovered that there are over 4,000 active patents for dental flosser-like products. ALL plastic, no doubt. And that – despite the fact that we know it causes harm to the environment. You know, I’m sure, about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”? Yikes!
Yes. Yikes indeed.
Horrifying, John. This makes me so sad.
It breaks my heart, Luanne.
I was looking forward to hearing about this after you mentioned it Luanne. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these lying in the street here – though I’ll be sure to notice if I do. Such a mundane seeming subject and yet used for something so profound. I do hate that careless littering that implies complete thoughtlessness and disrespect for the world we live in.
It’s that carelessness mirrored against the beauty of the connections we CAN make with our natural surroundings that really inspired the book.
I was hoping you would see this book review, Andrea! I love how Jen does makes the poetic move of defamiliarizing a familiar (or mundane) object so that we rethink things. The “thoughtlessness and disrespect” is so hard to take.
It sounds like a fascinating book. I didn’t know what a dental flosser was though until I saw the photos. 🙂
My, aren’t you deprived! Seriously, you’re lucky you didn’t, really. Isn’t floss hard enough on the environment? Jen’s book is wonderful!
I find that once you start seeing them…you just can’t stop!
Thanks for sharing this info. I do not consider these flossers an improvement as they do not curve along tooth surfaces. Maybe they provide help for someone completely unable to manipulate regular floss. Thus, flossers are like so many modern ” conveniences” — mostly unnecessary, ineffective, wasteful, and dangerous.
I loved the nature images in the poems competing with / juxtaposed to flosser photos.
It’s interesting that you mentioned that about the flossers. I remember years ago trying one, and it didn’t work at all for me. What a waste in every way. I agree about “so many modern ‘conveniences'” ick. Yes, it’s a beautiful book.
I think the most striking photos in the book are the ones of the flossers in nature – at a trailhead, in the grass, hiding among the leaves. It just makes one wonder…why?
“Not to be missed” hm? Okay then, I’ll add it to the pile.
Because of the defamiliarization with the flossers I was more moved to up my environmental defense game than by any number of prose articles.
It was an interesting premise, I won’t lie. I added it and as you know, I seldom do. lol
I find it interesting that such imaginative poems can center around something like flossers! What a creative mind Jen has. Nice review, Luanne!
A very creative mind! Payne went where even Plath dared not enter. That whole thing about Plath saying she couldn’t bring herself to write a poem about a toothbrush.
This was a very engrossing review and I will continue forward making sure I leave no remnants behind, Luanne.
Jan seems like a reachable and entertaining, while educating us on the subject of our carbon (and other substances) footprints left behind. . . I like the sound of her mindfulness book, too. 👍 🏞 😀