RAPTURE AND VERSE
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
Virtually every day from July 2021 to July 2022, Lake Bluff author/speaker/possibility thinker Kathryn Haydon visited an outdoor house of worship.
Her sandy pew was a spot on the edge of Lake Michigan.
This vast body of water served as the daily, delightfully changeable celebrant—minus the vestments.
“We who sit, a soundless congregation; the lake, a sermon in waves,” Haydon describes, divinely, at the end of the first entry in her latest book, Unsalted Blue Sunrise: Poems of Lake Michigan (Prairie Cloud Press, 2023).
“Lake dimples where she smiles,” begins another. “Over there where the waterbirds flock. Beguiling, the lake, her dimple and her wink.”
A collection of photographs of Lake Michigan— clicked and arranged by a friend of her aunt Rita—inspired Haydon to grab a notebook and tiny pencil, observe the North Shore’s expansive gem, and paint it via words for nearly 365 consecutive days.
“My aunt’s friend positioned a camera in her apartment window that looks out to the lake just north of downtown Chicago,” Haydon says. “She took a photo every day over a year and then put them in a little handmade book. I was awed that on some days the lake looked like the Caribbean and on some days it looked like Siberia, complete with floating ice chunks.”
But Haydon originally had no intention of parlaying her home-to-shore ritual into her second book of poetry (What Do Birds Say to the Moon? was her first, in 2018) and sixth book overall. She wanted to see Lake Michigan change and shape-shift daily for herself, all while crafting poetic sketches to capture the great lake’s wide-ranging moods and oceanic personality.
“I’d return home each day and chisel the thoughts and observations I had scribbled on paper down to precise, essential words,” recalls Haydon, whose early frolics near Lake Michigan included skipping stones with her father in Door Country, Wisconsin, and searching for sea glass along Gillson Beach in Wilmette. “As I did that, I saw the poems take form and thought, ‘These should be shared with others who love the lake and want to be nice to it in order to preserve it.’
“It was a journey,” she adds, “full of connections, art, and serendipity.”
Released in June, Unsalted Blue Sunrise contains 45 poems. Each is brief, visual-centric, thought-provoking. Some are whimsical. Most are vivid, like the one that describes Lake Michigan’s fury (“The tempest spits; trees pound their fists onto haphazard clouds”) and the one that conveys a pair of hues (“Today an iridescent afternoon; pearly rose and blue silk stretch across the mirror”).
The beautiful work also happens to punctuate principles that Haydon presents in The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative, No Matter Where You Work (Ideapress Publishing, 2019), her book—“a mini course,” she says—about being willing to take a risk that can open your mind to being more creative.
“To write Unsalted, I challenged myself to visit the lake nearly every day to see it differently, observe it deeply, write my impressions,” Haydon says. “This improved my own creative endurance, to take a robust, original project from inception to completion. I am modeling the principles that I teach, with the effect that the book is awakening people’s deep soul thinking.”
There is considerably more blank space than text on each page of Unsalted; some of the vignettes stop short of 30 words and feature an array of disjointed stanzas. But it works, page after page, because the brevity and style team up wonderfully to allow the reader’s eyes to savor each word. Three poems in, you’re right there, near Lake Michigan, sitting inches from the poet formerly known as Kathryn Peterson of Wilmette.
“The type of thinking required to read poetry is the same type of thinking required to invent, empathize, and make new connections,” Haydon says. “To read and write poetry is to activate these thinking skills. Reading poetry provides surprising imagery and word combinations that shake up even the most casual reader’s perspective.”
Haydon lived in Wilmette and attended Romona Elementary School through first grade before moving to Wheaton and eventually graduating from Wheaton Warrenville South High School. She played tennis and basketball for Tigers teams and ran for the school’s track and field team for a season.
Commitments to the student newspaper, including a stint as editor, and community service projects kept her busy outside the classroom.
Haydon majored in Spanish and Latin American Literature and minored in Economics at Northwestern University, where she reconnected with Lake Michigan as a member of the school’s crew team.
After careers in banking and education, Haydon, a creative and innovation expert who lived in New York and California, founded the consultancy Sparkitivity to deliver training, workshops, and keynotes that help future-proof businesses and careers. All of her work is designed to help individuals and teams discover untapped strengths and optimize their most powerful thinking.
“I love speaking to community, business, and school groups, talking to the greater concept of creativity interwoven with poetry readings,” says Haydon, who holds a Master of Science degree in Creative and Change Leadership from SUNY Buffalo. “It’s been wonderful to connect with fellow lake and poetry lovers.
“My hope for Unsalted is that it stirs people’s love for the lake and nourishes their own creativity. People who’ve read the book are writing to tell me that they have taken up their own creative explorations. I call this the ‘ripple effect’ of the book.”
Kathryn’s husband is Ravinia Festival President and CEO Jeffrey Haydon. Their teenage son, CJ, is already an entrepreneur in the field of aerial photography. The family has lived in Lake Bluff since 2020.
Kathryn finds the village’s people and architecture interesting. She enjoys walking, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. Viewing Lake Michigan still leaves her breathless.
But before she enters the great outdoors, Haydon begins each day with a sense of gratitude, followed by some quiet time.
“My phone is never near me when I wake up,” Haydon says. “It’s always downstairs, far away. I like to read or write in my room before I do anything else. In an age where everything we encounter seems to narrow our thinking, creativity widens it, adds perspective, awareness, compassion. Most thinking—especially online—is reactive. People are spending more time consuming information than they are producing original thought.
“The more people that are using their creative thinking consistently, the better our world,” she adds.
For more information about Sparkitivity and Kathryn Haydon’s books, visit sparkitivity.com. You can sign up to receive her articles and updates at the bottom of every page on the website. Her book Unsalted Blue Sunrise is available at Lake Forest Book Store, The Book Stall, amazon.com, and Twigs, a florist in Lake Bluff. Her Unsalted poetry reading on Sunday, October 1, 3-4 p.m., at The Book Stall in Winnetka is free, but registration is required (thebookstall.com).