The Talens: Sisters United in Poetry

“A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves—
a special kind of double.” This quote by Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, describes the Talen sisters perfectly. Rachel and Kara Talen have known each other their whole lives, grown up in the same house, played the same games and even became interested in poetry together, inspired by their mutual English teacher Rodney Torreson. Rachel remembers a time when Mr. Torreson made her stay in for recess in 4th grade to finish a poem about a parrot because he thought it might win a contest. Now, both are in college approximately 180 miles away from each other pursuing separate dreams, yet they are still bound together by a childhood hobby: their mutual love of poetry.
Chances are slim that two sisters would place First and Second in the Student Division of the Kent County Poetry Contest in the same year, but the Talens have managed to achieve this feat: Rachel, writing with the poise and grace of the ballerina that she sees herself as when falling asleep, and Kara in her poem summoning the same sympathy for a widow that an animal seemed to express to her. Kara, having just finished her sophomore year at Trinity College in Illinois, placed first in the student division of the contest, her second time winning the competition, with her poem “The Companion.” "The Companion” chronicles the life of a woman after her husband dies. The woman buys a parakeet to keep her company, to fill the void of her loss. Talen was inspired to write this poem upon noticing that when faced with the death of a loved one, many people “go through a denial period where the tragedy doesn’t seem real” and must learn how to cope with their situation. Many turn to the mysterious relationship man has always shared with animals, the ability to love, and be loved unconditionally in return. Kara began writing in third grade under the watchful eye of Rodney Torreson and was rewarded for her hard work by placing first in the Dyer Ives Poetry Contest in 2002 with her poem “Zoo Keeper”. Inspired by an art class taken at Trinity Christian College in Illinois, Talen has the ability “to see paintings from words and words from paintings.” She prefers to write about imagined events or to elaborate on real ones because she feels more freedom to take risks in her writing.
Rachel, who just graduated from Calvin College and was up until recently the editor of Through the 3rd Eye, finds inspiration in ordinary things; the everyday experiences that most likely go unnoticed by most people don’t escape her eye. She feels “real events help readers relate to your writing while sending a more powerful message.” Rachel is not a stranger to winning poetry contests and having her poetry published. Four years ago, she won the Grand Prize in a national poetry contest sponsored by VOYA ( Voices of Youth Advocates), a bimonthly journal addressing librarians, educators, and other professionals who work with young adults. In addition, her poems have appeared in such places as The Louisville Review and The Puck Review. Her second place poem, “What I Must Look Like Falling Asleep,” came to her as she was walking out the door. One day, she felt the urge to write down a line and ended up writing the poem in ten minutes! Her poem calls upon the beauty of a ballerina to explain the poses she finds herself in upon falling asleep. Not a dancer herself, she is nevertheless inspired by the fluidity, strength and grace with which ballerinas conduct themselves. Many can relate to the battle it can be to fall asleep, maneuvering covers and trying to make muscles relax.
Two very different poems, along with two very different people have explored the emotions and hardships of human life, taking the reader on a heart-warming journey. Although neither Rachel nor Kara have chosen to major in English, both have felt the continued pull of poetry at their hearts. Rachel and Kara Talen are more than sisters who happened to win the same poetry contest in the same year—they are sisters inspired by the same teacher, sisters who would never write poetry at a desk because then it would feel like work, sisters who take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary, but most importantly they are sisters united by words that may or may not rhyme but are so often assembled into meaningful and aesthetically pleasing literary work.
The Companion (By Kara Talen)
She hasn’t been herself for days.
After he left,
She bought a parakeet and let him live on the piano.
She pounded life into the keys, the melodic vibrations
rattled the metal of its cage, and fed him music notes.
She stopped drinking coffee because
it made her dream in oil paintings:
a grassy knoll, a slick pool of water, sprouting dandelions,
the curvature of an old man’s spine, a scream.
As if splashed with small tosses of water,
the images became increasingly muddled in the nightmare.
Morning after morning, she’d wake into paranoia,
pat down the empty bed and find he was missing.
She would breathe heavily on the edge of the mattress,
drowning in the memory of that afternoon.
His limbs and the rapids both white
and thrashing, her cries echoed over
the desolate river bank surrounding them.
She held his flannel coat around her
on the way to the grocery.
Her fingers shook, as she pinched the zipper
and spilled out a copper constellation.
“I have to feed my bird,” she said to the cashier.
Finally at home
her songbird companion closed its eyes,
bowed respectably, holding her finger in its feet.

"The Companion" won First Place in the Student Division of the 2010
Kent County Poetry Contest and first appeared in Voices, the literary
magazine that annually publishes the contest winners.
Zoo Keeper (by Kara when she was 12 years old in 2002)
He never ordered a new uniform
from the first day of his
employment. The old one,
tattered, hung over his
shriveled body. The children
mocked him with piercing words.
The animals found him gentle as
he stroked their heads. He
cleaned their cages, without a
cringe or scrunch of the nose.
He favored the aviary; he
always sat and watched them
sing, felt their music ring
throughout his ears. His eyes
would smolder as feathers of
many wisped around him, their
enclosed chamber vibrating as
does the throats of the choir.
“Zoo Keeper” won First Place in the Elementary Division of the Kent County Poetry Contest sponsored by the Dyer-Ives Foundation.
What I Must Look Like Falling Asleep (By Rachel Talen)
My eyelids seal that barrier
between light and darkness,
reality and nonsense.
An ending, a new beginning.
The midnight struggle begins:
punching my pillows,
the constant escape from the sinkhole,
which my body brought upon itself,
the need to stretch my bones,
their joints, puzzle pieces
scattered across my mattress.
Sleep, my reward upon fitting them,
kicking, fighting off the covers--
sometimes friend, sometimes enemy.
I try to even out my mountainous hips with a pillow.
Cool spots temporarily relieve burning skin,
body parts dangling off the edge of the bed.
Side roll is too much effort--like asking a bear,
"Move a little to the left, please?"
Stomach hugs the bed. Flip.
Feet look awkardly perpendicular.
First position, second, third fourth, fifth.
Exhausted from trying to sleep,
as peace filters to my muscles,
I horizontally stand on one leg;
it is much easier after dark.
Now in passe, about to pirouette,
arms gracefully curved above my head,
the ballerina I can be in my sleep.
"What I Must Look Like Falling Asleep” won First Place in the Student Division of the 2010
Kent County Poetry Contest and first appeared in Voices, the literary
magazine that annually publishes the contest winners.
Driving with Dad (written by Rachel Talen when she was 16 years old)
With the turn of the key
my fingers pinched life into
the car. The engine
mumbled back, turning over
new possibilities. My hands
gripped the wheel. My nervousness
circulated, shot around
my stomach-jittering pebbles
thrown by the tires.
Dad, tense, leaned against
the unexpected. Those drastic
bends, never ending trails
of yellow and black
warning arrows, led blindly
into the dark.
“Driving with Dad” tied for First Place in 2006 in a national poetry contest sponsored by VOYA ( Voices of Youth Advocates), a bimonthly journal addressing librarians, educators, and other professionals who work with young adults

Works by Kara Talen

Works by Rachel Talen

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.