Hunting Goodenough Days


Image of the word "Goodenough" from a gravestone.

Artist Bea Nettles uses photographs of names from gravestones to create poetry for her book projects. Her most recent book “Head Lines: Worlds Warning” is a chronology of the COVID-19 outbreak. Nettles found this name in a cemetery in Rochester, N.Y., and used it in her “Head Lines” book.

Courtesy Bea Nettles

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – HUNTING GOODENOUGH DAYS aptly describes what I am doing during the isolation of 2020. These words are surnames found among the 7,000 headstones that I have photographed during my travels to cemeteries seeking new names that are parts of speech – words that I can use to create poetry for my visual books that investigate language, history and life’s events.


Bea Nettles in her studio.

Courtesy Bea Nettles

I just completed writing my version of the COVID-19 outbreak: “Head Lines: Worlds Warning.” The surnames NOVEL, CORONA, VIRUS, MALADY, MASK, LEVELS, FIASCO, TWEET, FURLOUGH, SCIENCE, DOOM and HOPE were all particularly evocative in the creation of this recent book.

How do I find these amazing names? Sometimes I do extensive preparation ahead of time using online databases, looking for names that I haven’t already located. Other times, I just take my chances. I carry a PDF on my cellphone so that I can see if a name is already on my list. This was how I found GOODENOUGH in Rochester, New York. Let me take you along.


Courtesy Bea Nettles

I have limited time, as I am in town for the opening of my retrospective at the Eastman Museum. (It is currently at our Krannert Art Museum.) I am walking through ankle-deep February snow in Rochester’s historic Mount Hope Cemetery. It is overwhelmingly large so I pace the rows, scanning several at a time, wishing I had days to spend there. I spot the stone from a distance, delighted by my good(enough) luck.

Returning home, I add this image to my list, and a few months later the idea to write about the “head lines” occurs to me. I organize the poem chronologically, following my rules: only surnames, correct spelling and, hardest yet, using proper grammar.


Courtesy Bea Nettles


Courtesy Bea Nettles


Courtesy Bea Nettles


Courtesy Bea Nettles

It also is important to me in my projects with gravestones for there to be a conceptual reason to be writing with them. I have composed poetry about the seasons; American history using surnames of people who contributed to the history of a place; a poem about war and peace using only veteran’s headstones; the myth of Persephone; and Dante’s journey to the Inferno. Often a new name will suggest the next project.

My essentials include my cellphone camera with its ease of use and GPS; word processing for alphabetizing; digital tools that allow me to edit photographs for clarity; and the software critical for designing these books. Once the poetry is written and the pages of the books are printed, I fold and bind them in my studio. In this case, it has been fairly straightforward, a move from headstones to “Head Lines,” with the creation of a news diary.

My parting wish is TRULY HOPE YOU FARE WELL TILL SAFER DAYS DAWN.


Courtesy Bea Nettles

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