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Heidi Seaborn
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Next week, writers from all over will trek to Portland for the Associated Writers & Writer’s Programs (AWP) Annual Conference and Book Fair. Those of us in the Northwest are delighted to invite the writerly world to our rivers, mountains, ocean shores and urban landscapes. Attendees will find themselves surrounded by the natural beauty and a zillion poets who call the Pacific Northwest home. There may be more poets writing and publishing in the Pacific Northwest than anywhere besides New York City. Working together with Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Poetic Voices has archived digital recordings of over 450 poets reading their poetry. In Washington State, Kathleen Flenniken’s The Far Field blog, captured the work over 350 poets a few years ago. These are poets that are widely published, often professional poets. In Seattle, which carries the UNESCO City of Literature designation, there’s a joke that there are so many poets in the area that you need to swerve to avoid hitting one. “There is such a tremendous range of poetic voices and styles in the Pacific Northwest, “says Billie Swift, owner of the poetry-only bookstore in Seattle, Open Books. “At Open Books, we don’t have a Pacific Northwest Poets section because where would one begin? We have people come into the store seeking PNW poets. Their eyes widen as we pull book after book after book off the shelf. And then there are hundreds of literary journals and presses thriving in the region.” One of which is the renowned Poetry Northwest that is celebrating its 60thyear at AWP. Editor Erin Malone agrees with Swift: “Poetry is ubiquitous in Seattle and the whole Northwest— from the UW to organizations like Hugo House, to our indie bookstores, to reading series like Margin Shift, to our Writers in the Schools teaching our K-12 kids how to write poems. And because it’s such a large community, I feel like our writing scene goes against that dreaded Seattle Freeze. Writers here are very supportive and welcoming.” Claudia Castro Luna, Washington State’s Poet Laureate credits a rich ecosystem that surrounds and supports writers in the Northwest: "I have been pleasantly surprised at finding writerly/poetry communities in every corner of the state. This is heartening. I have also seen nascent communities in High Schools, but much more work remains to be done. There is vibrancy and yet there remain many untapped possibilities to involve immigrant communities as well as Native communities to share their songs and their stories." Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna and Oregon State Poet Laureate Kim Stafford at the Hugo House The poets working today have several legendary tall trees of Pacific Northwest poetry to thank, including Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, William Stafford, David Waggoner, Carolyn Kizer and Tess Gallagher. As Billie Swift says, “The Pacific Northwest poetry community has an exceptionally strong adherence to the poetic word." That word is both heritage and expectation. Oregon State Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford reminds: “How many stories, songs, chants, spells, and other native... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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On May 4th, the poems of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow will be auctioned off by Heritage Auctions in Dallas. The notorious gangster couple wrote poems during their two-year crime spree from 1932-1934 that included robbing banks, gas stations and shops and killing people along the way. They were eventually ambushed by the police in Louisiana and died in the shootout. The poems were written in a 1933 daily planner notebook that has been in the possession of Clyde Barrows’ family all these decades. Bonnie Parker was particularly prolific. Her poems are long sequences of rhyming stanzas that pull from the Wild West ballad tradition. You've read the story of Jesse James Of how he lived and died; If you're still in need Of something to read, Here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde. She likens their fugitive life to that of Jesse James and Billy the Kid. Long before Michael Ondaatje wrote The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Bonnie Parker imagined him in poetry, in a chance encounter with Clyde in her poem, “Outlaws—Billy the Kid and Clyde Barrow”: Billy rode on a pinto horse Billy the Kid I mean And he met Clyde Barrow riding In a little gray machine Billy drew his bridle rein And Barrow stopped his car And the dead man talked to the living man Under the morning star Billy said to the Barrow boy Is this the way you ride In a car that does its ninety per Machine guns at each side? I only had my pinto horse And my six-gun tried and true I could shoot but they got me And someday they will get you! Bonnie also used her poems at times to set the record straight when they were falsely accused: If a policeman is killed in Dallas, And they have no clue or guide; If they can't find a fiend, They just wipe their slate clean And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde. There's two crimes committed in America Not accredited to the Barrow mob; They had no hand In the kidnap demand, Nor the Kansas City depot job. While Bonnie and Clyde were glamorized in life and since through film and literature, their poetry reveals that life on the run was far from easy. Clyde (with misspellings) describes: As we travel down the highway never knowing where it will end. Never very much money and not even a friend We donte want to hurt annyone but we have to steal to eat and if its a shootout to live then thats the way it will have to bee. The outlaw couple knows that they are doomed and use their poems to express their fatalism. Their impending death is presented in their poems without bravado or fear, but an understanding that this will ultimately be their end: Some day they'll go down together; And they'll bury them side by side; To few it'll be grief To the law a relief But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Crowns off to Matty Layne Glasgow for his debut poetry collection, Deciduous Qween being chosen by Richard Blanco for Red Hen Press’ Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award in 2018. This debut collection is a forest of wonders, bejeweled with language that stings, flings, hisses and kisses all at once. This is a writer who pulls the teeth of childhood and holds them up to the light for the reader to see “like words that only shine/when they are free”, a writer who unearths the Texan landscape and sexuality in poems that burn hot and vivid. Glasgow revises the floral blooming coming of age story into “a bed of wildflowers” with the “lust & rust of a Texas spring.” There is lust and rust and love and shame, and loss threaded throughout this collection, as a mother dies and a boy claims his sexuality and life goes on like a drag queen on stage. The poem “how you go” includes erasures from Peter Wohlleben (author, The Secret Life of Trees) as it grapples with a mother erased from a son's life. In Deciduous Qween, people and trees are entwined as Glasgow reimagines human nature from our soiled roots to our lofty leafy limbs. Deciduous Qween will be available in June. In the meantime, here’s a taste: Ash Mama I never called you Mother Tree. May I now that your body felled you—bark sallow & unfurling from your hollow bones? I saw an emerald ash borer in your pancreas, watched it loosen your skin, swallow you whole in one month. They said it would take years. I never called you Great Ash, until that’s what you were— dust through my fingers, filling your own mother’s grave. You never called me seedling, your weak-limbed boy— frail-leaved & thin-veined in shadow. Every tree needs light, every crown wants to rise. We each wore ours differently. You died before your mother. No sun for you no head in star- soaked canopy. You kept me alive all the same, until they took you away, left your roots in the ground, bound to mine, as if to say Grow,baby. Reach, qween boy. Let your crown shine. deciduous qween, I of teeth, being shed at the end of a period of growth I forget how sharpness first emerged from my jaw the way milk teeth pushed through tender flesh how they scratched then chewed the insides of my cheeks just to tear another part of me raw. I forget the taste of blood a toddler’s iron on a toddler’s tongue the guttural scream of a small creature whose only language was pain. You remember. Tell me no toddler ever teethed with such indignation tell me your mama and I just wanted you to be happy to be quiet. But your baby just grew louder and louder into a gaudy and ungodly thing losing incisors and molars like enamel sequins shedding canines keen and shiny as plastic diamonds. They’d all fall out of my mouth like sighs so high-pitched they... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Are you or have you been in an MFA Poetry program? Are you over 50? Ok, then you’ve read Marianne Moore's “Marriage” and know it is considered one of the most important works not just from Moore, but of Modernism. [Ed: Marianne Moore's "Marriage" may be found in The Oxford Book of American Poetry.] Published in 1923, “Marriage” is a long, complicated collage of statements and quotations on marriage, gender and male/female relations that evolve into a dialogue between Adam and Eve and it still holds up today. The institution of marriage has fundamentally not evolved drastically, despite women’s rights, legalization of gay and interracial marriage. And Moore’s use of collage to create the overlapping conversation of husband and wife, Adam and Eve is perhaps more relevant today than ever. We can envision Eve and Adam, sitting by the glow of the television, iPhones in hand, scrolling.Without looking up from his iPhone or to see if he is disturbing Eve, Adam blurts out: “Treading chasms/on the uncertain foot of the spear” and continues on “Past states, present state,” his voice rising. Eve shifts a bit as Adam has interrupted her own social media scroll. But he doesn’t notice, busy blabbing on about nightingales, apples, before admitting he “stumbles over marriage,/a trivial object indeed.” Does Eve bother to look up at this admission from Adam? She does for a moment, wondering if someone had posted wedding photos on Instagram that she’d missed, glances over at iPhone. Seeing nothing, she returns to study her own iPhone. They continue on for a while like this, maybe a “hmmm” or a grunt of acknowledgement that the other has spoken. Then Eve lights up, reads a snippet from her Facebook feed “for love that will gaze an eagle blind” quoting her friend Tony Trollope, and then a jibe from Shakespeare’s Twitter feed. Now Adam is paying attention. He hates that she follows Shakespeare, some girl crush he thinks. Two can play at this. They both start going back and forth, throwing out insults gleaned from social media pals and (possibly fake) news sites. Adam cites John Cournos’ retweeting Ezra Pound—“a wife is a coffin” is met with “well, maybe she ‘leaves her peaceful husband’ that Eve snagged from a Simon A Puget’s fashion blog. Side by side on the sofa in the dim light of the television, they continue on, heads bent over their weapons. When the television volume turns up to air an ad from Daniel Webster’s “Liberty and Union”, Adam and Eve briefly look up before returning their gaze to the little screens in their hands. Marianne Moore would not be surprised. Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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In an MFA workshop last summer, an acclaimed poet declared that the moon was over, that it had been over used and needed to be relegated to the poetry graveyard with ravens and heart. Just like that. Done. The MFAs took note. No more moons. But I’m not yet ready to yield the moon. Instead I find myself now obsessed with it, guarding it from extinction. Like Diana, I hunt for moon references. Pounce on moon sightings. I keep an eye on the moon when it rises at night, as it lingers in the sky by day. I wane as it wanes, I am filled by its fullness. When a Super Moon blasts a hole in the night sky, I can’t look away, letting its spotlight hold me, entranced. I’m not alone. Google the recent Super Blood Wolf Moon and you’ll find over 55 million results. For one moon, on one night. When the moon eclipsed the sun a couple of years ago, the world looked up in wonder. The poets wrote. It’s cultural. Remember moon pies and Michael Jackson performing The Moonwalk? It’s historical. Remember Neil Armstrong’s real walk on the moon? Or just watch First Man and pretend you were alive then. In fact, the moon stars in nearly 1,000 movies according to IMDb. We croon to the moon, whether we are music fans of Oscar Peterson, Neil Young or Pink Floyd. Amazon lists over 20,000 albums and 60,000 books with moon in their titles. On poets.org, there are 107 pages of moon references. The poet Lillo Way has a prize-winning chapbook Dubious Moon [Slapering Hol Press] that is nothing but moon poems. Here’s one from Way’s book that captures the sensuality of the moon, its powerful draw: Frame the Moon Furred out, cased, paned and trimmed, the opening of a window. From my position here on the floor in supine half-spinal twist, my quarter-revolving eye catches a perfectly sliced-in-half moon centered in the upper right corner of the upper left pane of a window blued by a sky somewhere between baby-boy daytime and electric-transvestite midnight – the perfect globe cleavered by a celestial butcher-boy – the first half of hope, not the last, depending, I suppose, on your viewing point, mine being spine suppliant to floor, floor kissing earth and holding the kiss, earth sucking me hard, the half-moon mullioned and muntined, one four-millionth of a light-year away, beaming me up and off from here – half an inkling that, when the bones wave their white phalanges of surrender to whatever pulls us down – some unthing, some weightless, scentless, tasteless, wan thing, draws me up into a moon’s glowy, showy, half-assed bliss. The moon rules the tides of our oceans, of women’s bodies. It may orbit our earth, but we are in its powerful cosmic sway. Even Brenda Shaughnessy’s poem “I’m Over the Moon” [Human Dark with Sugar, Copper Canyon Press] where the moon is dismissed as: “A kind of ancient/date-rape drug” and “It’s like having... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Feb 19, 2019