All posts filed under: Features

Featured essays, interviews and multi-part series.

Rochelle Hurt: “Bright star of disaster”

Yearling Lo Kwa Mei-en Alice James Books, 2015 Lo Kwa Mei-en’s debut collection of poems reads like a manual for self-destruction. There are a variety of personal and global apocalypses in Yearling, and most of them are rooted in what Freud might have described as a death drive. The book’s epigraph from Dickinson, suggests, however, that these apocalypses should not be read simply as endings, nor should this drive toward death be read as a form of despair. The epigraph reads: “The World is not Conclusion. / A Species stands beyond—”. In this world, catastrophe is a means of becoming a species beyond. Consider, for example, “Arrow,” a poem that positions the speaker as both predator and prey. Aptly, the poem strikes a tonal balance between divulgence and declaration, beginning: “Drawn, uninvited, I’m an animal with a price on her head, / wrecking a bed of wet pine: I steal through the field twice.” The hunted is also the criminal here. Audacious in her trespassing, she is both vulnerable and cheeky. She implores her addressee: “as …

John Duvernoy: “all of this is magic / against death”

What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford Frank Stanford Copper Canyon, 2015 I haven’t the space here or quite the foolishness to fully recount the legend of a poet who could out self-mythologize Bob Dylan, who tucked Lorca’s penknife in his bootleg and Breton’s throwing starfish in his belt of hemp. Suffice to say that Frank Stanford was no abject nihilist but an utterly unreconstructed romantic. A serious young man who would die before he ever grew old, he was prodigiously gifted and impossibly prolific. Beyond the sanction of any literary establishment Stanford wrote without surcease, leaving behind a vastly original body of work that is sepulchral, erotic, unabashedly violent, doomed, in love, and in a perpetual dance with death. His poetry is so drenched in mud that squeamish readers may do best to avoid it altogether. Indeed, the poet CD Wright once wrote about Stanford’s work that “if you’re not young and crazy, it may be too late.” I would ask who among us, sometime, somewhere, or hidden within, is not still young …

Katy Ellis: “Fires of the Past Meet the Blue Balm of Now”

Cloud Pharmacy Susan Rich White Pine Press, 2014 — In Susan Rich’s Cloud Pharmacy, we are at a mid-point, a reflective moment in a sincere and eventful life. We drift and we hover, but not passively. Cloud Pharmacy determinedly asks: Why chose to live this one life reluctantly? Though it is not the opening poem, “Clouds, Begin Here”, launches us into the undulating theme of burning away the past in order to heal in the present: It’s so hard to say what the dead really want. In the lost fires of the notebook, words stumble down the columns of green and white paper. In the notebook of the unknown index, blank descriptions, we lose our blue hours. Rich reaches into her childhood school days where she read books made of paper, … drank milk from small cartons (“American History”) but never with cloying nostalgia. To move forward necessitates a look into the past and whatever memories reside there. “Childhood Study: First Late August” shows us the fleeting bonds of young friendships:

The Subvocal Zoo: Danez Smith – Only in Safety

Poetry Northwest‘s monthly podcast series, The Subvocal Zoo, features editors and friends of the magazine interviewing poets. Each episode features lively conversation between writers in a different location. Episode 9 features Danez Smith in conversation with William Camponovo during the 2015 AWP Conference in Minneapolis. Topics of discussion include the importance of community; The Dark Noise Collective; composing for the page vs. composing for performance; Ocean Vuong, Chinaka Hodge, Patricia Smith; Yusef Komunyakaa; The BreakBeat Poets and the April 2015 issue of Poetry magazine.

The Subvocal Zoo: Michael Bazzett – Finding the Inner Weird

Poetry Northwest‘s monthly podcast series, The Subvocal Zoo, features editors and friends of the magazine interviewing poets. Each episode features lively conversation between writers in a different location. Episode 7 features Michael Bazzett in conversation with Justin Boening. Topics of discussion include a review of Michael Bazzett’s book published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesotan/Eastern European irony, the etymological opposite of “to remember,” recreating delight, Robert Hass; translating the Popol Vuh, and Mark Strand.

Rich Ives: “The Old Woodcarver”

As I pieced together the verbal knife strokes of “The Old Woodcarver,” I was remembering German imagist poetry and thinking about the Native view of animals as so much more than what we call “totems.” I tried to capture a woodcarver aware of his subjects as not only emerging from the wood, but entering him, playing an intimate part in his life, a process the artist must surrender to more than create. We sometimes refer to lucid dreaming in relation to such ideas, but it’s more like lucid sleeping, the acceptance of the value and importance of where our internal experience takes us when we invite it, as we do falling into sleep, a choice but an acceptance as well of what is both part of us and beyond us. This is a process that continues into waking, when we allow it, overcome by it as we find ourselves entering the dream creatures awakened in the life already around us. The knife is the instrument of separation that also creates. We may use many things …

Janie Miller: “X saying here” – Holly Hughes’ Sailing by Ravens

Sailing by Ravens Holly J. Hughes University of Alaska Press, 2014 Holly J. Hughes’ recent collection of poetry, Sailing by Ravens, is an immersion into nautical language and life, and an exploration of what it means to live with direction and drift, two opposing energies that tug our human lives. Sailing by Ravens is arranged in sections like compass points: north, west, south & east—each section accruing depth about navigating the ocean, experiencing the loss of love, and an exploration of human losses. The collection acts like a plumb line measuring the depth of the charts and maps that Hughes learned to love so young in her life—a plumb line of the self, that “faint tick tick of the heart.” The collection’s first section, “North,” draws subtle connections between map makers and self makers. “X saying here,” Hughes writes, offering a destination to be measured in degrees yet “wrenched from time.” The tension in this section quietly builds in the differentiation between actual and magnetic direction, in how the slightest metal objects on a boat can effect the path that will be …

The Subvocal Zoo: Sally Keith – Acting and Failing to Act

Poetry Northwest‘s monthly podcast series, The Subvocal Zoo, features editors and friends of the magazine interviewing poets. Each episode features lively conversation between writers in a different location. Episode 7 features Sally Keith in conversation with Dan Beachy-Quick. This episode was recorded in the galleries of Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center during the annual AWP Conference. The two poets discuss poems from Keith’s earlier books as well as work from her newest book, River House. Topics of conversation include: motion & emotion, Jorie Graham, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Agnes Martin, image & memory, and the joys of friendship.

Nomi Stone: “the air we scull” – Phil Metres’ Sand Opera

Sand Opera Phil Metres Alice James Books, 2015 In Phil Metres’ Sand Opera, we are asked to activate the ear in a plea against the eye. Loosely structured like an opera, successive sections of arias and recitatives act as hitherto unheard cries of captured Arabs and Muslims, interspersed with blues ballads in the voices of American soldiers. Indeed, Metres begins the book with two epigrams about the perils and seductions of vision: the first from Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and how its lacerating images “just stayed there in your eyes”; and the second, a query from Corinthians: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” As an opening wager, the first poem in the manuscript, “The Illumination of the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew,” enacts our visual consumption of that skewered flesh: “skin from limb/ their eyes// narrowing knives/ he balances.” The duration of the book acts as a rebuttal against such consumption, re-attuning us instead to the body’s cry and finding a lullaby in its wake. Metres’ resulting Opera is a carved …

Emily Warn: “The Almost Wilderness – Remembering Denise Levertov”

May 16 is Denise Levertov Day in Seattle. For a listing of related events, including a choral setting of Levertov’s poem “Making Peace,” visit St. John’s Parish. I’m waiting for the kettle to boil in Denise’s kitchen. It’s mid-November and raining. Out the window, the branches of her unruly pear are outlined against the gray sky. At three-thirty it’s already dusk. I look across neighboring roofs and down to Lake Washington where I can barely distinguish lake water from the black forest rising behind it. I pour boiling water into Denise’s serviceable yellow tea pot wide enough to hold four cups, swirl it around the sides, and dump it into the sink. I put three tablespoons of English Breakfast tea into the pot, refill it with water, and steep until it is black and strong. I set it on a tray next to a sugar bowl, pitcher of milk and a plate of cookies, and carry it all into the living room where Denise is sitting on the couch. Brewing a perfect pot of tea was our …