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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 …

Kathleen Flenniken: “Augean Suite”

Editor’s note: Kathleen Flenniken is the 2012-2014 Washington State Poet Laureate.  (Congratulations!)  On Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 3pm, she will read from her new book of poems, Plume, at Open Books in Seattle.  Details here. The accompanying photographs are not part of the original text of the poem, and are publicly available at The Hanford Declassification Project archives. The images, including those of Herbert Parker, appear unaltered  from the archives. — Herbert Parker (1910-1984) started the Health Physics program at the Hanford Works in 1944, charged with designing and implementing radiation monitoring systems for both workers (who must remain within “permissible” exposure limits that he, in part, established) and the downstream and downwind environment.  Parker created standards and methods in an industry that had never before existed. His team brought back proof of new and unforeseen contamination every day; monitoring must have been—I think, looking back—a terrifying adventure.  Parker embraced and advanced secrecy, and worried in now-declassified memos that an action like closing the Columbia River to fishing (in the 1950s, sediments, fish, and …

Stephen Kampa, “Watering the Garden (Till It Bursts into Flame)”

While some poems originate in incident and others in image, this poem arose from a musical motif that guided me forward (impatiens, portions), backward (patience, potions, passion’s), and then beyond as I explored other musical themes and variations (plots, spots, touch-me-nots; “rung to hear her wring harangues”; “wedded bliss” and “weeds that blaze,” “forages” and “for ages”). Listening to that music, I found myself writing a vignette about one of those homely, undersung virtues, which in addition to patience could include chastity, temperance, or humility. They are such painfully unsexy traits! Yet I believe that steadfast kindness, even in something as simple as sharing a little neighborly gardening, can invite grand passion, one that generates enough heat to be worth the wait. For that kind of passion, perhaps it helps to have a little magic—a secret potion—and all the better if that potion should be patience, finally getting its due (here in the poem if nowhere else) as not merely a sexy potion, but the sexiest. (Stephen Kampa) — Watering the Garden (Till It Bursts …

Molly Tenenbaum, “Afternoon Off”

It’s a big treat when a sunny afternoon coincides with a few hours off to enjoy it. When I lived in West Seattle and the day fell in my lap like that, I used to bike out to Alki, along the path by the water. As I rode, I’d think about how lucky I was to live in such a place, to ride by trees, sand, and water, and about how rare these free sunny hours. I’d watch other people out enjoying the same afternoon, and think, how lovely that is, how silly we are, how hapless, still enjoying things—but why not? and what else?—when the world as we know it is probably ending. Although I’d sit on a bench until my water was gone and the evening cooled, I stopped the poem before that. A poet has control, at least, over something. (Molly Tenenbaum) Seattle area readers: don’t miss Molly Tenenbaum reading at Open Books on Tuesday, January 24 @ 7:30 pm! — Afternoon Off Some out riding, some on skates, some promenading with …

James Bertolino, “Waves Again”

The Pacific Ocean has a huge presence in the Northwest—we live in a region where it’s likely everybody has, or would like to, experience ocean waves. And I mean physically, as symbol, and in the way the Pacific figures in stories and myths that have emerged over the generations. I wrote this poem as a way to both examine what I know about waves and to think in new ways about this planetary phenomenon. While I’ve lived within a few hours’ drive of the Atlantic or Pacific for over 30 years, my entire life has been spent close to water: ponds, lakes, creeks, rivers and the sea. Sometimes a wave is a ripple, sometimes a tsunami, but always an aspect of the dynamic life of water. Earth is the planet of water in this star system. (James Bertolino) — Waves Again What has not been said about ocean waves? That they resemble white chicken feathers in the wind? Or cream cheese icing on a carrot cake after you’ve dragged greedy fingers through it? Waves have a sense of …

Matthew Olzmann: “Notes Regarding Happiness”

I live in a state of near-perpetual distraction.  When writing, I have to force myself to slow down, focus, and limit the diversions.   However, this poem, “Notes Regarding Happiness,” was a little bit different.  Instead of trying to filter out the false starts and digressions, I tried to follow and exaggerate some of them.  So this poem was built through the accumulation of these weird little detours.  As a result, you get an epistolary happy birthday poem with shark attacks, plane crashes and members of an insane “church” protesting a high school play.  I suppose, in some manner, it all belongs together.  (Matthew Olzmann) — Notes Regarding Happiness Sorry, I didn’t mean to post that message nineteen times on your Facebook page. What I meant to do was wish you a happy birthday.  Instead, here are thirty random characters followed by fifteen more followed by an exclamation point! These messages must look like a language from the future, classified codes that will take years to decipher. They aren’t.  The only thing those signals say is …

Jeffrey Harrison: “Custody of the Eyes”

I’ve loved Hopkins since I was in college, and over the years have often returned to his amazingly energetic poems and vivid journal entries. But it wasn’t until I was preparing to give a talk about him a few years ago that I read a biography (actually, two). I became fascinated by his pivotal years at Oxford, where he came under the influence of his teacher Walter Pater’s Aestheticism just as he was feeling the pull toward Catholicism. After his conversion, he gave up poetry, only returning to it after a seven-year struggle to resolve (partly through his theory of Inscape) the contradiction between his love of earthly beauty and the demands of his religious calling. (Obviously, more was at stake for him than for those of us writing poems today, who might feel at most a vague guilt at perhaps being too attached to the pleasures of description.) Some of this is in the poem, and some behind it, my main focus being the strange (to most of us) notion of one of the …

Help support the Fall Fundraiser

On November 13th we’re hosting our first annual Fall Fundraiser and Haiku Hootenanny in Seattle. If you’re unable to attend but want to contribute to Poetry Northwest’s continued success, please pledge your support below. Donations of $75 or more will receive a year’s subscription, and be entered for a chance to win a Series Pass to the remainder of Seattle Arts & Lectures Poetry Series. We thank you for your generosity and support!

Tomas Tranströmer: “Haikudikter”

Congratulations to Tomas Tranströmer, long-awaited and much-deserved winner of The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2011. In honor of the occasion, we’d like to make available a recent piece by the Swedish poet, originally published in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Poetry Northwest (the “political” issue). —   Haikudikter 1. The power-lines stretch through the kingdom of frost north of all music. * The white sun trains alone, running toward the blue mountain of death. * We must live with the small script of the grass and the laughter from cellars. * The sun is low now. Our enormous shadows. Soon, everything will be overtaken. 2. Orchids. Oil tankers glide past. The moon is full. 3. Medieval stronghold, alien city, cold sphinx, empty arenas. * The leaves whispered: a wild boar at the organ. And the bells rang out. * And the night pours from east to west at the speed of the moon. 4. The presence of God. In the tunnel of birdsong a locked gate opens. * Oak trees and the moon. Light and silent …

Carolyn Kizer: “Jill’s Toes”

As summer burns to its dry end here in Seattle, we bring to a close our series of tributes to founding editor Carolyn Kizer with a look at a recently discovered poem. Featured in a recent article at the The Seattle Times, read “Jill’s Toes” (also in Poetry Northwest Spring/Summer 2011 v5.n2). Here’s hoping that with our contributors you’ve enjoyed revisiting the work of this essential writer. For a list of links to those contributors’ letters, essays and poems, visit here.