All posts filed under: Features

Multi-part and ongoing series featuring essays, interviews and poems.

Kathleen Flenniken: “Augean Suite”

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 water samples tested well above the radiation exposure limits he helped set) or evacuating public lands (a particularly alarming stack problem at Redox Plant in 1954 resulted in widespread airborne radioruthenium contamination large enough to see with the naked eye) would do irreparable “public relations” damage.  Armed with his own calculations that scuttled “overly conservative” safety factors, Parker invariably erred toward maintaining morale. The italicized sections of “Augean Suite” are in Herbert …

Zach Savich: “Forms that Change”

Iteration Nets Karla Kelsey Ahsahta Press, 2010 In the second movement of her sophomore collection, Iteration Nets, Karla Kelsey details the process of echo and alteration by which she remixes lines from authors including John Clare, Graham Greene, and Lyn Hejinian: what was said? Parison? Comparison uttered after a silence dampening off the corn? Pair a son. Pear in sun. Pare the sun so that the roses glow forth. Bad this son. Pad a song. Sad too long in higher red asking to thank, to atone, to bask the centuries away. This associative stammer pops delightfully, like letters in a Boggle board, as it hotwires a misheard phrase. But Kelsey’s sonic playfulness is hardly free play. She anchors meaning as each iteration shoots forth, not refreshing the slate but adding to it: the pared sun circles back to bask us; the roses’ red returns after sadness. Because language lives in time, Kelsey’s playfulness thanks and atones for each move it makes, whatever freewheeling half-prattle forged it. Although our speech may be fragmented, such “speaking / …

On Kizer: “Her Own Woman”

In recent weeks, we’ve been publishing tributes to Poetry Northwest founding editor, Carolyn Kizer.  We’ll post additional material throughout the spring: for additional features in the series, please visit here.  Here, we continue with a spirited admiration, by Martha Silano, of Kizer’s ability to express and measure the inadequacy of “man’s / Ingenious constructions.” — I was in my mid-20s, living in Portland, Oregon, and newly enrolled in my first poetry writing workshop at Portland State University. My teacher, the wonderfully avuncular Primus St. John, gently broke the news, with each poem I brought to class, that I wasn’t quite yet Sappho. I wasn’t titling my poems, claiming I was following in the footsteps of Emily Dickinson, but when Primus shook his head and laughed at this defense, I took his advice. In retrospect, it makes sense that I would be taking my cues from Dickinson. Having just spent four years at a prestigious liberal art college in the Midwest, I received my BA in English without being asked to read or analyze a single …

Theodore Roethke Prize 2010

Eric McHenry is the recipient of the Theodore Roethke Prize for poems appearing in the Fall & Winter 2010-2011 (v5.n2) issue of Poetry Northwest.  Read one of the prize-winning poems,“Deathbed Confession,” below, introduced by the author. The Theodore Roethke Prize is awarded to recognize the best work published in Poetry Northwest each year. There is no application process; only poems published in the magazine are eligible for consideration.  To read the work of last year’s recipient, visit here.  For a list of past winners, visit here. The man who called himself Dan Cooper — and who came to be known, through a journalist’s error, as D.B. Cooper — probably didn’t survive his jump from the plane. (There was a time when investigators believed that only an expert parachutist would have attempted such a dangerous jump. Now most believe that only an idiot would have.) But if he did survive, I promise you this: nothing infuriates him more than reading about someone’s recently deceased husband or father who with his last breath confessed to being the …

Martha Silano: “Ours”

With the Spring issue of Poetry Northwest soon on its way, we bring  you a taste of what’s to come.  In “Ours,” Martha Silano puts her eye to the lens of our own sphere.  She writes: I’m not the first person who’s longed to write a poem where Earth and its inhabitants are presented to a being who has no clue about us, and for years I thought about letting loose my inner Margaret Mead right here on my own home turf. My initial attempts to create anthropologist-like poems failed, perhaps because while they shared cool stuff about our “lil” planet, they didn’t add up to much. These failed attempts taught me that I needed to push beyond mere pond side/ highway median reportage. As I began “Ours,” I fell into conveying a more furtive stance which quickly became a shaping mechanism for the poem—I was amused and intrigued by our business-as-usual systems of greed, waste, and overconsumption . . . and war-making.  But more importantly, I was pissed. As I wrote this poem, I …

David McAleavey: “Daylily season”

There’s both turbulence and calm in this piece, something like kneading bread dough. We’d been to see an emphatic production of King Lear with a gangster-era setting; the next day our clothes retained some whiff of the characters’ onstage smoking. (The full slap of Lear is itself sufficient to make you wake up dazed – more than a whiff of smoke remained!) The previous year my mother had died, aged 95, and a couple of months before I wrote this we’d buried her ashes alongside my father’s in an old family plot in Topeka. Lady Bird Johnson made it her cause to beautify Washington DC, in part by planting banks of daylilies along Rock Creek Parkway, and I often drive by a similar bank along I-66 in Arlington. Our house is built on a slope as well, the bank of a small stream, and from inside you can’t see some of the showy flowers in the yard below. I don’t have a shoe fetish, but sometimes a bold pair of high heels makes a direct …

Carol Light: “January Walk”

“January Walk” began as a post-squall “nature walk” writing exercise, in hushed company with a–fishing now for a suitable collective noun: sord? siege? muster? ostentation?–of eighth graders. Breaking the silence meant yanking the whole skulk back to a fluorescent-lit classroom, and no one wanted to be held liable for that. With sharpened pencils and index cards, we huddled through woods to a duck pond behind the school, recording observations of cattails and red-winged blackbirds, which we later composed into poems. I wrote alongside the flock, and found this poem calling back to an earlier sonnet of mine, started more than fifteen years ago, in a time of far less forgiving storms. Thanks to Kevin for his superior ornithology, and thanks to my Blue Heron brood of writers for walking me through this poem. (Carol Light) — January Walk The wind has twisted the tops of hemlock and fir; cones and needles spatter the muddy path. Rising from nearby chimneys: wood smoke and ash. A cold mist washes my cheek and cattails stir the breeze, climbing …