A Past More Perfect
The work of Oregon, in poem form
by Suzi Steffen
The anthology New Poets of the American West (Many Voices Press; $24) thudded onto my desk like the largest paperweight or laptop desk I’d ever seen. I promised to review this why?
True, I like poetry even though I read too fast for much of it; I have to force myself to slow by reading it aloud, which serves a much better purpose — to re-imbue poems with their rhythmic, musical, language-play satisfactions. If you think you don’t like poetry, try reading it to someone else, or even your pet. You might change your mind.
For our purposes, I only needed to read the Oregon poetry section, which turned out to be a mixed pleasure. Book editor Lowell Jaeger (who, along with an all-volunteer staff at Flathead Community College in Kalispell, Mont., put the book together — a true labor of love) says in his preface that “as a reader, I’m most pleased by poems made from the stuff of this world, the nuts and bolts of our daily existence.” That means a lot of the poems contain concrete imagery, much of which concerns the work of the working-class: logging, specifically, or other timber-related jobs; and for some of the poets, being a logger’s wife or daughter.
Ginger Andrews’ poetry kicks off the Oregon portion with the gritty poetry of North Bend — not the airport where business folks fly to get to the Bandon Dunes, but the North Bend where the fishing business isn’t so great, where the mills fail and people go to war and go to alcohol and put their dreams into church or the calendar hanging above the workbench. That feel of the West, instead of the feel of the Pacific Northwest with its rains and progressives and eco-warriors, runs through many of the poems.
Other themes emerge, especially those of aging, making choices that can’t be unmade, loss. Eugene poet Ingrid Wendt’s “Benediction,” about washing her mother’s dead body, strikes deeply into the heart of physical loss and love. There’s talent in this state, poets’ eyes seeing and sifting and understanding. Read the anthology to see into their worlds.
Oregon poets Ingrid Wendt, Maxine Scates, John Witte, Jenny Root, Joy McDowell, Harold Johnson, Pamela Steele and M.E. Hope read at 5 pm Saturday, Oct. 23, at Tsunami Books.