April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of the occasion, here’s a look at four recent collections of Oregon poets.
Amelia Díaz Ettinger, “Learning to Love a Western Sky” (Airlie Press, 80 pages)
Eastern Oregon poet Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s collection “Learning to Love a Western Skies” is a moving companion for anyone wracked with nostalgia for their birthplace while building a life elsewhere.
The poems vibrate with the distinct flavors of Puerto Rico, made sensual in the poem “Patria”: “I can’t wait to see your beaches / your red soil / feel your warm breath against my shoulder / feel the pastels wrapped in / green hope and / planting leaves / to kiss my wise old man / and stroke your bony hounds.
It is not only the psychic cut of the exiled human spirit, by choice or by circumstance, that resonates most here – as in the powerful poem “Puerto Rican Diaspora” – but also the antidote offered by the presence in the here and now, reminding us that the concept of home can reach as far and limitless as the sky itself.
With grace and a direct, gentle touch, the writer collects the bounty of holding two houses in her heart, while exploring the winding paths of aging, memory, loss and fear, ultimately creating a richer landscape. than any earthly place – the most tender place to cherish resides.
Gary Lark, “Easter Creek” (Main Street Rag, 80 pages)
Organized into four sections: Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, Gary Lark’s latest collection, “Easter Creek,” deftly guides us through life’s seasons with narrative poems offering insight into small-town dwellers who love, go, dance, dream and die, and somehow – whatever their offenses – root for them.
A master of dialogue and crafting the richest scenes with the essential, the poet captures the whirlwind of young love, longing for longing and everything in between.
Clear and frank, the collection elevates and disarms, so we are drawn into a real place of benevolence. Consider the opening line of one of the most powerful offerings, “Broken Clock” about a father’s grief and fury at his brother who bears the blame for his boy’s death: “How could he confuse a boy lean / twelve years old with a deer?” And his conclusion: “A little rag of flesh, almost nothing really, / on this shiny table in the fragrant air / and there is nothing to do.”
Lark’s greatest gift is his ability to lift us out of the ordinary and hint at depth, reminding us of our good fortune to have writers who keep track of our brilliant and thrilling lives.
Joe Wilkins, “Thief” (Lynx House Press, 80 pages)
“Thieve” by Joe Wilkins, winner of the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry, is a powerful collection. Unyielding, visceral, imaginative, and rendered with galvanic precision, the poems thunder through gritty geographies of place and psyche, revealing the ruptures created by the divisions between the two.
The overall arrangement is particularly pleasing. Several of the poem titles return, including “Poem Against the Collapse of the Republic”, “Explain”, and “Lost Boys of the Upper Great Plains”. These run like distinctive currents throughout and lend themselves to an overall gestalt as satisfying as a fine musical album that leaves noise and echo in its wake.
I cannot overstate how delightful the reading experience is, to be savored in a single sitting – a rare feat enhanced by the author’s panoramic prosody opening up multiple avenues to enter the poems. Wilkins uses the hyphen to create robust compounds conveying complete worlds: “meth-sad”; “clack of rock”; “killed by a wolf”.
The poet’s work is fresh and uplifting, as in “Explain: Harvest”: “… & now there is another life, / & I tell you, my child, there is only one / good luck, & it is to choose / your own gods & ghosts, your own / atrocious stars.
John Sibley Williams, “The Drowning House” (Elixir Press, 102 pages)
The impeccable Oregon poet, John Sibley Williams, is back, captivating as ever. His latest offering, Elixir Press Poetry Award-winning “The Drowning House,” proves why he’s one of our state’s most important voices.
Williams tackles our collective transgressions with the clarity of a sage. It involves all of us, not so much for our ignorance, but for something worse – indifference, habituation.
In “Assimilation”, he writes: “If it is true that we are all cross-examined by the same light, why / my son and my daughter / do they sleep soundly under white waves of cotton and candle? / The moon above without weapons.
The poet is a master craftsman. He builds a house with a welcoming porch, but as soon as you enter to admire the architecture, you discover dark corners and spiral staircases that lead to other houses.
These poems are not always easy to read. The truths they reveal require a great deal of reckoning, but the poet who once said in an interview: “I just can’t tell if I don’t love enough or if I love too much, and what are the consequences for one or the other,” always seems to possess one thing that might seem almost unattainable these days: hope.