BACK CUT, Ann Spiers. Black Heron Press, PO Box 614, Anacortes, WA 98221, 2021, 88 pages, $16 paper, www.blackheronpress.com.
I had dropped by Edmonds Bookshop to quickly pick up Sharon Hashimoto’s book of poems, when this slim volume (too) caught my eye. The cover is black, but has darker blocks set into the background. The title, in white letters, is partly cut away.
On the back cover, testimonials from poets we’ve already heard from this month: Kevin Miller (“a love story weathered and brined in the wilds of the Washington coast”); Sharon Hashimoto (“mastery of such unspoken, yet tender emotions”). Inside, more testimonials. And the poet’s introduction:
In felling a tree, the initial deep undercut is wedge shaped. This cut determines the direction of the fall. Opposite and higher than the initial cut is the back cut, the first of the felling cuts. The labor varies with tree, axe or saw, and with the crew’s strength and smarts.
Having grown up not far from the wild Washington coast, I found familiar voices in this cycle of love poems. The husband and wife (whose voices alternate) scrape a living from the shore and the trees. They escape fires. The wife plays piano. The husband—a veteran of WWII—drinks. They make a life.
It’s difficult to excerpt this book (you sort of have to read the whole thing). But here’s a sample:
Putting Up For Winter
we net smelt out
of the wave’s long running
eagles snag silver scattering
their splishes racket up
stream bear smell hot at every
milked from the stem plunk plunk
in our buckets fresh scat purple
we cannot stop
bigger loads just one more
woodstove glowing into the night
Some of poems are in numbered parts. All are spare, no punctuation, no ands or buts — all those little “stage directions” such as yet, then, next, “I thought,” and so on that I find in my poems — anything unnecessary stripped away, life itself, stark, shining. The subject matter reminded me of my family, and these voices, hard-bitten, “briny,” took me back. I came away from it wanting to write, which is one of the reasons I value doing all this reading of poetry books every April.
Ann Spiers is poet laureate of Vashon Island, has several art-chapbooks, and teaches poetry writing. You can learn more about her (and you should!) at http://annspiers.com.