RAIN VIOLENT, Ann Spiers (poet), Bolinas Frank (artist & calligrapher). Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes WA 98223, 2021, 78 pages, $16, paper,

“In Rain Violent, Ann Spiers unfurls the ravages of climate change,” so Deborah Bacharach begins her Compulsive Reader review of this arresting book. Along the way, Spiers unfurls her own life: a child’s knees, dead bees, Dakota, chickens, China.

In his Raven Chronicle review / interview / potpourri of and about this book, Jim Bodeen describes the 61 short poems in Rain Violent as “compulsive” and interpretive of not only weather but of our lives. “We’re in this weather together, reader.” He talks with both Spiers and Bolinas Frank, whose hand-painted weather symbols illustrate and accentuate each title (please skip over there and take a look at all he has to say).

Do take note of the cover designed by Tonya Namura.

My own weather today (Rain Continuous: three black dots arranged in a loose triangle):

Rain Continuous

I wear rain gear always.
Some of us go naked, cycling
through the market. Everyone wears
shower caps, crinkling over coiled hair.

—Ann Spiers

The poems are 4-lines each, not much room to play in, you would think—though every line bears Spiers’ signature sound-play, “Electronic hearts skitter. / Data, like confused fighter jets, scramble” (“Wind Out of the North”); “Snake skins, shunting in the wind like riffs / from a broken guitar” (“Thunder Heard”).

The prose introducing and following the poems also drew me in. I love Spier’s biographical note, a Vashon Island, Washington, poet I have reviewed before, but should know better. And we get this from the bio note on artist and calligrapher Bolinas Frank, suggesting the depth and range of the symbols, not to mention the themes packed into this slim book:

Bolinas sees the painting surface as a skin, and his creation emerges on the intelligent edge where art and life interface. Through his painting’s stacked messages, he asks what is underneath things, what is on the hidden side, what secrets lie underneath, and what information asserts itself….His work speaks about migration, domesticity, atrophy, exposing underlying flaws and defects that are carried, delivered, and exposed. (p. 77)

Rain Violent is a fast read, only 244 lines of poetry, after all. But the format and the content work together to slow you down. I found myself pondering each page. Despite the one-poem per page, and the artful titles and international weather symbols as rendered (beautifully, starkly) by Frank, there’s also a sense of the book as one long poem. When I finished I went back and read it again.

I often feel an urge to leave you with something gorgeous. Instead, this:

Clouds Dissolving

Faucets dry. Streams silent. Pools
fill with brush. I spit on my finger tips
to wash black oil from my child’s knees.
From the air drop dead birds.

—Ann Spiers

You can read more about both Spiers and Frank by following these links to their websites:

Ann Spiers, Back Cut

BACK CUT, Ann Spiers. Black Heron Press, PO Box 614, Anacortes, WA 98221, 2021, 88 pages, $16 paper,

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

The glut
we net smelt out
of the wave’s long running
eagles snag silver scattering

so plentiful
their splishes racket up
stream    bear smell hot at every
trail turn

so thick
milked from the stem plunk plunk
in our buckets     fresh scat purple
with fruit

so much
we cannot stop
bigger loads just one more
woodstove glowing into the night
horse clams

—Ann Spiers

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