The Madrona Project, v. II / no. 1

“Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come” is a Chinese proverb that serves as epigraph to this new collection from Empty Bowl Press, selected and edited by Holly J. Hughes. In a time of drastic examples of climate change, in the face of predictions of “pornographic” damage to come (Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet), it gives me heart.

The collection features artwork from Jocelyn Curry, Susan Leopold Freeman, Anita Leigh Holliday, Sandra Jane Polzin and others, and poems and prose by a wealth of northwest writers including Judith Roche (1941-2019), and our new Washington State poet laureate Rena Priest. Woven throughout one sees the panicky facts of destruction: “A raft of debris as large as Africa” (Kathleen Flenniken, “Horse Latitudes”); “smoke / hangs like a veil, a scarf we can’t breathe through” (Sharon Hashimoto, “Back Fires: September 2020”). It’s time, these poems and prose pieces exhort us again and again: “We’ve stayed calm for too long,” and “It’s time to move quickly” (Iris Graville, “Not Just a Drill”; “Truth time” (Risa Denenberg, “Posthuman”).

And all that’s so worth saving calls to us from every page: “Surrounded by birdsong in many languages / walled in by forty-, fifty-, sixty-foot cedar, fir, hemlock / maples leafed out, honeysuckle beginning” (Ronda Piszk Broatch, “Apologizing for Paradise”); native blackberries “carry the taste of my childhood forest on a summer day” (Irene Keliher); “we pick up and play and write and sing and dance so that the Honduran emerald hummingbird the leatherback sea turtle the mountain gorilla the tiger salamander…” (Penina Taesali, “The Word of the Day”).


“Perhaps every poem I write is the same poem; a poem to you, child of the next world, I hope you have some hope,: Sarah Marie Ortiz calls out to the future in “River.” In her introduction Hughes says much the same:

“I hope our songs will spark your imagination, rekindle, and breathe life into these embers of hope. Together, may we envision a future that hears and honors all our voices.”



Holly J. Hughes

HOLD FAST, Holly J. Hughes. Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes, Washington 98221, 2020, 115 pages, $16 paper,

Rereading Hold Fast made my day. Among other superlatives I can offer about this collection, it’s a perfect book to hole up with during a pandemic. I knew this before Claudia Castro Luna, writing for The Seattle Times, closed her editorial (“Sheltering in Place, Our Inner Poet Soars”) with Hughes’s poem, “Holdfast.” (Click on the link to read Castro Luna’s wise words.)

One paradox of these poems is the way Hughes manages a deft and powerful critique of the world, while celebrating it: “all that can’t be said…./ the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down / to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, / the unseen, the unheard, the fragile….” (“If the River”).

And the epigraphs! This one, amid others:

If there is a world, let me be in it.
Let fires arise and pass…
Let the old hopes be made new.
Let stacks of clouds blacken if they have to
but never let the people in this town go hungry….
If there is a world where we feel very little,
let it not be our world.

Joanna KlinkExcerpts from a Secret Prophecy

It was difficult to choose just one poem to share. But I think this one:

Against Apocalypse

No more crying over spilt milk, turned wine, over rain
that won’t fall, over calendar pages leafing in the wind

as decades blow past, wind that once lifted tenderly
each blade of grass now taking down towns.

Meanwhile, the earth spins on her axis, day and night arrive
on schedule, but seasons on strike, certainties flown

with the birds, ocean lapping, hungry at the shore.
Why do so few say it: the end of the world at hand. 

Still we post photos of risotto, take selfies
at the beach of our bodies buried in the sand.

We hunker down with YouTube, binge
on Netflix, take up Zumba. Meanwhile

politicians lead us like lemmings for the cliffs,
while the rest freeze in future’s brights.

Meanwhile, the earth keeps spinning. Sun rises & sets.
Civilizations come & go. We won’t be the first,

though we may be the last. But remember your neighbor,
who showed up with a pot of chicken soup, still steaming,

the day you lost power. Another who shoveled you out,
drove you to the ferry in his battered four-wheel drive.

Who knows what’s ahead: fast burn or slow freeze,
asteroids, black holes, exploding galaxies?

If someday none of us can see the sun,
remember this: the world you want to inhabit.

I’m so glad to be in the world amid these poets and these books. Thank you for reading along with me.