Martha Silano, Reckless, Lovely

RECKLESS LOVELY, Martha Silano. Saturnalia Books, 105 Woodside Rd., Ardmore, PA 19003, 2014, 88 pages, $15 paper,

I don’t think I’m alone in often picking up poetry books that remind me of my own poems—or poems a couple tiers up, aspirational Bethany Reid poems. But today’s book spun me, and made me want to tear everything down and start over.

Maybe by taking better notes in the Astronomy class I took from Bruce Margon in 1985. Maybe by taking my kids to more museums and fewer playlands.

No matter, it was my great pleasure to spend the morning with these poems, and this poet, someone I am pleased to say is, like me, a northwest poet. Or “northwest poet plus the universe.” From the Big Bang to La-Z-boys, it’s a book that drenches you in specific language, leaves your head buzzing with Astro-physics and Da Vinci, madonnas and Neanderthals. (And so much Italian food.) I hardly know where to begin. Maybe by simply sharing this profile from the Saturnalia website—which does a splendid job of capturing Silano’s many achievements:

Martha Silano is the author of five volumes of poetry, including Gravity Assist, Reckless Lovely, and The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, all from Saturnalia Books. She is also co-author of The Daily Poet: Day-by-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice. Martha’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, and the Best American Poetry series. Honors include North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Prize and the Cincinnati Review’s Robert and Adele Schiff Poetry Prize. She currently teaches at Bellevue College and Seattle’s Hugo House.

“Inventive, chewy language,” Aimee Nezhukumatahil informs us. Precise language, marvelously multi-disciplinary, fantastic, inspiring.

To prove my point, one poem:

Pale Blue Dot

Candice Hansen Koharcheck, I’m not sure how
to pronounce your name, but you were the first

to spot it, this two-pixel speck otherwise known
as planet Earth. Sitting at your screen, shades drawn,

office dark, you searched the digital photos sent back
by Voyager 1, four billion miles from your desk.

And there it was, not the big blue marble swirling
with clouds and continents, not the one Apollo astronauts

the sheer beauty brought tears—thanking God and America,
declaring no need to fight over borders or oil; this was not

that view; this was how our planet might look to an alien.
And yet how close this photo came to not being taken at all;

scientists arguing aiming the camera back at the sun
might fry the lens, questioning the worth of such a risk;

this shot you say still gives you chills, dear Candice,
our planet bathed in the spacecraft’s reflective light.

Pale blue dot lit by a glowing beam: I’m surprised
Christians didn’t have a hey day, though viewing

His his crowning achievement requires squinting.
When NASA put it on display at the Jet Propulsion Lab,

a blow-up print spanning fourteen feet, visitors touched
the pinprick so often the image needed constant replacing,

perhaps because without the little arrow we wouldn’t know
which pinprick was home. And yet its barely-there-ness

doesn’t excuse the plastic bags, duct tape, juice packs,
sweat pants that lodge in the stomachs of whales. And yet

its lack of distinction doesn’t pardon the brown-pudding goop
on the Gulf of Mexico’s floor, a goop in which nothing alive

has been found. To reckon that speck, mourn the loss
of the black torrent toad. To take it in, grasp its full weight,

then turn toward a child’s insistent give me a ride in a rocket ship!
With meteors and turbulence! Like you, dear Candice, alone

and in the dark while a loved one’s asking Where are you going?
When are you coming back?

—Martha Silano

A romp of a book. A gift. A call to ars poetica, and to arms.

To read more about Silano, visit her website, or this page at The Seattle Review (including a bit of a tutorial on endings, by the way); you can read a review of Reckless Lovely at The Los Angeles Review

Richard Hugo, 1923-1982

DUWAMISH HEAD, Richard Hugo. Copperhead, Box 271, Port Townsend, Washington 98368, 1976, 24 pages, out of print.

I have an extraordinarily busy day lined up, and beginning early, so I’m sharing with you a chapbook of poems by Richard Hugo, recently passed along to me by a friend who was letting go of some books. Copperhead no longer exists, and I couldn’t find any mention of it when I searched, but I suspect it was a precursor of Copper Canyon, as this chapbook was produced by Sam Hamill and Tree Swenson.

I can’t imagine that any northwest poet doesn’t know Richard Hugo’s work. Perhaps his collected poems, Making Certain It Goes On (Norton, 1984), is on your shelf, as it is on mine. But, just in case, here’s one poem:

Back of Gino’s Place

Most neglect this road, the concrete torn
and hunched, purple boxcars
roasting in the wind or in the sun,
both direct as brass. Only smoke
from two shacks and a scratchy radio
prevent abandonment from falling
on this lateral bare area like fog.

In the winter what clean nightmare
brought a sketcher here
to risk his hands, the loss of line
in this much light? Not the poverty
alone, but other ways of being,
using basic heat: wood brought in
by the same sea that is blaring
wealthy ships to a freshly painted port.

He was right to come. Light
in this place cannot kill the lines
of the charred boat, the rusted net,
the log-boom beached and slanted
waiting for a tide. Not when a need to die
here, just to be an unobtrusive ghost,
takes from mud and wood the color of the day.

—Richard Hugo

Reading these poems takes me back to my early MFA workshops—this would be 1988 or -89—when we were assigned Hugo’s 31 Letters and 13 Dreams (1971), reading aloud to hear the strongly iambic beats. Many of the titles here (“Duwamish,” “Duwamish No. 2,” “West Marginal Way,” “Duwamish Head”) tip us off to Hugo’s trademark evocation of place. Not just place names, but mudhens, cormorants,  teal, grebes, and salmon.

Hugo’s music is irregular. Sometimes he relies on the iambic 10-syllable line. Then he breaks the pattern and you’re not sure. You can trace the sounds by reading aloud the end words of lines, in the first stanza of “Duwamish,” for instance: river’s / knocks / crud / out-tide / sea / nails /ovens / owns / spines / bribes / coins. Almost all concrete nouns.  The ending of knocks chimes with crud, crud chimes with out-tide. Subtly.

His biography at Poetry Foundation includes this insightful paragraph:

In his poems Hugo reflected as much upon the internal region of the individual as on the external region of the natural world, and he considered these two deeply interconnected. According to Frederick Garber, “the landscape where things happen to Hugo goes as far into his mind as it goes outside of it”; Hugo’s poetry “is about the meeting of these landscapes.” The role of the past as a shaping force on the individual predominates. While “failed towns, isolated people and communities imprisoned in walls of boredom and rage,” as Michael Allen notes, are often the subjects of Hugo’s poems, there is also a pervading sense of optimism, of an uplifting hope, as Hugo puts it, “that humanity will always survive civilization.”

I was amused, looking up the book on-line, to find signed copies for $3 (the original price) , and for $150. My copy is pretty beat-up, and not signed. I think I’ll keep it.

Visit Poetry Foundation, linked above, or to learn more. I found the photograph of Hugo here.

I also found a couple videos of Hugo reading (listen for the cadence), including this short feature (5 min) from PBS. (However, when he’s talking, toward the end, the subtitle says “Ricky,” when he says “Roethke,” which is really annoying.)

Give Thanks

The Books I’m Thankful for Today


In October I enrolled in another Hugo House poetry class, again with the amazing poet, translator, and teacher Deborah Woodard. The class focused on the work of Fernando Pessoa, born in Lisbon in 1888. Our main text, Fernando Pessoa & Co., edited and translated by Richard Zenith, gathers together work by Pessoa and three of his heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos. Pessoa created entire biographies for these alter-egos and considered them mentors and colleagues. He is, Zenith tells us, “an editor’s nightmare,” but also a treasure trove:

Pessoa published relatively little and left only a small percentage of the rest of his huge output—over 25,000 manuscripts have survived—in anything close to a finished state. The handwritten texts, which constitute the vast majority, tend to teeter on the brink of illegibility, requiring not just transcription but decipherment. (Richard Zenith)

Pessoa prided himself on being impersonal, even invisible, a crossroads where observations took place. He deplores philosophy and metaphysics. I had difficulty caring about him for almost the entire stretch of the course. But…as usual…as I read and considered (and attempted to write my own poems), I began to feel curious about this poet, writing in another language, in another time, and living in a place I have never been. I have a feeling Pessoa would have approved of my journey, both the reticence and the curiosity.

Here is one piece, from the section titled “Uncollected Poems”:

It is night. It’s very dark. In a house far away
A light is shining in the window.
I see it and feel human from head to toe.
Funny how the entire life of the man who lives there, whoever he is,
Attracts me with only that light seen from afar.
No doubt his life is real and he has a face, gestures, a family and profession,
But right now all that matters to me is the light in his window.
Although the light is only there because he turned it on,
For me it is immediate reality.
I never go beyond immediate reality.
If I, from where I am, see only that light,
Then in relation to where I am there is only that light.
The man and his family are real on the other side of the window,
But I am on this side, far away.
The light went out.
What’s it to me that the man continues to exist?
He’s just the man who continues to exist.

8 November 1915

Alberto Caeiro


I’ve been reading—or reading around in—another strange book, this one titled The Ashley Book of Knots. It was written and illustrated (3384 numbered illustrations) by Clifford W. Ashley, and first published in 1944. My copy belonged to my paternal grandfather (a Navy Seabee during WWII, which must explain why the book looks so well-read; I could go on a bit about my grandfather—as he was in his 40s and had 5 children when he enlisted; he kept his paychecks [from what I’m told], but wrote letters home signed, “Your poet, Gene”). His name and the date, Eugene H. King, 10/14/46, are written on the inside front cover. I can guess that the book came to belong to my father in 1959, when his father died. Since 2012, it has been mine, and this year I finally took it down from the shelf.

I’m working on a little chapbook of poems (at least I think it’s a chapbook) to turn in for my Hugo House class project. I’ve titled it “Keeper of Knots,” after Caeiro’s The Keeper of Sheep. (Which begins: “I’ve never kept sheep / But it’s as if I did.”)


I’m immensely grateful to have been able to join Priscilla Long for the Elliott Bay Zoom / Eventbrite launch of her new book, Dancing with the Muse in Old Age. After losing my father at age 82 to a stroke; after accompanying my mother through ten years of Alzheimer’s, stroke, and skilled-nursing care, then her death at age 86; I had pretty much decided that I’d better get things done right now, because I would be decrepit very very soon.

Although I had read drafts of Dancing previously (I wrote one of the cover blurbs), it was wonderful and timely to read it again. Priscilla Long provides us with dozens of models of old creators, not all of them able-bodied, but all—in their 80s, 90s, and 100s—joyously still in the game.

There is so much great stuff here:

Our ageist stereotypes equate old with ill, old with decrepit, old with physical and mental decline. Yet the majority of people over age 85 do not require assistance in daily living and some of these provide assistance. (p. 15)

Long is also a science writer, and her book is meticulously researched. The information about cognitive development (not decline, not maintenance) in old age is something I wish everyone I know would read.

And, speaking of my mother, late in the book, in a section on elegy, Long writes:

Art can provide a shelter, a kind of home, a means of sustenance, for a person in the midst of the shock and sorrow of grief. At the age of 90, the pianist/composer Randolph Hokanson said, “I continue to play because I love music so. It has been the sustaining force in my life. I’d go down the drain without it. It was such a savior after my wife died.”

Is it too obvious to say that one advantage of growing old is to remain alive to the beauty and suffering of the world? To make an elegy is to express that beauty and that suffering. (p. 151)

Thus it has been for me. I love thinking that I will continue to be here (for another 40 years!), reading, witnessing, scribbling—and sharing my work with you.

If you would like to watch the video of my conversation with Priscilla, go to her website:
(you can clip past the first six minutes).

May you have an amazing holiday and holiday season. Thank you for spending a few minutes of it with me.

Claudia Castro Luna

Among my busy calendar of Poetry Zoom events this week, I was able to attend Tracing the Maps, a poetry reading hosted by Seattle’s Hugo House, featuring Carolyne Wright, Claudia Castro Luna, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, and Raúl Sánchez. (It is not available as a recording, but it should be.)

I had heard three of the poets in person, over the years, but I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard our Washington Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, read her work. And I was, frankly, blown away. The woman has such presence and poise, and remarkable, memorable poems full of striking and eye-opening images.

I recently bought a copy of her 2016 chapbook from Floating Bridge Press: this city, a collection of 19 prose poems and an introduction, “Invitation.” If you aren’t yet familiar with her work, here’s a sample to introduce you:

Aerial Equivalent

Each night evening lights, like birthday cake candles, draw out their
last breath. Curtains close over windows in hill homes and in seedy
motel rooms where families too live week to week. From thousands of
hushed, slumbering bodies the unspoken loosens up, levitates. Wishes,
anxieties, and aversions reach the heavens. They fly over the east, over
the west, by way of the north, circling hills and downtown. A formless
psychic soup occupies the aerial equivalent of the city below. Slowly an
invisible city coalesces, imperfect but peaceful, unlike its terrestrial
twin. By daybreak the buoyant city crumbles. Its detritus unadorned
and lodged in unsuspecting throats.

–Claudia Castro-Luna, from this city (Floating Bridge Press, 2016)

You can read more about Claudia at her website, (see link above) or at