Local Poets Read

For me, the fun part is just being at home and writing in my sweatpants. And then being like, “I wrote a poem and I like it.” There’s nothing that compares to that. Nothing. Not The New Yorker, not The New York Times. I feel like that’s something that sometimes gets lost in our culture, where everything’s about building a brand before you even have an established creative process. Please, don’t be a poet unless the number one thing you like to do is write poems. And read poems.


If you’re a poet looking for more poets to read (or listen to) — here are three offerings by local poets today.  All events are free, or for a token donation.

John L. Wright, Thursday, April 29th, 2021    6:30 – 7:30PM EST / 3:30 – 4:30 PST

The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association is delighted to present a live poetry reading with Physician and Poet John L. Wright. His poetry explores humanity’s relationship and place among the fauna and flora of the natural world. Singer-Songwriter Linda Sussman will perform her original songs live. Join us in celebrating Poetry Month on Zoom! Register for this event here.

Kim Stafford, Sy Hoahwah, and Kathleen Flenniken, April 29, 2021 6:30 – 7:45 pm.

Books in Common NW Series–a reading and conversation with Kim Stafford (Singer Come from Afar, Red Hen Press), Sy Hoahwah (Ancestral Demon,University of New Mexico Press) and Kathleen Flenniken, jointly sponsored by three great Northwest book sellers — Paulina Springs Books (Oregon) , Madison Books (Washington) and Country Bookshelf (Montana). 6:30 – 7:45 pm PDT.  Free. Follow the link to find the registration. And notice that this is a series, airing every Thursday.

And finally, this from Tacoma Public Library:

Thursday, April 29, 2021
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm PDT
Online event

Join local poet Kevin Miller as he reads from his new book, Vanish, the winner of the Wandering Aengus Book Award and Kevin Miller’s fourth book of poetry. WAP Poetry Editor Tina Schumann says of the poems,

“Kevin Miller’s collection Vanish exists in the quiet certitude of lives lived moment to moment, hour by hour and generation to generation. These poems illustrate that it is the varied stuff of this life that makes us whole—farmhouses, sparrows and mackerel, smoke from a cigarette, candles in a window, a question asked over dinner—illuminating each small gesture and ache as they vanish into time, but permeate the living and the land they occupy.”

Kevin has received grants from Artist Trust, Tacoma Arts Commission, and was a member of the Jack Straw Writers Program. He was a Fulbright Teacher in Denmark and taught in the public schools of Washington State for thirty-nine years. He lives in Tacoma.

Kathleen Flenniken: POST ROMANTIC

It has been my great pleasure this weekend to reread Kathleen Flenniken‘s Post Romantic (University of Washington Press, 2020), and now to share it with you.

Kathleen Flenniken served as Washington State Poet Laureate from 2012-2014 and is a Washington State Book Award recipient. Her previous books are Famous, which won the 2005 Prairie Schooner Poetry Book Prize (University of Nebraska Press, 2006); and Plume, which was selected by Linda Bierds for The Pacific Northwest Poetry Series (University of Washington Press, 2012). Visit the books page at her website to learn more.

In preparation for this blogpost, I emailed Kathleen with some questions about her process in pulling together a book of poems. The two main subjects—marriage and America, as she says below—are both capacious enough to hold multiple threads (parents, children, art, reading, travel, environmental disasters). It made me think of Zorba the Greek’s “the full catastrophe”—it’s all here. “I’m trying to marry then and now,” she writes in one poem, “there are too many coincidences / to explain,” in another. Or, in the final poem: “As though we could string pearls into a necklace // of only good moments” (“Lilacs”).

I first asked, as I have several other poets this month, if she begins by conceptualizing the book, perhaps with a theme or title, or does it begin with individual poems that need a home?

My second book Plume was built around a single but also arcane subject—the Hanford Nuclear Site—so it was necessary to think of those poems as a collection as I was writing them. I thought, oh, I’ve graduated, that’s the way it will be from now on!

I had an idea to braid poems about my difficult relationship with America with poems about a long marriage, and I chose for my new project the title, “Post Romantic.” But in practice, I couldn’t seem to write as many America poems as marriage and family poems, so the balance felt off, and after several years I was still missing a central poem. I consciously let go of the “project,” though it was still in the back of my mind, and tried to focus on the poems I could write. That helped—that, plus some more years. When I finally had the makings of a book, I culled the poems that didn’t stand the test of time for me, regardless of their thematic fit, and I included a poem or two that didn’t quite go but I liked anyway.

Anything I can do to take the pressure off is a good thing. I find the idea of a “project” exciting but intimidating.  My current thinking is, better for me to pretend otherwise for as long as possible.

I asked, specifically, how she orders the poems. Post Romantic is without sections, so it’s both simple in structure and quite (pleasingly) complex.  Kathleen responded:

I love creating manuscripts. I love ordering poems. I think about it so much.  I’ve struggled over it too, each time. I decided as I worked on this third collection that I didn’t want sections. I wanted the poems to bounce off each other and between present and past, between the personal and domestic and the social and global, without interruption. And I wanted the bounces to be large but also traceable. For example, one poem ends with a memory of my son pulling a sword from an imaginary stone, like King Arthur, and the next poem begins with an image of a helicopter’s blade hitting a crane as it flies over Chernobyl. It’s a huge transition in subject, but that image of a blade connects both poems, and it makes me happy. The transitions are not all as neat as that but the connections are there. My editor, Linda Bierds, saw an earlier version of the manuscript that was less deliberately, or maybe consciously, connecting one poem to the next, and she encouraged me to push it as far as I could. It was such helpful advice.

Finally, I asked if she has a writing group. I think what I really wanted to know is, Once you’ve “made it,” do you need a writing group? Kathleen’s answer was an unequivocal “Yes.”

I’ve been part of a writing group for 25 years. I love my writing group. It gives me a deadline—I need to have a poem by Sunday. I receive feedback that I trust because I know its source. But there’s more. I belong to a team who roots for me. I have friends who enjoy talking about line breaks and poetry gossip as much as I do. We share our lives, eat cheese, and drink wine. I am privileged over time to learn deeply my fellow poets’ rhythms and craft and concerns. I’m there when they hit it out of the park with a brand new poem. I watch them work through difficult material, revise, and polish. I buy and read their books and marvel.  I mark the passing years with their poems and their friendship.

Here’s a sample poem, one that shuttled me straight back to my own childhood.

A Child’s Book of America

By the time I could read
its title—My Prayers—

I’d already learned religion
from my favorite illustration inside—

a blond girl gazing from a hilltop
at her American town below.

American because of the white church
and wide streets. And because

under the gabled roofs
the artist implied garden rakes

and comfortable rooms pungent
with furniture wax and clocks

that chimed, and in the kitchen,
butter on a dish, and in the closet

a button jar and dozens of bright
spools of thread. I resolved

to be just the same—blond,
and with a clock in the hall and a father

who came home to dinner
served in clouds of steam.

I learned America is a religion
and praying feels like envy.

The spirit has moved me again and again.

—Kathleen Flenniken

Other poems I considered sharing—her opening poem, “Instead of Sheep,” and “The 90’s,” but you can hear the latter, rendered visually (too), here:

All this, and I just enjoyed something very like a transcendent experience when I began Googling Kathleen Flenniken to weave together today’s blogpost with links and pictures, and came across the video of last year’s Town Hall launch Post Romantic. It featured Kathleen’s poems and a conversation with poet Sharon Bryan. I had a ticket for this event (and the book!) back then and watched live. What I didn’t realize until I re-watched it, was how much this presentation fueled my process as I began working on my new poetry manuscript. Here’s the link——so if you haven’t already, you can watch it, too. Much of the content of this blogpost is contained (or fleshed out) in the video.

Karen Whalley, “Family of Hard Workers”

So many poets, so little time. I barely dented my book collection, and left out so many other favorites. Next year, thirty more?

For the last day of National Poetry Month, I am pleased to recommend the poetry of my friend, Karen Whalley. I have loved Karen’s poems for nearly 30 years, ever since our mutual professor, Nelson Bentley, put us on a Castalia Reading program together. This poem, from her collection, The Rented Violin (Ausable Press, 2003), resides in the vast class of “poems I wish I had written.”

If I were giving assignments, this one might inspire us to write about what-happened, vs. what-didn’t-happen, and what that might have looked like.


I would like to forget
That I come from a family of hard workers:
Grandfather of axe handles carved
For the Georgia railroad, Grandmother
Of thirteen children flinging feed for the chickens
From a fifty-pound bag, forgive me,
I forget you. And if my father glorifies
What is, in actuality, a certain lack of choices
On the part of his relatives
Who rose at the cock’s crow
And made a day so similar to the one before it
That if someone asked what they’d done that day,
They would stand with their hands in their pockets
Then give you their one answer:
I whittled an axe handle. I fed the chickens. 
Then forgive me for not doing that, too.

Once, I kept a carved statue of a horse
On my window sill,
The right front leg crooked, like a little finger
Which made the horse seem always in motion.
It’s all I remember about the horse,
The arched leg ready to step
Into the green pastures of my imagination
And thrum with its hooves,
Churning up grass, unhaltered, unsaddled,
Its huge head rivening the wind.
Better if my family had said:
You come from a family
Where beauty matters.
Look at the horse, now,
Running for joy. 

–Karen Whalley

Finally, I can’t resist adding a link to Kathleen Flenniken’s The Far Field, with a poem by Professor Bentley: