“Not much to spend here but time,” writes Connie Soper in her poem “January,” about a small town on the Oregon Coast where “Gray whales have migrated south” and “Winter sun unlocks a softer light/over scrubs of seagrass and low dunes, over/the long sleeve of shore.”
“Cold whispers its name/at night in the coyote’s call,” writes Amelia Díaz Ettinger in “Día de los Muertos” before reflecting on her Mexican ancestors in her adopted Eastern Oregon:
Their forlorn silence tastes of mold, incense, and marigolds There are no altars this far north, no carpets of yellow petals to lead the way. Could they find their way?
Each in her own way, Soper and Ettinger and the other poets whose books are published by Portland-based Airlie Press evoke the sights and sounds, moods and reflections to be found and experienced in the Pacific Northwest. What gives their evocations particular resonance and authenticity is that they all live in the region. They all breathe the air and walk the ground that informs their vision.
While the themes in their poems are those of poems from anywhere–childhood and death, art and language, nature walks and nostalgia–they are embedded in the specific soil and air, fog and lichen of their Northwest home.
When Soper writes of a tree, it is a “shore pine” that is:
done in by the fury of winter as I listened to wind that gusted heaving waves over the Pacific. All night that sea-power shuddered and thumped. The tree did not surrender
When Ettinger looks at a man she loves in the hospital, she sees how his Oregon childhood shaped him:
The operating theater saw an aging man. A damaged heart. But you had been a boy running amuck in the high desert. Climbing Jefferson racing your Jeep, leaving tire tracks on ancient lava.
Although many of the poems from these poets are rooted in places not far from each other, the differences in their subject matter and approaches reflect the wide variety of landscapes, perspectives, and backgrounds in the Northwest. There’s sea vs. desert but also concrete vs. abstract, external vs. internal, local-born vs. immigrant.
In “DIgging for France” Soper writes concretely of her father encouraging her as a child to try to dig a hole through the Oregon sand to the other side of the Earth. In “Drowning in a Foreign Tongue” Ettinger writes more abstractly of “the force of Anglican consonants/ that weighs the tongue like foam/inarticulate.”
What makes a press like Airlie so valuable is the meaningful mosaic it presents of the local people and land. While Soper writes of painting an old barn, finding driftwood art in an estate sale, and watching high tides, Ettinger gives us an Ethiopian child watching a lunar eclipse, a Cambodian manicurist, and a cowgirl lamenting that no one wears fedoras anymore.
The more diverse the Northwest grows, the more we need the variety of perspectives publishers like Airlie provide.
All poems in this post are from A Story Interrupted by Connie Soper and Learning to Love a Western Sky by Amelia Díaz Ettinger. In both collections, poems about places beyond the Northwest help to sharpen the vision they present of the local region. Both are published by Airlie Press.
Airlie Press is a nonprofit publisher run by writers and dedicated to promoting exceptional poets and poetry from the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 2007, it has a rotating staff of six poets who serve three-year terms, during which they handle all editorial and production tasks.
“Our process,” says their website, “involves the submission of a full-length manuscript of poetry during an annual open submission period and an interview for our finalists with current press members. Of the submissions we receive, we evaluate manuscripts thoroughly and select the promising work by authors willing to collaborate with our consensus-based group.” The poets selected become the new staff and the press publishes the manuscripts they submitted.
Attention, Northwest poets: Airlie Press’s reading period is happening this month! You have until July 31 to submit your manuscript! Here’s the submission page with details.
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For more about Arlie Press and its books, including instructions for submitting to them, buying individual titles, or supporting their work, click here to visit their website.
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