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T-town stanzas

Anthology highlights local poets

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About a month ago I did an interview at the Parkway Tavern. The band was L.A. Lungs, comprised of Nathan Markiewicz and his wife, Lori Peterson. It was one of those interviews — most of mine seem to go this way — where the talk goes on long after the digital recorder has stopped. Somehow we got on the subject of poetry — through music and movies, I suppose, which seems the usual route. Markiewicz said he wrote lots of verse before studying writing in college ruined him, an experience I somewhat shared. I started to go into my rant (inevitable) about how poetry has been stolen from the masses and locked in the ivory tower, like jazz. But I stopped myself before I went too far (unusual) and said something positive instead.

“But there’s this poet I’m sort of obsessed with, actually. And no one I know reads him. He’s the best in the last 25 years, I think. David Berman.”

David Berman! Shit yeah! Actual Air, man! Now that’s a book!

Not only had they read David Berman, but they loved David Berman. They could quote David Berman! They also loved his band the Silver Jews!

Shit yeah! Me too! American Water, man! Now that’s an album!

It is a rare, rare experience these days to chat poetry with one’s townsmen. When it happens, it’s like finding smut in the woods as a kid. Faces gather round. A weird excitement and intimacy ensues. Everyone’s Columbus.

Such was the Berman moment at the Parkway with L.A. Lungs. And such was the feeling when I opened In Tahoma’s Shadow, a new anthology of Tacoma poets, and found Lori Peterson’s work alongside other familiar names.

Is this what goes on in the bedrooms of the city? Old Mrs. Jorgensen writes poetry?
What a revelation!

Published by local nonprofit press Exquisite Disarray and bankrolled by the Tacoma Arts Commission and UPS, In Tahoma’s Shadow features the work of 75 local poets, ranging from noted professors to unknown confessors. Edited by outgoing Tacoma Poet Laureate William Kupinse and writer and poet Tammy Robacker, the quality of the work is surprisingly good. (Not that I doubted you, Tacoma.) There’s some of the expected NPR-blah stuff, but not nearly as much as I feared. There’s some overwrought mountain-of-art stuff too. But most of these poems are as generous and genuine as the folks who wrote them — your neighbors.

And all your neighbors are represented: white collar, blue collar, hip and square, black and white and in-between. The most pleasant surprise is that serious props are given to urban rhyme, a genre too-often left out of serious literary discussions. By including poets like Shanakia Porter, Davin Ivery, Elijah H. Muied (a.k.a. “6 Deep the Messenger”) and Antonio Edwards Jr., Kupinse and Robacker have acknowledged what the poetry establishment in general has not — that urban rhyme is relevant and real. The standout poem of the collection might be Edwards Jr.’s “Hilltopia,” which pays tribute to the historic, embattled Hilltop neighborhood and raises questions about gentrification.

From “Hilltopia”:

this is where God lives.
This is where Jesus, John, Luke, Paul and Matthew is.
This is where our babies were born.
This is where you come back to when your life is torn.
This is where our homies died.
This is where Mommas and Nannas cried.
This is where our loyalty lies.

This is Tacoma.

Fallow, by William Kupinse

Also new from Exquisite Disarray is Fallow, William Kupinse’s first book of poems. Kupinse, an associate professor of English at UPS, is a scholar of British and Irish modernism. His poems, as you’d expect, are decidedly not urban rhyme. That is not to say, however, that they’re pretentious or esoteric or dull. Kupinse is at his best when writing casually about the casual. Poems like “A Curse Upon Leafblowers and the Men Who Love Them” and “Kitten at Gun Show with Rainbow,” reveal a wide-eyed, ever-entertained observer with insight, talent and charm to burn.

New poet laureate

Kupinse will read from Fallow with local poet Hans Ostrom tonight at the University of Puget Sound. In addition, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma will introduce the 2009 Tacoma Poet Laureate. Both books will be available for purchase.

[McIntyre Hall’s Rausch Auditorium, Thursday, April 30, 8 p.m., free, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner, Tacoma, 253.879.3100]

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Comments for "T-town stanzas" (1)

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SPlabman said on May. 01, 2009 at 9:08am

A Poet Laureate who admitted last night he just started reading poetry. And people wonder why folks make fun of Tacoma.

At least Seattle has the decency to call their awful process a \"Poet Populist.\"

Any Poet Laureate should be an avid student of poetry, poetry of all kinds. Otherwise we get this kind of slam crap or doggerel which goes over with other folks looking for ENTERTAINMENT. Everyone has a right to settle for entertainment, but when the poets dumb themselves down, how much further down is the culture. Oh, I forget. We\'re a culture that accepts waterboarding and other forms of torture, wiretapping on lawful citizens and a massive redistribution of dollars from individuals to the Military-Industrial-Pharmaceutical complex.

In the future people who can read will be vilified.

I am not against light verse or doggerel. There is a place for that and every other conceivable kind of poetry. But shouldn�t we expect more from a Poet Laureate? Shouldn�t they have been some student of the craft in some palpable way? Apparently not.

Sure, go ahead and call me an academic. I got my M.A., but not until after hanging out at Red Sky Poetry Theater for eleven years, learning more there about the actual practice of poetry than I ever would from any university. But I was a �street poet� long before going back to school in 2004 at age 42. I just don�t use that as an excuse to forgo all the hard work most other cultures require before bestowing such a title. Like reading poetry.

Maybe Antonio will branch out, become an example, read Victor Hernandez Cruz and Martin Espada, two fine poets of Puerto Rican heritage. Their work ain�t �expected NPR-blah stuff� or �overwrought mountain-of-art stuff.� In fact, Espada is coming to Seattle in the Fall. I am sure he�d have a kind word or two of advice for Antonio. After that, dip into some of the more adventurous African-American poets like Wanda Coleman and Nathaniel Mackey. Once he goes there, his poetry and life, would take on much more profound dimensions, as would anyone�s.

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