Jill McCabe Johnson is busy - as executive director of ArtSmith, she is overseeing the Orcas Island-based non-profit's annual writers' residency program, which takes place the first week of February. She's also pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And she has a brand new book of poetry out from MoonPath Press.
"Diary of the One Swelling Sea" presents an interesting conceit - in succinct daily entries, the poet channels the global ocean, spilling its thoughts on everything from penguins to tides to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
There are plenty of poems about the "lovelies" - a collective term for the creatures that swim through its briny waters, from shallow to deep. And there are a few pieces, too, about the "monkeys" - a collective term for humans who, in their "monkey cups," slice through the surface waters, too often leaving despoilment in their wake.
Every poem's title begins with the word "Day."
"Day Paddletail" is a reflection on somnolent manatees. "Day Madrigal" reports on the courtship of humpback whales.
Each entry is a broth of scientific precision and finely honed wordplay. In "Day Cutreef," Johnson writes of corals that "shape the clement lagoons / that trap and enrapture Sun's heat." And in "Day Vesicle" she describes the "Sun-soaking, greening" of seaweed's stipe and lamina.
There are poems of destruction and creation, and there are poems of abidance. "Day Milky Way," the concluding poem in this volume, is a deep and lovely lament for the finitude of us all.
A final comment on this collection - it takes a while to figure out some of Johnson's whimsical nomenclature, and beyond that, her phraseology is fairly ornate. If you choose to pick up this volume - and I hope you do - take it slowly, a poem or two at a time. You'll figure out what's what.
A quick note about another title I looked at this week - "Poetry Inside Out" is a creative writing workbook. It was developed for youngsters by a Bay Area advocacy group that also is called (talk about branding) Poetry Inside Out, in conjunction with the Center for the Art of Translation. University of Washington Press is handling the distribution.
Designed for middle grade readers and up, these exercises represent an innovative curriculum that is being taught in schools around the country.
Participants are invited to translate the works of well-known poets such as Dante Alighieri, Basho, and others - first literally (a translator's glossary is provided), and then artistically. After you develop your own translation, you can turn the page to find samples of other folks' translations of the same piece. And as a culminating step in each exercise, you are invited to create your own original work using the format suggested by the masterwork you've just translated.
"Poetry Inside Out" is marvelously conceived - a passport into not only global literature, but also imagination, intellectual engagement, and fun. Language arts teachers and aspiring writers, take note!
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com