Bookmonger: Celebrating Northwest poets and their work


Gary Geddes, Village Books, Bellingham

"What Does a House Want?" affirms Gary Geddes's place as one of the premier Canadian poets of his generation.


Unlike some newspapers, which only seem to notice the work of poets every April when National Poetry Month rolls around, we make a point of covering books of poetry year-round in this column.

That doesn't mean we're curmudgeonly about the annual springtime celebration of all things poetic, however - to prove the point, we put forth here some recent offerings from poets with Northwest connections.

Gary Geddes currently lives in British Columbia's Gulf Islands, but he spent three years on the faculty of Western Washington University.

His most recent poetry collection, "What Does a House Want?" is a storehouse of ideas, potent images and language crafted with the surety of a master artisan.

Despite the domestic sound of the title, poetry for Geddes is not consigned to the personal alone. He takes on the world, he tackles history, he broods over killers and pacifists alike.

Particularly remarkable in this book is the long poem "Norwegian Rabbit (The Trotsky Monologues)" in which Geddes imagines the revolutionary's point of view as he lived his final years in exile in Mexico.

But there are many other fine pieces - from Chile to China, Israel to Orkney, Geddes turns his perceptions into laser-cut poems that deliver impact whether read aloud or mulled over in private.

John Morgan is another northern poet (in this case, Alaska) who has Bellingham connections. His most recent book, "River of Light," is a journey poem inspired by a 2003 rafting trip down the Copper River that Morgan undertook in the company of friends and the words of a 15th century Indian mystic named Kabir.

The United States had just invaded Iraq in 2003, and that desert war weighed heavily on Morgan even as he battled through rapids or floated past ravens, calving glaciers and salmon-snacking grizzlies.

Morgan's incandescent impressions of landscape are counterbalanced by the grit of an arduous quest that posed both physical and mental challenges.

But best of all is the voice of Kabir, who frequently intervenes with wisdom or drollery: "Better think twice," the sage warns, "before you hang with someone like me."

We have just enough room to mention one more book: "There. Here." by Stan Sanvel Rubin.

After a full career at the State University of New York, Rubin came to our corner of the country to co-found the Rainier Writing Workshop low-residency MFA at Pacific Lutheran University and, the rest of the time, to write poetry out on the Olympic Peninsula.

Unlike the long form employed by Geddes and Morgan, Rubin's works are succinct - none more so than the piece called "The Deft, Melodious Song of Some Bird or Other," in which the marvelous poem is shorter than the title!

There are many jewels in this volume, but the "War Time" series of poems, which comprise Section II, deserve a special shout-out.

And let's conclude with one more heartfelt huzzah - to the small presses that support both writers and artists (great cover art!) when they publish these volumes of poetry.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at


"What Does a House Want?" - Gary Geddes

"River of Light" - John Morgan

"There. Here." - Stan Sanvel Rubin

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