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Bookmonger: Focusing on the elemental appeal of poetry

“All Fire All Water”

Judith Roche

“Archives of the Air”

John Morgan

This column covers books of poetry at any time of year – in this reviewer’s humble opinion, writing, memorizing, reciting and sharing poems are peculiarly human gifts that should be celebrated often. But since April is commonly observed as National Poetry Month, we’re happy to take part in the collective hooray that’s going on right now.

For your consideration, here are two volumes that focus on the elemental appeal of poetry.

Black Heron Press, based in Mill Creek (Washington), has been publishing books of consistently provocative integrity for a couple of decades now.

In 1994, the press began sharing the work of Seattle poet Judith Roche. The first collection was “Myrrh/My Life as a Screamer.” Then in 2007, her volume “Wisdom of the Body” won an American Book Award.

Now there’s a brand new collection, “All Fire All Water.”

These poems are gathered into four sections. The first grouping – my favorite – focuses on environmental observations and the impact that human activities have on natural processes. From climate change to the great Pacific Garbage Patch to the opening of a wastewater treatment plant, Roche works her magic in astute observation and keen phrasing. She identifies sources of despair and causes for hope, and turns nuggets of real life into apt poetic phrases.

At times, she indulges in the playfulness of form – from the elegant “Bee Villanelle” on one page, to the lurching rhymes of a fiend-filled poem called “Autumn Twilight” on the next.

The book’s middle sections focus on the violence that happens among us, and on the poet’s past loves.

In the final section, “We Are Stardust,” Roche’s poems probe the transience and continuity of life. Some of these poems are lamentations. Others are songs of praise or possibility.

The other poetry collection I’d like to mention came in recently from John Morgan, the New York-born poet who got an education at Harvard and the University of Iowa before coming west. In recent years, he’s divided his time between Bellingham and Fairbanks, although he’s usually referred to as an Alaskan poet, an identity cemented when he served as Denali National Park’s first writer-in-residence in 2009.

“Archives of the Air” is Morgan’s sixth book of poetry. This offering, like Roach’s, also looks back at past steps and missteps, contemplates a future of fewer but ever more precious days and harbors the admittedly futile “wish to buck the laws of change and chance.”

Morgan’s poems carom from Harvard to California to Prudhoe Bay, plumbing real-life rivers and streams of consciousness for memories, meaning and metaphor.

With a mix of curiosity and wariness, he ponders berrying bears, the mentally-fragmented homeless and the American Taliban.

But in a poem called “The Attack,” the poet identifies a threat he never saw coming – from a chickadee that thought to make use of his hair for a nest. As they say in social media, LOL!

These poems of the elements – air, fire, and water – are very down to earth! Treat yourself to some poetry soon.

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 bkmonger@nwlink.com

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