Bookmonger: Poetry to greet a new season

“The Grand Piano Range” by Sibyl James

“Night Beyond Black” by Lois Parker Edstrom

How about some poetry to help kick off summer?

Seattle poet Sibyl James has a new collection that was published this spring by Black Heron Press. The works in “The Grand Piano Range” do indeed range across terrains and strike different emotional tones.

Let’s begin with the title poem, which takes place during a lingering Alaskan summer sunset. James describes a hike to an abandoned mining camp. Along the way, she reflects on a story told to her the night before, about a bartender who long ago had her grand piano toted up the mountain to the camp, where she poured drinks for the men and played music for them, “A vision of herself she hauled intact / through who knows how many claw-holds of years / spent measuring cheap whisky…”

This rumination captures the wistful tug of time and memory that seems to be inspired most ardently by summer’s long twilights. Other poems in “The Grand Piano Range” consider similar watering holes in other small, and sometimes extinct, towns.

This collection also features many overtly political pieces that address injustice in Central America, labor abuses overseas, and the displacement of squatters in Appalachia. Some of these poems record moments in time that have since been paved over — thanks to James’ poetry, they may be gone but they’re not forgotten.

Then there’s the poem titled “Peace Habits,” about a sisterhood of women walking from Washington to Texas. They are protesting the military-industrial complex’s generation and disposal of nuclear waste that will remain poisonous well beyond our easy conception of time.

Forgotten, perhaps — but not gone.

James has dedicated her life to poetry and has had much publishing success. Now let’s turn to someone who is celebrating the publication of her first poetry volume.

After a long career as a nurse, Lois Parker Edstrom began writing poems a decade ago. “Night Beyond Black,” published by MoonPath Press, is the Whidbey Island poet’s debut collection, although many of the individual poems were first published elsewhere.

These pieces probe personal moments from a life lived and felt abundantly. There is sorrow, joy, inspiration, and wisdom born of despair. The natural world is invoked often — its life forms, colors, smells, sounds — and especially its light.

Edstrom’s choice and arrangement of words is meticulous and exquisite. In a hike up to Rainy Day Pass, she describes “the jade river sliding / like ruched silk over a bed of stones …”

In another poem, she describes Admiralty Inlet: “So intent on sky, the fickle clouds / the smack of salt, waves pushing / against the shore …”

And particularly resonant at this time of graduations and new beginnings, it seems appropriate to close with some of Edstrom’s lines from a flawless poem titled “Raw Luck”: “Was it good to live / in those moments, those years / walking along the shore of choice / without realizing how dreams / could fill the sail of sky?”

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.


Sibyl James shares her book of poetry, “The Great Piano Range,” at 7 p.m. July 6 at Village Books, 1200 11th St., Fairhaven.