Entertainment

New books celebrate Northwest poets, friendship

For The Bellingham Herald

Boogie-Woogie Crisscross, by Tess Gallagher and Lawrence Matsuda

A Flutter of Birds Passing Through Heaven, edited by Allen Frost and Paul Piper

August is the time for savoring vine-ripened tomatoes, the Perseids meteor shower and easy afternoons dedicated to friends, ice tea and poetry.

With that in mind, I’d like to recommend a couple of books that celebrate poetry and friendship, albeit in very different ways.

“Boogie-Woogie Crisscross” is an exchange of words, impressions and experiences between two well-known Northwest poets – Port Angeles-born Tess Gallagher and Seattle-based Lawrence Matsuda.

These began in 2011 when Matsuda read Gallagher’s book, “Portable Kisses,” and sent her a congratulatory email in free verse, to which Gallagher replied in kind. And in the blink of an eye – or rather, the click of a “Send” button – these poets were firing poetic emails back and forth to each other. The result: a sequence of nine reciprocating poems that bat around words, images and ideas. This playful duel of words, grouped under the title “Pow! Pow! Shalazam,” constitutes the first section of “Boogie-Woogie Crisscross.”

But that’s only the beginning. The email exchanges carried on over the next four years, referencing Wile E. Coyote, Bruce Lee, and Russian poet Anna Akhmatova; talking about relatives, neighbors, friends, partners, and people in the news; and recalling restaurants, fishing holes, dreamscapes, the green fields of County Sligo, Ireland (where Gallagher spends part of every year), and the bleak landscape of Minidoka County, Idaho (where Matsuda was born to parents incarcerated in a World War II “Relocation Center”).

The poets brandish their word mastery like Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone swashbuckling their way through a movie.

On the other hand, readers may occasionally feel that they are left to whack through a tangle of literary references, pop culture, and inside jokes. Perhaps anticipating this, Gallagher and Matsuda along the way drop bread crumbs in the form of brief commentaries.

These two septuagenarians are still fearless in their work.

Another book I’m enthusiastic about is “A Flutter of Birds Passing Through Heaven,” a tribute to Robert Sund – poet, calligrapher and longtime denizen of the Skagit River estuary, who died in 2001.

Attentively edited by Allen Frost and Paul Piper, both of whom work at Western Washington University Library, this book pays homage to a man who left his pre-med studies behind to study with Theodore Roethke at the University of Washington. From that time forward, Sund dedicated himself to a poet’s life, which left him, as one friend said, “often broke, but always true to his calling.”

Sund published only two poetry collections during his lifetime: “Bunch Grass” in 1969, and “Ish River,” which won the 1984 Washington State Governor’s Award.

Yet 15 years after his death, the gregarious hermit, who burned his candle at both ends, still has scores of friends and admirers who share their reminiscences and photographs in this warm tribute.

“A Flutter of Birds Passing Through Heaven” also includes some of Sund’s previously unpublished work. It is a real treat.

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

  Comments