Posted by: tksellman | January 18, 2009

To soak in a word bath…

Deborah Poe reads at the Richard Hugo House, Jan 2009

Deborah Poe reads at the Richard Hugo House, Jan 2009

This past Monday, I went to see my friend, Deborah Poe, read at the Richard Hugo House with her former instructor Bruce Beasley, a well-known poet and literary instructor from Bellingham, WA.

Deborah had to fly in for the event, for she now lives in New York state, though she’s more likely to call  the Pacific Northwest her stomping grounds, since she’s spent so much of her life here.  

Deborah and I don’t go way back, but we share one commonality that’s likely to seal our friendship for years to come: we have both repeatedly attended the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference at Centrum.

This week-long wordfest of writers from varied walks of life happens every July, when writers from all around the country descend upon the little town by the sea (with its charming parade grounds and beach) to learn new techniques for writing, thinking, and being wordsmiths.

By and large, I always come away from my trips to Centrum (I’ve been 3 times—2005, 2007, 2008—and I’m going back this summer to study under Kim Barnes) enlightened, emboldened, and empowered to be the writer I know I can be but can’t often allow myself to be (because I’m also a mother, a teacher, a wife, a friend, a volunteer, etc.).

I know that Deborah, too, leaves the site with her own literary well filled, and I enjoyed the private pleasure of recognizing some of the inspirations behind the work she read last Monday night (such as Rikki Ducornet‘s focal point of strangeness in the poem, “Ununtrium,” where Deborah found extra permission to fly into fantastic territory.

We also share an idiosyncratic history of checking out of the conference on the night before it officially ends.

Deborah has long-time friends in Seattle and likes to spend a few days after the conference with them; meanwhile, I’m missing my family by then and am ready to pack up and leave. Since I’m local enough to have a car with me and my trip home is on Deborah’s way, I’ve given her a lift more than once to the ferry that ports in my island town so she can cruise on over and crash late at her friends’ place on the other side.

The hour-long commute is enough time for two writers heady with words, stories, ideas, and inspiration to catch and release a second wind, the one that comes at the end of any invigorating conference experience and usually precedes a very long period of deep, dreamless sleep.

At the Hugo House, Deborah read from her (newly released) first book, Our Parenthetical Ontology, as well as from her Elements series (which, while unpublished as a whole, is an intense and electrifying body of work laced with Deborah’s talent for binding together science, beauty, violence, and emotion).

I was struck by the surprise turns of phrase she uses, as well as the elegance of her landscapes and the concrete quality of her images.

I found her poems (which were stories as well) filled with a kind of violence that, while delivered dispassionately, held a non-gratuitous quality which shaped the singular beauty of her images. Other folks in the audience likened the act of listening to her poems to taking part in a “word bath.”

I could definitely see impressions of Bruce Beasley’s own work with language in her poetry, but Deborah’s language and intense focus are unique to her personality, reflecting a playfulness about words and ideas while still leaving the audience with the feeling that this poet is quite serious about the forms, the sounds, the purpose of her metier.

* * *

This path we take as writers is often, and of necessity, solitary. However, when the paths of writers meet, and especially at crossroads where they find themselves found and not lost, ready to drink from the same bowl and share the same fire for a time, we can subsist on the energy from that short-lived junction together for a very long time.

My thanks go to Deborah Poe for putting some of my favorite literary intersections on her itinerary as well. May all our writing lives find a comparably infinite value in shared journeys, language, ideas, and yes, word baths.


  1. […] : (Ranked #23)SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "To soak in a word bath… « See Jane Write!", url: […]

  2. Hi,
    Ugh, I liked!

    Have a nice day

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