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Bookmonger: Poets ponder connection, frailty, faith and forgiveness

Published on February 9, 2018 8:48PM

A month or so ago, this column focused on recently published books by two male poets. This week, let’s give equal time to the ladies.

Seattle poet Katy E. Ellis already had two chapbooks to her name when her newest effort, “Night Watch,” was awarded the 2017 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Floating Bridge Press, founded nearly a quarter century ago and run by volunteers, supports the work of Washington State poets.

To get the full effect of the poems in “Night Watch,” you’ll want to read them sequentially, from the front of the book to the back. Ellis alternates between “Pre-“ and “Post-“ entries — but for what purpose you will be hard-pressed to fathom if you try, as I did at first, to dip randomly into the pages to sample the poems. To do that is only to be confounded.

It’s much better to begin at the beginning, where you’ll find an exquisitely crafted paragraph that describes nighttime at a cabin in winter — “a stratification of blankets,” and a “star-infested sky.”

Turn the page and you’ll consider a train ride from several years past, the passengers a motley but generally convivial mix of Deadheads, pious immigrants, families and runaways. On to the next page and a different train ride, somewhat later.

And sure enough, through these “Pre-“ and “Post-“ poems, you’ll begin arriving — not instantaneously, but gradually — at a new reality that couldn’t have been imagined until it happened.

From meteor showers and the moon in the sky above, to the Coast Starlight on the ground — Ellis’ poems ponder connection and acknowledge frailty. This little chapbook, filled with tragedy and wonder, is simply first-rate.

Also highly recommended: the debut poetry collection of a Tacoma octogenarian — we shouldn’t have had to wait so long! Glenna Cook’s new book, “Thresholds,” is a kaleidoscopic review of life within a family.

Mother, sister, husband, son: With each poetic turn, the colored chips of foibles, virtues, habits, mistakes and milestone events reconfigure — making sense in different ways, sparkling or seeming to disappear, then cropping up again to be reconsidered from a fresh perspective. Over the course of more than 100 poems, the reader will begin to divine that tribulations and joys sometimes turn out to be made of the same stuff.

After a lifetime of stepping in to serve as the caregiver to family members who are coping with mental or physical challenges, Cook gets her own diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. She pushes back in a poem titled “New Friend”: “You’ll be my incentive / to fill my days / with nourishing pursuits …”

Uplifting if not always upbeat, these poems resonate with poignancy and faith and forgiveness. While the challenges Cook explores through her poetry are uniquely her own, every family has its litany, and any reader should be able to find many points of entry to these poems.

Thanks to Tillamook-based MoonPath Press for seeing to it that this poetry collection got published.

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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