CATE GABLE PHOTO
Where do we start with this winter going on into spring thing? I admit we’ve had, OK, two whole days in a row of sun, but we are owed big time from Mother Nature this year. Or are we? Us humans have been majorly mis-behavin’ on planet earth for some time now. But Mother Nature is so much bigger than we are — maybe she can forgive us.
Any way you look at it, April is a complicated month: wacky Rolodex weather of sun, rain, and even hail; federal and property taxes due; every living thing waking up, nest-building, thinking about love; while most of us are still trying to get our morning coffee brewed without having had coffee yet.
In “The Waste Land,” T.S Eliot called April the cruelest month, I think because nature is calling us back from the dead, reviving sleepy memories; we’ve got to try again, start over, do better this time:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Eliot, though, was only restating Geoffrey Chaucer thoughts from many centuries earlier; in the Prelude of the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer wrote,
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendered is the flour.
(My translation here — though note: we hardly had a drought in March!:
When April’s sweet showers fall,
they pierce the drought of March, bathing all
root and every vein with liquor to empower
the virtue of each blooming flower.)
Gleaming house on the hill
But did you know April is also poetry month? (Hence, the above.) And because of this I found myself roaming the gleaming marble halls of our state capitol. I don’t remember the last time I was in our capitol building in Olympia, officially called the Legislative Building. I think I may have been a Bluebird in Campfire Girls sometime in the mid-‘50s. The building is truly and astonishingly beautiful. Designed by New York architects Walter Wilder and Henry White in what’s been called American Neoclassic style, it won a competition in 1911 and was completed in 1928 after six years of construction. (There is a virtual tour at tinyurl.com/WA-Capitol-virtual-tour).
I felt like a kid again, always looking up. The halls really are polished marble, the stairs are marble, the walls and columns are marble, even the restrooms are marble. The stately building is open in the center with broad staircases flowing up two sides to a mezzanine that overlooks a grand expanse of air right up to the dome, which — at 287 feet high — is the fourth tallest masonry dome in the world. (More fascinating building facts here: tinyurl.com/WA-Capitol-Facts) Wow!
As my steps echoed along the corridors, I couldn’t help but think about all the history that has permeated those 12 thousand tons of stone. Our own Sid Snyder walked these halls! Rising up from elevator operator, to bill room supervisor, to clerk, to state senator, then on to Secretary of State. (Pentilla’s excellent obituary here: tinyurl.com/Snyder-Obituary)
I was headed up too, but only to the Reception Hall on the 3rd floor. Poet Laureate Tod Marshall, for one of the projects in his two-year term, published an anthology of Washington state poetry called WA 129, honoring the 129 years of Washington’s statehood. 2,000 poetry entries were sent to Tod, and, lo and behold, one of those chosen was mine.
So there we were, poets and poet families and friends, gathering together to celebrate words. About 130 poems/poets are represented from places all around the state. Of course Seattle has the bulk of the work, but there are also poets hanging out in Deer Park, Oak Harbor, La Conner, New Castle, DuPont, Waldron Island, Kettle Falls and Nahcotta. Linda Bierds, University of Washington professor and MacArthur genius, shared space with those of us banded together under the “I’m Nobody Who Are You” banner (this is a famous Emily Dickinson poem: tinyurl.com/jt5wkft).
At the mic, bouncing words off the grand gleaming walls, some of us said, “Now this is exactly the place for a poetry reading,” as if we had finally gotten our due. Phillip H. Red Eagle was there. (He was part of the Squaxin Island copper ring ceremony in Bay Center several years ago, guest of Tony Johnson and his family.) Several Washington state senators read poems from their constituents who weren’t able to make it to Olympia. There was cake. And lots of congratulations for Tod and publisher Sage Hill Press of Spokane. The books are beautifully designed and a pleasure to hold.
This weekend, sitting in the gloriously-warm sun with a cup of coffee, I read through the poems from my fellow Washingtonians. They reflect a vast range of styles; they speak to special and precious places in our state; they call back stories of people now gone; they tease; they meander; they glorify products — Walla Walla sweets, apples, salmon, oysters. They capture the moods, the loves, the heart-breaks, the “dailyness” of humans on our planet. I laughed. I cried. I had to put the book down many times simply to look around me and praise whatever my eyes landed on. I was humbled to be included in the book; and, for one moment, I was proud to be in the species called Homo sapiens — a feeling that has been in all too scarce supply in my life of late.
I know poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think some of the poetry in this book could change your perspective. Tod is coming to Oysterville for a reading with Bob Pyle and myself on the evening of June 4th. I encourage you to come listen to what your fellow citizens, and poets, have to say about life. Details soon.