thirteen ways of looking at a pelican (4 – 5)

by shaindel beers


The young man and his friends float the river
the Fourth of July
		                 Downstream are parade
sounds    neighing of horses     marching bands 
salvos of gunfire
Here, there is only the river	soft lap of water
against the inner tube

			            The peace only occasionally
interrupted by an Oh shit! when a raft scuffs a rock
gets hung up on a branch

	     Miraculously, the pelicans sit still on the rocks
inspecting from ice blue eyes on either side of long beaks

		        Their heads tilt this way and that
but otherwise they are unmoved by these creatures

the only ones larger than they who float downstream
	    The young man has the odd feeling he has never
been so close to another breathing thing

He looks into the ice blue of the pelican’s eye as he floats
	    by     thinks of the day his eye drew this much
		        attention	      Hiding under the bill of his cap

eye surrounded by magenta bruise, fidgeting to the rhythm
of fluorescent light flicker 	the professor asking

	   My God, what happened?

He recalls the feel of the lie slipping out of his mouth

	    A baseball I didn’t catch


We come home with the groceries, and I see
the slow V of pelicans floating over the neighborhood
try to tell if they are tracing the river.

I’ve heard they are one of the few bird species
that fly “for fun.” I wonder what that means,
try to imagine what it must feel like

to soar on thermals for up to fifteen miles
without flapping a wing, to climb the pillows
of hot air, drop down into coolness

to gain speed. This is called dynamic soaring.
I didn’t used to be so fascinated by anything
but now, I pull out my phone, try to record them.

They are immortalized as radar blips over
my neighbors’ chimney; in the background
my dog barks, my son is excited to be allowed

to run to the porch by himself. How could anything
be so effortless? I wonder what I might miss
if I were afforded their abilities, their innate sense

of measuring air temperature through their nostrils,
of spotting a single fish from sixty feet above water—
All I can imagine missing is the grey house

with its hot pink door which I drive by every day.

thirteen ways of looking at a pelican (1 – 3)

by shaindel beers


The lone pelican in the reeds
of river’s edge seemed odd.
I stopped—watched—
did nothing.

Later in the paper the story
of its broken wing,
likely caused
by flying into a wire.

That it would probably be
euthanized. When you see
a pelican alone, it usually
means something is wrong
said the wildlife expert.

My self-doubt that kept me
from calling. Did I cause that pelican
more hours of suffering
or gift it a few more hours
of floating in the reeds,
a little while longer to bob
in the gentle current,
the coolness of water over webbed feet?

Forgive me, pelican. I also, am always alone,
also fly too recklessly for my own good.


When I told you about the pelican—
that I thought I should have called someone.

You said, That’s your problem. You always
doubt your instincts

As a woman, I’ve been taught to ignore
connections. The ones between myself

and the moon, the tides
internal and external.

The way the pelican and I
for an instant

were one.


The pelicans sit on the rocks preening,
a section of concert violinists bowing

apricot bills against snow velvet down
of breast. I wonder if they can hear

the friction of their surfaces one against
the other. If there is a making of music

out of their bodies. I remember them
later when the photographer says,

When you touch yourself,
when your fingers skim

the hollow between throat and clavicle
you are telling the viewer, Oh, my skin

is so soft, don’t you wish you could
touch it?

the lost man leaves a will

by jennifer boyden

To the wind, the fullness of my mouth, juice
of my openness. To gnawing things, the osseous fists
of my bones’ rebinding. I want the earth
to accept my head. I have wanted to be held
by something my entire life, something that demands
all of me to answer back with holding.

To my gone children, all I cannot say without
my tongue. I call you in silence. You answer
in kind, and are counted. To birds, a nest of hair
and threads for the wobble-necked and pink-bodied.

I give the trust of grass to bear and raccoon,
to the crepuscular world who pauses before taking,
whose staring eyes give back the light of cars
as if to fix the breakage of air
before the great coming down upon them.
I have been broken. I
have been broken.

My walk from one place to this did not leave
a trail: I walked my route only once, and once-
forward is not enough to be remembered by grass.
My path is where I column into my own shape.
I give space to air with my leaving.
I give space to flying with my leaving.

I ask for nothing in return. I have received more
than I asked for, and worse: the world afloat; answers
at once and for nearly everything; animal bellies
untethered and dragging.

To the leaf, serration of my teeth.
To water, ice of my witnessing. It will need it.
To deer, asking and then emptiness before slaughter.
The grass should take my memory. But to the trails worn
by the escaping many, the mud of unknowing.

Here is what I know for now: worms,
I have loved you rightly
since I learned that dirt holds secrets blind and dependent
on whatever mercies we are willing to gift. I gave you names.
I counted your rings, measured your body-yawns

toward darkness. Worms, you are better than stars
because you are here.

Do you remember
how my mother stitched her people’s names
to my cuffs and then disappeared? The birds left
before the people did, but you, you worms, you stayed.

To the worms, my thanks. I ask you to make me rich
within yourselves: you stayed. While the earth
was fleeing itself, I named you, and you answered
to the place of my naming, and remain.

“The Lost Man Leaves a Will” was first published in The Declarable Future, © 2013, by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.

statement of place: jennifer boyden

I used to climb a pine tree just to have a quiet place to read, and I looked forward to the Minnesota winters because the snow makes the world so intimately silent: You can hear your heart, see your breath pushed out just in front of yourself, and then walk through it into another breath. Growing up with many siblings and a small house put me on an early path of pursuing silence and privacy, those places where I can hear the rhythms of my mind and feel word shapes take form, build, connect, and become ideas. I need a fair amount of space and quiet for this to happen. Living in the inland northwest at the edge of the Blue Mountains for the past fifteen years has provided plenty of such spaces: rolling Palouse wheat fields, thick forests, scrubland, and a river with its many tributaries. Oh, the river: I grew up in water, and so it has always been a companion that shares a need for both the hidden and the surface flash. I have lived too many very different places to say with any kind of authority where I am from (Wichita, Kansas; Boston, Massachusetts; southern Oregon, China, etc . . .). But I know what I am from: Lynch Lake, Mill Creek, apple and oak and pine trees, granite and basalt, and grasses . . . . I believe I can claim the what of place more than the where, making my homes among those things where there is potential for recognition of a mutual residence within.

david on the phone

by jennifer boyden

David sober says to feed the bear
who’s eating the birdseed in our front yard.
Says we must, for him, feed it so we’ll earn a badge
under the god he’s wearing lately. God with eyes.
God who sleeps a lot when David needs him most,
and whose waking patience is thin
as the bear’s winter cells. This God of tallying
and disappearances is called upon by David most
in the time of morning vapor when it’s hardest
for David sober to believe: whole day stretched
in front of him like paint thinner, each cup a cup
which is to be used for coffee only. Feed the bear,
David says sober though alone at his end of the hour
when god might wake for him. David says
it would go well for all of us if we pour milk over bread,
honey over meat, and then carry out the bowl.
But lock the door when you’re done, David says
sober, because the source is always sweeter
than the meal. He says the bear’s salvation will be heard,
and might speak for him at the end of his need.

And with what sweetness on the tongue
will it urge the god of that single cup awake?
And with what honeyed breath will it seek
us out again, small gods terrified of the asking?


“David on the Phone” was first published in The Declarable Future, © 2013, by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.

the apt black of crow flight

by ted jean

Crow stumbles into
the open air
after a rough night
of bad rabbit
road kill
and concussive
ice storm
out of the east.

His yawp is forced,
at first, the usual
rehearsal of unrepentance,
that bends toward bliss
as he approaches the arc
of the frozen river.


“The Apt Black of Crow Flight” is from Crow Sonnets.


by ted jean

Marsha throws on her jacket,
jumps the fence where it is bent

          the december field is bare

she stalks the erstwhile rye
beside the dogwood brush and hazelnut

          pheasants startle the ditches

stubble and mud require care,
to get precisely nowhere

          our girl bestrides the only stump

field Marsha: cows astonished,
the crow crowd loud with scandal

way off, the lights of Ashland
rise on the solstice

circles she back, black, to the dark house


“Crow” is from Crow Sonnets.

hwy 38 along the umpqua near rainrock

by ted jean

High crow and low crow
ply the light above the river,
rising and falling against the neon backdrop alder.

One seems the shadow of the other,
disjunct in their dithering
as a fish with its refraction on a riffled pond.

Are they husband and wife crow?
Where do they go?
Some farcical mission, doubtless,
as they are, after all, crows.

We are driving upriver the opposite way,
Amy staring off into the spruce shadow
and sunlight strobe, possibly deep in thought.
Or not. We will never know.


“Hwy 38 Along the Umpqua Near Rainrock” is from Crow Sonnets.

statement of place: ted jean

Even natives complain of the Oregon rain. Not me. The low gray sky, the sifting drizzle. I get a sense of enclosure, calm, quiet. Along a November trail, the brushy bank of dripping hazelnut and thimbleberry thrums with drowsy satisfaction. The streets of downtown Portland reflect puddled light from welcoming shops. Frogs sing in the weeds with all their little green hearts. Golf course coyote regards me urbanely over her dewy shoulder. Beyond her, the firs recede into a pewter mist. Raised in the hot, dry sun of Northern California, I have converted to a better, wet religion.

statement of place: amy miller

I did a lot of traveling in my thirties, when I was making good money and had good cat sitters. And I discovered an interesting thing: I loved pretty much every place I visited. I could see myself living almost anywhere—southern Indiana, the Ozarks, Berlin, Christchurch, Nairobi, Austin.

So I guess it’s no surprise that I love the Northwest, my home for the past ten years. I am gaga over the San Juan Islands, McKenzie Pass feels like my own personal lava bed, and I dream about Warm Springs’ strange rockpile fenceposts and the frogs singing in La Conner. I am from a family of transplants, itinerate ranch hands and train conductors and builders whose only constant was constant moving. Having grown up on two coasts and the Rockies, I always struggle with the concept of “home.” But I know what it is to love a place.

This time of year, Ashland, Oregon, makes its quick-change from summer to winter, the dry Cascade foothills to the north readying for snow and the steep, green Siskiyous to the south pulling what rain they can get into their deep carpet. And Ashland always in between, sun-snow-sun-snow-sun.

morning meditation

by ingrid wendt

Tiny as an infant’s fist, a yellow-bellied Banana
            Quit is flitting all over this 
                        simultaneously blooming and 

fruit-bearing palm, right next to
            my rooftop terrace: first one
                        I’ve seen in the two whole blessed

months I’ve been here.  Too fast 
            for me to snap 
                        a photo, it lands 

on a frond, looks around, 
            is off again. 
                        Just like my mind.

Meanwhile the Great-Tailed Grackle lords it
            over the jungle from whatever high peak 
                        he’s found. 

            the Mockingbird pours out its whole long
                        repertoire to the deaf, rising sun.

Twelve years after her death I put it together, what
            I have known, all along, this morning remembering
                         (I saw a little birdie go hop, hop, hop)

one more song 
            my mother taught me
                        (Kommt ein Vogel geflogen)
before things got tough between us.
             (Now the sun is in the West, and the birds
                        have found their nest. 	

Twelve years.  
            “We must say our prayers,” they say,” “thank our
                        Father for this day.”)

Three songs, 
            three birds.  My mother’s lap.
                        And God.

a valentine for akumal

by ingrid wendt

Verde, que te quiero verde
— Federico García Lorca

Oh, how I love your ever-green jungle, everything blooming
Or bearing or ready to be born, sometimes all three at once
On the same delirious plants: your coconut palms, for instance,
Under ever-sashaying fronds, five or six clusters of fruits

And flowers in all stages of production, year-round. How much
I learn from them. And from your birds. I love their constant mating
Ballets. How do they keep at it all day? Every day? Waiting
For them to cease and desist would be like waiting for the sun

To eclipse the moon. Your cocoa brown doves do it
On the one bare branch in all that berry-filled tree next to my
Balcony, shamelessly. Oh, so much fertility! My eyes
Have died and gone to Heaven, and that’s not even to begin

Naming what’s in your Eden under the sea. Look, Valentine,
See? I’m blossoming, I’m bearing, even as I speak. Be mine.

statement of place: ingrid wendt

Born in Aurora, Illinois, of a father born and raised in Valparaiso, Chile (into a German-speaking household) and a mother born and raised on a fruit farm in southwest Michigan (into a German–speaking household), I moved to Eugene, Oregon, more than forty years ago, to pursue my master of fine arts, not speaking a word of German (though I do possess school-learned, conversational Spanish). I have lived here ever since. (And have, by now, acquired conversational German, as well.)

With the surname Wendt, meaning “nomad, wanderer,” I fully expected, from earliest childhood, to do what my parents had done; my destiny, like theirs, was to some day make my life somewhere else. Two of the main themes, then, that weave throughout all of my work are my search for the meaning of home and the clash between our human need for roots and our American sense of “manifest destiny,” with all of its noble as well as ugly manifestations. This theme first appears, though in its infancy, in my first book of poems, Moving the House (chosen for BOA Editions by William Stafford, 1980), its title intended to work both as an understated metaphor for our “American condition” as well as a reference to an actual event: my husband’s and my buying from MacDonald’s Hamburgers, in 1972, an old bungalow scheduled for demolition, and moving it to a vacant lot halfway across Eugene.

Another main theme in my work—the result of values instilled in my early years in the Midwest, which matured, as I matured into adulthood, in Oregon, as well as during considerable travel over the years, including brief periods of living and teaching, as a visiting writer, in other states in the American West as well as in Europe—is of the countless ways our lives here at home connect to a larger, global, infinitely fragile, human community. My next four books—Singing the Mozart Requiem (Brietenbush Books, Winner of the 1987 Oregon Book Award), The Angle of Sharpest Ascending (Word Press, winner of the 2003 Yellowglen Award), Surgeonfish (WordTech Editions, winner of the 2004 Editions Prize), and Evensong (Truman State University Press, 2011, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize)—each contain poems set in Oregon, as well as other states in the American West and/or in Europe.

There is yet one other way I have, for many years, related to the place I live and the places I have visited: as an observer of the delicate environmental balance that exists, wherever I am, and of the ways in which it is threatened.

Not all of my work of “place,” however, carries these overarching themes. As in some of the poems I submit today, I often find myself, when living or visiting places new to me, responding in a wholly subjective way to what I find there, be it glorious or despicable or something in between.

lessons from you, father

by patricia wixon

It was July when you closed the front door
carrying your fishing rod and creel, angled hat
banded with dry flies, eager to fly to the mountain
lakes. Soon you’d be edging your way out in waders
so glazed with fish oil they could stand alone.

That night you’d fight to stay alive, not burned
and broken like your copilot, but in shock as your
organs consumed each other. You told the medic
what to give each child. For me, your bamboo pole
but it had already turned to ash.

In those childhood years, you’d bring home a creel
of cutthroat and fry their pink skins crisp.
Sometimes we’d peel sheets of sunburn from your
back, work to sunset in our Victory Garden,
help save tin foil wrappers for the War.

Now I cast a fly at a glint between the rocks, hear
your lessons as I watch the shadows, feel when
a strike sends line singing, feed, wind back a steady
take up. Leaves floating on the water collapse
like ash, linger, then slip beneath the surface.

interview with michael mcgriff

by ciara shuttleworth

All last week, Cascadia Review featured poems from Michael McGriff’s collections Dismantling the Hills and Home Burial. This week, we’re featuring an interview I conducted with McGriff on his work, his thoughts about poetry, and his connection with his home in the Cascadia bioregion.

CS: Will you please speak to the importance of place in your work, and how memory shapes that, and how objects (the hip bones of a deer in “New Season,” for example) take on greater meaning?

MM: It would take me a lifetime to answer this question with any clarity—and even then I probably wouldn’t get it right or come any closer to knowing how to answer it. In the simplest terms, I find meaning in the place where I’m from (a rural logging town on the Oregon Coast called Coos Bay)—the people and the landscape seem to be soaked in meaning. I just keep coming back to the same images, the images that haunt me. Charles Simic said somewhere that we all have a set of our own “epic images.” That idea rings true for me. One fact of my life is that I spent my first 21 years in the same town and didn’t really travel much. My imagination was born and ran wild there. I fell in love with writing there. And I suppose my mind just flies back there when I sit down to write.

CS: There are writers whose work builds and shares a family mythology. In many (most) of your poems, you seem to be weaving the actual into a mythology of Coos Bay, of place and its people–both in poems about a specific location (e.g., building, cafe, mill) in Coos Bay, and in poems like “Invocation” where the place is less specific. There is even “My Family History As Explained by the South Fork of the River,” which is a family mythology. There is a mixture of beautiful images molded out of desolate scenes, the speaker half in the moment he lives in now and looking back . . . the other half still there, ghosting the old roads (and, consistently enough, a porch or porches), trying to make sense of it all. Do you feel you are building a mythology of the Coos Bay you grew up in? If so, is this so that it might continue to exist as Coos Bay changes in industry and with the influx of people in and out?

MM: I think that myth-making, at least for me, is the unintended byproduct of writing about the same landscape over and over. The more you write about the same place, the more you have to examine it from new and different angles. I’ve lived in different towns and cities, and I’ve spent time outside the United States, yet I’ve never been compelled to write about any of them. I just wouldn’t feel truthful if I wrote about the great mountain ranges in Utah or the Golden Gate Bridge or pickled Baltic herring. I envy poets who can roam about in their work, writing about wherever the hell they please. I wish I could do that!—but it’s simply not an impulse. I love art that captures the essence of a specific region. I’m absolutely obsessed with Frank Stanford’s poetry, for example. But I also love poetry that’s seemingly placeless, even private—like Vasko Popa’s “The Little Box.” I used to feel more partisan about concrete/personal vs. abstract/private. But I don’t have those feelings anymore—these days, partisan attitudes about poetry bore me. And to answer the second part of your question: No, I haven’t really thought about writing about Coos Bay as a cultural or social preservation project. Really, it’s just that I keep returning to that image source.

CS: Stanford’s life was too short for us to know what he was capable of . . . how he would write and what he would write about as he traveled . . . . Do you feel that limits you—or will eventually limit you—as a poet: only having one place you feel truthful writing about?

MM: Yes, Frank Stanford’s life was tragically short, yet he wrote so much, and so much of it was stunning and transcendent. The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You is one of the finest books on my bookshelf. It’s amazing. There’s no telling what he would have done or where he would have gone had he chosen to keep living. As far as limits go, I don’t feel limited, at least not in a stifling way; I feel obsessed with one locale, and I just keep following that obsession. But I like the idea of “limits”—I think we all have them, and we are all forced to operate under them. It’s where the art comes from.

CS: The speaker in your poems (or you, whichever you prefer) is often alone or in solitude (even when around others), and yet the introspective moments are weighted with people, with experiences and second-hand experiences simply told, without judgment. Can you speak to this?

MM: I’m not sure I have too much to say—I find virtually everyone to be immensely complicated, contradictory, and inherently interesting. These elements seem worth writing about. And as for being alone, I suppose that, too, harkens back to growing up in the boonies. I spent a lot of time by myself in the woods, traipsing around, following old logging roads. I guess it’s a default setting.

CS: By “default setting,” do you mean setting as a place of solitude?

MM: Yeah, I suppose so. Now that I think more on it, I guess this aloneness and solitude has a great deal to do with writing for myself. That is to say, I’m not writing poems for a community or an audience or with a political agenda in mind; I’m writing poems for myself, in a way that I find interesting. Even though my poems are tempered by social and political concerns, I’m definitely writing for an audience of one. I especially feel this is true for Home Burial. It feels different to me than Dismantling the Hills—the poems in this new book feel more private and inward, more meditative and impulsive.

CS: Perhaps that is why Home Burial hit me with such force, and is why I’ve continued to read it again and again over the summer (and will continue to read it over and over) . . . that I am getting away with something by reading it—or that I am one of the lucky ones who is allowed to, even though it is a book everyone should read. Most writers don’t write with the honesty you do . . . . I think this is why I’ve shied away from asking questions about specific poems . . . that you’ve already given enough and shouldn’t be asked to explain further since you’ve already pulled back enough flesh . . .

MM: That’s nice of you to say.

CS: “Buying and Selling” appeared in The Missouri Review with a number of other poems–and this issue is the only place I’ve seen you use forward slashes. What drove the decision to use them at the time?

MM: I did? I honestly can’t remember why I did that. For a while, I was writing all of these poems using only colons—I was under the spell of A. R. Ammons, whose work I deeply admire. At the time of The Missouri Review‘s publication, I was trying to write a book-length sequential poem. I wrote a whole book manuscript that was really bad called Fog. Then Fog turned into this other book-length thing called Landscape with Origins. Then eventually Home Burial was borne out of the ashes of those two duds. It’s great to have honest friends around to tell you that what you’re writing feels forced and lame.

CS: They may have been colons rather than forward slashes . . . . My copy wandered off some time ago . . . so I didn’t verify—I just remembered some oddity in form I haven’t seen in your work other places. Do a lot of your revisions occur as you are shaping poems into a book?

MM: I don’t really have a method for revision. I just keep hammering on the poems until they reach some kind of completion. Some poems don’t comply, and they just float off into the ether. With both Dismantling the Hills and Home Burial, the poems sort of came together. I didn’t sit down with the thought of writing either of those books—that is to say, I didn’t map them out or have a concept for what might make a book. When you get a stack of poems, certain of them start talking to each other, and others seem like permanent loners. This was the process for both books—just putting poems side by side to see which ones fit together. God, it’s a mystery!

CS: Although Barry McKinnon, Franz Wright, and a few others have been using exploded form for decades, it seems to be very popular among young writers now–I see all different formats of exploded form every time I open a literary journal. Abstractions also seem to be more popular in contemporary poetry than ever before. What has kept you writing solid stanzas and using plain-spoken, image-driven language?

MM: To answer the last part of your question first: I love images. James Wright, John Haines, Pablo Neruda, Tomas Tranströmer, Frank Stanford, Don Domanski, Larry Levis (and so many others). These are some of my personal supergods. I go back to these poets over and over. I love the way they represent deep ideas and emotions through the use of the image. I love Bly’s essay / treatise Leaping Poetry, the idea that the stuff of the world is soaked in the unconscious, that to use the image of, say, a leaf, allows you to tap into something way more complex and meaningful—that the stuff of the universe has inherent meaning! It’s a sentiment bordering on the religious, and for me it holds water. I love film for this reason—one image heaped onto another until you get a whole universe. As far as form or the placement of text on the page, I try to follow my impulses. You can tell when someone is faking it—whether one’s poems are running all over the page or in tight verse stanzas. I think form and sincerity have a lot to do with one another.

CS: Freud’s term, “scopophilia,” that was picked up by the film critics in the 1970s to describe the gaze (or the “male gaze,” since the idea of a separate “female gaze” is still forming) as being an unabashed and childlike voyeurism that the camera gives the watcher/viewer—would you say that your work has an element of that where you, the poet, are the camera?

MM: I don’t think so. As I understand it, the so-called male gaze is the idea that the subject(s) of one’s art become unfairly mythologized, marginalized, or exploited. The idea of the artist as one in power or in a position of dominance isn’t one that holds much water for me. I think of art—of any art—as the manifestation of an individual’s vision. There are artworks I loathe and find distasteful—but even then I’m convinced that the makers of those artworks are engaged in a fundamentally democratic practice.

CS: The poems in Choke were in different form (by and large) when published in Dismantling the Hills, the most significant of which (meaning: beyond cutting/tightening/polishing) was “The Last Temptation of Christ.” While there is consistently an undercurrent of spirituality and religious questioning in your work, the Choke version of this poem is directed at “You” as in God, while the newer version is “you” seemingly as in self or reader. Why the switch? (It dramatically changes the poem.)

MM: Yeah, the work in Choke is definitely an earlier and inferior version of what ended up in Dismantling the Hills—or at least I’d like to think so. I changed the “You” to the more general “you” to address the idea that pops up in both the film and book, that the “last temptation” is simply to exist as a normal, general “you,” a person who goes about their life, makes mistakes, and, for good or ill, does the best they can.

CS: But the man—the other self—is changed by the end of the poem . . . or perhaps realizes his inadequacies . . . but nonetheless is changed. Is “the last temptation” for him then to go back to his life and be happy with it?

MM: You know, I’m not really sure. That’s something I love about the film and the book—this paradox of being both self and other. Are we meant to strive for the normal and fallible life, or are we meant to strive for a selfless and sacrificial life? Which is better, which is worse? I like this idea that we have both things swimming inside us—that our lives constantly change because we struggle with trying to live two lives at the same time.

CS: The strength of place in your work is the muscle and flesh of people, of yourself (or former self), as much as place is driven by the machines, the mill industry, and the bay. These are a people of hard living and hard work. Does this determine the language you use? And the structure/format/form of your poems?

MM: Well, my poems are full of things like choker setters and green chain and crummies. I grew up with these terms and assumed they were universal. I didn’t realize that not all people knew what a slash pile was until I left home and moved to a bigger town. I love writing that’s crammed full of details, so I use the details from my life—these “epic images” Charles Simic talks about. As far as structure and form, I really don’t know where those things come from. I learn by reading other poets, trying out their moves and seeing what feels right. I’m a product of my home library just as much as I am my home town.

CS: And do you find that who you read then from your hometown library still resonates for you today?

MM: The poets and poems I read when I first got interested in writing still excite me. I had a great teacher—John Noland—when I attended community college in Coos Bay. The first poets I read were Charles Simic, Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, John Logan, Li Po (Pound’s translation), James Dickey, Richard Hugo, Theodore Roethke, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, and so many more. Also a lot of sound-based, absurdist performance poetry. It was a really exciting and inviting class, and it’s what got me interested in poetry. Especially the surreal and opaque stuff. Poetry as pure adventure and invention. Neruda’s “Walking Around” is what sold me.

CS: How do spirituality and religion influence your work? What about superstition? (I’m thinking of things like the foxgloves and dead crow hung above the door in “Dead Man’s Bells, Witches’ Gloves” and the horse skull above the door in “Year of the Rat” re: superstition.)

MM: I’m not a religious or superstitious person in any way, or at least not in an institutional way. I didn’t grow up going to church and I don’t have any ties to the superstitious side of my cultural roots or family background (Irish and Swedish). I’m pretty sure we turn into potting soil after it’s all said and done. Carl Sagan is my deity of choice. He has this wonderful line in Cosmos, something along the lines of: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” It’s such a lovely statement. That said, religion—or at least the figure of God—enters my work from all sorts of angles. You can’t be alive and not think about God. Religion deals in great abstractions and tries to find a language for those abstractions—in this way, religion in made for poets. I think of my poem “Invocation” as being addressed to God.

CS: Interesting! I read “Invocation” as a poem about/to a loved one, perhaps one that was dying . . .

MM: I suppose I’m using the word “invocation” in the traditional, religious sense—as a direct address to a higher power.

CS: How has translating Tomas Tranströmer and your work to build Tavern Books informed or detracted from your own work?

MM: Translating Tranströmer has been one of the most transformative events in my life as a poet. He’s one of my poetry heroes, and it’s been a great honor to have gotten to know him and his family, and to have spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out how to bring a voice from one language to another. The same has been true for my work with Tavern Books—it’s been an amazing experience and a privilege to have reintroduced these lost books of poetry to the reading public. Publishing and translating poetry keeps me close to poetry—I’m working on something poetry-related all the time. It keeps the wheels greased.

CS: My painting teacher, Bruce McGaw, used to say, “Painters paint every day. If they cannot paint, they should hold a brush. If they cannot hold a brush, they should be painting in their head.” It seems to me your immersion in poetry is this way. Are you ever able to take a day off from poetry—reading, writing, thinking about, etc.—or is it a part of every day?

MM: It’s definitely a part of my everyday life. I’ve gone through long spells of writing nothing, but it’s never stressed me out. For me it’s about having an active and engaged reading life. If I’m not reading anything exciting then I’m in no mood to write. My life definitely centers on the writing of others. As for my own work, when it comes I’m grateful.