Some pleasant déjà vu struck last Thursday, listening to Palmer-based Julie Hungiville LeMay read poems at Indigo Tea Lounge. I saw her read last month in Juneau, too. Her debut book of poetry, “The Echo of Ice Letting Go”, was published this year by University of Alaska Press in the Alaska Literary Series. Her Anchorage event closed out 49 Writers’ Reading and Craft Talk Series for the season. Poems, like songs, are meant to be heard (or read) more than once, and it was great to hear her again, and to hear her elaborate on the process of writing it.
Her book title is borrowed from the last line of a poem in the book. In “Near Power Creek: After A Marriage”, she weaves together two different narratives told by the same speaker—one recounts the present moment’s drive out the road from Cordova to the bridge and Childs Glacier. The other remembers an abusive relationship and its end. The landscape as she writes it gels that juxtaposition in a surprising and poignant way. At the end, the glacier calves, ice breaking under incalculable force with a sound like a distant shotgun, and the water reacts in waves to the plunging bergs. The glacier sheds bits of itself like big, exaggerated tears into a river strong enough to carry them.
The ice and river water (water that itself is made of melting upstream glaciers) collapse time. The complete image, which can really only be experienced in the context of the full poem and not summarized, evokes grief spiked with hope. The poet resolves to go on despite tremendous gravities, diminished and swept piece by piece away or not. The entire book is packed with heavy griefs—the poet’s cancer, her son’s addiction—but the natural world helps salvage and mulch that despair. If the book’s a “letting go” manual, it’s lit by the latent hope in the difference between letting go and giving up.
Julie and I both went to Juneau—her first time in the capital city in her life—to help judge the Poetry Out Loud state finals competition the day after her reading there. The program, supported by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation, encourages high school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance, and competition. Over 3,700 Alaska students in grades 9-12 participated in Poetry Out Loud across Alaska this year. The statewide champion this year is Isabella Weiss, a freshman from Colony High School in Palmer. As this goes to print, Isabella will compete at the national level in DC. Since poet and then-NEA chair Dana Gioia created Poetry Out Loud in 2005, over 3.5 million students have participated from 10,000 schools spanning every state, plus Washington, DC, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. It’s an awesome program that’s especially fueled by motivated teachers at the high school level. Two years ago, Maeva Ordaz of Anchorage’s West High School won the national contest in Washington, DC, a first for Alaska.
Julie’s most recent reading last week and Isabella’s trip all the way to DC aren’t last gasps for National Poetry Month here this year. On Thursday the 27th, the day this hits newsstands, Great Harvest Bread Co. in the Metro Mall will host the 3rd Annual Savor the Rising Words Poetry Broadside Invitational Reading at 7 PM.
Barb Hood started organizing it a few years ago as a way of celebrating National Poetry Month and supporting 49 Writers. She invited members or former students to submit broadsides. Loosely defined, a broadside melds visual art with a poem. They’re single sheets printed on one side and meant to hang on a wall. They’re smaller than posters… more discrete. They’re most often printed on a letterpress or in other printmaking media and often combine the work of a visual artist or printmaker with a poet’s work. The frozen flyers I wrote about last week might count as broadsides if you squint. This exhibit’s more homespun, welcoming any presentation that combines original poetry and original artwork (including photos), in two dimensional format. It’s been interesting to see what folks have come up with in the past, and it’s great to hear the work come alive in the poets’ voices.
The broadside show’s been up all month, and culminates tonight with a reading from many of the participating poets who live within driving distance. At least one’s coming in from Seward, I hear. Broadside sales benefit 49 Writers and some prizes will award participating poets. Next year, I’ll have to encourage Julie LeMay to submit some new work to the show.
I like how broadsides from this event end up on walls around Anchorage, getting read, re-read, and re-re-read. Poetry shouldn’t need its own month any more than science should need its own march, but here we are (alongside National Welding Month, Stress Awareness Month, Keep America Beautiful Month, National Child Abuse Awareness Month, among other April renditions). Anyway, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-Poetry Month.
Hope to see some of you at Great Harvest. Even if the poetry stinks (I joke!), you know the room will smell like fresh baked bread. There might be cookies. And given the moment—Syria burning, our aircraft carrier staring at North Korea, Russian bombers goading Alaska, trolls threatening to hurt a UAA professor because of a painting—an evening of poems and fellowship in a bakery seems worthwhile, in its quiet way. Like Pablo Neruda said: “Peace goes into the making of a poem as flour goes into the making of bread.”
Jeremy Pataky is the author of Overwinter and Executive Director of 49 Writers. He migrates between Anchorage and McCarthy.
Top photo: Julie LeMay presents her debut poetry book, The Echo of Ice Letting Go, in the 49 Writers Reading & Craft Talk Series. Photo: Jeremy Pataky
Bottom photo: Readers in last year’s Savor the Rising Words Poetry Broadside Invitational Exhibition Reading at Great Harvest Bread Co. Photo courtesy of 49 Writers, Inc.