"Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense
of living is joy enough."
-Emily Dickinson

The Definitive Poets Society

Robin Schultz isn't a man to shy away from a challenge. So, it was quite fitting when in 1992 he took on a project which would in the end stroke the ego of Seattle's poet community, while enriching the city as a whole. Perhaps this is the first you've heard of Robin Schultz. Don't let that cause you to underestimate his impact on the arts in the Pacific Northwest.

It can't be stated with certainty what motivated Schultz to organize a ragtag crew of poets into focusing their energy together long enough to actually complete a collection of local poems, but one wouldn't be far from the mark to include his love of poetry in the equation. The finished project is a slim volume called Seattle Poems by Seattle Poets (Poetry Around Press, $5.00). At 51 pages in length, it's hardly an impressive achievement; considering he had to deal with 48 artistic egos besides his own is. Poets can be a difficult bunch who require not a little pampering when it comes to their words. That said, Seattle Poems is an impressive end-product for a project he basically launched over a beer at Seattle's now defunct Ditto Tavern, a former denizen of artsy writsey types lurking in the shadow of the monorail. It offers a good mix of serious, funny and contemplative reflections about the Seattle neighborhoods the writers live and work in.

The book opens with a poem by Crysta Casey in which she reflects on a night out in Pioneer Square, Seattle's premier club district. She describes a waitress with "Street signs / giving directions lin[ing] / her forehead, point[ing] left / and right from her eyes. / Her lower lip drops / open in loneliness, / the kind that can't be filled / by real people but in dreams . . ." It kind of catches ones attention, that. It's followed by an entry composed by Roberto Valenza, in which he laments the absence of park benches in Seattle, a condition politically spawned to discourage loitering. File that with the city's anti-sitting (on the sidewalk) ordinance, and you start to understand where this poet is coming from when he writes:

    No benches. No small talk.
    No spare change. No old folks
    taking a break with their groceries.
    The benches are gone from fear of freedom.

Seattle Poems is not all political though. Robbo (he has no last name, or perhaps his first is missing, or maybe Robbo is his middle name) lives near the King County Airport at Boeing Field. His concern is over one of those huge jumbo jets falling upon his house during takeoff or landing. In Gravity Be Kind he describes a fantasy of his. "just once," he writes, "i would like one of these monsters to crash in my front yard . . . it might even be better than god." Robbo doesn't go for capitalization. For that matter neither does Marion Kimes. A longtime resident of Seattle, Marion is a stalwart in poet circles. Her poem is titled MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmHaya Ho. It's kind of a downer poem about endangered species, us and the planet hanging in the balance. Timely, as Seattle's now trying to deal with a dwindling salmon population that scientific data suggests is on the brink of extinction. ". . . the endangered name every name . . ." drives home the point of the poem which lays the blame for every lost species, every polluted paradise resolutely on each of our own heads. Marion likes to tell everyone she meets that she always writes "poet" on her Form 1040 at tax time, lest we think she hasn't got a sense of humor.

. . . Wagner perhaps offers the ultimate purpose

of the poet's calling: the defining of self,

studiously observed from within and without.

When Seattle Poems was released, the contributors to it got together at the place of its birth, and held a reading beneath the monorail. It was an exciting night for most, a scary one for the newcomers, a justification of sorts for old unpublished hands, and a rare opportunity to hear poems read in the voices that wrote them.

The collection closes with a poem by Elizabeth Wagner. It's titled Because I Considered Calling You. The title seems detached from the poems subject; the making of a movie.

    They're making a movie up on 19th and East Thomas . . .
    They're making someone's life up there on the corner
    just past the four-way stop . . .
    I want to stand quietly beside the extras.
    I want to see if I want it to be me
    that they're making.
In her honesty, Wagner perhaps offers the ultimate purpose of the poet's calling: the defining of self, studiously observed from within and without. Her contribution, along with nearly fifty others give Seattle poets a nice leg up, but as a collection Seattle Poems just scratches the surface of the Emerald City's poet community, barely exposing the true essence of these artists.

Full disclosure: A poem penned by this reviewer is included in Seattle Poems.

posted 09/16/01