It’s no exaggeration to say that Wave Books, based right here in Seattle, is one of the best-respected literary presses in the world. In their early days, the editors published Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s, both of which expanded the possibilities within the realm of literary collage. Since then, their influence on American and international literature has only expanded. They’ve given Mary Ruefle a platform from which to sing her wild and charming associative poetics (imitations of which you’ll find in every MFA program throughout the country), and their translations have brought attention to many deserving avant-garde international poets. When Wave publishes someone, it’s a signal to perk up and pay attention, which is why the reading event Wave in the PNW is especially exciting.
Far be it from me to tell you how you should enjoy poetry, but here’s a brief guide to the writers on the bill. Of course, poets are poets, but this should give you a rough idea.
The launch party for Joshua Beckman’s last book, The Inside of an Apple, happened a few years ago under a big tree in Volunteer Park. People laid out blankets, and Beckman passed out slices of watermelon. He read the whole book to everybody aloud, and the main thing I learned in that setting, besides the fact that I feel lecherous while eating watermelon in public, is that Beckman loves him some iambs, which, if you’re forgetting your English prosody, is just a dub-thump rhythm. You can pick up on that rhythm in passages like this one. “An oak tree / in Hubbard’s Passage / stands absolutely / motionless / and dark / against the sky.” If you put some speed on that sentence, you’ll notice that the syllables in the second half fall into a regular, two-beat rhythm. The sonic effect is soothing, and it’s said to mimic the natural pattern of English speech.
Alejandro de Acosta
I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Alejandro de Acosta reads his translation of Jorge Carrera Andrade’s book Micrograms. A microgram is a short little lyric blast, and Andrade, an Ecuadorian master of the image, wrote his about animals and plants. The poems are about three to six lines long, just long enough to show you a picture you’ve never seen before. Have you ever thought of a seagull as a “foam eyebrow” or a snail as “a tiny measuring tape with which God measures the field”? Get ready.
Don Mee Choi
Don Mee Choi is all about fucking with the English language, which she sees as a kind of fossil of colonial and sexist ideas. She’s trying bust up the rock to open up some new possibilities, as she does in her poem “Papaless Paperless”: “In my halo, I wave hello to bankers and Wall Street fuckers. Irate, I will narrate. Definite indefinite, derivatives inderivatives, Fannie inFannie—I stay inarticulate in transaction about the essential articles of English grammar.”
As a professor of poetry down in Portland, John Beer is known among his students as a brilliant and thoughtful teacher, and his poetry suggests about the same. Recently, he’s been toying with long, chatty poems. Most of the stuff I’ve read lately sounds like it was written by an expatriate of Earth. He’s bemused and engaged by daily life as it is inflected with navel-gazing things like Instagram and Twitter, as he notes here: “Scrolling through Instagram, / and the fact is my friends, the ones I follow, / most of whom seem to be following me, / have by and large an above average visual sense.” I feel you.
A Native poet from Suquamish in the Port Madison Indian Reservation, Cedar Sigo currently lives in San Francisco. The poems in his book Language Arts are loose and talky in the sense that they move freely from idea to idea, image to image, but they’re bound by sound, and many seem like deconstructed sonnets. I say “deconstructed” because on the page, the lines go all over the place, which matches the logic if not the sound patterning in the poems. In any case, he reads with a calm, quiet confidence that encourages you to close your eyes for a second and let language get weird on you. The words, like the book’s title suggests, operate like painted sound, coloring narratives that read like dreams.