In honor of David Ossman’s new book, The Old Man’s Poems, the Band of Poets is coming up from Seattle for the book launch party, and will provide musically poetic entertainment. This band is unique in its makeup of poets and instruments, and is a visiting gem full of sparkle.

Band of Poets celebrates the interplay of poetry and music. Their performances weave original compositions with those of other artists, both past and present. Musical offerings range from traditional to jazz; their choice of poetry spans from classics to Beat. As published poets and eclectic musicians, they join forces to share their unique amalgam of song and spoken word.
—Rosanne Olson

BAND OF POETS, from left to right:
John Burgess, Ted McMahon, Jed Myers, Rosanne Olson and Anna Jenkins

Band of Poets will be sharing ballads and hymns, the ghosts of the Beats, and evocations of Whitman, political outrage, edginess, and, yes, even love. Band of Poets features the original music and poetry of John Burgess, Anna Jenkins, Ted McMahon, Jed Myers, and Rosanne Olson. You might hear a guitar or harmonica or maybe even an angel. You can dance if you feel like it. Who knows what would happen next?

Let’s begin the introductions to each of these musically inclined poets with Jed Myers, since his book—Between Dream and Flesh—was published by Egress Studio Press just last year, and I just can’t resist mentioning that.

Jed Myers

Jed Myers has been weaving music and poetry together in various ways for many years, believing the arts can help us remember our oneness across all the apparent differences. Jed is a widely published and award-winning poet, who’s hosted countless open mics, plays guitar and sings with The 52nd Street Band, and he loves being in Band of Poets. Read more about Jed on his website at








John Burgess

John Burgess grew up in upstate New York, worked on a survey crew in Montana, taught English in Japan, and since 1985 has lived in Seattle where he works for an insurance company. Past glories include: 2006 Jack Straw writer; co-founder of the original Burning Word Festival; 2008 Words’ Worth curator for the Seattle City Council; 2-time runner-up for Seattle Poet Populist; and past Board president at Hugo House, Seattle’s creative writing center. He has five books of poetry, some with maps, charts and drawings, from Ravenna Press: Punk Poems (2005), A History of Guns in the Family (2008), Graffito (2011), “by Land…” (2015), and 1977 (2018). Look out, though. John Burgess has a contagious smile. More about John can be had at





Rosanne Olson

Rosanne Olson has spent a lifetime in the arts as an award-winning photographer, author, educator and musician. Her passion for words and poetry, which began in college, evolved into a love of songwriting. She plays harmonica with the 52nd Street Band, and sings some of her songs with the Band of Poets and at local venues. Her first album, Love in Your Country was released in 2018. View more of her work at







Ted McMahon

Ted McMahon is a Seattle poet and percussionist. A long-time contributor to Easy Speak Seattle, he is happy to be a collaborator with Band of Poets.

You can see more of his poetry at









Anna Jenkins

Anna Jenkins is a music teacher, composer, arranger, and therapeutic musician. She performs with the girl band Nasty Woman, Resonance Harp Duo, and leads the Eastside Harp Circle. Anna enjoys adding Celtic harp to the spoken word with Band of Poets! She has to leave our celebration by 8pm, so be sure to be here early. A harp with a harpist is more than a wonder.







This, to me, sounds like a one-of-a-kind sort of event, one that I’m glad I won’t be missing. We will request donations for the musicians’ expenses, since they are traveling all the way from Seattle (plus you don’t want to forget how much time and expense it takes to create such talent). But, as always, I want everyone who would like to hear the poems and music during this event to please come. Your presence is a delight, and our wish is to share a few of the wonderful things in the world.

Many people know David Ossman as one of the main characters of the infamous Firesign Theatre, since its beginnings back in the amazing ’60’s. A precursor to Saturday Night Live, Firesign Theatre was like a godfather to SNL, Frank Zappa, and others.

But this post is about David Ossman as poet. His new book, titled The Old Man’s Poems, is inspired by morning coffee, an artful cat, and the mysterious majesty of Mount Baker. Ossman is agile and savvy when it comes to writing from the heart—his poems share the honest experience of someone who’s been around the block a couple million times. He’s trustworthy, and has a beautiful mind.


David Ossman in his study

Ah, but I mentioned a Book Launch Party in the headline of this post.

David Ossmans’ Book Launch Party: The Old Man’s Poems

with David Ossman reading from his book, and hopefully talking about things. In celebration of Ossman’s new book, The Band of Poets from Seattle, a music and poetry group— with John Burgess, Anna Jenkins, Jed Myers, Ted McMahon, and Rosanne Olson—will also be performing.

Saturday, August 17: Program begins at 6pm
(I know I said 7pm in earlier promotion, but I’ve changed my mind. It’ll be 6pm. The harpist has to leave by 8.)

Potluck at 5pm. If you can’t decide what to bring, here’s a suggestion: A-D, please bring a dessert; E-L bring a salad or vegetable dish; M-T side dishes or an entrée even; U-Z appetizers might be nice.


David Ossman during a performance.

The process of publishing this book was much slower than I had hoped, but the soft covers are all but finished, with only fifteen outer covers to score, trim, fold and wrap around the interior book. David will come up to the studio tomorrow to sign and number all 150 copies. Then they will be done.


This photo shows a few unscored, untrimmed, wraparound covers at the far end of the table (hope you don’t get dizzy looking at it), beside the tools I use to score and trim the books, and then there are 135 books with their outer covers on ready for signing tomorrow, and the final stack of fifteen books in the box (with the red interior cover), which I’ll finish up as soon as I’m done writing this post.

Please notice that this is a limited edition, handmade book. It is like an artwork, because I consider poetry not only an oral art, but a visual art as well, once it’s on the page. I enjoy designing poetry books, and attempt to reflect the poems in the typography, layout, and cover designs. For this book, I also prepared six linoleum blocks to make the interior and cover illustrations.

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The price for the book ($27) does reflect the artistry of David Ossman and the work that went into making the book. Handmade books cannot compete with mass-produced books, except in artistry of production. In the future, the soft covers will be joined by several hardcover artbooks as well. These are not made just yet. But you might want to know that the poems in these hardcover books will printed on my handmade papers, and illustrated with each of the six linoleum blocks tipped in. Those will take a while longer to make, but I’ll certainly announce when they are finished.

I will post more about David Ossman, the Band of Poets, the book, and this event as we get closer to the August 17 celebration. Come and help us celebrate.

—Anita K. Boyle, publisher, Egress Studio Press

Writing poems about current political events and ideas is one of the important responsibilities that fall to the poet, and it is not an easy task, and is the reason why I decided to host a couple workshops on this topic. Seattle poets Raúl Sanchez and Jed Myers are scheduled to teach workshops on how to create political poems that welcome your ideas­—and the crucial details of today’s prevalent events. The task is complex and sometimes dreadful, but is clearly a crucial element of being a serious poet. The goal of each of these workshops is to write relevant political poems people will actually want to hear and read. That this is possible is represented in many poets work! Think of Walt Whitman, Valzhyna Mort, Ilya Kaminsky, Allen Ginsberg, Sharon Olds…. Participants will learn from these two dynamic Seattle poets as they discuss methods to clearly portray your point of view in poetry. Jed Myers says, “If it’s true that the personal is political, then poetry must be able to capture the political in the personal facts of experience.”

Date: Saturday, March 9, 2019

Location: Egress Studio, 5581 Noon Road, Bellingham, WA

Workshops #1: Raúl Sanchez­—1:00–3:00pm

Workshops #2: Jed Myers—3:30–5:30pm

Registration: one workshop $25, both workshops $40

Please call Anita K. Boyle at 360-398-7870 or email her at

Registration Deadline: March 6, 2019.

The workshops will be held inside the creatively inspiring Egress Studio. Participants are welcome to walk around the five acres to clear their heads between workshops or even just to take a little break, if necessary, since sometimes politics can be a bit much.

Raúl Sanchez




Raúl Sanchez’s workshop participants will look at poems from two anthologies: Poetry of Resistance and Poets Against the War, as well as specific poems like Martin Espada’s “The Republic of Poetry,” Pablo Neruda’s poem “Anguish of Death,” Cesar Vallejo’s “The Black Riders,” and a bonus poem by Gloria Anzaldúa “To live in the Borderlands means you.”  During the workshop, attendees will point out issues mentioned in the poems that affect us and the people from other countries. From this information, poems will be created that reflect current political issues affecting our country and the world.

About the instructor: Raúl Sanchez was selected to be the Inaugural Poet in Residence for the City of Burien 2018. He is also a translator currently working on the Spanish version of his poetry collection All Our Brown-Skinned Angels (MoonPath Press) nominated for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. Raúl’s focus is immigration, discrimination, profiling, racism and social injustice, among other issues. He is a member of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program. Currently, Raúl volunteers as a Poetry Mentor for the Pongo Teen Writing Project in the King County Juvenile Detention Center and a member of the Seattle Arts and Lectures Writers in the schools (WITS) program.

Jed Myers





Jed Myers’ workshop:

Jed Myers says, “If it’s true that the personal is political, then poetry must be able to capture the political in the personal facts of experience. We must be able to channel the currents of our culture’s disturbances and possibilities through our intuitive apparatus and create embodiments of our struggles that invite strongly felt resonances.” In this workshop Myers hopes to facilitate such a process—by offering some experiential exercises, by encouraging the psychic shift from concept and category to perception and sensation, and by tapping the group’s power to support its members in writing openheartedly through the self rather than from the self. Some worthwhile writing is bound to come of it!

About the instructor: Jed Myers is author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press, forthcoming), and three chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels (Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award). Recent poems appear in Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, and Southern Poetry Review.

About this project: Anita K. Boyle creates art and poetry at Egress Studio. This poetry writing workshop event is in support of the larger Whatcom County poetry community. A minimum of 30% of all workshop proceeds will go directly to the migrants at the Mexican/US border as they continue their journey into the United States. The donation from will most likely be for non-profit group Angry Tias & Abuelas who are doing very valuable work right now at the Mexican/American border, work that reminds me of these lines: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” —Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “New Colossus”. There is a link on Facebook, if you’re interested in learning about the some of the work they are doing.

The Poet As Art features Raúl Sánchez and Marjorie Manwaring on Friday March 29, 7 pm. Please join us at the Lucia Douglas Gallery in Bellingham.

Please excuse the improper accent in Raúl's last name in the post card (and poster).

Please excuse the improper accent in Raúl’s last name in the image above (and poster).

Before we start the interview, it would be good to note, as a quick introduction to Raúl Sánchez, that he read at Elliott Bay Book Company last summer, and we’ve been making attempts to set up a reading with him since his book was published.

His  long-awaited debut collection of poems is titled All Our Brown-Skinned Angels (MoonPath Press, 2012), about which Francisco X. Alarcón says:

“I open All Our Brown-Skinned Angels, the new collection of poems by Raúl Sánchez, as a book of intimate, personal prayers. But the prevailing Judeo-Christian theology is turned upside down in these poems. Here, the Earth is sacred … Raúl Sánchez is the contemporary Netzalhuacóyotl of the Northwest, who lives in damp Seattle … and has come out with wondrous poems in praise of life that are liberating prayers for every day.”

All Our Brown-Skinned Angels cover

All Our Brown-Skinned Angels cover

Wet is right! The photo on the event poster is from our pond on Noon Road in Bellingham reaching flood level in March. Or was that late February? At any rate, the level moves up and down so much lately, it’s like the pond is breathing. This is the weather we live with. Well, I digress.

At Elliott Bay, Raúl read with MoonPath Press publisher, poet and fiction writer Lana Hechtman Ayers and the musically inclined poet John Burgess—both fogbound poets from around Puget Sound. I would have liked to have been there, because each of these poets is well worth hearing, and such different writers from each other!

While it has always been important, with current events as they are right now, it may be more crucial than ever to hear the poems of Raúl Sánchez. Hear what he says about his poems in the following interview, and you may see what I mean. He is full of seriousness and humor.

An Interview Raúl Sánchez with for The Poet as Art

What aspects of your experience keep you writing poetry?

There are many experiences I’ve had as an immigrant. Those include relationships, employment, political situations and the diaspora away from México.

Are there features of your life that have run contrary to you being, or continuing to be, a poet?

Yes, the first one will be that I do not have formal education from any educational institution in the USA. That makes me feel incapable to write Poetry. However, I started journaling and writing notes from the travels I did between 1981 and 1994. One of those years I spent in India. At one point, I was writing short simple poems that were published in company newsletters and local newspapers. When I was younger, I wrote a couple of political poems for the student movement in Mexico City. In 1996, I decided to join a Latino writers group in Seattle, where I learned more about writing. That is when I decided to get serious about writing poetry.

What is the single most surprising thing you’ve learned about poetry?

Poetry is a medium by which we can express what we see, feel, hear, taste, smell and experience, whether animate or inanimate, in an artistic way by sounding off words in a rhythmic voice.

If you could choose one person, dead or alive, who influenced you as a writer, who would that be? How did he or she impact your writing experience?

Renato Leduc

Renato Leduc

For me it would be Renato Leduc. A French-Mexican Poet, Journalist and signaler for Francisco Villa.

I remember Renato reciting his poems in the middle of my father’s restaurant in Mexico City. I was a young lad then and had no idea what poetry was. Then one day I discovered his poems and stories in an anthology of Mexican poets and writers. On one of my trips to Mexico City, I found his complete works, which were not translated into English. To my delight, I’ve translated one of his poems into English, which was published on-line by Pirene’s Fountain in 2011.

What kind of non-literary books stimulated your poetry?

Having learned English in Mexico City, I would say Dick and Jane. I still have a couple of those books.

The famous Dick and Jane books

The famous Dick and Jane books

Which book of poetry is most important to you and your work as a poet?

Since I have lived in two countries, from México it would be Jaime Sabines’ Poesía Amorosa, and from the USA, Denise Levertov’s Relearning the Alphabet.

What do you believe your readers enjoy most about your work?

Our personal diaspora, connectivity and ethnic identification. Family, migration, the uncertain future and the certainty of the roots that keep us growing.

Raúl Sanchéz, poet

Raúl Sánchez, poet


Here is one of Raúl Sánchez’s poems, the one I’ll be making into a poetry broadside. The broadside will be available free at the reading, and we hope you’ll make a donation to help us continue bringing poets to Bellingham.

Every Dress a Decisión
after Elizabeth Austen

My older sister could never
ever decide what to wear
on Friday and Saturday nights

My parents told her too short, too tight
what that meant I didn’t understand
all I know is that my older sister

went away wearing her platform shoes
and skin-tight skirts every time
she could sneak out

after my parents went to bed
and I fell asleep
while watching Superman

Raúl’s comments about his poem:

I went to the Richard Hugo House the night Elizabeth Austen read at the “Cheap Wine and Poetry” series after her book release for Every Dress A Decision. The title of the book stayed with me and triggered a poem thinking about my older sister, who doesn’t exist since I’m the oldest. Perhaps wishful thinking lead to the idea that “If I would’ve had an older sister, that’s what she would’ve done” back in 1969. My editor decided to change the word “Decision” to “Decisión” to add flavor to the poem. I gave the poem to Elizabeth handwritten in Spanish on one of the postcards she made to promote her book.


We hope you join us for this poetry reading at the Lucia Douglas Gallery, which is showing collaborations between the artists Thomas Wood and FishBoy (RR Clark). Strange and wonderful art.

Posted by Anita K. Boyle

It’s up. Now you can look for the poster all over Bellingham and around Whatcom County, maybe even Skagit County. (Let me know if you want have one or more to put up in a prominent place. It’s such a task.)

The Poet As Art at the Lucia Douglas Art Gallery

The Poet As Art at the Lucia Douglas Art Gallery

Click on the poster, if you want to see it larger.

This poetry reading by Marge Manwaring and Raul Sanchez is going to be great. Jim and I have heard both of them read their work. The poems are honest and imaginative. When they read, their voices are clear and strong, and it becomes apparent that they love the poems. This is a formula for an unforgettable reading. While we are planning a few other types of events, this is the only reading we’re scheduling this year for The Poet As Art.

Don’t miss the poetry writing workshop Marge will be teaching on Saturday, March 30. Sign up early to save a seat.

If you aren’t on our email list, here is the main portion of the information you’ll need for these two events:

1. An Evening with The Poet As Art: Marjorie Manwaring and Raul Sanchez
Date and Time: Friday, March 29 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Place: Lucia Douglas Gallery, 1415 13th Street in Fairhaven (Bellingham WA)
This poetry event promises to be a perfect evening to ring in April as National Poetry Month! Raúl Sánchez and Marjorie Manwaring are Seattle poets who are active contibutors to our Northwest literary community. Raúl Sánchez’s poetry takes on colonizers and Congress, and celebrates the local, familial, and ancestral. His most recent collection of poetry is All Our Brown-Skinned Angels (MoonPath Press, 2012). Marjorie Manwaring’s poetry collections include the chapbooks What to Make of a Diminished Thing (Dancing Girl Press) and Magic Word (Pudding House Publications), plus her brand-new volume Search for a Velvet-Lined Cape (Mayapple Press, 2013). Poet Amy Gerstler says, “These poems simultaneously deconstruct and enact enchantment.”

2. Workshop: The Persona Poem: Becoming Who (or What) You Don’t Know
Marjorie Manwaring, Instructor
Date and Time: Saturday, March 30 from 10:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Place: Egress Studio, 5581 Noon Road, Bellingham WA.
Registration is limited to fifteen participants. Cost: $55
Ever tried to write a poem from the perspective of Marilyn Monroe, or the world’s largest mushroom? Even if this is your first attempt, you’ll enjoy the fun of bucking the old adage “write what you know”! (In fact, many find shifting a poem’s focus away from the biographical self to be a welcome relief.) We’ll mix in-class writing with examinations of work by contemporary poets including Amy Gerstler, Charles Harper Webb, Carol Ann Duffy, and Tim Seibles. Be willing to don some (metaphorical) masks and get a little crazy! Call 360-398-7870 for more details and to register.

The Poet As Art if an affiliate program of the Whatcom Poetry Series, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations, made out to “Whatcom Poetry Series” are tax deductible. Please designate which program your donation would go to: The Poet As Art, poetrynight, or the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest.

On Friday, March 29, Marjorie Manwaring (aka Marge) and Raul Sanchez will read poetry at the Lucia Douglas Gallery (7 pm). The very next day, Marge is our featured guest instructor for a poetry writing workshop where participants will begin to understand her notable concepts for the persona poem. When we post an official announcement for this workshop, be sure to sign up early. Seems people are pretty enthusiastic about this poet and her work.

Marjorie Manwaring, poet

Marjorie Manwaring, poet

For the readings, I always make broadsides of the featured poets’ poems. They are free for people who attend, so they’ll have a poem or two to take with them to remind them of how poetry affects their lives. (Because this is a common question… a poetry broadside is a sheet of paper with a poem on one side. They are sometimes like works of art, which is what I’m always going for when I design a broadside.)

A sample of Marge Manwaring’s poetry follows (not the broadside poem):


The man by my side, patting my collar down, brushing cat fur from my sleeves before my appointment with the magician—he knows, my husband, the importance of these nights and yet still wonders what it is I seek at the magician’s house. He knows there’s more to it than a rabbit and a hat or a shell game and tonight his hands will linger on the abrasions—Yes, I’ll say, he’s still working on the sawing trick, almost got it down and I don’t know when this fantasy grew to such proportions—the magician, the magician’s assistant, but this man by my side, he sends me on my way and as I open the door he says, You forgot something, hands me my dog-eared paperback on illusion and escape.

—Marjorie Manwaring

To introduce her to people in our community who may not know her, or would like to know more about her, I asked Marge a few questions about her experience as a poet. And she answered them! The interview begins…
What aspects of your experience keep you writing poetry?

Writing poetry (like any artistic pursuit, I suppose) is about more than sitting at the desk and writing (although that is important, certainly!); it is constantly observing, being receptive to contradiction, looking for a way to connect seemingly unconnected things. Being vigilant. The impulse is always there to “take notes”—whether I’m in a museum, at an intersection looking at an oddly defaced street sign, overhearing a juicy snippet of conversation, or listening to a scientist speak on the radio. I think that maybe I’ve always had that impulse; it’s just that now I have a place to “put” my musings.

Are there features of your life that have run contrary to you being, or continuing to be, a poet?

The biggest obstacle to writing is time, and I know I’m not alone in that. For a while I was doing freelance writing and editing work, where I had busy and slow periods. During the slower periods, I had bigger stretches of free time to write and to “putter”—those stretches of time could be spent reading, imagining, letting my mind wander. For the past couple years I’ve been doing a 40-hour-a-week contract, so that variability in my schedule that I once had is gone. And, while once I have a draft, I can successfully work on revisions in small 15-minute increments if I have to, for me that isn’t usually the best environment for crafting a first draft. So, like for a lot of other writers, it is a matter of finding time (and of being disciplined, not getting distracted) in the evenings and on weekends for reading, writing, or just letting ideas percolate.

I’d like to interrupt this interview with words from a couple other poets about Marjorie Manwaring’s lastest publication: Search for a Velvet-Lined Cape (Mayapple Press 2013):

Manwaring_Search_for_Velvet_FrontCover_451KAn intricately witty poet, Amy Gerstler says of Marge’s book, “Escape artists of many stripes populate these pages: reflective oddballs, the curious, the strangely gifted, the vulnerable. We witness ineffable, transformative moments in the lives of airborne saints or Houdini. Or we’re transported to the Bigfoot Car Wash, or to an orgy of dead poets. Manwaring’s delightfully inventive poems bring to mind Steven Millhauser’s fiction and the work of magician Ricky Jay in their love of marvels and illusions, rendered with sly intelligence. Teetering between pathos and brightness, these poems simultaneously deconstruct and enact enchantment.”

And the current poet laureate of Washington State Kathleen Flenniken says, “Something is always churning in these captivating, sometimes unsettling poems: The Zipper at the county fair (with mother inside), Monkey Girl and her baton, the bedroom ceiling covered solid with yellow jackets. Something is always changing: a snowman falling in love on a warm day, white paper roses transforming into doves. It’s never a dull moment. But this clear, humane voice brings it all close and compels us to care. By turns wistful, wry (or out-and-out funny!), elegiac, and always smart, Marjorie Manwaring convinces us that even the surreal, even magic, even great sadness, is simply life as we live it every day, and that all of it is worthy of praise.”

If you could choose to meet a dead poet, who would that be? How did he or she impact your writing experience?

I would love to meet Gertrude Stein. She fascinates me. Rather than bringing someone back from the dead, I think what I would really like is to time-travel back to her days in Paris, get invited to her salons, study her art collections, meet her friends, talk to her. While reading Stein, I learned that, despite a poetic style in which “meaning” is elusive and associative leaps are the norm, she writes with playfulness and a sense of humor, and that taught me something about comedy. As one example, there were places in her long poem Lifting Belly that made me laugh out loud—and this wasn’t because they were funny in the sense of a joke or humorous anecdote; despite the lack of conventional narrative, she was able to create comedic moments through the use of line breaks, repetition, and the unexpected juxtapositions of words and phrases. This seemed like something important to learn.

Before continuing with this interview, Marge shares another poem with this blog’s audience:


Burrow back down.
Your work in the dark is not done.

Because the autumn was nothing
but gathering

and digging
you’ve still got seeds

and roots to gnaw and swallow.
What’s the hurry?

You hibernators.
So lucky.

Months of no distractions from the moon.
The strange dreams of slowed

metabolism and knowing when
to look at shadows.

—Marjorie Manwaring

About this poem, “Groundhog Turning Poet,” our poet says:
Aside from a meditation on being a poet, on the work of creating something, on transformation, this poem was also a musing on the isolation, sometimes self-imposed, of artists, of their (my) introverted tendencies.

What kinds of books outside of poetry and fiction have stimulated your poetry?

I often get inspiration from nonfiction. Some books that have inspired me:

  • Jay’s Journals of Anomalies: Conjurers, Cheats, Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters, Imposters, Pretenders, Sideshow Showmen, Armless Calligraphers, Mechanical Marvels, Popular Entertainers (Ricky Jay).
  • Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds (George W. Hudler).
  • On Becoming a Woman, a 1950s book on dating and marriage given to me as a gag gift while in high school.
  • Dust: A History of the Small and Invisible (Joseph A. Amato)
  • Books I inherited from my grandparents’ library, such as Know Your Fish published by Sports Afield, and old cookbooks.

Not books but also inspiring:

  • Letters from people and entities.
  • Museum placards.
  • Newspaper headlines.
  • The Weekly World News tabloid, now available only online (I’m including it, even though you’d be hard-pressed to call it nonfiction with a straight face.)

Which book of poetry is most important to you and your work as a poet?

It’s hard to pick just one, so here are some that have been important for different reasons over the years.

Complete Poems: 1913-1962 by E. E. Cummings. This 800-plus-page tome was the first book of poetry I ever bought (and the only one I owned at the time, save the poetry collections I’d been given as a child). I was a freshman at the University of Washington and taking a required introductory English class. We didn’t focus much on poetry in the class, but in the Norton Introduction to Literature anthology we read from, there were some poems by Cummings, and clearly they made an impression on me! Poetry, and Cummings’ experimental word acrobatics in particular, were so far removed from the science track I was pursuing at the time…it’s funny to think about. This was in the mid-80s. I would not try my hand at writing poetry, nor would I read poetry on a regular basis, until the late 90s, but I feel like this was one of those subconscious impulses—that perhaps I knew something about myself before I really knew it.

The October Palace by Jane Hirshfield, and Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon. In the late 90s, I took a series of poetry writing classes through the University of Washington Extension (now the Continuing Education program). Through poems we discussed in class and recommendations from classmates, I came to know and love “the two Janes,” as I like to call them, Jane Kenyon and Jane Hirshfield. I was drawn to their meditative qualities, how beautifully they harnessed the power of the image, of the named particular, how their work evoked mystery and yet was firmly grounded in nature, in the household, in the challenges of illness and other human sorrows.

Liver by Charles Harper Webb, and Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake by John Hollander. I believe I came to these books after completing the two-year program through the UW Extension. We had read a broad spectrum of poems, including work by David Trinidad, Denise Duhamel, and Thomas Lux, who incorporated pop culture references and humor into their poems. I remember driving in town doing errands and hearing a radio interview with Charles Harper Webb, who had just published his collection Liver. I was so taken with the humor, pathos, and linguistic energy of the poems he read that I added a trip to the bookstore to my “to do” list that very day. Around that same time, I think, John Hollander gave a lecture and reading at the University of Washington; he read from his book Reflections on Espionage, which had just been re-released. This book-length poem featuring a spy named Cupcake blew me away with its unusual subject matter (poems in the form of messages transmitted by agent Cupcake) and its exploration of secrecy, the search for meaning, and language itself. Both books enhanced my vision of what a book of poetry could be.

Madame Deluxe by Tenaya Darlington. This book was on my reading list my first semester of graduate school. It, like Webb’s Liver, enchanted me with its smart humor, its references to pop culture, its playfulness with language, and its poignancy, but Darlington’s energy was distinctly feminine and would lead me into the works of Amy Gerstler and Carol Ann Duffy.

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. I read this while in graduate school, too. It was the first Anne Carson book I had read. I feel like it propelled me into a different voice/sensibility in my writing—or that might be too strong, maybe it just opened up another poetic register to me. It’s hard to articulate, but I felt a shift in how I thought about poetry after reading this book.

What do you believe your readers enjoy most about your work?
People have told me they enjoy the humor in my poems and the sometimes peculiar lens through which I look at the world.

Want to know a little more about Marge?

Marjorie Manwaring lives in Seattle, where she is a freelance writer/editor, co-editor of the online poetry and art journal the DMQ Review (, and editorial board member for Floating Bridge Press. Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including 5 AM, Sentence, Crab Creek Review, and A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, and have been featured on National Public Radio affiliate KUOW. Marjorie holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from the Bennington College Writing Seminars and is the author of two chapbooks, What to Make of a Diminished Thing (Dancing Girl Press) and Magic Word (Pudding House Publications); Search for a Velvet-Lined Cape is her first full-length collection.  You can find out even more at her website:

Posted by Anita K. Boyle.

Meet Sylvia Gray, composer, musician and historian

A little about Sylvia Gray

Sylvia Gray, composer

Sylvia Gray, composer

• Sylvia Gray is on the history faculty at Portland Community College, and pursues music as an avocation. She has taught piano, played for weddings and receptions, and accompanied soloists for over 25 years. She participated in the Van Cliburn Fifth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs; has given performance/lectures on Amy Beach and Fanny Mendelssohn; and is a member of the violin-cello-piano trio, The Classical Beauties. Sylvia loves poetry, and will sometimes ask a poet for a copy of a poem he or she has read, along with the surprising request to compose a piece of music for the poem. As you would imagine, her personal life revolves around music.

Sylvia met Viktors Berstis about five years ago when they both participated in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs.  Sylvia says, “There is a recorded audition one submits, and Dr. Susan DeWitt Smith, my piano teacher, encouraged me to apply.  I surprised myself by being accepted, as it was a competition even at that entry level. It took a lot of courage for me because I was pushed far out of my comfort zone, and I learned a lot as a result of participating. Viktors was the first other contestant I met, and we had a nice conversation that first evening.  I had no idea at the time that it would go beyond a friendly chat, but we continued communicating by email after the competition, and three years later we got married.”

Sylvia Gray At the Piano

Sylvia Gray At the Piano

Sylvia’s job required her to live in Portland, but Viktors’ work for IBM can be accomplished anywhere, so he moved up to Portland from Austin, Texas. They sold their houses and found a house that would be appropriate to hold house concerts in.  Viktors’ Steinway D is a wonderful piano, which is perfect for their concerts.  “We move out the dining table and pull out some folding chairs and we can accommodate 60 people quite easily if people don’t mind being in close quarters.”  Together, the couple has hosted many intimate house concerts featuring talents like the Bottom Line Duo coming up in February. On January 12, Sylvia’s art songs were in the spotlight. All five of the poets whose work she composed art songs for were present, and each read the poems before the art songs were performed by the soprano Nathalie Euwer Croft, accompanied by Sylvia Gray on the piano. Click here for more photos of the event.

What is an art song? It is a piece of music usually written for one voice and the piano, and is generally written for a poem. As a composer, this is one of Sylvia’s passions.

An interview with Sylvia Gray

What inspires you to compose music, especially art song?

I need something to precipitate my creativity, it seems – and a beautiful poem that captures a nugget of life in a clever or evocative way can do that for me. In addition, I need to not only be attracted to the poem, but I also need to have a spark of an idea as to how I can use music to highlight the words and meaning.

Cherry Britton recently retired from a career in advertising and graphics. Even more recently she returned from a two-month journey along the Chemin de St. Jacques, one of the medieval French pilgrimage routes leading to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. It was an astonishing adventure. Her sketches and poetry spring from the everyday oscillations of the sacred, the profane and the mundane along her even longer path through life.

Poet Cherry Britton recently retired from a career in advertising and graphics. Even more recently she returned from a two-month journey along the Chemin de St. Jacques, one of the medieval French pilgrimage routes leading to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. It was an astonishing adventure. Her sketches and poetry spring from the everyday oscillations of the sacred, the profane and the mundane along her even longer path through life.

What draws you to the poems you choose for your art songs?

I started thinking about doing this when I read a collection of poems that included one written by a colleague at Portland Community College, Michael McDowell. It occurred to me that if I wanted to, I could set a certain poem to music. I thought about that for a few years (it’s not like I’m just sitting around doing nothing) — and then told myself, it’s one thing to be pretty sure you can do something if you want, but it’s another to actually do it. I was also stymied by the music software — I bought some, and it had problems with my computer, and I let that stop me. But eventually I decided I would just make it happen, and so I got through the computer problems and sat down to do it. It turns out that I really can do it.

So to get back to the actual question — I have to have a spark of an idea of how the music can enhance the poem. Usually if I have a good idea, with a lot of work I can bring it to fruition. It helps if there is a discernible form in the poetry itself. Most 20th and 21st century poetry is not written in exact meter — and that can make things challenging from a musical standpoint (or interesting!) — but even then, if there is a refrain, or a repeated line, or some kind of symmetry — that makes things easier. It’s almost as if it’s an art assignment with some boundaries around it. I think I need some boundaries within which to work, and if I can see the potential for creativity, with the poem providing the boundaries, that’s my assignment.

Caroline LeGuin lives on the outskirts of her home town, Portland, Oregon, where she juggles a semi-rural lifestyle—five acres, three horses, two dogs, a cat, tomatoes, blackberries, etc—with her writing and with the ever-absorbing work of teaching writing and literature at Portland Community College.

Caroline LeGuin lives on the outskirts of her home town, Portland, Oregon, where she juggles a semi-rural lifestyle—five acres, three horses, two dogs, a cat, tomatoes, blackberries, etc—with her writing and with the ever-absorbing work of teaching writing and literature at Portland Community College.

How have the poets responded to the music you’ve created, or when you’ve asked if you could compose a piece for a poem?

I think that most poets have been pleased that their poetry somehow sparked my imagination. I think it gives a second life to a poem, which lived first on its own. I’ve always felt a little hesitant – it’s like handing one’s beloved child to a baby-sitter. Will I, the composer, make the same judgment calls as the writer? In most cases the poets have seemingly been pleased, and in one case, in our most recent concert, one poet said she saw more meaning in her own poetry because of it. That’s a great compliment.

In another case, though – one poet I had earlier written songs for suggested that I should write music for her friend’s poetry as well. He agreed, and he did appreciate my efforts – but it turns out that he had a much different idea of the mood of one of his poems than I did. After the song was in its final drafts, I sent him a scratch copy. He clearly had some misgivings.

This led to a very interesting and rich discussion between us. I always get permission beforehand to write, and so the permission was already there. I mulled it over. I tweaked it somewhat. But while I could see his viewpoint – I also could see that, based on the words alone in front of me, my viewpoint was also valid. He could see that, too, as our discussion progressed. He ended up coming to one of my gatherings and reading and enjoying it very much – but I’m afraid he might have liked to just keep his poetry on the page and in the spoken voice after all. I think it was a learning experience all around.


Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen has five full-length books of poetry: The Wild Awake, Blood-Silk, A Bride of Narrow Escape, Kindle, and The Voluptuary. Her most recent publication is Shimmer and Drone, a chapbook of poems about India. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts. She serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford, organizing the January Stafford Birthday Events.

How long does it take to create a composition?

It really depends, and I never know for sure. One can say that a long, complex poem will generally take more complex work. Once I have a strong idea, especially if the poem is short, I can often write it in a sitting or two — and then there will be lots of editing afterwards.

On the other idea — that doesn’t always happen. For instance, I recently wrote music to a poem called “Thirst” by Paulann Peterson. It was short, succinct, had form, and I had a strong idea of trying to imitate water on the piano while the singer sang the lines with that water sound as simply a backdrop. For some reason, I struggled more with that music than with many other of my compositions, even though I really loved the poem and even my own idea. When the soprano and I rehearsed off and on for a few months, I continued to add edits — right up to two days before our performance. It was the song I was least confident of — and yet many people singled that one out to comment on.


Nathalie Euwer Croft, soprano, studied voice and piano at the University of Oregon, where she minored in music. She has sung in many local choirs, including The Oregon Repertory Singers, The David York Ensemble, Sine Nomine, The Portland Opera Chorus, and Portland Camerata. Nathalie currently studies with Nancy Olson-Chatalas. Nathalie makes her living by teaching Spanish at Tigard High School.

A Petition

Never say don’t.
Don’t say never.

Live forever.
Don’t say you won’t.

—by Anita K. Boyle

“A Petition” is a very short poem. Did that seem more demanding of the composition, or easier than composing for a longer poem?

For some reason, “A Petition” did not take me that long. There were four clever, distinct lines, and I wrote a musical line to go with each. I essentially used the idea of keeping the harmonics really simple — such as in a round — and that way the lines could be combined and recombined in different combinations. It’s a simple idea, and once I got going, it mostly fell right into place. And it was fun!

The poet Anita K. Boyle makes her living as a graphic designer and visual artist. Her book What the Alder Told Me was published by MoonPath Press in 2011 as the first book in the new series for Pacific Northwest poets. Anita lives with her husband/poet James Bertolino just outside Bellingham, Washington.

The poet Anita K. Boyle makes her living as a graphic designer and visual artist. Her book What the Alder Told Me was published by MoonPath Press in 2011 as the first book in the new series for Pacific Northwest poets. Anita lives with her husband/poet James Bertolino just outside Bellingham, Washington.

What is your process for turning a poem into art song?

First of all — I have to have some uncluttered time. I can have an idea — but I just can’t seem to work on it amidst the flurry of daily life. I often compose in the summer once I have brought a semblance of order to my life after the academic school year.

And this is not a simple question because each song is somewhat different, but the process does fall into a kind of pattern. I spend quite a bit of time with the words – seeing where they can be divided, where the stress marks naturally fall, and I think about which words I would want to highlight. I think about the arc of the poem which should be reflected in the arc of the music. I’ve done some of my best brainstorming of this nature, believe it or not, on long airplane trips where I was able to sit there and concentrate without being distracted by the mundanities of life, and I’ll often just scribble notes and clues onto staff paper (I’ve even managed to become quite good at drawing my own staff paper onto a blank page to grab an idea that pops into my head). Anyway, I’ll start trying to come up with a melody that will work with the words and keep the arc going. After that, I’ll sit down at the piano and do some ad lib brainstorming and scribble down ideas — and sometimes I’ll record myself brainstorming on the piano.

Then I start putting the basic ideas into the Sibelius software that I use. Once written, one can push a button and robotic music comes out of the computer — nothing like one had imagined it, but it’s useful anyway. Then it becomes a big editing process.

I’m so thrilled when I can get a good singer interested in learning my music, because most singers won’t just sing an art song out of the blue without dedicating some real work to it. It isn’t until that person has spent time on it, and I’ve worked on my piano part, and we start to get a feel for it together, that I know whether my imagined ideas — however confident I felt when composing — are really going to work. Believe me, it’s very gratifying when one hears what one had imagined — more than once it has brought tears to my eyes just from knowing it’s happening, it’s working.

In some cases, a singer will tell me that something just isn’t working right — or I will see it myself. A case in point is the poem “This Really Happened” by Caroline LeGuin. That one, by the way, took over three years to write — off and on, of course. It is a wonderful poem, with such a mood behind it and such a surprise at the end. The problem, once we started rehearsing, was that the music I had written hadn’t totally followed the arc of the poem toward the end. The soprano was very patient as I readjusted the ending several times — but by the time we were through, it was gratifying and I feel it did work.

The Quartet

The Quartet that sang “A Petition”

Of the people in your life, who were particularly inspiring to you musically?

I grew up in a very religious family with eight children and we did a lot of singing of hymns and psalms, often in four part harmony. I also was privileged to receive piano lessons off and on through the years. We were pretty isolated in some ways — didn’t listen to popular radio or watch TV — but classical music was allowed in our home. I could go on about each step along the way but in a nutshell, I’ve gradually linked with others who play or sing, and I’ve had some great piano lessons from Dr. Susan DeWitt Smith — and people have been encouraging to me.

Leah Stenson hosts the Studio Series Poetry Reading and Open Mic in SW  Portland, serves on the board of the Friends of William Stafford and is a regional editor for the upcoming publication The Pacific Poetry Project. She writes poetry and memoir. Her poetry chapbook, Heavenly Body, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011.

Poet Leah Stenson hosts the Studio Series Poetry Reading and Open Mic in SW Portland, serves on the board of the Friends of William Stafford and is a regional editor for the upcoming publication The Pacific Poetry Project. She writes poetry and memoir. Her poetry chapbook, Heavenly Body, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011.

What have other pianists and/or composers done that has inspired you?

I’ve been inspired by Fannie Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Amy Beach. I’ve given a number of presentations about their lives and performed some of their music, and in the case of Fannie and Amy, my niece performed a number of their beautiful songs with me accompanying. While they are more acknowledged now than they have been in the past, they are great composers in their own right, and reading about their struggles and their achievements in spite of difficulties has been very inspiring to me.

The Composer and the Soprano

The Composer and the Soprano

Why have you decided to do house concerts?

I mentioned my religious upbringing – and I’ll add that my family often held church in our home, which entailed having lots of people, finding there was always room for one more, and that the best way to eat together was to have everybody bring something. While my life and many of my beliefs now seem far removed from that early upbringing and culture, I still value that feeling of filling my home with people — and if I don’t host something soon, I start to feel a little wrong. I also really do love hearing chamber music performed up close — I can enjoy those concerts, however imperfect, more than attending a concert with the best performers in an impersonal-feeling auditorium. (Of course, I do enjoy those, too.)

I also know that there are a lot of talented people performing music who will be unlikely to make major headlines, sometimes amateurs like myself who play for the love of it, and I like to provide a venue for that. I host a couple of performance groups regularly where people just come and play for each other. The concerts, though, are a bit more formal, and I try to find people who are prepared and accomplished for those. People come my way.

The Audience

The Audience

If you could invite anyone to feature at one of your house concerts, who would you invite? What would you hope to hear?

I would love it if a high-profile soprano — let’s say Dawn Upshaw — would learn some of my songs and perform them. Actually, I’d like her to bring them around the world because I want to honor the poets who have written poetry and my efforts to highlight the poetry — and then more people would begin to perform them. So now that I think about it — I’d love to have her in my house, but I’d really like her to carry it out to the world. So who would I like to have in my home? Just more of the wonderful people who have already agreed to perform and those whom I will meet in the future where the venue fits.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

What was your biggest musical challenge?

That’s hard to say. Each challenge is its own particular challenge, and I have confidence that I can resolve each one if I keep struggling with it and working with it. My biggest challenge, really, is the next step — how to get the songs beyond my own living room and into the repertoire of other singers.

Sylvia's husband, Pianist Viktors Berstis

Sylvia’s husband and birthday boy, Pianist Viktors Berstis

Posting by Anita K. Boyle


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