Alive at the Center: Contemporary Poems from the Pacific Northwest (Pacific Poetry Project; Ooligan Press, $18.95, 277 pages)
“This is something new in our shared lives, how she turns so gentle.” I Am Pregnant with My Mother’s Death by Penelope Scambly Schott
Nine editors selected 151 poems for inclusion in this anthology. The poets, each represented by one or more poems, live in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. What they have in common is a sense of un-commonality, representing the free spiritedness of the Pacific Northwest. This free spiritedness is reflected in “an array of poems that challenge… preconceptions, including those of what a poem might be.”
The reader is encouraged to “think your own thoughts,” about the worthiness of each composition. I was pleased that this buffet serving of art allows the reader to sample different styles and tastes in order to discover what resonates with one’s own life experiences. I identified with the more traditionally-styled poems, but others will no doubt be drawn to the ones with youthful edginess and rebellion.
It was a joy to discover poets whose work I want to read more of, including Alex Winstaley, Christoper Levenson, Lilija Valis, Catherine Owen, Kagan Goh, Susan Rich, Kathleen Holme, Jesse Morse, and Penelope Scambly Schott. The rainy weather that these three locales share apparently fosters rather than dampens creativity. Let’s hope that Alive at the Center is but the first release of many comprehensive – insightful yet challenging – collections of poetry from the Pacific Northwest.
33 Days: Touring in a Van. Sleeping on Floors. Chasing a Dream. by Bill See (Lulu; available as a Kindle and Nook Book download)
Bill See’s account of a band on the run has its moments but… If L.A.’s Divine Weeks was chosen as one of the best bands in the mega city by the hallowed Los Angeles Times in 1987, one has to wonder why its four members (George, Bill, Raj and Dave) decided they needed to make a tour of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the mid-west to southern United States to prove their worth. If you believe See’s words, it was not for a lack of ego: “Sometimes you can tell the crowd wants it… you have to understand something. We really do believe we’re operating on a totally different plane than other bands… we’re completely full of ourselves…”
Well, you can see videos of Divine Weeks on You Tube and judge for yourself. To my eyes and ears, this was a decent band for the time (the late 80s), but nothing special – not great nor horrible, and on a par with what you’d see in a typical Sacramento club during this era. Was Divine Weeks on the same plane as, say, Jane’s Addiction? Absolutely not. (Personal disclosure: I was not a fan of Jane’s music, but their musicianship was beyond question.)
What 33 Days does offer is a glimpse of what life is like on the road for a struggling traveling band. In itself that’s an interesting tale, but See detracts from it by spending a bit more time than is necessary telling us about his off-and-on relationship with quasi-girlfriend Mary. It proves to be both distracting and tiring.
The best moment in the narrative is when See explains, early on, the power of music. “Ever since I’ve known music, I’ve felt that my life could be lifted up by it.” This is admirable but the egocentric prospective winds up making this a band biography that is less than the sum of its parts. This reader came to feel as if only truly got to know two members of the band – the Paul McCartney-like Bill and the George Harrison-like Raj. It felt, in the end, as if something was missing.
A review copy was provided by the author.
Did Not Survive: A Zoo Mystery by Ann Littlewood (Poisoned Pen Press; $14.95; 250 pages)
This second novel from former zookeeper Ann Littlewood, pits human nature against the honesty of zoo animals for a compelling read. A fictitious zoo in the Pacific Northwest provides the location for a unique spin on an age-old tale of a heroine in peril. The main character is Iris Oakley who is not only a recently widowed zoo employee, but also pregnant with her deceased husband’s baby.
In this story there are actually two heroines in peril, Iris Oakley and an aged elephant named Damrey. Damrey has been a favorite of local families who visit her at the zoo. Author Littlewood makes a case for the depth of knowledge required of zoo personnel. It’s not just sweeping up after the animals and making sure they have their favorite foods. Behavior, instincts and training are well documented for a wide range of the zoo’s inhabitants. There are births and deaths that tear at the hearts of the staff.
Littlewood opens the mystery with the death of the zoo superintendent, a fellow who was good at his job but not well liked. He’s discovered in Damrey’s enclosure being menaced by the very agitated elephant. Iris is the first on the scene and it falls to her to assist in determining who is responsible for the super’s death.
Along the way we get to know the elephants. They have not been part of her job until the discovery of the body in their enclosure. Her regular charges are the big cats; however, pregnant women must not empty cat pans, big or small. Iris is a remarkable character who captured this reviewer’s sympathies.
Well recommended. Let’s hope Ms. Littlewood keeps writing about what she knows so well as she provides entertainment bundled with fascinating learning.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher.