Alive at the Center is the first book in the ambitious Pacific Poetry Project of Portland State University's graduate publishing program. It includes a wide variety of poets from three cities--Vancouver, Seattle and Portland--chosen by nine editors (three from each city), themselves poets. As John Sibley Williams, who got the project off the ground, describes the process, "rounding up poets is like rounding up cats." Nevertheless, they did their jobs well, celebrating the vibrant poetic communities of their cities. "We have poetry stuffed in our parkas and stashed under our boot-soles," says Cody Walker, introducing the "rough water town" of Seattle; Portland's Susan Denning, confides, "It's Oregon, go ahead--mention the rain and the Doug firs and the fish and the rivers that run through it all."
The anthology is evenly balanced among the three cities for a total of 136 poets. Most have one piece; a few have more. There are veteran poets here, like Heather McHugh, Floyd Skloot, Carlos Reyes, Paulann Petersen, Susan McCaslin and Evelyn Lau, side by side with rookies and other poets who may be relatively well known but are still at the early end of what might become long careers. And then there are the poems. So many good ones. Carl Adamshick's "Our Flag" ends in a flourish:
Let it be a reminder.
Let it be the aperture,
the net, the rope of dark stars.
Let it be mathematics.
Let it be the eloquence
of the process shining
on the page, a beacon
on the edge of a continent.
Let its warnings be dismissed.
Let it be insignificant
and let its insignificance shine.
While in Lucia Misch's "In Event of Moon Disaster," we read:
In event of moon disaster,
do not think that we have put men
in robot bodies without reason.
That perhaps the eleven layer A7L spacesuit
is padded casket comfortable
remember that those careful white costumes
are the smallest Eden we have ever put an Adam inside of
Richard Kenney's contribution, simply titled "Poetry," sums up the spirit of Alive at the Center, and is worth quoting in full:
Nobody at any rate reads it much. Your
citizenry have other forms of fun.
Still, who would wish to live in a culture
of which future anthropologists would say:
Oddly, they had none? --Tom Lavoie
Shelf Talker: An abundant array of the Pacific Northwest's poetic pleasures populate this particularly potent panoply.