Bringing verse to life

Reading adds dimension to poets' work

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some nights with a hooked fish slapping downriver

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  Poet Mike Burwell will read from his book, "Cartography of Water," Saturday at 7 p.m. at River City Books. Publisher and fellow poet Anne Coray also will participate in the reading. Photos courtesy Anne Coray

and the brush trilling with birds, I'd see the whole scene wash silver,

see these slicing fish hurtle like errant moons through the late, deep light.

And I drank the thick bright milk of it, all of it.

from Mike Burwell's "Wash Silver"

 

"I have had many, many people tell me 'Oh, now that I've heard you read, I understand the poems so much better.' I think that is fascinating, that just hearing the words out loud makes the message clearer."

-- Anne Coray, poet and publisher

The light of the moon its shape, it's inevitable pull on the tides and on the hearts of men is a topic that has been favored by artists, poets, songwriters alike for centuries. No less has it captured the imagination of poet Mike Burwell in "Wash Silver," one of the pieces in his collection "Cartography of Water," now out from budding publishing company, NorthShore Press.

On Saturday at 7 p.m., Burwell will be reading from "Cartography of Water" at River City Books in Soldotna. Anne Coray, a onetime student of Burwell, and sole editor and founder of NorthShore Press, will join Burwell, reading her own work.

 

Poet Mike Burwell will read from his book, "Cartography of Water," Saturday at 7 p.m. at River City Books. Publisher and fellow poet Anne Coray also will participate in the reading.

Photos courtesy Anne Coray

Burwell's moon is an Alaska moon. Much of his work has an Alaska focus, which is one of the reasons Coray wanted to publish his collection. The subject of Burwell's work, however, was secondary to the lyrical qualities of his verse.

"At this time, I am publishing poetry only, although I hope to eventually add fiction to the list. I will begin by publishing Alaskan writers, but I do not wish to remain exclusively an Alaskan press. Because I am starting small, my output will only be one book per year to begin with," Coray wrote in an email about the type of work she would like to feature on NorthShore Press.

"I am drawn primarily to lyric free verse, and I am usually interested in writing that uses nature-based imagery. These are not requirements, of course, only guidelines. Some of my favorite poets are W.S. Merwin and Charles Wright, both contemporary writers."

Coray started dabbling in poetry as a child and young adult, but went on to do her undergraduate work in visual art. Poetry remained in her background until one moment of inspiration. That moment led her to explore poetry, and also to Burwell.

"I remember picking up a copy of Lord Weary's Castle by Robert Lowell, and I thought, 'Wow, I don't understand this, but I know it's really good,'" Coray wrote.

"Around my 30th birthday I decided it was time to explore this latent interest. So I signed up for a poetry class at UAA, and the teacher was Mike Burwell. He was great, very supportive. He didn't put anyone down if he didn't like something. Instead he would pencil in a comment such as, 'The language isn't as memorable here.' He is the one who first encouraged me to send work out to journals. I remember he wrote 'You should be in print' on one of my poems. That was pretty exciting for a beginning student."

Because of Burwell, Coray ended up applying for the MFA Creative Writing Program at UAA, and received her degree in 1996. She has been writing seriously ever since, and has started NorthShore Press from Lake Clark, where she currently lives. The reading at River City Books is not, however, her first visit to the area. Coray graduated from Kenai Central High School, and is thankful to Peggy Mullen and River City Books for giving her the opportunity to showcase the first publication from NorthShore Press.

The reading marks, what is for Coray, a very important part of the process of publishing poetry. She believes that one of the challenges for developing readers of poetry is that the lyric nature of poetry can be difficult to "hear" at first reading.

"Poetry had its start as an oral tradition. It is fascinating to think that the printing press was invented in the 1450s. That was less than 600 years ago. Before that, manuscripts were not really available to the public. In the Western world, Homer was reciting the Iliad and The Odyssey back in 800 B.C. (and Homer didn't start the project.) What I'm saying is that the spoken word has a much longer history than the written word," Coray wrote.

"Lyric poets too can dramatize their work to give it more life. I think it is possible to read work well without overdoing the theatrics by emphasizing certain words, using pauses, and increasing or reducing the volume in given places. Above all, a good reading allows the listener to hear the inflections as the writer intended them, rather than with preconceived stresses that the reader brings to the page."

By offering readings, Coray also hopes to expose her authors to a wider audience, than might otherwise be the case.

"The biggest challenge for all small presses is reaching an audience larger than the poet's acquaintances. I know there are people out there who would greatly enjoy a poetry reading if only they would attend one. I have had many, many people tell me 'Oh, now that I've heard you read, I understand the poems so much better.' I think that is fascinating, that just hearing the words out loud makes the message clearer.

"Of course, if people do attend readings, they might be given more clues as to what a particular line means, or they might learn things about the writer that will somehow resonate with them."



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