On a recent visit to her in-laws' house in Anchorage, Anne Coray found herself spending a lot of time in the back room trying to escape the drone of traffic from the street and the blare of commercials from the television in the front room.
Coray isn't used to the sounds of civilization.
She and her husband, Steve Kahn, live in a cabin they built on the north shore of Lake Clark within Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, 100 air miles southwest of Kenai. The one-room cabin is accessible only by bush plane, and the nearest neighbors live four miles away. The couple doesn't own a television and would be hard-pressed to power one if they did, since the limited electricity they have access to is supplied by a few solar panels and a back-up, gasoline-powered generator.
"I don't like being among crowds of people," Coray said. "The first thing I notice when I'm in town is the noise level."
Coray is used to the quiet and isolation of the Bush, but she also uses it to do her work. Coray is one of those odd ducks: a living, breathing, publishing poet.
She escaped the crowds and noise of city life for the quieter call of the wild shortly after she completed the master of fine arts program in creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage half a dozen years ago.
Coray had always liked the creative arts, but it took her years to figure out that poetry was the art for her. She started out studying painting and drawing.
After graduating from Kenai Central High School, Coray earned a bachelor's degree in art and a teaching certificate from the University of Washington. She then worked for the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District and honed her poetry writing skills for nearly a decade before entering UAA's creative writing program.
"I got a pretty late start," she said.
Coray sees a connection between poetry and the visual arts she studied as an undergraduate. She sees both the processes of writing a poem and creating a work of art as exercises in subtlety, as ways to tease out the gray between the extremes of black and white.
"Like art, a poem doesn't have to be just light or dark, it can have many different shades," she said.
Her work has appeared in literary journals around the country, many put out by the creative writing and English departments of universities. But she admits the audience for poetry isn't as large as for fiction and nonfiction, or any other type of writing.
"Poetry is the least read genre," she said. "Poetry, of all the genres, is the hardest row to hoe. You have to keep your expectations low."
Like most poets, Coray makes little or no money from the publication of her work. Literary magazines usually pay contributors, not with cash, but with a copy or two of the issue, and low readership means little income from sales of a poet's own books. When the cost of postage to submit manuscripts to magazines, publishers and contests is factored in, poetry writing is even less likely to be a money-making venture.
"It's more like, how much am I going to spend on it this year," Coray said.
All the stamps and persistence have paid off, however. Although she has yet to publish a full-length book, Coray has had two chapbooks short, 15- to 25-page collections of her work published by small presses, and a third will be released this month by another small publisher, Finishing Line Press.
"The chapbook is the traditional format for publication of short collections of poetry," said Leah Maines, senior editor at Finishing Line Press.
The chapbooks the press produces aren't just short books, they're art objects: A ribbon woven into the spine as a bookmark and end papers embedded with decorations like crushed flowers come standard in the hand-bound books.
"We try to make the books look as good as they read," Maines said.
The number of copies of a chapbook Finishing Line produces varies, and partly depends on the number of preorders. An average press run is 500 copies. However, runs range between 250 and 1,000.
"They're very small press runs," Maines said. "They're considered limited collectors editions."
Although Finishing Line publishes poets in all stages of their careers, the press specializes in publishing the work of poets who have yet to publish a book. One of the press's authors had published more than 100 poems in journals but hadn't published a book, until Finishing Line produced a chapbook of her work.
"It's so difficult to find a publisher," Maines said. "(That's one reason) we like to offer first-book publication."
Finishing Line has been publishing chapbooks since 1998 and has seen the number of books it publishes annually sky-rocket.
The press, which published only two or three chapbooks a year its first couple years, published 35 last year and expects to publish 74 this year. That's still a small percentage of the well over 1,000 manuscripts the press receives each year.
"We're very selective about who we publish," Maines said.
One thing that stood out in Coray's manuscript was how integral nature is to her poems, Maines said. Finishing Line has published poets who write nature poems before, but Coray is the first Alaskan on the Georgetown, Ky., publisher's growing roster of authors. She's also, as far as Maines knows, the author whose place of residence is least accessible and most a part of the natural world.
Authors Finishing Line Press has published early in their careers have gone on to publish full-lenghth books and win awards. Maines sees no reason why Coray won't, as well.
"We have high hopes for Anne, too," she said.
"Soon the Wind," by Coray, will be available from Finishing Line Press on July 19.
Away from the Day Shift's
Bullhorn and Dazzle
At night, alone in our own rooms, we lie
quietly, no other to watch us listen
as the dark talks solemnly to the moon
or the wind steps lightly outside the window.
This is speech at its best,
the landscape's proper grammar
a gray animal in the distance
pitching its muted clarinet to the sky's roof.
How did Li Ch'ing-chao, "most famous and accomplished
of Chinese women poets" put it?
Last night, among the deep snows of the village,
One blossom opened.
of the singular, polar star,
anoint the quick and the coarse-throated.
Give us a measure's hush, soft-light our mouths
allow us your gentle wash.
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