How to Make a Life in Poetry

Deavel and Marshall
Christine Deavel and J.W. Marshall

I’m savoring last night’s reading by Christine Deavel and J.W. Marshall for Seattle Arts and Lectures. Christine and John (as he is known in person) are poets, married to each other, and co-owners of Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Seattle. It’s not uncommon for folks (rightly, I would say) to refer to Open Books as the heart of the poetry community in Seattle.

For the reading, they produced a hand-set, letterpress chapbook called “WORK together.” Five new poems from John and six untitled, loosely linked poems from Christine. Though their voices and styles are different, both sets of poems are written from a walking (or, occasionally, bus riding) point of view: close to the ground, attentive to the birds, to the light, to subtle shifts. Moving at a pace slow enough to notice the inner and outer weathers.

One of the many things I’ll carry forward from the reading is John and Christine’s example of how to make a life in poetry. Their intelligence and generosity of spirit are palpable, in their poems and in their answers to SAL curator Rebecca Hoogs’s questions. In response to a query about writing practice, John relayed how in the final years of his mother’s life, he had a regular practice of writing after he’d seen her — not writing poems per se, but getting to the page. After she passed, he culled through those notes and wrote the poems that comprise his chapbook Taken With, and later formed the final section of his full-length collection Meaning a Cloud (both of which I highly recommend). Christine acknowledged she’s gone years without writing, and often writes in response to an invitation — for a publication or an event such as last night’s. She said that for her, writing is primarily a form of listening. When I read the poems in her collection Woodnote (a favorite), I have the sensation of overhearing a finely calibrated, supremely attentive mind in conversation with the world around her.

Their very different answers to Rebecca’s question remind me that there’s no “right way” to write, and that we can always begin again.

Here’s a 2005 recording of John reading from Taken With at Bumbershoot, and an interview with Christine on her collection Woodnote.

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