David Biespiel challenges provincialism—namely, that this corner of the country is too isolated from the centers of literary life to produce art that matters. Editor of the literary magazine Poetry Northwest and current director and writer-in-residence of local writer's workshop the Attic (see story, page 27), Biespiel's latest project is Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets (OSU Press, 320 pages, $22.95), an anthology of works by over 80 poets living in the Pacific Northwest, including Ursula K. Le Guin and Reed College professor Lisa M. Steinman. We sat down with him to wax poetic on the PacNW.
WW: What is regional writing, and why can't poetry be regional?
David Biespiel: If you look at someone who identifies with a region's landscapes, subjects, political concerns, civic interest—like someone who is writing about trout fishing but they're also writing about the Pacific dams—that's a regional subject. It's not that poets' interests are wider, but they can't be pinned down. Or it's unfair to pin them down. So many of the poets who are in this book aren't really from here. To read them fairly, you have to read them more broadly.
Gary Gilder's poem "Cleaning a Rainbow" mentions "the pursy fir tree and lean young alders"; Michele Glazer writes about a historic house in Astoria. Does using Northwest images differ from writing Northwest poetry?
Just because they write about Astoria, it doesn't make them automatically a Northwest poet or not a Northwest poet. Michele's poem is about a memory. Trout fishing [in Gilder's poem] is a quintessential Northwest sort of thing. But take out your knowledge of the Northwest, and what is it about?
What is poetry's place in the literary world these days?
If I went around this room here and asked every person to name a poem that mattered to them, they could. Something they learned as a child, something a friend gave them, something seriously sentimental they got as a high-school student from a boy. But that will matter to them.
What makes Portland a place for poets?
Whatever it is, we need another one. You want to open a coffee shop—why not? This city can support it. But as much as it's a city of readers, it's not a literary city. It's not a publishing center. On the other hand, the center of literary life is where you make it...I'm all for people getting together in their living room and singing or banging instruments or reading their books. But that singing and playing—that should be good. Why not make it good? And long-lasting. And permanent.
Michele Glazer, Jerry Harp, Mary Szybist, Jan Lee Ande, Floyd Skloot and Ursula K. Le Guin will read from
on Thursday, Nov. 16. Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, 284-1726. 7 pm. Free.