Maya Jewell Zeller

New poetry book by ex-Port Angeles teacher tells of Northwest

PORT ANGELES — Rust Fish, Maya Jewell Zeller’s new book, reveals the Northwest as a “land of verdant sensuality,” said poet Jonathan Johnson.

The collection, he added, is “one of those rare poetry books with the power to move just about anyone.”

Zeller, a poet who coached track and taught English at Port Angeles High School from 2002 to 2005, is now a professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

She’ll be back to give two readings from Rust Fish this Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. in the Little Theater at Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., and at 7 p.m. at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St.

Admission is free to both events.

Zeller is a devoted daughter of the Pacific Northwest, having been born at home in the upstairs apartment of her parents’ gas station on the Oregon coast. She moved from Port Angeles to Spokane to earn her graduate degree in creative writing and has been teaching at Gonzaga for two years now.

And though she lived on the North Olympic Peninsula only three years, she said she felt personally invested in each of her students and athletes.

“It was hard to leave,” Zeller said. “I felt very connected to the community.”

But the poet dreamed of writing a book and of challenging herself beyond the life she had grown comfortable in here.

“In returning to PA for my poetry reading, I hope to offer some measure of gratitude to the landscape and people I feel so fond of, and who, directly and indirectly, are responsible for the eventual publication of my book,” Zeller said. for

Rust Fish, just out in April on Lost Horse Press, has already won praise from critics including Connie Voisine.

The book centers around “a young woman and her conversation with the succulent natural world,” Voisine writes.

Zeller’s poems “speak of the endless summers of youth, the sober winters of the Pacific Northwest, the violence of children and the benign neglect that nature offers even its acolytes.

“Throughout the book, fish are this speaker’s consorts. Fish, both real and imagined, stream through the poems, past the various totems of working class poverty to the inevitable sea,” Voisine says.

“Zeller asks many big questions in quiet, sly ways in this wonder-full book: How can a person live in such a gorgeous and difficult world? How can the sensual redeem us? Which is the bruise that heals? Which is the one that stays?”

Zeller also offers words of encouragement to other poets, wherever they are on the writing path.

“People who write poetry, like all artists — writers, athletes, dancers— attempt to distill beauty and grace for others to experience,” she said.

Yet “the beauty of the moment is often ineffable.

“My advice for those who write would be to read good poetry, and even read theorists. Read the greats and those just beginning to publish,” and take a look at Poetry 180, the website with a poem a day.

“Keep a folder full of your favorite poems,” Zeller added, “and keep a notebook full of images you experience with your five senses.”

Zeller’s appearance Wednesday is part of Peninsula College’s Foothills Writers Series. For more details, visit


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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