DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Extravagance of our longing

WE’RE HUNGRY, WE humans, sometimes starving: for splendor, love, experiences that make us feel alive.

Some years back, Alice Derry started out writing about the basic type of hunger during her early girlhood, when she experienced what we now call food insecurity.

Then, powerful poet that she is, she expanded.

Derry wrote about other kinds of desire driving men and women.

She proceeded to revise and revise, taking time to shape the poems like clay cups in her hands. The result is “Hunger,” released this month from MoonPath Press of Tillamook, Ore.

It’s a slim book with a blazing painting on the cover by her late friend, the Irish artist Josie Gray.

An excerpt from “Exalted,” which appears in the latter half of “Hunger”:

When the hill’s light is still brass,

you start out on snowshoes,

lunching at the spot gray jays leave the trees

in wing-flutter and hop to your hand —

scarce graze of their claws —

wild’s touch you’ve waited for.

Many of these poems are rough going. They require a lot more attention than your average magazine article. But stick with it, stay inside these pages, and you get to explore a new world.

Each poem started with a spark, an observation as Derry walked down a forest trail, beside a ruin in Greece, or into the ocean-salted wind on the Olympic coast.

It takes effort to fan the sparks into poems, Derry acknowledges. But write it down quick, set it aside and then, mustering your courage, come back to it. Revisions make clear your vision.

Now and then you find a shimmering phrase. In Derry’s book, such words form the headings of the five sections: My favorites are “The Extravagance of Our Longing” and “Heartbeat of the Woods.”

“The book is really mostly about longing,” said Derry. Poetry is one of the many art forms, she mused, that we’ve developed to express our longings.

What do you yearn for? Give yourself time to express it on paper, canvas or clay; in your voice or other musical instrument.

Don’t give up.

Derry, Peninsula College professor emerita, facilitator of a Native American writing workshop and author of five poetry collections, uses her art to connect with people.

I was fortunate enough to attend a free class she and Peninsula College professor Kate Reavey taught — this was a lot of years ago — and I still recall the way she encouraged us.

After we’d tripped through some writing exercises, she helped us find the gumption to write poems and read them aloud.

Impressed and delighted afterward, Derry said: “We’ve got to get together more often!”

We’ll have a chance to get together with her and a pair of her favorite writers Friday, Jan. 26.

Alongside Brenda Francis-Thomas and Chris Thomas, both alumni of the Native poetry workshop, Derry will give a reading at the Elwha Heritage Center, 401 E. First St., Port Angeles.

Admission is free to the 7 p.m. reading, while copies of “Hunger” will be available from Port Book and News for $15.

It’s also on sale at Port Book, 104 E. First St., and via IndieBound.org.

“I think it’ll be an interesting evening,” said Derry, adding that Brenda and Chris will start things off. Chris, who writes short poems loaded with humor, will undoubtedly warm the audience up with verse-induced laughs.

Derry will give readings in Portland, Ore., and at Peninsula College in Port Angeles; she hopes to visit other communities around the North Olympic Peninsula.

“Wherever I can do a reading, I’ll go,” she said.

Wherever a poet travels, we can go as well, to listen.

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Feb. 7.

Reach her at [email protected]

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