Traveling writer featured at Northwind Reading Series

PORT TOWNSEND — The Northwind Reading Series will feature Finn Wilcox reading from his new book, “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The reading and book release will be at the Northwind Arts Center, 701 Water St.

The suggested donation for the reading is $5. All proceeds support the Northwind Arts Center.

Finn Wilcox, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, worked in the woods of the Olympic and Cascade mountains with the forest workers co-op Olympic Reforestation for 25 years, planting more than 1 million trees.

He rode the rails, learning about the life, journeys and history of the American hobo. His first book, “Here Among the Sacrificed,” published in the 1980s, includes photographs by Steve R. Johnson depicting the people in boxcars and railroad yards who appear in Finn’s poems and stories.

“Too Late to Turn Back Now” contains all of Wilcox’s published work: the freight train poems and stories; all the poems from “Nine Flower Mountain,” detailing his travels in China; “Lesson Learned, Love Poems”; and a suite of newer poems and stories called “Not Letting Go.”

Wilcox spent his childhood in Klamath Falls, Ore.

“Klamath Falls was the most red-neck, right wing, logging, hunting, fishing place. That’s sort of how I grew up,” Wilcox said.

By the time he was 16, it was the late 1960s and he was determined to get out of Klamath Falls.

“The first place I ended up was in Eugene with a house full of hippies and on the top of the refrigerator, I can still see it, was ‘Trout Fishing in America’ by Richard Brautigan and the Chinese translations of Kenneth Rexroth. Both of these books blew my mind and that’s what got me interested in writing,” Wilcox said.

Whileplanting trees, Wilcox met Jerry Gorsline, who became a mentor and life-long friend to Wilcox.

Gorsline let Wilcox sleep in the front seat of his van and loaned him Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” Gorsline carried with him a small library and new ideas about bio-regionalism and the environment that would circulate through the tree- planting crew along with his books.

Coincidentally, there were other poets on that tree planting crew — Michael Daley, Tim McNulty, and Mike O’Connor. As they worked together in the cold and wet they encouraged and supported Wilcox’s poetic endeavors.

“Here I was, working our asses off in the muddy old wet, with a bunch of really good poets who were interested in a young kid who was interested in poetry,” Wilcox said.

One member of the tree planting crew, Michael Daley, began thinking of starting a literary magazine that emphasized the Pacific Northwest.

The literary magazine became a periodic anthology of writing, “Dalmo’ma,” and a publisher, Empty Bowl. Many pieces written by the tree planting crew would appear in the magazine.

From the mid-1970s through the early ’90s, Wilcox was an editor for Empty Bowl Press. Along with Gorsline, he co-edited the original and expanded editions of “Working the Woods, Working the Sea: An Anthology of Northwest Writing.”

Several years later, in 1984, Empty Bowl published Wilcox’s first book, “Here Among the Sacrificed,” a collection of prose and poetry about the world of riding freight trains, combined with photographs by Steve Johnson.

It was while thinking about reprinting “Here Among the Sacrificed” that Wilcox started considering a book that would combine his collected works with new work and “Too Late to Turn Back Now” was published by Empty Bowl Press.

Wilcox and his wife, Pat Fitzgerald, live in Port Townsend.

Northwind is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that sponsors visual, musical and literary art events and education on the Olympic Peninsula.

For more information, see www.northwindarts.org or contact Bill Mawhinney at 360-301-1159.

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