Jeremy Pataky | Looking Ahead and Behind During #NPM19

It’s been quite a #NationalPoetryMonth here, one that ran the gamut. About five minutes after I walked in the door upon returning from the AWP Conference in Portland, I learned that friend and Mat-Su-based poet Julie LeMay had passed away. She was the latest member of the writing community that we’ve lost over the years. Some of them have been writers I might never have known, or known well, if not for 49 Writers. I think of Louise Freeman-Toole and Arlene Lidbergh-Jasper, for example, and Eva Saulitis. Further afield, the world lost poets W.S. Merwin and Mary Oliver, too, recently, and Stanley Plumly just this month. 

Still, even after the gut-punch start to April, I’ve been reminded by the breadth and depth—the living wellness—of Alaska’s literary community. The chance to join 30-some other authors and a big fundraising crowd of folks in support of the Anchorage Public Library earlier this month was clear evidence that books matter here. Ditto the next weekend as a pile of folks turned out in Anchorage to welcome author Nicole Stellon O’Donnell down from Fairbanks and to welcome her second book into the world. Her hybrid-forms 49 Writers class the next day was a sold-out hit, and it felt great to spend some hours in a room with the group it attracted… one participant even drove all the way from Homer.

Last week, I was invited by the Seward Writers Collective to read in Seward at the library for their second annual Voices Carry poetry event. What an awesome community of writers and lit lovers! Several poets read their own work. The gorgeous drive away from Dodge did me some good, as did the chance to experience such an array of live work by talented poets, several of whom were new to me.

Back in the big city a few days later, 49 Writers, Cirque, and Poetry Parley joined forces for a Marybeth Holleman-led Mary Oliver Earth Day tribute. The Writer’s Block was packed and attentive, and the reading was great. I’m excited to return to that space this Friday with Rob McCue from Fairbanks, whose memoir One Water is terrific and just out. Joining us in a Crosscurrents event will be Mary Odden of Nelchina and Susanna Mishler of Anchorage. Don’t miss it if you’re around.  

Lots more literary action’s happening all over the state during #NPM19. We have that Crosscurrents event this Friday in Anchorage. Carrie Ayaguduk Ojanen is giving a reading and class in Nome this Saturday; I can say from experience you shouldn’t miss this if you can go. Same day and half a state away, folks’ll pile out to the Gold Dredge at Chatanika on the Steese Highway outside Fairbanks for the annual Fairbanks Arts Association’s Poetry at the Dredge event. Mar Ka and Monica Devine are touring together throughout the state with new books. The list goes on. Fairbanks-based poet John Morgan has a new book out and wrote a blog post for us about it—the first volume of a two-tome Collected Works from Salmon. Alaska Women Speak is busy accepting and reading submissions for their next issue through the end of the month. Obviously the madness won’t stop just because National Poetry Month does—49 Writers sustaining member and UAA History professor Ray Ball will caboose #NPM19 with her chapbook launch at the Writer’s Block on May 2nd—for example. Enjoy it, and see you in the fray.  

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