If you’ve attended a Seattle City Council meeting in recent months—as part of the #BlocktheBunker movement, say, or as a worker fighting for secure scheduling—odds are good you’ve heard at least one poet read their work aloud. As part of her role as Seattle’s first Civic Poet, Claudia Castro Luna curates the poetry readings that open City Council meetings. To many who attend these meetings on official business, this is probably just a bit of pointless civic nonsense to tolerate, some grandstanding to placate the arts community.
But these readings serve an important purpose. Poetry reacts in interesting ways against the deeply ceremonial wonkery of Council meetings. Luna’s poem “To tear a piece off my shadow as if from a loaf of bread,” for example, with its reminder that “Sometimes your life is a minute ahead and a few days behind the place you want to be,” gains additional depth when presented as a preamble to legislation. The way Luna conflates time and space, yearning and loss, aspiration and failure in just a few words reminds us that we may never arrive exactly where we need to be at exactly the right time.
You can see many human emotions play out in the Council’s chambers on a regular basis—hope, fear, anger, happiness—but the “realization that the place you assiduously search and yearn for is nowhere” is not usually acknowledged in those halls. Politicians communicate many ideas to their constituents, but they do not do a very good job of acknowledging our failings. It takes a poet, sometimes, to admit that when we come together as a people to build a place, we do not always succeed.
Read the rest of this review in Seattle Weekly’s print edition or online here at Seattle Review of Books.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.