Riding the Wave

Local poetry publisher Wave Books steps out with a new reading.

Poet Tyehimba Jess. Courtesy of the artist

Wave Books has, in a relatively short time, become the second-best poetry publisher in the Seattle area. The best, in case you’re new to town, is Port Townsend nonprofit publisher Copper Canyon Press; given that they’re probably the best poetry publisher in the country, there’s no shame here in a second-place finish.

And besides, Copper Canyon and Wave Books traffic in very different styles of poetry. Copper Canyon publishes, for lack of a better word, traditional poetry, which is to say they publish poems with the structure and the heft of generations. Their poets are continuing a long international poetry tradition. Wave is further out on the edge. They publish experimental, risky poetry, kind of the poetic equivalent of modern art. If you were to coax your average non-poetry-reading American into looking at a Copper Canyon title and a Wave title side by side, they’d most likely choose the Copper Canyon book over the Wave book simply because it would look more like what they’d expect.

But out on the edge is where rapid advancements are made. Not every Wave Book is for everyone, but sometimes they strike some element of the collective consciousness just right, and when that happens, those books resonate through the ages. Seattle poet Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War is a perfect example of one of Wave’s winners. War, which I reviewed earlier this year, is a brilliant book combining collage, historical documents, and memoir to create something new.

This Friday at Fred Wildlife Refuge, Wave Books is hosting an evening with two Seattle poets, Choi and Wave editor Joshua Beckman, along with Wave writers Tyehimba Jess, Anselm Berrigan, and Lisa Fishman. Of those three, the one to watch is Detroit native Jess, who writes gut-punch poetry about race and music and memory that make no apologies.

One of Jess’s poems is titled “Mothafucka,” and it’s dedicated to absent fathers:

will the real mother fucker please stand up?

are you the devoted fucker of mother,

one who would stay to raise his kids

to be bigger, badder, better motherfuckers?

are you one who simply fucks our mothers?

one who fucks any mother in sight?

one who, by fucking, left bastards behind?

Earlier this year, Seattle poet Maged Zaher wrote a scathing essay for The Seattle Review of Books praising Wave Books for its forward-thinking poetry, but also demanding that Wave do better in representing Seattle—Choi and Beckman are pretty much the only Seattle writers Wave has published to date—and in representing writers of color. (Copper Canyon has done a much better job with both.) Based on the excitement I’ve seen among Seattle-area writers for this event, the community has a lot of enthusiasm for Wave; I hope this evening is a sign that Wave wants to do a better job of representing and including its community. Fred Wildlife Refuge, 128 Belmont Ave. E., wavepoetry.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m. Fri., Sept. 30.

Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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