The Enduring Legacy of Crysta Casey

A decade after the prized poet’s death, the community continues to celebrate her work.

Beloved Seattle-area poet Crysta Casey passed away in 2008, but her work is very much alive.

Casey wrote poems about herself and her self: She wrote openly and with great energy about her schizophrenia and her cancer journey. Her work was vital, personal, and incredibly strong—there’s probably no greater indicator of the power of Casey’s writing than the fact that her dearest friends are still safeguarding and expanding her legacy. They’ve recorded her work, published it, read it at readings, and done everything they can to keep it alive.

Two short primers of Casey’s work, Celebration and Yesterday My Name Was Wine Bottle, are available free on the Apple iBookstore. Floating Bridge Press published a chapbook of her work, Green Cammie, two years after her passing, and this month Cave Moon Press has published Rules for Walking Out, the collection she completed just before her death.

Casey referred to herself as “Resident Poet,” a vague title that somehow perfectly captured the specificity of her situation. She was Seattle’s resident poet, walking the streets and reporting back on everything she saw. In “Poem for an Unknown Soldier” in Celebration, Casey notices an American flag at half-mast. She doesn’t know who the gesture is supposed to mourn, so she asks a nearby woman, “Who died?” The woman responds:

“Orville Redenbacher did,/but I don’t think they’d fly a flag/for a popcorn man.”

The poem ends in uncertainty:

I listened to the radio, waiting/for the news.

There’s dread in this line. Imagine Casey hanging by the radio, waiting to put a name to the unidentified death floating out there in the aether. But there’s comedy in it, too—a funeral for nobody, a symbol of mourning that could just as easily be the result of a park staffer too lazy to pull the damn flag all the way to the top of its pole.

Here in the haunted present, though, we absolutely know the name of the soldier we’re mourning. This Thursday, Greenwood’s Couth Buzzard Books will host a release party for Rules for Walking Out with readings by many of Casey’s closest friends and fans, including Trisha Ready, Jamaica Baldwin, Kym Littlefield, and Esther Altshul Helfgott. Harpist Monica Schley will interpret her work through song.

Casey was an avid reader and an enthusiastic audience member at readings all around town, so it’s fitting the event will end with an open mic. She’d want every poet to feel welcome at this event. In Casey’s Seattle, everyone is a poet-in-residence. Couth Buzzard Books, 8310 Greenwood Ave. N., buonobuzzard.com. Donation. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

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

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