Don’t Listen For just One Voice — Guest Poetry Blog Series #23, Part Two — American Poet Luther Allen Features Rick Hermann, Mike Little and Others!

American poet Luther Allen

Invocation

Don’t listen for just
one voice,
nor different voices
saying the same thing.
Understand this:
each skin
has its own mouth,
each mouth has its own heart,
each heart sings its own music,
beats its own rhythm.
My voice is impatient,
burning, then cold as stones.
I have so much nothing
to say that it’s hard to know
where to begin.

Rick Hermann, from Nooksack, Free Range Press, 2016

LUTHER ALLEN FEATURES POEMS AND POETS HE LOVES!

I want to honor poets who are mostly unknown, who might be unpublished, who might have written only one poem in their lifetime. People who are called to write from the unknown, and feel the need to express themselves, to make sense out of life, in a form that doesn’t follow a straight narrative, because prose just doesn’t seem to carry the power they need. Poets who shakily read their work for the first time at an open mic in front of 8 other people, hearts in their throats.

Rick Hermann was an acquaintance for many years in Bellingham who struggled with the long debilitating slide of Parkinsons. He self-published several books of poems and did some local readings, often leaving the audience laughing and crying with admiration. Somehow he found the energy, discipline, and focus to write in spite of his disease. He is gone now, but whenever I hear the term dedicated poet, I think of him and his gleefully courageous work.

I think everyone should write poetry. To transfer their emotions into something tangible, to attempt to make sense of mystery, to find their inner self. The world would be different, and better. I think of Richard Osler’s rather brilliant title for this blog, Recovering Words. Exactly – the uncovering and remembering of words that matter, but also using words to recover from whatever challenges the world has presented. There are tens of thousands of poets serious about their craft, who read and study and write and revise and do their best to get published, to find acclaim from other poets. But, I hope, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have written maybe one poem, maybe a dozen poems, maybe bravely self-published a small collection, who are not highly skilled poets but whose lives have become more coherent and meaningful because of what they have written. They treasure their poems, and they should. Among all the publishing credits and awards and MFAs we should never forget the baseline importance of poetry. And, of course, there are the millions or billions of people who have never written a poem, never even thought about it, whose lives could be very different if they had only picked up a pen at some poignant moment. How can we change that?

When I knew him, Mike Little was a retired lawyer — sensitive, highly intelligent, and the most detail-oriented person I ever met. He wrote one poem in his life:

Every spring I see faces…
my high school classmates with names like Hayashi,
Yoshikawa, Takahashi, Muramoto, Teramoto…
fully engaged in student life, popular, college-bound,
tho mute about the fire that had seared their families.
Since college, when I first learned of the camps, I see
my classmates as 2 ½ year olds, entering a crowded
train station, fascinated by the gathering of relatives
and neighbors of shared ancestry, wanting to play,
but restrained by elders still stunned by the fury of
the hate-fueled firestorm, awash in the ashes of their
livelihoods, personal possessions, and community ties,
blown by hot winds toward places and fates unknown.
Decades later, a 90-year-old widow’s memories add
place and more faces to my vision. The train station
is in Chico, CA; the added faces are a Caucasian man
and wife in their early 30s and their 2 ½ year-old son.
The man, unexpectantly deputized by Federal authorities,
carries out his duties, registering evacuees, tagging
luggage, loading waiting train cars. His wife watches
from the shadows and weeps, restraining her son who
fidgets, asking unanswerable questions. The widow
tells me that the Federal man was my Dad, the weeping
wife was her, and her fidgeting 2 ½ year-old was me.
Why did Dad never speak of this? Why did my classmates
not tell their stories? Shame and humiliation are
first cousins. Sorrow has many faces.

To be witnessed. It’s important. How do I know about this poem? For many years I have been involved in the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest, a county-wide, all ages poetry contest that has gone on for almost twenty years. Winning poems are selected and placed on plaques at the City Library and on placards in the public buses. Mike had told me he had written a poem and I encouraged him to submit. His poem was one of the winners. He read it at the awards ceremony in front of 125 people. It was witnessed and became part of the community fabric.

One of the fabulous aspects of this contest is that it includes student poems. To see an elementary school kid stand and barely peer over a podium reading an original poem in front of 100 people, mostly adults, will bring tears to your eyes. Magic for everyone involved. From a fourth grader:

Roots

deep down in your roots there
is a voice, a song, deep down
in your roots, there is a start,
a beginning.
everyone
has a voice,
find yours.

Do you think this young lady will not remember the applause for the rest of her life? I was not of the people who initially put this contest together, but I assure you they had a vision. They believed in the importance of poetry, of poetry that came from the community. Not necessarily perfect words in perfect cadence or form, but words that were right — right for the person, right for that moment in a life.

I feel I should at least partially address the intent of the blog and list some poets whose work has influenced me at some point in my life. If you haven’t read them, you should.

Gary Snyder, Tu Fu, Li Po, N. Scott Momaday, Rumi, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Jane Hirshfield, Jimmy Santiago Baca, David Lee (The Porcine Legacy!), Ellen Bass, Lorna Crozier, Joy Harjo, Cold Mountain, Patricia Smith, Ocean Vuong, David Whyte. And probably more than any other poet, Patrick Lane.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the many fine poets around the Salish Sea. If you haven’t read them, you should!

Bill Yake, Nancy Pagh, Tim McNulty, Tod Marshall, Claudia Castro Luna, Rena Priest, Jeremy Voigt, John Morgan, Jeffrey Morgan, Don Mitchell, Bethany Reid, Jennifer Bullis, Susan Erickson, J.I. Kleinberg, Jed Myers, Jack McCarthy, Robert Sund, Joe Wilkins, Robert Lashley, Ryler Dustin, Dayna Patterson, Suzanne Paola, Bruce Beasley, Sierra Golden, Michael Dylan Welch, Jory Mickelson, almost all of the poets published by Empty Bowl Press; and just a few of the localish Canadian poets: Pamela Porter, Terry Ann Carter, Arleen Paré, Susan Alexander, Barbara Pelman, Michelle Brown, Yvonne Blomer, Alan Hill, Linda Thompson. You already know about Richard Osler, of course. There are many others, not listed solely because of my failing memory — apologies!

That is all I know. Happy reading and may the right and perfect words find you.

By Luther Allen, January 2024

4 Comments

  1. Posted January 15, 2024 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    This was pure joy. Thank you Richard, and thank you Luther Allen, for reminding us of the “baseline importance” of poetry. An important and meaningful leavening.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted January 15, 2024 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Stephen: I can say the same: This was pure joy. There is love for poetry in Luther’s piece that cuts through all the other stuff. Poetry as the thing it is. For anybody. For everybody.

  3. Lynn Caldwell
    Posted January 15, 2024 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    This really resonated with me — thank you so much, Luther and Richard! And I love the lists at the end: lots of new poets to discover.

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted January 15, 2024 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Lynn: You are so welcome. A stunningly open and revealing post. A love of and for poetry that goes beyond! So glad to have you as a reader! Such an important community.

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