Monday, July 20, 2009

Poetry & Popular Culture Goes West

Lured by the promise of pinot noir, trout fishing, whale watching, and the spirit of poets like Gary Snyder and William Stafford, Poetry & Popular Culture hits the Oregon Trail this week and permanently heads out west to its new home in Salem, Oregon, and the Willamette River valley. Moving from Iowa City has not been unemotional (goodbye Foxhead, goodbye Prairie Lights), but verses like the one pictured on the postcard to the left reassure us that poetic treasures aplenty await us in the Pacific Northwest as well as in the Heartland. Framed by two images (a panoramic view of the river valley, and someone canoeing in front of Mount Hood), "Sunset on the Willamette" reads:

The sun sinks downward thru the silver mist
That looms across the valley, fold on fold,
And sliding thru the fields that dawn has kissed,
Willamette sweeps, a chain of liquid gold.

Trails onward ever, curving as it goes,
Past many a hill and many a flowered lea,
Until it pauses where Columbia flows,
Deep-tongued, deep-chested to the waiting sea.

O lovely vales thru which Willamette slips!
O vine clad hills that hear its soft voice call!
My heart turns ever to their sweet, cool lips,
That, passing, press each rock or grassy wall.

Thru pasture lands, where mild-eyed cattle feed
Thru marshy flats, where velvet tulles grow,
Past many a rose tree, many a signing reed,
I hear those wet lips calling, calling low.

The sun sinks downward thru the trembling haze
the mist flings glistening needles higher and higher.
And thru the clouds—O fair beyond all praise!
Mt. Hood leaps, chastened, from a sea of fire.

"Sunset on the Willamette" is by Ella Higginson (1861-1940) who, like William Stafford, was born in Kansas and later moved to Oregon and (after marrying) Washington. A poet and short story writer whose work appeared in publications like McClures, Harper's Monthly, and Colliers, Higginson was made poet laureate of Washington State in 1931 and served as campaign manager for the first woman elected to the Washington State House of Representatives (Frances C. Axtell in 1912). Her poem "Four-Leaf Clover" was especially popular, appearing (among other places) in Edmund Clarence Stedman's An American Anthology from 1900. If you want to learn more about Higginson, head on over to the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University which has 18 boxes of her writing, scrapbooks, and other materials available for scholarly research.