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Perishable World

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“Who knows if the grief / I squeeze through my lips can be borne?” says an ancient Aztec singer. In this collection, prize-winning poet Alicia Hokanson sets out to map the raw boundaries of grief by ruthlessly examining occasions and consequences of loss, offset by close and affectionate attention to the smallest nuances of the sensual universe. We learn that what perishes from this world is not only bearable but inseparable from what we celebrate. -Samuel Green, former Washington Poet Laureate, author of Disturbing the Light

Description

Its title echoing a line in the Mountain poems of Stonehouse (Shih-wu), Perishable World leads us through the cycle of seasons, interwoven with memory and reflections on the transitory nature of life, following the death of the poet’s husband. Her cycle of grief begins in a literal and psychic late winter, in constant Pacific Northwest rain, as maple seeds “try to grow trees out of the muck” of gutters of the old house (“the house he built for you”) sinking into its surrounding garden, and the poet watches “the light itself imagining / a June of staggering blossoms” (“In February”). We first glimpse the beloved standing by the house he has built, and in accumulating resonance, images of this house and the beloved’s work of building it become the ongoing trope, the image of the couple’s life together: “Under this roof / we hold each other’s histories” (“Blueprint”). In “Lament” as he is dying, she asks her beloved, but really herself, “Did I give you what you needed / in the end?” Struggles with grieving and release across the seasons rise in the end to a litany, “Bequeath,” as the poet lets go and gives over to the departed all that the couple shared. She emerges “In the Clearing” where the house stands, to the final acceptance of this life and death, and of the space in which she still lies down. “Love built this house,” poet Alicia Hokanson declares, in an intimation of mortality that suggests she may indeed have “learned to see through this perishable world.” —Carolyne Wright, author of This Dream the World: New & Selected Poemsand lead editor of Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace

A native of Seattle, Alicia Hokanson grew up exploring the beaches, forests, and islands of Puget Sound, inspiring her deep attention to the natural world. Her first book, Mapping the Distance, was selected by Carolyn Kizer for the King County Arts Commission publication prize and it was released by Breitenbush Books in 1989. Brooding Heron Press published two chapbooks, Phosphorous and Insistent in the Skin. Her poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals and anthologies. Upon completing her B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Washington, Alicia pursued a career teaching English in a variety of venues, from working with high-school students in South Australia to teaching grades 1-8 in a one-room schoolhouse on Waldron Island, 8th graders on Bainbridge Island, and middle-school English for 27 years at Lakeside School in Seattle. Named River of Words Poetry Teacher of the year in 2003 for her work nurturing young writers, she also held the Bleakney Chair in English at Lakeside upon her retirement in 2014. She now devotes her time to writing, reading, and advocating for social and environmental justice.

Insistent in the Skin (Brooding Heron Press, 1993), Mapping the Distance (Breitenbush Books, 1989), Phosphorous (Brooding Heron Press, 1984); Journals: Crab Creek Review, Exhibition, Poetry USA, Pontoon, Raven Chronicles; Performance: Metro Poetry Bus (2005)

 

More Praise:

In a quiet, insistent way Perishable World’s poems of loss are also a heartening celebration of what endures, what grows, what appears right before us: forests, mountains, cliffs above an island beach, “kingfisher’s branch and eagle’s snag.” Though these poems grieve for and honor lives that have passed away forever, they sing too of what remains. What remains, Hokanson tells us in language rich with image and musical phrasing, is precious beyond measure. Never have we needed such a reminder as these moving poems offer more than now. -Ed Harkness, author of Law of the Unforeseen and others

In Alicia Hokanson’s poems, the intimacy of love merges with the intimacy of living closely with the landscape of the Pacific Northwest-the deep green of temperate rainforest, the islands and mountains, the flowers and bushes whose names become poetry. Her landscape includes the sorrows of this country over the last several years for the fragility of our environment, the spreading injustice, “half the nation whipsawed in grief.” Love in these poems is a giving: caring for a musician uncle “who said/I don’t recommend living past 100,” and remembering her parents’ strengths followed by their loss through age and illness. Most striking are the poems about the illness and death of her husband. They are poems of love more than grief because loss is inevitable. Rather than rage against it, Hokanson attaches it to her world and makes it sing “to find again/the center where I love you.” -Sherry Rind, author of Between States of Matter

Alicia Hokanson’s Perishable World is a book of mourning—for the earth, for her parents, for her recently deceased husband.  And yet, it is also a rich celebration of all it mourns:  most notably the landscape of her island cabin, “Love built this house,” on land and a garden with its creatures lovingly detailed—In these broken days—half the nation whipsawed in grief. . . . the sum of autumn’s rubric/ is light and color. . .  late bees in the penstemon/ still gathering pollen for the hive.  In the stunningly moving poems written after his death, her late husband comes alive:  the tattered chair/ in front of the computer/where you invited every virus/ with your reckless searching.  And in the exquisite poem “Ritual”:  this shore where you would /each night exclaim,/ “we are so lucky” as we, her readers are so lucky to have this fine, overdue collection of an accomplished poet. -Anne Pitkin, author of Winter Arguments and others

 

Left on the Porch

polished curve of oyster shell

hidden whorl of whelk

white-striped rocks for wishing on

grey feather abandoned by a gull

flat black shale that fits the thumb

for skipping far

brittle dollars incised with stars

pink cockles and bleached crab claws

summer’s piled treasure

gathered from beach walks

emptied from the children’s pockets

all these talismans

rimmed now with blown in leaves

fir needles and dust

swept into the bucket for dispersal

down the forest path to the shore

strewn along the tideline

tossed to wave and rip

pummeled in the winter wash

lost in the seasons’ wild shuffle

 

Beauty Resists

So unexpected to come upon it

as we followed the swerving

waxwings, their commotion

in the air our umbrellas curtained:

the gold Gingko

—double trunk rising

from its yellow leavings—

paving the sidewalk

with real luster,

cement softer under the mash

of ochre leaves along the gutters.

Shine of rain over everything.

In the park, vine maples hold on

to some crimson tatters

above the banks where the last salmon

fight their way home

in the stream bed

the neighbors made good again.

In these broken days—

half the nation whipsawed in grief

at what we will become—

the sum of autumn’s rubric

is light and color in the trees,

flash of silver fins in the creek,

and late bees in the penstemon

still gathering pollen for the hive.

 

Lament

The August beach is as you left it:

hung with absconding shadows

across the afternoon

the sun moving south

over horizon islands

yellow jackets busy in the sand

mining the detritus

in the line of seaweed the tide left.

No agates or feathers call to me today,

as they did to you always,

just the rattle of colored stones—

the greens and greys, whites and golds

shifting under my sandals

and the piercing squawks of seagulls

over a herring ball in the bay.

Out of summer’s perfect

and lonely afternoon,

a moment returns to me from long ago.

Taking your hand as we moved

in a festival crowd

I let fall away

every contentious word

every argument, letting go

purely into the love you offered—

Did I give you what you needed

in the end?

Additional information

IBSN

978-1-7364799-1-9

Format

5.5 x 8.5

Page/Word Count

92

Publish Date

7.15.21

2 reviews for Perishable World

  1. Jim Moore, Minnesota Book Award-winning poet, author of Underground, New and Selected poems

    “You know what I long for–” writes Alicia Hokanson in an early poem in this book. And by book’s end, we do indeed know what she longs for, which is what we all long for inside poems and out of them: the precise revelations of sensuous detail and the riptide of emotional truths carrying us out to sea and back again. If the natural world grounds Hokanson’s poems, the human world–all our longings, our joys, and losses–are their ultimate destination. Hers is a trusting and trusted voice that both challenges and inspires us. What more could we wish for at this strange, unnerving, moment? “Did I give you what you needed in the end?” she asks in one of the harrowingly beautiful poems about loss that anchor this book. The answer is yes.

  2. Lise Goett, Robert H. Winner Memorial Award poet, author of Leprosarium

    In Perishable World, Alicia Hokanson invokes a consciousness rimed with grief and radiance, feeding us with the luminous specifics of “this world and only this,” as she stalks a holy peace even in the midst of upheaval and death, a perishing world poised on the balance point of environmental disaster tipping past remediation. No pony ride for the poet, this, but Perishable World slays us with a loving but unflinching exactitude that wields its axe at our frozen hearts with a clout of benediction and ravishment.

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