Not-So-New New Poets

Poetry, according to the ever-so-informative Wikipedia, is "a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning."

For the non-poet or language-inadequate individual, let me break this down for you: Poetry could mean something, or it could mean nothing. A little confusing, right?

If you want to give the cultured art of poetry a shot, you could try the selection of crusty books at your local library—or you could attend a reading of a new anthology entitled New Poets of the American West, hosted by the University of Arizona Poetry Center. The event will feature live readings by a handful of Southern Arizonan poets whose works are part of the anthology, as well as an appearance by the editor, Lowell Jaeger, who is visiting from Montana.

Michael Rattee, a local poet and contributor to the anthology, helped pull together the reading.

"There has been a myriad of events for this book all over the West," Rattee explained. "I knew the editor for the book, Lowell Jaeger, was going to be in town in early January, so I contacted the Poetry Center and asked if they would host the event. I also took it on to invite the contributors from Southern Arizona."

The anthology was Jaeger's idea. Rattee said Jaeger edited it on his own through Many Voices Press, run out of Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Mont. Jaeger also teaches creative writing there. While the anthology itself is titled New Poets of the American West, the poets aren't necessarily as new as one might think; all are successful in their own right.

"I believe Lowell's statement was that while the poets in the book aren't new—a lot of them have many publications—the book is new, and the poets are new to people who haven't read them yet," Rattee said. "So it's not really new poets or any particular style. Lowell likes to focus on, as he calls it, poems made from the stuff of the world—the nuts and bolts of our daily existence. It is mostly accessible poetry, but not easy poetry."

Rattee started writing poetry on the East Coast in his teen years and began getting published in his 20s. He has published six books/chapbooks and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Some 30 years later, he is still producing poetry, and his most recent book, Falling Off the Bicycle Forever, received a stellar review from our own Jarret Keene in July. Rattee was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Vermont and landed in the Old Pueblo in 1978. He has been here ever since, actively involved in the Tucson poetry community.

The poem he contributed to the anthology is a memory poem about the old cabin in the mountains where he used to stay with his grandparents during the summer. "My poetry is based on memory, I would guess. I tend to start from a line; I can't write from an idea," Rattee said. "Having a great idea doesn't work for me, I have to have some words in my head already to start from. But the subject matter tends to be stuff from the past, but not always. It's hard to generalize about your own work."

The anthology compiles work from poets living in 11 different states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The press release touts more than "250 poets and 450 poems ... including poems in English, Spanish, Navajo, Salish, Assiniboine and Dakota languages."

Event participants include Southern Arizonans Sherwin Bitsui, Jefferson Carter, Cynthia Hogue, Michael Rattee, David Ray, Judy Ray, John Davis and Rebecca Seiferle. Among them, they have more than 50 published books and have earned numerous prizes and awards.

Rattee said that "the event will present a variety of poetic visions and voices that should please most any listener." So there you have it, poetry newbies—something for everyone.