I want to tell you about two writers and two reasons I’m glad and grateful to be a part of the writers’ community here in Seattle. The first writer and reason is Crysta Casey, a poet and painter and military vet whose most recent book, Rules For Walking Out, I have been reading. Casey worked as a journalist in the Marines until, in the late 1970’s, she attended a writing conference in California where one of the faculty told her she should be writing poetry instead. Casey took this person at their word, and when she returned to base, declared herself resident poet, meaning she would no longer report to duty.
I gave my name
rank and serial number,
said I was a poet. Beyond
that I refused to speak.
Rather than send her to the brig for going AWOL, Casey’s superior officers sent her to the psych ward. Part of her time in the psych ward is a subject of this book.
After Casey was released – walked out – from the military, she moved to Seattle, where she encountered a group of engaged and lively writers, one of whom – and the second writer and reason I want to tell you about – is the poet and teacher Deborah Woodard. Woodard had also attended that writing conference in California back in late 70’s, and Casey remembered her, so when Woodard’s name showed up as teaching a class at Hugo House, Seattle’s not-for-profit community center for writers, Casey enrolled. Woodard, the author of several chapbooks, a full length collection and translations from Italian, recognized Casey’s gifts and encouraged her. I first heard Casey read at Hugo House. It was a group reading but I don’t remember the other readers. Casey’s work was of a different order. It didn’t let you out.
Here is a poem about her other’s death:
I rode the bus six times
from my bed to yours,
until they had folded
the sheet corners
We might have been without the poetry of Crysta Casey if not for the smarts, compassion, and hard work of Deborah Woodard and others. In addition to teaching her at Hugo House, Woodard introduced Casey to poets and others interested in her work and, since Casey’s death in 2008, has led the effort to get her work in print.
The poet’s work is more than writing poems. The poet’s work is also supporting other poets, being a writer in the world: a writer who helps to make the world of writers. Deborah Woodard’s own poetry is literate and varied, from personae poems to poems with historic subjects to lyrics, but her vocation as a poet means not only finding her own words to try to explain or encounter or query or praise the world, but also to help other poets’ words find their way to us.
I’m going to a reading tonight to celebrate the release of Rules for Walking Out. A bunch of local poets will read from Crysta Casey’s work. There will be another reading to celebrate the book July 28 at Couth Buzzard on Greenwood Ave in Seattle.