Tacoma poet Michael Magee has just launched a new volume of his poems called “How We Move Toward Light” (MoonPath Press, Tillamook, Ore.). Magee will be reading from the collection at a book release to be held at Wright Park’s W.W. Seymour Conservatory (316 S. G St., Tacoma) on Thursday, Oct. 18, 6-7 p.m. After the reading, Magee will engage in a question and answer session and a book signing.
The Seymour Conservatory is the perfect venue for the book launch, since many of the poems – including the title poem – are set Wright Park. In many of these, Magee imagines poets like Marcel Proust and Walt Whitman in the precincts of Tacoma’s genteel, urban park with its wildlife and its population of venerable trees of variable species. Other facets and features of Tacoma are strewn throughout the collection. There are, for example, references to the Murray Morgan Bridge, Delong Park, the Tacoma Mall and the Tacoma Art Museum.
The book is divided into three parts: “The New Odysseus,” “Poetic Landscapes” and “Personaes.” “New Odysseus” imagines the epic warrior-trickster of Greek mythology passing through our contemporary landscape. There are poems with titles like “Odysseus in a Land of Pogo Sticks,” “Odysseus in a Land of Toaster Ovens” and “Odysseus at the Mall.” The latter is based on an excursion to the Tacoma Mall, an odd place indeed.
Many of the poems in the “Poetic Landscapes” portion are derived from experiences in front of landscape paintings, thus blending the art of painting with that of poetry. Several poems, like “Hudson River School Landscape Painters,” are the result of viewing exhibits at the Tacoma Art Museum. In “Hudson River School,” Magee takes the reader on an impressionistic tour of some of the paintings in the museum before moving on to a view of the amazing scene that is visible from the upper floor of the art museum: a vista of Mount Rainier, the Tacoma Dome, the cone of the Museum of Glass, the 21st Street suspension bridge and the dome of Union Station. There are also poems like “On the Road to Steilacoom” that are literary landscapes of local places.
In his introduction to the collection, former University of Washington poetry professor Ben Drake says that Magee’s poetry is evocative of “a strange world, steeped in art, populated by the active ghosts of Proust, Whitman, Roethke, Chagall, O’Keeffe, Yeats, Cather and others.”
In Magee’s spare style, ordinary places and things – urbanized trees, sidewalks, birds, cars and boats – intersect with memory, emotion and intellectual musings to become delicate, softly colored scenes of rumination and self-reflection. Magee delights in the names of things like species of trees, specific types of birds and the names of places both familiar and exotic. Here and there, words with pizazz add a bit of literary glitter. It is not often that I have a chance to break out my Collins English Gem Dictionary – a little volume that could easily be mistaken for a Gideon’s’ New Testament, which I carry religiously in my satchel – but I had to bust it out a couple of times during my reading of Magee’s poems to look up sparklers like “plangent” and “chicane.”
In addition to being a poet, Magee is also a playwright. His plays and poetry have been produced in the United States, England and Greece. He has lived in Tacoma, Seattle, San Francisco, London and Nottingham, England. Many of the poems in “How We Move” have appeared in other publications and periodicals. The book is dedicated to Magee’s wife, Jean Musser, a fellow poet who died earlier this year.
It is always nice to encounter a local artist grounded in a sense of place. Outsiders will read such work and feel the universal appeal. For we insiders, however, the poetry has a deeper resonance, as it serves to enrichen our experience of this place where we lead our day to day existence.
For more on Magee, visit moonpathpress.com/MichaelMagee.htm. For information on the poetry reading at the Wright Park Conservatory, visit www.metroparkstacoma.org/calendar/index.php?cid=10391.