Friday, September 2, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Change in Ownership for Seattle's Open Books

John Marshall and Christine Deavel

For today's Poetry Friday, I'm offering up a delicate poem by Christine Deavel, and a slightly more muscular one by her husband, the poet J.W. (John) Marshall:

On the path by the park's hedge
two juncos stepped out
and joined me on my walk,
a full measure
of tipping toward and away,
until we parted company.
Not ways, though.
I hope
we did not part ways.

-- Christine Deavel

Steilacoom and South

We were gods on holiday
who’d stumbled on
a local god at work. Until then
no one had been loud.
Look at that!
the boy said and we
who swam along with him
inside the Amtrak Coach did look.
A man stood in a boat as
ingenious as a button
in a button hole.
The sun threw echoes
all across the water.
Pole bent hairpin in one hand
with a net in his other he
ladled up a King from
the dazzle. Though he couldn’t hear
we sang a brief applause to him
that trailed off just how
a salmon sounds
in the bottom of an aluminum boat.
And next we passed of note
a field of stumps and tractor ruts
sign on the fence there reading
More Estates Are Coming.
Then came Portland’s string of condos
like stacks of glassy tackle boxes
and the speaker’s admonition
Don’t forget your luggage
when you leave.

       J.W. Marshall 
Until just this week, Christine and her husband John owned and operated Open Books - one of only three bookstores in the United States dedicated exclusively to poetry (the others are Grolier's in Cambridge, Mass,, and Innisfree in Boulder, Colorado.) They also lived in the bungalow above the store, so their commute was enviably short.

The Seattle poetry community depended on John and Christine not only for books but for poetry news and predictions. For 29 years they shared which new books were coming out, which new books we were going to love, which new voices we would be hearing about - and they knew their customers well enough to pull a nice bunch of books off the shelves and recommend them confidently. Tailor-made recommendations - it doesn't get better than that in a bookstore. It was Christine who handed me the marvelous Reft and Light by Ernst Jandl - she suspected I would love it and she was right. I've never read anything like it and I take it off my poetry bookshelves often, either for a quick thrill or for a day's slow studying.

I worked in bookstores for many years before I began writing and teaching, but I had the luxury of just being an employee, free to come in in the morning, enjoy the day and the customers, enjoy the arrival of new books, oversee certain areas, go home at night....and I never had to pay the bills. Perfect job. When I think about Open Books, I think about what it takes to run a bookstore the right way.  Not an easy job, not a lucrative one, but satisfying, I hope.

What's amazing is that Christine and John managed to keep their creative juices flowing. John's first book, Meaning a Cloud, won the Field Poetry Prize. And Christine's book, Woodnote, won the Washington State Book Award in 2012.

If you want to hear a bit more from these poets, there's a lovely interview of Christine with Elizabeth Austen over at Seattle's KUOW website. Ditto for the interview of John by Lisa Albers at Poets and Writers. And Nancy Guppy interviews both Christine and John for Seattle Magazine. I'm especially fond of this brief interview of Christine over at the National Book Critics Circle website - in it, I can really hear Christine speaking, in response to a slightly garrulous interviewer. AND Christine is recommending books - so I feel a bit like I've walked into Open Books and will leave with a fascinating new book in hand.

John and Christine have sold the bookstore now, and everyone who loves poetry in the Seattle area wishes the new owner, Billie Swift, the best of luck. Swift, who had a humorous profile of the Seattle literary scene published in The New Yorker, has two sets of big shoes to fill. You can read her thoughts about the prospect of doing that in this recent interview over at the Seattle Review of Books.

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Penny Klosterman over at  A Penny and Her Jots. Head over there to see what other people have posted!


  1. Oh my, I've been to Innisfree in Boulder, but not for a while. I'm sorry to say I'd forgotten about it. This is a nice tribute to your friends who're saying goodbye to their child, I guess, and it is lovely that someone else is taking over. Each poem holds the imagery one can paint from, just beautiful. Those 'two juncos stepping out" reminds me of the magpies that appear on my way to the library, probably hoping I'm dropping crumbs. And, I looked for 'Steilacoom', discovered a new place for good living! The scenes from the train, "Pole bent hairpin in one hand" and "stacks of glassy tackle boxes" are in my mind's eye, but those "stacks" are also being built in a field just down from me. I enjoyed every bit of your story. Thanks, Julie.

    1. You're so welcome, Linda. Thanks for coming to the Drift Record today.

  2. I love both of those poems. So few bookstores have good poetry sections. I must visit Grolier's soon. Seattle is a bit too far for me. :-) I tried to find Ernst Jandl at my library, but it doesn't have anything by him. I found a few translations on a website. They are beautiful poems. I can see why you like him.

  3. Thanks for the lovely glimpse of these two and this Seattle gem of a store. Will the new owner keep the focus on poetry?

  4. Hi, Julie--Yes, a good story about good people doing good work of several kinds in a good place, muscular and delicate. Perhaps my rain-loving daughter will choose Seattle when she goes to college and I'll be able to visit. Thank you!

  5. So nice to be introduced to John and Christine and their poetry! I love the tone of the first poem and the imagery of the second. I also, BTW, LOVE your poem on the DMC padlet, Julie. I'll be sharing it next week. :)

  6. Michelle, I missed the fact that the septercet was supposed to be about reading or writing! Luckily, my offering has a book in it (with pictures of the ocean, at least) but no real "read books" theme. Maybe I'll write another.

  7. Wow, I would love to visit that bookstore! Thanks for this sweet post. I loved the line about parting company not meaning parting ways.

  8. A bookstore dedicated to poetry...Nice! I've never visited a bookstore dedicated to poetry but now that you've told me where they are, I hope I get a chance some day.

    I enjoyed both poems. Thanks for sharing them and thanks for sharing story.

  9. I've never been to Grolier's although I've been to Cambridge a gazillion times over the years. I'd better go soon before I'm too old to find it. (Not hyperbole--the older I get the worse I get at finding my way around. It's downright frightening at times.)

  10. How wonderful to live where there is a poetry bookstore! Thanks for sharing these poems--I especially love the simplicity of the juncos joining on a walk.

  11. I did not know about this poetry bookstore, and how appropriate that it was owned by poets! Great story, and I'm thrilled the store isn't closing. AND: Seattle is in my very near-future, perhaps I can visit! Thank you!

  12. Putting those three bookstores on my bucket list right now!

  13. What a lovely tribute to these two poet/shopkeepers. Thanks for sharing the names of the three poetry only stores - I must visit each when my travels lead me to those locations. =)