I first came across Crab Creek Review over 15 years ago while browsing used books at a secondhand store in Seattle. I fished a quarter from my pocket for a copy of the 10th anniversary edition of Crab Creek Review, this passage from Laura Kasischke’s poem, “Arms”, having caught my eye: “the cross/casts its shadow on the church lawn/as lovely as a naked man, arms/like wings without feathers/open to hold/the ions and electrons/that make us live.” I backtracked to the poem’s epigraph to learn that a woman and five children had been killed in 1945 when a bomb masquerading as a large silver balloon had exploded. The group had come across the balloon in a field, and went to inspect it, but then, Kasischke tells us, “May explodes like a bride’s bouquet/ tossed, accidentally, into a fan.” The poem ends on an image of white cranes exploding from the ocean “in a frenzy of feather and hydrogen” echoing the earlier image of the bomb that killed 6 people in Oregon.
Poetry offers a change of perspective. Inhumanity and intolerance, exposed, may engender empathy and tolerance. The images of the silver balloon exploding, and the white cranes bursting into the sky, seemed like a metaphor for my own life— oh, what a beautiful mystery life is, but venture too close to discovery, and you’ll suffer the consequences. A failed marriage, and parenting a pair of teenaged boys had sapped my energy and left me doubting my ability to make a difference in the world. I had long since abandoned poetry for engineering, and was working as a civil engineering technician for the government, where I reviewed design drawings for economic development projects. I understood the need for cutting trees and moving dirt to make way for apartment buildings, highways, and shopping malls. The damage to the environment seemed a necessary sacrifice, a byproduct of progress. Engineering includes both inventiveness and innovation—creative elements to be used for good or for gain. I appreciate the creativity and intellect it takes to design an underground transportation tunnel or an intercontinental air balloon. Engineers brought Seattle its crazy street layouts and its hillside communities. Engineers designed the site on which the Seattle Art Museum stands, and architects designed the building, and artists designed and built and painted and sculpted what fills SAM’s halls. I work with engineers for a living, but my life’s work is poetry. I need to be reminded of that from time to time, as I was on the day I first discovered Crab Creek Review.
Crab Creek Review just published its 30th anniversary edition. It’s been 20 years since we published Laura Kasischke’s poem, together with works by Rebecca Wells, Sam Hamill, William Stafford, Tim McNulty, Jody Aliesan, Sharon Hashimoto and more. Writers whose words continue to reach us, whose voices are joined in the new anniversary issue by Frances McCue, Peter Pereira, Susan Rich, Kathleen Flenniken, James Bertolino, Elizabeth Austen, and others. Old voices and new. Some of the poets in the 10th anniversary edition appear as well in the 30th. Voices that endure, poems and stories that outlive the damage we all experience just by being alive.
Engineers launched that silver balloon with its explosive cargo during World War II, a war my father served in, a war he survived. The balloon traveled thousands of miles before exploding in this country and changing a southern Oregon community forever. My father came home from the war changed forever; all soldiers are changed by that experience. What is it, exactly, that changes us? Trauma and damage, yes, but also experience and observation, healing and compassion. The soldier and engineer, the artist and poet are each influenced by living in this world. Each does his or her work, and thereby transforms the world. But can we save it? As writers, we enact change by the simple act of sharing our work, communicating with others. Kasischke’s words are a reminder of why we are here. Like the cranes, flying suddenly up from the water, [we] “fall into the sun/one by one/ through the arms of empty air/ that open/ not to catch us/ but to pass us on.”
Dear writers. Dear poets. Dear artists. Let’s pass our words into the atmosphere. Let’s save the world, or at least cast it in a different light. What strikes me about Kasischke’s poem is that the poet isn’t trying to save the world, she is trying to shine a light—a light that exposes pain and beauty in equal measure, that acknowledges the imperfectness of being human, of the harm we cause and the beauty we embrace in order to survive. This is why I write, why I am ecstatic that other people write, and why I am excited to join Crab Creek Review in its long-standing commitment to the best literature of the Northwest, and beyond.
Kasischke, Laura. (1994). Arms. In L. Clifton, & C. Orlock (Eds) Crab Creek Review Anniversary Anthology (pp. 114-115) Seattle, WA: Crab Creek Review Association.
Jenifer Browne Lawrence is the author of One Hundred Steps from Shore. Awards include the Orlando Poetry Prize, the James Hearst Poetry Prize and a Washington State Artist Trust GAP grant. Recent work appears in Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Review, Narrative, North American Review, and Rattle. Jenifer lives in a seaside community west of Seattle, where she is co-editor of Crab Creek Review.