'What the River Brings: Oregon River Poems'

In 2010, Bay Area transplant Kathryn Ridall was new to Eugene and looking for a way to connect to her freshly adopted state.

"It was a big move for me," Ridall recalled. "It was disorienting. I thought to myself, 'What can I love here?' The first thing I fell in love with was a bike trail along the Willamette River. I saw herons and bald eagles and 15 to 20 species of duck.

"I began to write poems about the river and to collect poems about rivers from people who had lived here longer."

She then reached out to a handful of Oregon poets with an idea to collect river poems together into an anthology.

The response was overwhelmingly positive.

The poets gave Ridall a list of 20 people they thought should be included in the anthology, even providing email addresses so she could contact them.

With the help of the poets, Ridall compiled "What the River Brings: Oregon River Poems," a book filled with poems by 56 Oregon poets, many from Southern Oregon.

Several poets featured in the book will read poems from the anthology at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Bloomsbury Books, located in downtown Ashland at 290 E. Main St.

They include Steve Dieffenbacher, Gary Lark, Amy MacLennan, Amy Miller, Liz Robinson, Pepper Trail and Vince and Patty Wixon.

The Southern Oregon poets will read one of their own poems, plus two more by other authors, Ridall said.

"It really is a community book. Oregon has a wonderful network of poets. Many are in this book," Ridall said. "It's a good reflection of rivers and the state of poetry in Oregon."

She said some of the authors already had written poems about rivers, while others crafted new poetry specifically for the anthology.

A poem by Miller in the anthology is humorously titled "Finding I Had Not Written About the River."

With the Rogue River located miles away from Ashland, some of the Ashland poets wrote about other forms of water, including streams and rain.

In a poem titled "Flow," Trail wrote about mountain snow melting and forming a stream. An excerpt from the poem reads:

Falling from ledge to ledge, white foam

Scrawling line after line, illegibly quick

Swelling up and over smooth sunken stones

Breaking around the higher rocks, spinning

Away in galactic swirls, down and around

Out of sight then, beyond the curve

Ridall said the poems are about nature as well as human experiences lived out close to rivers.

Vince Wixon crafted a vivid poem about a working-class community dealing with a flood in his poem "Flood Town." An excerpt reads:

That town along the river, the one

with the slaughterhouse on the flood plain

where every thirty years carcasses

and rubber boots float along the loading dock

and eddy in flotsam and sewage

while sides of beef inside hang on hooks

tracking above the muck. Workers

slide open the metal doors so the water

can head to where it had in mind

from the beginning.

Ridall said she feels more at home in Oregon after getting to know the community of poets in the state via the anthology.

"This book project helped me to settle in here," she said.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or by email at vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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