April 24–30, 2023
Dev River (they/them) lives in Olympia, WA, where they play with words, sounds and textiles on a lifelong journey of truth and connection. As an undergrad at the University of Oregon, they studied poetry with Geri Doran and Garrett Hongo. Their music is on Bandcamp under the name Entrail and they can be found on Instagram @n.a.e.d.r.e. Last year, River was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Bernard Ferguson’s workshop on the poetics of climate change.
When the tissuepaper clouds
melt toward the horizon, undressing
the zenith moon,
waxing is cupped in the right hand,
waning is cupped in the left—
So that when the fires roll
into town, as they do all over
the world, & you tie
a rope around your waist
& leap out through the sky
to a safe
& turn & see a ball of lint
a fractured eye
a lost frozen pea:
you will know to cup the earth
first in your left hand,
then in your right.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem is an old idea of mine patched together with fragments from incomplete poems that weren’t quite right. One day, I noticed these fragments were all trying to say the same thing and belonged together. Like pieces of the same puzzle carved by artisans on different continents. I had been trying in much more grandiose ways to express this idea, and it was so pleasant when it finally clicked together in this shorter form. Taking this dramatic sensation of painful dissociation and paring it down to something small and peaceful had a soothing effect on me.
What are you working on right now?
Lately, I’m really interested in working with fabric and learning to draw. I’ve been making quilts with my own patterns and sewing clothes. I’m working on building my skills with visual mediums, giving my brain new challenges to keep my creative spirit playful. I have a few ideas for multimedia projects and installations. Along the way, I’m working on sitting in meditation and managing my health.
What’s a good day for you?
I wake up feeling energized and pain-free. I have ritual morning toast with my partner and we and the cats watch the squirrels on the back deck. It is overcast and mellow. After working on projects for an hour or two, I convince my partner to go on a walk with me, and we head down the hill to the water’s edge. We see a whole bunch of jellies floating along in the high tide. We pet no fewer than two dogs on the way back. I put on some Star Trek and dig into my sewing. Eat some leftovers. Trance out on my project until midnight or so. I fall asleep and dream about the ocean.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I live in the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people, aka Olympia, WA. I’ve lived here for almost six years. I moved here to be part of the music scene, but I burned out, and then the pandemic hit and I had to stop performing and going to shows. Having to step away from socializing made me connect more with my peaceful surroundings. I love the shoreline of the inlets, and all the wildlife everywhere. I love the clean water. I love the clean, lightly salty air.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I have not, sadly.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
A poetry community means a club I will never fully be a member of. I am grateful that artistic communities exist. I love that people are out there connecting with each other, sharing ideas and building culture together. I appreciate that I can knock on the door and sit in on occasion. But any time I have tried to fully participate in an artistic community, I’ve gotten burned out on trying to fit in or prove myself or make it work with my disabilities. At this point in my life, I am content with my solitary practice and a few treasured individual connections.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Walt Whitman, of course, forever. And thanks to Bernard Ferguson for the enriching workshop.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
As far as learning about and applying craft techniques, I have Geri Doran to thank from my time as an undergrad at the University of Oregon. Her approach with me was gentle yet steady. She understood the difference between criticism that bullies and critique that encourages growth, and she always chose the latter.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I could lie and pick something literary off my shelf, but I won’t. The most recent book that really made an impression on me was Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. The author methodically guides the reader through exercises designed to access a state of flow where realistic drawing becomes easy and pleasurable. Since this state of mind is firmly anti-language, I find it a refreshing mental break from writing.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Shamefully, I have never read the deathbed version of Leaves of Grass in its entirety. I promise I will someday.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I have a whole bookcase stuffed full of books I haven’t read yet. I love knowing I have all this potential sitting there waiting for the right time. My reading process varies intensely depending on what’s going on in my life. Some years, I’ll devour book after book, cover to cover. Other years, I have trouble getting into anything and refuse to force myself. Lately, I’m a dipper—reading a few paragraphs at a time and letting them digest.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’d like to try writing a series of poems to present as textile art. I’m curious about what would happen if I tried to express words and poetic ideas as physical, tactile objects.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Pre-pandemic, I loved reading and writing at Bar Francis, a coffeeshop here in Olympia. There’s a perfect fishbowl window to sit by and soak up the light. Since COVID, though, I rarely go anywhere.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the end of the world,
And what I think of as reality you slash over in pen,
For every scale inflaming me as good or evil will one day be shed by you.
I’ve never been, so Brooklyn feels like a fantasy. To imagine myself in Brooklyn is also to imagine myself with the energy to thrive in a place like Brooklyn. For a hermit like me, it’d be like stepping into an alternate dimension. I’d like to visit.