On Friday afternoons, people gather to share poems with one another at Jefferson County Library from 3 to 4 p.m.
People take turns, going around the circle and reading one poem at a time. People are also welcome to just sit and listen.
There are plenty of opportunities for poets in Port Townsend, said Marjorie Belt, who organizes the meetings. "I wanted something brought out more in the county ... a safe place out in the county where people don't feel intimidated."
There's no rules, except "Don't be mean," said Jim Watson-Gove, who also helps run the poetry get-togethers. They usually meet in the Shold Room, which has lots of windows for plenty of natural light, and comfortably seats about 10 people around a big table.
At the June 5 meeting, four of the seven attending read poems they had written; others read from books. Sometimes the poems prompted some discussion; other times, not. The mood was decidedly laid-back; there was no criticism, no critique; just a comfortable feeling of being with other people who also love poetry.
Craig Barron, who was in the group for the first time, read some of his own work. So did Belt and Watson-Gove. Other poems that were read included Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias," Ellen Bass' "Don't Expect Applause," a little William Wordsworth, some Adrienne Rich. Betty Shipley's "Upon Being Put Down by the Poetry Society" was so good, Belt reread it when her turn came around. It was one of several readings that day from books published by small presses – the poems are all the sweeter because
"absolutely," Watson-Gove said, "no rules."
Watson-Gove started the group about 12 years ago, after he and his wife, Eleanor, moved to town. Since 1965, he's published Minotaur, a small-press poetry magazine, published quarterly. "Theoretically, not actually," he said. "I set my goals and miss them."
He doesn't promote the magazine, which has about 100 subscribers. "I have a network," he said. "It's almost a fellowship for me."
His interest in poetry started at his Los Angeles–area high school, where he was introduced to, and liked, poets Carl Sandburg and Edgar Allan Poe. He spent three years at San Francisco State University, "but it almost doesn't count, because I took classes I wanted, not what they wanted me to take." He liked classes focused on single poets; a memorable one was on Christopher Isherwood – “his ‘I am a camera.’”
The second paragraph in Isherwood's 1935 novel "Goodbye to Berlin" reads: "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”
"It's the thing William Carlos Williams says – 'no idea but in things,'" said Watson-Gove, who likes "abstract expressionism, the surreal. All over the world, people were kicking out classical poetry," he said of Williams' and Isherwood's era between the world wars. "But it split into two camps. People often say William Carlos Williams saved poetry from [Ezra] Pound and [T.S.] Eliot. When [Williams] said a banana cream pie, he meant a banana cream pie.... Both groups were trying to rescue poetry," he said. "It's like painting. They were trying to break away."
Watson-Gove, who has a painting in this June's "Alchemy of the Abstract" show at Northwind Arts Center, said his favorite painter is Jackson Pollock, the abstract expressionist famed for his "drip technique" paintings made in the ’40s and ’50s.
When Watson-Gove started publishing Minotaur in 1965, poetry was undergoing another upheaval. "Those were very rich times" for poetry, he said. "It was street poetry." It was "the days of mimeograph. If you wanted a magazine, you went out and got a mimeograph." His magazine's name "has sexual connotations, and it had to do with it being the ’60s. That's all I ought to say."
Part of the street-poetry scene in San Diego and San Francisco, Watson-Gove wrote and read his own poems, and often performed Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," which was published in 1956.
"I'd read my own poems and I'd want to throw up," he said. "I could read Ginsberg, and that wouldn't happen."
"Now, the difference is almost negligible," he said of "street" poetry. "I know a number of street poets that are in universities. It's blended to the point that the words don't mean anything anymore. They're studying beat poetry as if it were real, and it is."