When three Pacific Northwest poets arrived in Venice, it was during the worst flood the city had seen since 1966.
“We got off the vaporetto, and we were immediately knee-deep in water,” said Bill Porter, a poet and translator who often uses the pen name Red Pine.
Porter and his fellow poets, Clem Starck and Finn Wilcox — who dubbed themselves the three amigos — held their bags above water and waded through the flooded streets.
“It washed away the tourists,” Wilcox said. “Everyone flipped out and left. We were the only stupid ones.”
The trip to flooded Venice was one of the many stops on the three amigos’ European tour this past fall, when they hopped from city to city and read their work in bars and bookstores.
Now they have returned to Port Townsend, where Wilcox and Starck will read poetry at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Northwind Arts Center.
This fall was the first time Wilcox had been to Europe. A Port Townsend native, Wilcox worked in the woods at the upper elevations of the Olympics and Cascades with Olympic Reforestation Incorporated, a forest workers co-op, for 25 years. He rode freight trains for several years to learn about the life, journeys and history of the once-respected American Hobo, which was the subject of his first book, “Here Among the Sacrificed.”
His most recent collection, “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” has a bit of everything, including poems about love traveling in China and working in Pacific Northwest forests.
“People seemed to take to our work like ducks to water,” Wilcox said. “I was hesitant at first because I thought my stuff is so American.”
As the trio hit Europe, Starck had just published his book, “Cathedrals & Parking Lots: Collected Poems.” Starck, who lives near Dallas, Oregon, has published seven poetry books and has drawn inspiration from his life and work as a former merchant seaman, carpenter, ranch hand, reporter and traveler.
Porter, who spent much of his life living in Taiwan, has lived in Port Townsend for 26 years and continues to publish works of translated Chinese poems, as well as his own.
The three first met through the Anacortes publishing company Empty Bowl.
Porter instigated the Europe trip as a way for the like-minded poets to travel and read their work together.
“Clem had already gone to Vienna for a couple of weeks,” he said. “Then we met in Paris and spent four nights in Paris, four in Amsterdam, three nights in Berlin, three nights in Florence, three nights in Venice and four nights in Rome.”
Their experiences varied from place to place. In Paris, it was standing room only as they read at the English bookstore Berkley Books. In Rome, after a rainy taxi ride, they read for two librarians from Liverpool who had wandered into the bar.
In Venice, amid the floods, the trio met up with the daughter and granddaughter of Ezra Pound, the focus of Porter’s new work, “Cathy Revisited.”
“It was an ‘amigo tour,’” Porter said. “Reading poetry was an aside to justify the trip to our loved ones. We were going there to read poetry, but it was also just to do a trip together.”
Not everyone travels well together, he added, but the three handled each other’s quirks.
“I find these guys such kindred spirits,” Starck said.
“Our poetry is a part of our lives,” Wilcox said. “We also have a high admiration for one another’s work. We all understand where we’re all coming from.”
The trip also was a point of inspiration. After they returned, Wilcox started working on his new project, poems about his wife. Porter started focusing on a chapbook that will contain translations of Buddhist works.
Starck said he is continually working on new poems. His most recent work is an “ode” to the three amigos and their trip to Europe, which he might read Feb. 7 at Northwind.
“I just love making poems,” Starck said. “I became so fascinated by the idea of making these little contraptions out of words.”
“They’re mousetraps for the mind,” Wilcox added.