by Paul Nelson
[Editor’s Note: Last week I wrote a list of over 200 books about Los Angeles. This week we turn to Seattle and the guest columnist is the stalwart Seattle poet, publisher and radio host Paul Nelson. Nelson is the Founder of the Seattle Poetics Lab and the Cascadia Poetry Festival. He’s been engaged with a 20-year poetic project documenting the bioregional culture of Cascadia, Greater Seattle and beyond. Nelson has conducted over 600 interviews with key literary figures and poets over the last two decades, including the definitive interview of Wanda Coleman’s American Sonnets five years before she passed. — Mike Sonksen]
Cascadia Culture with Paul Nelson
I’m not a prose guy and so this list reflects my ignorance of almost all fiction. In addition, the list is pretty arbitrary and is based on a key word in the request, 25 great books and albums that represent Seattle. Because of this, I took popularity into account especially in compiling the albums.
I currently serve as Literary Executor for Sam Hamill’s prodigious writing and though he never lived in Seattle, I expanded the definition of “Seattle” to go as far north as Anacortes and as far south as Olympia and included a large hunk of his work. His presence in this town was palpable and I considered him the Dean of Pacific Northwest poets.
I also included one book I was involved in creating, as it is in part a survey of many of Seattle’s most interesting poets, along with others from the Cascadia bioregion. A nod to my interest in bioregionalism, a deep eco-poetic stance that recognizes the critical nature of place in all human cultural activities.
This is something we have yet to learn from the cultures that were here before us and must learn to save the biosphere and the species. To the First People we owe a huge debt of gratitude. We also owe indigenous people an ecological renewal that will allow them to live in traditional ways if they so choose, as close as possible to how their ancestors did.
- Alice in Chains – Dirt
- Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet – Pollo d’Oro
- Brandi Carlile – Brandi Carlile
- John Coltrane – Live in Seattle
- Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
- Amy Denio – The Big Embrace
- Bill Frisell – Guitar in the Space Age
- Heart – Dreamboat Annie
- Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced
- Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold as Love
- It’s a Beautiful Day – It’s a Beautiful Day
- Don Lanphere – Home At Last
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
- Modest Mouse – Good News for People who Love Bad News
- Nirvana – Unplugged
- Nirvana – Nevermind
- Nirvana – In Utero
- Pearl Jam – Ten
- Pearl Jam – Vs
- Julian Priester – Conversational Music
- Sir Mix-a-Lot – Mack Daddy
- Soundgarden – Superunknown
- Soundgarden – Badmotorfinge
- The Presidents of the United States of America – The Presidents of the United States of America
- Eric Tingstad – Mississippi
- Sherman Alexie – Old Shirts & New Skins
- Tim Egan – The Good Rain
- Zhang Er – First Mountain
- David Guterson – Snow Falling on Cedars
- Sam Hamill – Habitation
- Sam Hamill – Narrow Road to the Interior (Translation of Basho)
- Sam Hamill – A Poet’s Work
- Sam Hamill, Sally Anderson – Poets Against the War (Anthology)
- Richard Hugo – The Real West Marginal Way
- Ted Joans – Teducation
- Charles Johnson – Middle Passage
- Marion Kimes – Last Year’s Horse
- Carolyn Kizer – Cool, Calm & Collected
- Robert Lashley – The Homeboy Ballads
- Denise Levertov – This Great Unknowing
- Frances McCue – The Bled
- Colleen J. McElroy – Blood Memory
- Tim McNulty – Olympic National Park: A Natural History
- Nelson, McKinnon, Stanley, Maestas – Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia (Anthology)
- John Olson – In Advance of the Broken Justy
- Red Pine – The Heart Sutra (Translation)
- Bill Ransom – Jaguar
- Judith Roche – First Fish, First People
- Theodore Roethke – The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke
- John Suiter – Poets on the Peaks
- Wayne Suttles – Coast Salish Essays
- Jason Wirth – Mountains, Rivers and the Great Earth
In music Grunge and Jazz are represented in large measure, reflecting two of the main foundations of the local music scene, though the Grunge heyday is over and the Jazz scene is more complex than alluded to here. Amy Denio is a force of nature and could easily have had several albums listed.
That there is a band that honored a musician Billy Tipton — “a longtime veteran of the jazz circuit who only in death was revealed to have been a woman who spent her life passing as a man” says a lot about Seattle.
Native son Jimi Hendrix could easily have had more albums on the list. Origin Records, Seattle’s own Jazz label deserves more entries than I had space for and It’s a Beautiful Day is a San Francisco band, but with roots in Seattle. I wanted something of Seattle’s earlier music scene on the list and came close to putting The Sonics on it.
As far as books go, “The Good Rain” and “Snow Falling on Cedars” are almost pro forma on such lists and because of that, there are 27 books! But the books I included also contain nods to communities: Subtext, in the case of John Olson and Red Sky Poetry Theater, in the case of Marion Kimes, both of which were critical to the local literary community and continue to inform it in many ways, though both projects have been over for years. That my list errs on the side of outsiders is important to note.
One final thought: Anytime anyone agrees to provide such lists, they set themselves up for criticism and I accept that and offer these two lists in the spirit with which they were requested, as a simple exercise and gesture to start conversation.
The quote on Billy Tipton is from Allmusic.com
Paul Nelson founded SPLAB (Seattle Poetics LAB), the Cascadia Poetry Festival, produced hundreds of poetry events and 600+ interviews. Books include American Prophets (interviews) American Sentences and A Time Before Slaughter. Co-Editor of two anthologies, he’s engaged in a 20 year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia. www.paulEnelson.com