by JESSICA MOLL & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & astern Washington might feel like a foreign land to Arizona native Alberto R & iacute;os. But whenever he gets on stage to read his poems, the award-winning poet feels at home.
"When I am reading," he says, "it's like sitting at a kitchen table, having a conversation."
On Saturday night at 7:30, R & iacute;os will share the stage with poet Tess Gallagher for "An Evening of Poetry" at the Bing Crosby Theater as part of the Get Lit! literary festival. "April is poetry month, so none of the poets stay at home, we're all out reading," Gallagher says.
The Bing probably will feel cozy to Alberto R & iacute;os, who in recent years has read his poetry to audiences of as many as 3,000 people. For the visit of Mexico's president Vicente Fox to Arizona, R & iacute;os delivered his poem "Border Lines," reminding the audience that "The border is what joins us, / not what separates us."
R & iacute;os shares another of his "poems of public purpose" this afternoon, at the investiture of EWU president Dr. Rodolfo Ar & eacute;valo. "They said I could read something I had already written," R & iacute;os says. "But I had a presence of mind, and decided to write something" for the occasion.
But R & iacute;os, a professor at Arizona State University since 1982, is also looking forward to stepping away from academia on Saturday night.
"It's the kind of reading I love to give, because I'm reading to myself," R & iacute;os says, explaining that he doesn't necessarily think of himself as a "university citizen." Many of his nine books of poetry take place in the magical world of small, desert border towns like Nogales, Arizona, where R & iacute;os grew up.
His most recent collection, The Theater of Night, imagines the life story of his great-grandparents, from their first childhood kiss to their old age and death. But even the border between life and death joins, rather than separates people, as in the poem "Great-Grandmothers, Neatly Starched": "When finally she was gone she was not gone, nothing in her / in a hurry to leave."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & ess Gallagher's most recent book, Dear Ghosts, also reaches across the border between life and death. "Love, such a run-down subject, especially, / forced as I am, to mix these living creatures / with ghosts," Gallagher writes in the title poem.
But despite the serious subject matter of Dear Ghosts, which was published 14 years after Moon Crossing Bridge, a collection of elegies for Gallagher's late husband, the author Raymond Carver, the poems are often as humorous as they are mournful. There is even a wry humor to be found on the cancer ward, where Gallagher was treated for breast cancer: "Now the test reveals the heart / pumps 13 percent less efficiently," she writes in the poem "The Red Devil," then tells herself, "Never mind. Your heart / was a superheart anyway. / Now it's normal. Join / the club. Get tired. Learn to nap."
Perhaps Gallagher's resilience comes from the strong sense of spirituality that informs these poems. Even when she finds two dead birds in her yard, "the mind / watches the hand level dirt over the emptied grave / and, overpowered by the idea of wings, / keeps right on flying," she writes in "Not a Sparrow."
Some of the poems in the collection are written for Gallagher's spiritual teacher, the Japanese Buddhist nun and novelist Jakucho Setouchi. At Get Lit!, Gallagher hopes to read a selection from Distant Rain, a new book published by EWU Press that presents a conversation between Gallagher and Setouchi, exploring the issues of grief and renewal after losing a beloved partner. The book includes artwork by Walla Walla artist Keiko Hara.
"I talked to [Setouchi] about being a widow, and starting my life anew with a new partner," Gallagher says.
Joining Gallagher and R & iacute;os will be poet Jim Daniels, who will be honored by EWU Press as the winner of the 2006 Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry for his book Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies. Daniels' tenth collection contains the working-class narratives and political themes for which he is well known, but also uses engaging, quirky humor to explores issues of fatherhood, aging parents, and poetry itself, which, he writes, "isn't brain surgery. / But then again, what else is?"