Spokane poet Thom Caraway discusses his new book, What the Sky Lacks

click to enlarge Thom Caraway
Thom Caraway

It's not just through side view mirrors that objects are closer than they appear.

In poet Thom Caraway's new book What the Sky Lacks, stories of the landscapes in North Dakota and Spokane share one cover and are closer in theme and scope than they first appeared to Caraway. He just needed a fresh eye to see it.

The first half of the book is written about North Dakota, where Caraway lived for four years while earning his Ph.D. The second half is set in the Lilac City, where the former Spokane poet laureate was raised and now again calls home.

"The thing about North Dakota is it's big. And so, the poems there I think feel bigger, less contained because there's just all sky and flat land," Caraway says. "And then Spokane, if you just look around, you see the hills as a bowl around town, so it feels a lot more contained. The Spokane poems in some ways feel smaller."

The poems feature stories about his wife, his children and Spokane's West Central neighborhood, topics he feels connected to now, whereas his life in North Dakota is starting to fade and become more mythological, as 11 years have passed.

"The manuscript itself is kind of a weirdo," Caraway says. "In that it was two books really, a North Dakota book and then a Spokane book. And I kind of only meant to publish the North Dakota book, but it was a little bit light page-count-wise and we wanted it to be a little bigger."

So Jeffrey Dodd, an editor, professor at Gonzaga and friend, suggested they combine the North Dakota and Spokane collections together. Caraway was hesitant. But Dodd put the poems together into a manuscript, edited them and made Caraway write a new poem.

Now Caraway sees how they do, in fact, work together.

"They're all about settling in," Caraway says. "Learning how to be present in a space, so they have a larger thematic sense of cohesion."

What Caraway hopes readers grasp from his book is that there is more than meets the eye.

"When I got to North Dakota, I looked at it in a very mean-spirited way," Caraway said. "Like 'What is this place? It's gross, it's flat, ugly, there's no mountains, there's no trees, it's flatter than this table.' But when you look a little closer, you see it's not, really. There's a lot of nuance and a lot of subtleties, there's a lot of beauty that you didn't expect."

Paying closer attention to the smaller details of the places we go is what Caraway hopes readers start doing.

"To look at anything they think they understand, and be able to see it kind of freshly, to see it for what is actually there, rather than what they think is there — that'd be great if people could do that," he says. "I think we'd all be better off that way." ♦

What the Sky Lacks book launch • Mon, March 11 at 7 pm • Free • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174

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