Oregon Public Broadcasting is celebrating National Poetry Month and in content posted online Wednesday, excerpts from three Portland Book Festival virtual events in November 2021 are featured in a segment called “Literary Arts: The Archive Project.”
Devon Walker-Figureoa, author of “Philomath: Poems,” is among those featured.
OPB’s Crystal Ligori and Donald Orr wrote in a lead-in to the piece, “… Devon Walker-Figueroa, author of ‘Philomath,’ which contemplates, beauty, nature, and the landscape of the eponymous town in Oregon, dives deep into language, with poet Jennifer Perrine.”
Walker-Figureoa was in Brooklyn and interviewed remotely from Literary Arts and Powell’s Bookstore in Portland. This poet with local ties has built quite a reputation in the poetry world and has an impressive biography that includes selection for the National Poetry Series by Sally Keith.
Trying to learn more about this poet, I went to her website and came across an excerpt from “Poets & Writers,” published earlier this year.
“I never set out to write a book called Philomath,” she says in the interview. “The first lines of what would become the book took shape in a candlelit basement in Salem, Oregon, where I was bartending at the time. I’d scribble lines of poetry on guest checks and either stuff them in my apron or under the register drawer until my shift ended.
“What would become the title poem of the book came along a couple of years later in response to an undergraduate poetry assignment given by Michael Dumanis at Bennington College. Michael had lit a fire under my heels and given me a new sense of the poetic line by introducing me to poets such as Shane McCrae, Samuel Amadon, Olena Kalytiak Davis, C. D. Wright, Kiki Petrosino, and Lucie Brock-Broido.
“With their voices fresh in my ears, I set out to write a poem that captured something of the essence of a world I’d passed through, or which had passed through me and left significant traces of itself. I called “Philomath” my “hometown poem.” And I’d go back and write more poems in this mode during my grad years at Iowa and a couple of years beyond.
“The rest was just longing — to hold on to and preserve what’s receding from my consciousness; to connect with others in ways I can’t seem to when I’m physically in their presence; to estrange myself from what I “know” — and regret, which is also just a form of longing, I suppose, for the past to be other than it is.”
Answering a question about inspiration, she included in her answer among other things — “a single-wide mobile home decorated with painted saw blades … Oregonian loggers … Vacation Bible School … an illuminated tank at the Oregon Coast Aquarium that’s full of moon jellyfish in their medusa phase … the voices of so many different people.”
If you want to read more about her, check out the Q-and-A written by the Portland Mercury’s Blair Stenvick in 2021 and republished with permission on the Philomath News site.
(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).