Review by Kelly Eastlund
Motionless from the Iron Bridge: A Northwest Anthology of Bridge Poems
Edited by John Sibley Williams
Bare bone books
2013, 38 pp., $7.50
The first thing that struck me about this anthology, after Jonette Swanson’s haunting iron bridge image on the cover, was the word “motionless” in the title. It hung in my mind, quietly demanding attention. The title, which comes from a poem of the same name by the book’s editor, John Sibley Williams, perfectly captures the contemplative yet grounded tone running through this collection.
Featuring 12 poets from the Portland area, Motionless celebrates Portland’s famous bridges and rivers through a variety of poetic styles. Voices include well-known writers, such as Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen and award winning poet David Biespiel, as well as several newer names.
The book’s organization has a pleasing, bridge-like symmetry. It is divided into two parts, each introduced by a stunning haiku by Katharine Quince in memory of Kirk Reeves. Strong poems by A. Molotkov: “Building” and “Being” act as the footings at the start and end. And in between is an arching span of diverse voices that explore the timeless bridge theme from distinct angles.
“Winter/Spring” by Leah Stenson speaks of connections between seasons, cultures, and human beings, using midline spaces to create a visual river within the poem. The result is in essentially two poems in one: You can read one side and the other, or across the gap, and it works both ways. Later in the book, Coleman Stevenson also employs this technique wonderfully in “What are we to do with so much water between us?” (I’m sure there is a name for this form, but I don’t know what it is.)
Paulann Petersen’s “To the Milky Way,” a reflection on the connections between the earth and the cosmos, feels like an intimate prayer:
Celestial River of Unfamiliar Suns.
Find me where I’ve come to stand
on a bridge’s arc, gazing downward
at an earth-river’s homeward flow.
While the book is rich in metaphor, it also delves into the topic on a visceral level. “Ross Island Bridge” by Chris Cottrell, for example, gives readers an up-close, gritty view from the perspective of a cyclist in late winter:
dust from gravel
left on the street in homage
to our week of wet snow
whips the body of those
too poor or bold to drive
or ride a bus.
In David Biespiel’s “Starlings” we witness the beautiful mingling of the natural and manmade world:
Thus all the starlings rose into the netting of rain
They rose over the downtown cranes
One sees gleaming, at evening, above the glass and steel,
On second reading, commonalities began to emerge. Parent-child relationships appear in several of the poems, including Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua’s “Jesus” with blistering lines such as:
…Your mother, Maria,
is going blind behind her dark
And again in “Wonder is a Bridge” by David Cooke:
wonder is a bridge
holding you over the world
like the heels
of your father’s hands
on your hipbones
in the air.
The idea of being at the mid-point of a bridge is repeated too—in “A Different Gravity” by John Sibley Williams:
In the middle of the bridge, where
any step crosses a threshold,
And in “Suspended” by Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk:
orphaned at the center
Yet to me
this axis is a nest.
Motionless from the Iron Bridge provides an ensemble of well-crafted meditations on universal themes. So much of our culture worships motion—busy-ness, action, progress. The book’s title with its promise of something deeper and restful drew me in, and it more than delivered on that promise.