Northwest Poems follows a loose progression from playful nature poems through meta-poems about the challenges of writing poetry and a series of longer narrative pieces about the history of war, the widespread oppression humans inflict on each other and more.
The collection is comprised of free-verse poems arranged in six sections. The early poems are mostly light verse, incorporating many exclamation points, jokey diction, and imagined scenarios. For example, in “The Fish That Talked,” the speaker recounts: “A trout jumped up/ Not more than five feet from my face!/ It looked at me, eye to eye, and began to smile./ It said as it moved its head,/ Having any luck?” This approach persists in poems about the nature of writing itself, like “Pressure to Pen a Poem”: “I like penning poems,/ But I’m dry just now, see!/ I may be dry for days.”
As the book progresses, the speaker begins to pan outward to describe others around him, as in “Little Girl Walks by My House,” which begins: “Little girl who walks by my house,/ Walks below my window,/ My window above my pond.”
In the last sections, the collection takes an abruptly darker and more didactic tone: “Many of the wealthy or connected/ Wheedle their way out of the draft/ or won’t enlist.” These poems have a lecturing quality and seem at odds with the previous four sections.
While readers will see sparks of potential here and there, such as the lively “Saxophone” (“Quick it man quick it/ Roll it off your tongue/ Shoot it out your lips […] Slide man slide/ Bopin’ an’ bopin’ […]”), overall, the work lacks memorable imagery and leans more toward telling than showing, robbing it of emotional resonance and intrigue. The wide-ranging topics and tone lend a disjointed feeling to the collection as a whole.
Readers of contemporary poetry won’t find much that’s fresh or startling in this collection. As such, it’s likely to have limited appeal.