By Emily Alexander
On Friday night at Bookpeople, I saw Kathryn Nuernberger, Laura Read, and Maya Zeller participate in a reading called “Taxidermy Mermaids, the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, and Other Marvels.” The reading was smart, funny, and genuine. Each poet had a wide range of subject matter and themes, all of which tended to circle around femininity and womanhood, but in very different ways.
Maya Zeller, a professor at Central Washington University in Ellensburg and the author of Rust Fish, has had poems published in various journals such as the Bellingham Review, High Desert Journal, and Rattle. Her poems struck me as light-hearted and genuine, but also spoke profoundly on issues that are anything but light. One of my favorite pieces she read was about climate change, but she wrote about it based on her own personal experience (or perhaps, the speaker’s) walking on the beach. She was a dynamic speaker who seemed truly invested in the words coming out of her mouth.
Laura Read’s soft, sweet voice both mimicked and opposed her poetry. Her work really struck me emotionally, and after the final lines of each piece, several mmms and ahhs could be heard throughout the audience. One of her poems re-imagined Snow White in her glass coffin. She talked a bit about this poem during the Q & A, and explained how she wanted to write a poem about this princess, but she also wanted to make sure the piece was still hers. The speaker in this poem shifts from what we know to be Snow White waiting for her prince to a modern-day woman walking through the mall. Traditional fairy tales are a common topic for many feminist poets such as, famously, Anne Sexton’s series of fairy tales in Transformations. I appreciated Read’s fairy tale in particular because of how it changed and how the speaker transitioned from her role as the damsel in distress to a more thoughtful, aware state of being. Read is Spokane’s second poet laureate and teaches at Spokane Falls Community College. Her poems have been published in Pank, Rattle, and Willow Springs Magazine, as well as, of course, in her chapbook, The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You, and her first full-length collection, Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral.
Kathryn Nuernberger, a teacher at the University of Central Missouri, has an amazing ability to write research-based poems in such a personal and profound way that it’s hard to tell her own history from that of the public and political history she has researched. Which I suppose is the point. Her poems wrap effortlessly around seemingly dissimilar themes such as Benjamin Franklin, motherhood, scientific medicine, and nipples. Her poetry moved me in a way I wouldn’t have expected from a body of work that relies so heavily on scientific and historical fact. Nuernberger is the author of two books of poetry, Rag and Bone and The End of Pink. Some of her poems can be found online in 32 Poems Magazine and the Redivider Journal.
All three women were endlessly supportive of each other. They introduced one another, and expressed their admiration and gratitude towards one another again and again throughout the reading and Q & A time. I was really impressed by all three poets, and their work pulled at both the intellectual and emotional sides of me in such a way that after the reading, all I wanted to do was write a few poems of my own.