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May 24, 2018

5/16/2018 5:27:00 PM
Irish poet a twofer: Festival reader and teacher
In 10 area schools this visit
The Skagit Valley Beekeeper: And on being mistaken for a vicar

for Jerry & Kathy Willins
At home my door looks out on a wild sea where boats come and go.
Here, doors look out across miles and miles of blueberry bushes.
They make me think of Frost’s ‘Blueberries as big as your thumb’.
But it is only May, so early in season the bushes are all empty handed.

Yesterday, sitting in a diner in Burlington, eating ham on rye,
A farmer slid onto the seat beside me. Wendell, the waitress called
him.
“God damn mobile phones,” he snarled, “they’re messin’ with my bees.
The signals have them so dizzy they couldn’t find a sunflower.”

He said it in a way that wasn’t funny, for here was a man
Whose livelihood depended on a pollinating bee. “Now Wendell,”
The waitress muttered, “don’t be bothering the vicar.”
“Sorry, Sir, but Christ, I have to fly in bees from Alabama.”

And as we sat there in the silence of that Burlington afternoon,
The waitress counting bottles, Wendell eating fries,
I just prayed my mobile – my bee immobilizer – would not ring,
Not even with a buzz, buzz, buzz from you, to help pollinate our love. 

~ Tony Curtis


Anna Ferdinand


Irish poet Tony Curtis has a sort of magic. When he walks into a classroom, he enthralls the most skeptical English students with a world where words, music and humor make the most ardent of non-book lovers forget the bell.
“I find students the most fascinating audience,” said Curtis, who will travel to ten schools in his two-week visit, punctuated by the Skagit River Poetry Festival which begins Thursday and will be held in venues throughout La Conner over the weekend. “If they can understand it, there’s hope for the adults.”
One of his many tricks to captivate 14-year old boys to the joys of language is to show them his poem, “The Consequences of Sex,” written in the shape of a pregnant woman, which he puts on the whiteboard for a visual.
Curtis has an endless bag to choose from, having over a dozen books of poetry to his name. If you really want to know about a poem, says Curtis, read it to students.
In Ireland Curtis reads in prisons and mental institutions, “old folks homes” and colleges.
“Those things are good for keeping it real,” says Curtis. “I like reading in strange places.”
In a reading, Curtis doesn’t put sticky notes in the book to mark what he will read. He simply comes alive with story, grabs from his stack of books and finds a poem, reads from memory, or pulls his guitar from its case to light the room with melody.
“I ended up saying seven poems, from the top of my head, it’s just do what I do,” said Curtis of a presentation last week in Minnesota where he was awarded the 22nd annual Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry from the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about the honors. It’s always nice when people say they like what you are doing,”
And you learn something new every day, he said of his trip, having discovered that the Sioux word for water is minni, finding poetic delight in knowing that Minneapolis means falling water and Minnesota cloudy water.
Between school visits, Curtis will read and perform for three of the festival days, starting Thursday evening with a Poet’s Soiree, where poets from all over the United States will converge on Maple Hall. Curtis has brought his mastery to the festival and Skagit schools every year since the festival began. The festival will celebrate its 10th Biennial this year.
He was first introduced to the area by former Washington State Poet Laureate, Sam Green who came to Ireland and invited Curtis to Seattle University.
“I get to meet all my friends,” said Curtis of returning to the valley. “I’ve been coming here for ten years. It’s always good to connect with all the people and the beauty” says Curtis.
Curtis will publish a new book this year, poetry and prose, about John Alcock and Arthur Brown, the first pair to cross the Atlantic and land in a bog in Clifden, Ireland.
“We fly in living rooms with TVs; they flew out in the open cockpit, a hundred miles an hour, and it was very, very cold and freezing,” said Curtis.
“When I finished the book, I went to the museum in London. I got to put my hands on the plane. That was a very interesting experience, to write about something for two years then put your hands on what they flew.”
Tickets: skagitriverpoetry.org, info@skagitriverpoetry.org or 360-399-1550.







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