Sitting Down with Three Poets Featured in Mud Flat Verse (an anthology)

by Molly Walsh

From the low tides of Mud Bay in the Pacific Northwest to the lush greenery of Mississippi and beyond, the works of 19 poets are joined through print in Mud Flat Verse (an anthology). The anthology is published by Olympia publisher Mud Flat Press, and is a follow-up companion to the short story anthology, Mud Flat Shorts (mostly fiction) published in 2022. Mud Flat Verse contains 81 pieces that span the human experience.

Within the anthology, there are poems that follow traditional form, some that are free verse and some include a more prose-style narrative. All pieces are ready to be read and recited, highlighted and discussed. Contemplation, happenstance, the natural world, and the passage of time are just a few of the themes to be found within the anthology’s pages.

Mud Flat Verse is available for purchase online at Amazon and local Olympia bookstores, Browsers Bookshop, Orca Books Cooperative and Last Word Books.

Suzanne Simons

Suzanne Simons

Suzanne Simons said she made a shift to poetry from her first career in journalism. In addition to roles like newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Simons also taught at The Evergreen State College, including subjects like poetry and Middle East studies. It was in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001 that Simons began establishing programs related to Arab and Middle East studies for Evergreen students. Simons said she eventually grew discouraged after repeatedly teaching the Middle East through the lens of history, religion and politics and wanted to take a fresh approach. While on a trip to countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, Simons began studying poetry of the Middle East.

“I got familiar with some of the Middle Eastern poets, both contemporary and ancient,” said Simons. “So, Palestinian poets of the resistance. Sufi poets that were in Iran. And I decided to shift the lens of my teaching to the Middle East, to poetry and the arts and music and dance —and I also found that whenever I was in the Middle East poetry would just pour out of me.”

After that spark, Simons continued her study, practice and instruction in poetry, including teaching poetry in the Washington Corrections Center and building the link between poetry and science through instructional programs at Evergreen like ornithology with poetry and genetics with poetry. Simons also went back to school for a Master’s in Fine Arts degree to formally hone her poetic craft and to bolster her ability to instruct poetry.

Simons also recently released her first full collection of poetry, Road to Winnemucca, available at local bookstores in Olympia. In Mud Flat Verse, Simons has included three pieces, “Aerial Shavasana,” “Whale as Self-Portrait,” and “Husqvarna.”

“Husqvarna” recounts a visit to the library where Simons happened upon a book about Norwegian wood chopping. After walking by the book’s display three times with great curiosity, she decided to check it out. Simons describes this poem as about the magic of serendipity.

“In terms of the creative process, I … think the magic of serendipity is a theme that runs through my work,” said Simons. “It certainly runs through all three of the poems of mine in Mud Flat Verse. And to me the creative process has a lot to do with just paying attention and being open.”

Jes Simmons

Jes Simmons

Jes Simmons, based in Virginia, said she is a second-generation poet and professor. Simmons’ father, Edgar Simmons, was a poet and teacher, including at the University of Texas, El Paso and later, Mississippi College at Clinton. Simmons recalls growing up immersed in the world of literature, where writers and poets like James Dickey and Donald Hall would stay with her family growing up.

“When I was growing up…our family’s one bathroom contained more pens and pencils than toothbrushes, right? And more books than folded towels,” said Simmons. “So this whole thing of a writer was in every part of the house. Books everywhere, you know, my dad writing and…things like that…So that was just part of my background.”

And those ties continue to the modern day, as Simmons remembers her father teaching writers like southern novelist Barry Hannah, as well as Jack Butler and Larry Johnson, both of whom also have work featured in Mud Flat Verse.

“That’s just such a wonderful, wonderful feeling of inclusivity,” said Simmons. “And just…how everyone is connected.”

Simmons’ pieces in Mud Flat Verse include “And Then the Sirens,” “Wake,” “Trail Blazing at Paint Creek,” “VALENTINES anagrams,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, or The Transsexual at Thanksgiving,” “Too Lovely to Use,” “The Right Tool,” “I Search Swift and Vanessa Online,” and “Good Ol’ Progetes.”

“And Then the Sirens,” describes an interaction between two women as a tense scene unfolds inside and outside of a restaurant. Simmons recalls first meeting the poem’s characters in a dream.

“I woke up, she put her hand on my hand in the dream and I felt it,” said Simmons. “I woke up still hearing her voice. And so I thought, you know, that was just astounding. And I immediately just started jotting down ideas and thought I’ve got to work this into a poem.”

Simmons fine-tuned the piece and honed its form, crafting each line of the poem to contain seven syllables. And after completion of the poem, Simmons felt drawn to explore the characters further and expand the narrative into the short story, “At the Dairy Queen Before the Funeral,” which was published in Mud Flat Shorts.

James O’Barr

James O’Barr

James O’Barr, based in Olympia, said he has been a writer since grade school, remembering his love for words and for reading anything in his line of sight, from billboards on the streets of Los Angeles as a child, to studying Latin poets and playwrights in high school.

Writing poetry has been a more sporadic venture for O’Barr, but he said a kind of poetic prose style does appear throughout this prose writing. Within the past few years, O’Barr was interested in a more consistent discipline for writing poetry, so he began writing Haiku each morning. In Mud Flat Verse, O’Barr has two poems, “Bodies and Souls”’ and “Winter Haiku.”

O’ Barr was also a contributor to Mud Flat Shorts, where his short story “Best Teaching” was published.

O’Barr writes not with the end goal of publication, but because he has something to say, and through his more recent work of reviewing theater for OLY ARTS, O’Barr has also reflected on the connections between theater and poetry, and their oratorical natures.

“That’s just what motivates me to write and particularly to write poetry, is that I love the sound of words.”

 In his writing work, O’Barr prefers brevity, including in his pieces in the anthology. And especially in his poetry, O’Barr describes a deeper spirituality. “Winter Haiku” contains a series of Haiku from O’Barr’s morning practice that follow the 5-7-5 syllable structure. O’Barr credits the discipline and the structure of haiku and daily writing as a practice that he absorbed well, comparing the 5-7-5 structure to music, to a song he couldn’t get out of his head.

“Something that…I don’t know why but, really works for me,” said O’Barr. “And I have often found, especially when I was doing the regular haiku every morning, that I would see something in the course of the day or hear something and I just automatically start putting…it into a haiku. Those, you know, 5-7-5, it’s like music. It is music, really.”

In addition to Simons and O’Barr, Olympia area poets in the anthology are Judith Bouffiou, Gabi Clayton, Kathleen O’Shaunessy, Dan Pens and Lennée Reid.

Mud Flat Verse (an anthology) from Mud Flat Press


Paperback, $10


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