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The Cardinal Club

Beyond a bookstore it’s a café or quiet bar where readers find themselves, a kind of “office of the mind” away from the house, the apartment, a place where you can hole up as one does in a library but with an Americano or a pint of beer or an martini. Here in Portland, I have found a few great places to read over the years, some of which have sadly fallen into a television-sports-news-frat-dark hole from which I doubt they will return. Luckily, a few others still hold, offering, on some afternoon or evening, a quiet yet public space big enough for a person, a cocktail, and a book. Recently, I have found a new home at which to sip a beer over some poems or a short story, and that place is The Cardinal Club. Open from 5pm till past 1AM, it’s a perfect place for readers and writers, with two amazingly kind owners who know their way around a highball glass and shaker.

Recently, I spent the early evening there drinking a Black IPA, eating some amazing food, and reading Rachel Jamison Webster’s new collection “September” (Tri-quarterly Books, 2013). Of Webster’s poems, Li-Young Lee writes that she “speaks breathlessly in praise, in awe, in pain, and in wonder at the manifold nature of being alive” and that “Here is the voice of our inner friend.” Which, after reading Webster’s poems, I couldn’t agree with more.This book of lyric narratives is aptly titled, for what is September if not the beginning of a season where things die, the air gets chillier, and we naturally think of the past. This is a book of elegy as much as it is a song for life. Elegy for a great love and husband who has died as well as for all of us who are still walking around on earth trying to figure out what love is.

These are poems of the body, poems that come from the body and the wild wind that breaks the body, the soul howling all night in our head and hearts. In the first poem of the book Webster writes:

“Since you went the light is so clear

it has become everything.

Faces peel from the bricks.

And outside the impoverished city hospital

someone has planted an Easter lily.

Its trumpet erupts from green tongues.

White throat that is your life.”

And so we begin a beautiful and energetic book anchored in elegy with the throat of life and all the music that can come from that throat, all the beauty. “September” is an exciting first book that takes the insane and nonsensical experience of grief and gives it a celebratory language that is a joy to read. Buy a copy and head over to The Cardinal Club. There’s a drink, some good food, and a quiet corner for you and Webster’s incredible first book.

Matthew Dickman is the poetry editor of Tin House and the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review/ Copper Canyon Press, 2008) and Mayakovsky’s Revolver (Norton, 2012). He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.


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