Alaskan Poet Gene Ervine Images the Pacific Northwest

Gene Ervine has always written poetry. He’s been a pea vine operator, a high lead logger, an architectural history researcher, run a day labor carpentry crew, an exhibit planner and a bureaucrat. He helped found Sitka’s public Raven Radio and helped preserve millions of acres of wilderness in the Tongass National Forest. Gene grew up in the woods near Mount Vernon, now lives in Alaska, and has been visiting on Shaw Island. His diverse experiences shone through his poems at a reading last Friday (May 23, 2014) in the Lopez Island Library. The audience listened with rapt attention to each poem, followed by sighs of pleasure, laughter, and silent contemplation of his imagistic, thoughtful and occasionally humorous verse.

I was moved to take notes on selections that touched me. Of course, his one poem on our home, “Diving Off Lopez Island,” caught my attention at once. I loved the image of Gene sleeping out on a picnic table to “dive past the firs and into the sky.” I can vividly imagine doing that very thing on a clear night at Odlin.

As a librarian, I was delighted with Gene’s comparison of dreams and books in “For a Traveling Friend.” Dreams “opened like a coffee table book” and became pages in “the leaves of the book of dreams.”

I chuckled along with other listeners as Gene described a friend’s visit to Crete. This friend was “cheap” and decided to stay in natural caves. The rats only bothered him if he placed his sleeping bag against the walls, but it was when he heard that people had been using the caves as burial grounds for years that he realized cheap wasn’t always the best practice.

As a birder, I am enchanted by the title of his newest manuscript, The Calligraphy of Birds, featuring the wonder and mystery of ravens. Gene writes of these intelligent birds from his observations, from indigenous myth, and from his own political perspective. “A raven sounds in the cove” and others are seen “tracing the wind” in “Sitka Sound Petroglyph.” One of my favorite lines was from a poem I missed hearing the title of: “If the president was a Raven, things would be different”. Indeed.

Listening to a writer read his work is a very different experience from reading it to oneself. Gene’s reading made his poems feel more real to me, laced with the cadence and beat of music as his voice rose and fell, paused and accelerated, and as he gestured to stress a point. His reading was further enhanced by the view through the windows behind him, of clear blue sky and the palette of greens in spring’s growth.

Gene departed amidst words of thanks, praise, and entreaties to return. Look for Gene Ervine’s poems to be published on Clover, a literary journal out of Bellingham at