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Message from a teeming mind

First full-length book from county’s former poet laureate reflects 20 years

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 8, 2018, 6:00am
7 Photos
“It feels as if I’m a vessel for energy that comes from somewhere else and moves through me,” poet Christopher Luna said about his creative work.
“It feels as if I’m a vessel for energy that comes from somewhere else and moves through me,” poet Christopher Luna said about his creative work. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Poet Christopher Luna’s upstairs office teems with ideas and characters and colors. Everywhere he turns, he said, he wants to see things that create sparks in his brain.

Luna’s little room is a cozy, overstuffed, Beat-leaning literary museum: posters for the films “On The Road” and “The World According to Garp”; quotes from Jack Kerouac and memorabilia from Luna’s graduate student days at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University in Boulder, Colo.; the psychedelic Beatles in “Yellow Submarine” and a box set of live performances by jazz giants John Coltrane and Miles Davis; and, right below Luna’s computer screen, portraits of his greatest poetic heroes, Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg.

There’s even a waggling Ginsberg bobblehead.

“It’s a reflection of my busy mind,” Luna said. “It’s the overload in my head.”

The profusion of inspiration isn’t limited to the room where Luna writes and makes collages; the apartment he shares with his wife, poet Toni Partington, is just as busy with original artworks, many by friends in the local arts community.

You might not expect to find this artsy couple living in a modern, angular apartment block just outside the Vancouver city limits, but the spacious walls here serve as a great palate for their collection. Their view of the Burnt Bridge Creek woods is nice, too, they said.

Luna has built a reputation as the friendly face of Vancouver’s poetry community, and four years ago he was even appointed to the new role of Clark County poet laureate. He threw himself into the unpaid job and spent what became two terms hosting readings, leading teams of teaching poets into local schools and pushing projects like Poetry in Motion, displaying the works of local poets (both adults and students) in C-Tran buses.

But all those laureate labors meant that Luna’s own writing slowed down, he said. In January, when his second term was over, he focused inward again, polishing a manuscript that’s half original poems and half “collage poems,” constructed out of sliced-and-diced, “recontextualized” quotes and phrases from some of Luna’s favorite writers and friends.

Try out our attached video of Luna reading “Message from the Vessel in a Dream,” the title poem of his new book. Keep in mind Luna’s tip about absorbing modern poetry in all its abstraction and association: hunting for logical, straightforward meanings and explanations — for the prose in poetry — “is a trap,” he said. “It’s a game you’re never going to win.”

But if the poet has written it right, he said, you’ve already got everything you need to make a connection. Maybe you’ll even feel the same sort of spark that the poet did, when he was working away inside his teeming studio and his teeming mind.

Ghost town

Luna hails from Long Island, N.Y., where he grew up fashioning “Twilight Zone”-style nightmare tales; he dabbled in poetry in high school and tried film school after that, but eventually read the works of Whitman and Ginsberg — poets separated by a century but sharing an inclusive, expansive, even transcendental view of life and American democracy.

Discovering them “set out the path for the rest of my life,” Luna said. But somehow that path also went from busy New York City to a quiet West Coast town where Luna relocated to be near his son; in the early 2000s, he said, he could walk down Vancouver’s Main Street on any given day and never see a soul. He once glimpsed tumbleweed tumbling around near Clark College, he said.

So Luna set about building a poetry community, and launched what became a long-running open-mic reading series called Ghost Town. Since then, he said, Vancouver and its arts scene have grown to the point where you really can’t call the place a ghost town any longer. (Luna still does, he admitted with a laugh, but now he means it with affection, not sarcasm.)

Channel Z (circa 1989)

suddenly static in my own time in your own time beware a tear can appear a rip a slash through the static in a moment and suddenly too  suddenly you are not wherever you are but then again and there may be no reason why but there you are in the lavender shorts the garment that stuck around not wanting to miss a moment of this crisis this chaos this crisis of faith this fundamental fissure in the unseen scripture you rarely regarded as worth your time that time static that age static in my attic laughs in a darkened kitchen and you did not then and you do not now believe do not believe do not believe in anything but love

— Christopher Luna (from “Message from the Vessel in a Dream”)

Gwendolyn Morgan was recently named Clark County’s new poet laureate, but Luna the teacher and reading host remains the center of the scene.

Dream of Carlos

Luna never dreams poetry, he said — except for that one time when iconic rock guitarist Carlos Santana appeared overnight to deliver a personal message: “You make your appearance known through some creator.”

The rare visit and the words meant the world to him, Luna said, because they reinforced what he already knew: creativity and the arts are his life. “It feels as if I’m a vessel for energy that comes from somewhere else and moves through me,” he said.

But here’s a central paradox of any artist’s labors: feeling that energy stream doesn’t mean your creation is perfect. Ginsberg’s groundbreaking Beat poem, “Howl,” seems like an urgent rush of creation, but the annotated edition shows how extensively it was revised and reworked, Luna pointed out.

If You Go

What: Book launch for “Message from the Vessel in a Dream” by Christopher Luna.

• When: 7 and 8:45 p.m. Thursday, both sessions with open mic readers and Luna.

• Where: Angst Gallery, 1015 Main St., Vancouver.

• Admission:Free.

Learn More: https://printedmattervancouver.com

“It took a dozen drafts to make it seem really spontaneous,” he said. Luna does the same thing with all his poems, he said. Every poet should rethink and rewrite, he said, and every poet should read other poets. “What would you think about a musician who doesn’t listen to music?” he said.

Luna’s poems have been published in various literary journals and poetry anthologies, but “Message from the Vessel in a Dream” is his first real poetry book, published by a real press — Flowstone, a poetry publisher based in Southwestern Oregon.

“There’s 20 years of stuff in it,” he said. “It’s my first full-length book. It’s a milestone.”