Poet, professor, editor, publisher, and Millwood Print Works co-founder Thom Caraway launches his new poetry collection this month, What the Sky Lacks (Korrektiv Press). I caught up with Thom—who was also our first-ever Spokane Poet Laureate—over email to ask about his many community-oriented projects.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new poetry collection What the Sky Lacks and what inspired it?The book takes its title and inspiration from having lived in North Dakota for several years. Having grown up in the northwest, I was not prepared for the landscape or climate of the Dakota plains, and living there was a shock to my imagination, which had always included mountains and fast rivers. Over the years of living there, I came to understand it as profoundly beautiful landscape, but a much more austere one than here. The poems move back to the northwest and into Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, which is also a beautiful and fascinating place. So the book explores two cycles of leaving, arriving, and inhabiting, and is, in the end, about learning to be present where you are.
You are a beloved professor at Whitworth. How does your poetry inform your teaching and vice versa? Maybe an element common to both my writing and my teaching is an openness to possibility. I’m a notoriously late syllabus-writer, meaning I don’t always have 15 weeks of material planned out on the first day of class, because I want to see where the class wants or needs to go, based on the students’ interests and passions. I feel like my poems also tend to wander a bit, exploring different images and subjects before finally focusing. I often don’t know what a poem is really about until I’ve gotten it all out and can look back and see what has happened. My students might say my lectures work on the same principle.
You run one of the Northwest’s loveliest independent presses, Sage Hill, and you impressively handle all aspects of it, including the design. Have you always been interested in the visual arts, and how best do you describe your design process?I’ve been fascinated by the visual arts for as long as I can remember, but despite my efforts, really never developed any skill in it. In graduate school, I took a course in editing and publishing, and got really interested in typography, which led, eventually, to book design. I’m still not much of a visual artist but I can find and use interesting work by good artists and arrange it with type on a book cover. A lot of design is cultivating a sense of taste, of what looks good, and understanding the elements of effective composition. When I’m designing a book, I want to get a sense of what it is up to, what the mood and textures are, and work from there, so that the cover gives the potential reader a reason to pick it up, and a sense of what they’ll find in the text. Can you tell us about Millwood Print Works and what’s happening in the studio there these days?Millwood Print Works has been on hiatus since October of last year, living in a storage pod and my garage, while we looked for a new home. And finally, we’ve found one! We’ll be moving in by the end of February and begin offering a full range of classes and workshops by April. The new space will afford us some exciting new opportunities, including bringing in some new partners in what we’re calling the Spokane Print Resource Center. Millwood will partner with Reinaldo Gil Zambrano of RGZprints and Derrick Freeland of Spokane Sequential to offer fine art print-making and intaglio, as well as digital design and zine-making. So we’ll really cover a broad range of print techniques and technologies, all in one amazing collaborative space.
What books do you recommend to Spokane CdA Living readers? A Lucky Man, by Jamel Brinkley. This debut short story collection is a finalist for the National Book Award. Brinkley will be reading on the Whitworth campus on April 4.
Anaphora, by Kevin Goodan. Goodan teaches at Lewis & Clark State College, and is one of the most interesting lyric poets writing today, I think. His approach to manuscript construction is impeccable, and the poems are incredibly tense and compact. Goodan understands compression in a way few poets today do. His new book explores trauma, erasure, and grace through the lens of a cousin’s suicide.
When and where is your book launch taking place?Monday, March 11, 7 p.m. at the Bartlett (228 W. Sprague Ave.).