The Hocking Hills Festival of Poetry


Itís dusk on the Colorado, and the canyon walls are glowing. Harsh lines soften as rocks fade to pastels. The first stars twinkle overhead. This rafting trip through the Grand Canyon is the whipped cream and cherry on years of backpacking in the desert Southwest. Sam, our head guide, pulls a thin book out of his duffel and attempts to read us into dreamland, but the poems he has chosen are just too hilarious and earthy to do the job. Who is that poet? How can he make the voices of his characters so genuine? How can anyone think this up?

This was my introduction to the narrative poems of David Lee, first Poet Laureate of Utah. When I returned home I called Dave to invite him to the fledgling poetry festival I had begun the previous year. He instantly agreed to come and then acted surprised when I told him that I would pay him to perform. He brought his friend Bill Kloefkorn, the poetry festival was a great success, and I made two lifelong friends.

Dave has just released Stone Wind Water, his second book of poetry about the canyon country so dear to him. Having walked many of the same rugged paths, it is close to my heart too. And as much as that land has inspired me, I am amazed at the music it elicits from Dave. As he says in an online video interview, it is the most musical of his books. A look at the titles shows words like fugue, rhapsody, nocturne, matins, sonata, requiem, and coda. One of the most innovative selections is a poem in seven parts, each reflecting a particular echo of one of the seven categories of erotic sounds described in the Kama Sutra. In Sutkrit, gentle sigh:

Ö.Pegasus drinks

near a floating dipper

milky white flotsam

edges the basin like foam

as if a god

had tapped

against the bright

bowl of night

a shard split off,

tumbled to slickrock

and slid with a gentle sigh

to its dark pool

Another is Wild Rose Nocturne Wood Flute Sonata. Dave debuted this poem while giving a talk about the desert world while accompanied by my wifeís bass recorder playing:

Low dove coo, echo,

The desertís smooth flank.

A soft dipping wind

soaked with sage


a spiral staircase

for darkness.

The great mesa

with night creeping

over its shoulder

and the huge, lovely sprawl

of sand

Red rock, crimson moon,

copper rose sky.

Lee has devised a unique technique to craft these starkly simple yet powerfully evocative poems. He taught himself to read and write Chinese characters. He writes his poetic ideas in Chinese, then translates them to English. The pictographic quality of Chinese plays a part in creating such vivid and clear imagery in this book.

David Lee is a down to earth romantic. These poems were earned with what trackers call lots of Ďdirt timeí. The poems result from the effort of hiking many rocky miles, then having the patience to let the experience percolate down to the subconscious, where it bubbles back up as musical images of the soulís relationship with his favorite part of the natural world.

A manufactured quote from one of Daveís favorite characters, who speaks on an introductory page, sums up the philosophical thread that meanders along the wild trails in this book:

While the music of the spheres may have been discounted as scientific fact, it remains a theory I am unwilling to part with.

Modean Gill