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Opinion >  Letters

Ode to Dennis Held

Re: “Cancer called, and a Spokane poet answered,” (Dec. 26):

On a July afternoon in 2019, I knocked on a random door in Vinegar Flats and spoke to a stranger about a federal research project. The next morning, I sat in a chair opposite him while he worked on my laptop and my eyes scanned shelves of poetry books. During a pause, I mentioned the poet Dorianne Laux. The man smiled broadly, pulled a book from a shelf and pointed at Dorianne’s words on the back cover: “From the moraines of Wisconsin to the Idaho Rockies, Dennis Held writes about America. His poems find their roots, like the poems of Richard Hugo and Ray Carver, deep in the organic soil of physical detail.” The man’s handsome face smiled back at me from the book.

I spent the next hour sitting across from Dennis Held, reading his poems, murmuring my pleasure, recognition, gratitude. Later, we walked in the deep grass behind his home. A beaver glided past in the clear water; Dennis pointed to the spot where a shy coyote had called out the day before; and he spoke of Spokane’s veneration of a man who had slaughtered Native Americans on the banks of the creek at our feet.

I laugh each time I stop to read my framed copy of a broadside of “Ode to Buttah” where it hangs in my kitchen. I think of Dennis often: his cranky critique of the research language, his humanity, his poet’s love of life even when it’s hard.

Jean Brookbank

Liberty Lake


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