UW News

November 2, 2017

Frances McCue meditates on changing city in new poem collection ‘Timber Curtain’

UW News

"Timber Curtain," a book of poems by Frances McCue, was published in September by Chin Music Press.

“Timber Curtain,” a book of poems by Frances McCue, was published in September by Chin Music Press.

“This is Seattle. A place to love whatever’s left,” writes UW faculty member Frances McCue in her new book of poetry, “Timber Curtain.”

(W)here new things are coming, shinier than the last / I’m the bust standing in the boom / the poet in the technology world / spread along the timber bottom” — from the poem “Along With the Dead Poet Richard Hugo.”

McCue, a well-known area poet, teacher and self-dubbed “arts instigator,” is a senior lecturer in the UW Department of English. She was a co-founder of Richard Hugo House, at 1634 11th Ave. in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and served as its director from 1996 to 2006. The original Hugo House — a place for writers — was demolished in 2016; it now has a new temporary home at 1021 Columbia St. while the venue awaits new digs.

McCue also is producing “Where the House Was,” a documentary film memorializing that demolition, and the poems in “Timber Curtain” were written during the filming. Directed by Ryan K. Adams, the documentary is expected to debut in early 2018.

“Gentrification Wedge”
To us this part of the hill
felt like the suburbs
these cheap apartments
and warehouse blocks
just off downtown
the dark corridors
we found our ways into
the building once
a mortuary where people
said rosaries over caskets
in the chapel and open
wakes took place in the living
room where college kids took
calls to pick up bodies
and it was all we could
think about later
when the place was a theater
that smelled like beer
it was an ashtray
it was perfect
so we came into beer and ashes
and believed in the stage
where we put poets
and tellers of tales
we’d all need to hear
while the city whispered on
planning to suffocate
one thing after another
when you are young
you find what’s overlooked
and you build there
Frances McCue

“‘Timber Curtain’ is a poetic exploration that begins with the tear-down of the old Hugo House and spins to the erasure of our city as we once knew it,” McCue said. The book, she said, “is mischievous and it reads like a novella.”

McCue undertakes a bit of editorial demolition — or renovation — in the collection as well: “Some of the poems are partially blacked out and appear in new versions while others are assemblages like the ones we see in contemporary architecture,” she said. By this she means the new building fronts “that are shoved into the façade of the old ones,” a combination McCue calls “façademies — rhymes with lobotomies.”

To imitate this in verse, she said, “I scooped out a previous poem in the collection, leaving only the first and last words. Then I inserted a skyscraper-looking poem inside the shell. You can read it down or across.”

McCue said that her mission is “to bring poetry into community life. Right now, the blurring skyline of Seattle, the loss of old places and the exciting new city are becoming fodder for poems.”

And the term “timber curtain”?

“I made it up,” said McCue.

She even gives it a two-part, Webster’s-like definition, the first being the lines of trees “strung along a road” to shield passers-by from seeing the drastic effects of logging clear-cuts. Her term “façademies” stands as the second definition: She adds, “See also ‘Façadism.'”

“Timber Curtain” was published in September by Seattle’s Chin Music Press.


For more information about McCue or her work, contact her at Frances@francesmccue.com.