Book Review: The Place that Inhabits Us: Poems of the San Francisco Bay Watershed
by various authors, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010, 160 pages, $20
This far-reaching anthology of poems is a lovely collection that speaks to what it is to be natural in the Bay Area. But it is not simply a collection of nature poems that distance themselves from local human culture; rather, this collection embraces all aspects of Bay Area existence, exalting the Castro trannies, humanizing the Tenderloin hustlers, and speaking to the vast array of people who have, over the centuries, made this place their home. The styles and voices in these poems are as varied as the topography, but they all mesh to create a common story that represents an amalgamation of land and people.
The Place that Inhabits Us starts with a foreword by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass reflecting on how the Bay Area became what it is today, from early land formations to native languages to the Gold Rush and beyond. The poems themselves carry on from there, invoking ancient ancestors and looking to the future, at once grim and hopeful, in the way only poetry can. The editors have arranged the anthology so that it is not so much a lesson as a conversation about what the Bay Area is, was, and could be, and leaves the reader with the feeling that the conversation continues: “[T]here’s a people who believe you go on,” Stephanie Marlis writes, “until the very last one who’s heard about you is gone.”