Julia Levine and Rick Campbell arrived at the Sacramento Poetry Center on a March night where, strangely enough, there was no rain. Still, many felt a sense of security in staying close to their coats in case they might need them as the night wore on.
Julia Levine started the evening off by reading an assortment of poems from her new collection Ditch-tender and some new poems. She began to describe how she came to the title of the book through laundry. Yes, that’s right, laundry. It seems she was going through her husband’s clothes before loading them into the washer and came across the Ditchtender’s Guidebook. A ditch tender is one of those people who assures that water flows smoothly to where it is needed throughout the Central Valley. She remarked how it also served as a metaphor for what she does as a clinical psychologist and how it reflected her interest in water as a metaphor for the subconscious. She was halfway into “Bat Ray” when the space heater’s alarm went off, prompting a do-over [Note to self: do not trust that space heater to behave anymore. Unplug before the reading starts.]. She then went on to read “Napa,” and “in his last year” from Ditch-tender. Then she read a piece for her father who is latter stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [Lou Gehrig’s disease], “First Duet” [1:43] was a remembrance of her father’s early piano playing days. She went on to read another new piece “Letter to My Father Written by Flashlight.” She read another poem from Ditch-tender for her father, “My Father’s Last Spring.” She rounded out the evening with “River Road,” “All Night You Ask the Children of the World to Forgive You,” “Mia, at Ten Years,” (dedicated to her youngest daughter) “After Rain” [1:48] and finally, for her husband, Steve, “In the Real Paradise.”
Rick Campbell began his set (which, by the way, was not interrupted by any alarms or car horns in the parking lot or even the light rail chiming in the background) reading a piece from his new book Dixmont entitled “History.” He went on to describe how Dixmont was the name of an insane asylum outside of Pittsburgh where his mother had stayed. But Campbell was reluctant to edge into that territory for the evening so he read “Santa Claus Saves Child at Pensacola Mall,” and “Clearing The Air” for which he told the story of his father (for whom the poem was written) who died after walking in the annual American Legion Labor Day parade. He then read “Meditation on Today’s Limit of Pleasure” “Imaginary Numbers,” [4:01] “Sitting in the Emergency Exit Row,” “Verbs for Armadillos,” [3:30] “The War on Many Fronts,” and finally, for his daughter, “1000 Miles From Della Rose.”