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On a cold, dark day, Seattle looks very much like what it was: the jumping-off point to the Yukon.


Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer got their start outfitting prospectors. The Arctic Club and the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition brought home our symbiotic relationship with the land of the midnight sun, as did the totem pole, swiped from a Tlingit village, unveiled to great fanfare in Pioneer Square in 1899. (Today’s totem pole is a replacement; an arsonist dispatched the original in 1938).

Seattle’s relationship with Alaska has always been distant and close. 
A new book, “In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Traveler’s Tales, 1879-1909,” edited by Jean Morgan Meaux, brings the 50th state even closer, if that is possible for a place twice the size of Texas.


The intrepid John Muir leads off the book — the place he encountered in 1879 was empty of tourists. Of course, he catches the spirit of the place: “There are only two white babies in the town as far as I have seen,” he wrote, “and as for the Indian babies, they wake and feed, and make no crying sign. Later, you may hear the strokes of an ax on firewood and the croaking of a raven.”


The great Alaskan silence is palpable. 
It’s this null, with its cold snows of negation, that some find beautiful. Certain westering types felt blocked by the Pacific Ocean. Alaska was — and is — the last frontier.


Meaux closes the book with a 1903 slice of Jack London from the Atlantic Monthly: “A man may wander from the trail for a hundred days, and just as he is congratulating himself at last that he is treading virgin soil, he will come upon some ancient and dilapidated cabin and forget his disappointment in wonder at the man who reared the logs. Still, if one wanders from the trail far enough and deviously enough, he may chance upon a few thousand square miles which he may have all to himself.”


As the editor concludes, “That is Alaska.”


This is a terrific book, with archival photographs and smart, informative introductions for the various travelers’ accounts.

“In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Traveler’s Tales, 1879-1909,” by Jean Morgan Meaux, forward by Stephen Haycox. 328 pages. 40 illustrations, four maps. $26.95 paperback, by University of Washington Press.
 



A hot, new poetry anthology
 
 

Spokane’s Lynx House Press is known for its interesting and unpredictable books of poetry and fiction. 
One of its most recent volumes upholds those standards: “Poems of Love and Madness,” translated from the Spanish by Carlos Reyes, a poet and teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

It’s an inspired collection, assembling the likes of Pablo Neruda, Louis Cernuda and Jorge Carrera Andrade, with poets not as well known in the Anglo world. Not all of the poets Reyes has assembled all are men, either.


It’s said French is the language of diplomacy and Italian the language for lovers. Love poems in Spanish — earthy, frank and sensual — can turn up the heat like no other.

Here’s a bit of magical realism — and the entire poem — from Mario Benedetti: “since biblical times/heaven and the nude/have sinned together.”
If that doesn’t say it all, it says a lot.


“Poems of Love & Madness, Selected Translations,” by Carlos Reyes. 150 pages. $19.95 paperback, by Lynx House Press.