The bare lights of the Seattle Pacific Art Center flickered in her glasses as professor and poet Jennifer Maier stooped over a slim book on Friday evening. A quiet audience filled the small seating area and lined the walls to the door.
In a soft, careful voice, Maier read aloud selections from her two published collection of poems, Dark Alphabet, from 2006, and 2013’s Now, Now.
Maier’s poems cover a wide range of topics, from apologizing to her unwanted possessions in “Rummage Sale,” to an ex-boyfriend’s son’s school project in “Responsible Person.”
She likened the process of discovering her poetic voice to going through puberty. Likewise, Maier isn’t quite sure where the title of her latest book, Now, Now, came from.
“The book is concerned with questions of time,” Maier said. “These sort of semi-permeable membranes between the past and the present and future. The way that the present is a kind of confluence of everything that has happened and everything that hasn’t yet happened and will. And it’s somehow condensed and chained in every frozen moment of time, which is the fullness of the past and the fullness of the future.”
In keeping with this theme, the opening page of Now, Now, printed before the table of contents, bears the equation: Time (t) = distance (d) / velocity (v).
The cover of Now, Now depicts a man standing at a gas pump with no car. The image is from a 1940 painting by Edward Hopper called “Gas.”
“For some reason, a lot of these poems take place in cars,” Maier said. “I’m not sure why, but according to my publisher, it’s finally decided that I’m getting a picture of a gas station on the cover.”
In one of the courses she teaches at SPU, Maier assigns students to write a poem inspired by a work of art.
“I usually like to do the homework I assign my students,” Maier said. “Unless they’re really hard.”
While doing her own assignment, Maier crafted “Annunciation With Possum and Tomatoes,” which was inspired by a birthday card depicting Dieric Bouts’ painting “The Annunciation.”
Maier also read some of her more recent compositions, which she intends to compile into another book.
“This third volume is going to be a bit different,” Maier said. “It’s going to deal with the idea of permanence and impermanence.”
The new poems will mostly be narrated by household objects. She debuted two of these poems, “Matchbook” and “Bowl of Cherries,” on Friday.
Maier also read the final poem in Now, Now which is called “A Little Dream of You.” A book of essays about Italy inspired the piece.
“The author was so handsome they decided to put his picture on the front cover,” Maier said.
The poem tells the story of a dream in which the poet has a romantic evening with the author of the Italian book.
In honor of her late father, who would have turned 73 the following day, Maier read one of the driving poems, called “Hangman,” the first piece in Now, Now.
Maier doesn’t usually read it in public.
“It’s a little bit longer, and a little bit intense,” Maier said. “But don’t worry, it’s not too bad.”
The poem tells the story of a late-night car ride she took with her father as a young girl. They played a game of hangman together as her father drank brandy and steered the vehicle with his knee.
Maier remembers it as a moment of pure joy.
“When I was a child, my father loved three things to excess,” Maier said. “Me, liquor and word games. Not necessarily in that order.”