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It finally felt like summer, with light and sun pouring in as Seattle’s ACT Theatre quickly filled for “Longing for the Light,” Copper Canyon Press’ Summer Solstice Reading, the devoted audience leaving the balmy evening for a dark urbane interior.

Poet Heather McHugh

Notable poets from distant corners of the U.S. filled the stage, bringing with them considerable light and a summation of wordful colors.

Portland native Michael Dickman, a Hodder Fellow at the University of Princeton, winner of the 2010 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets for his most recent book, Flies, was on hand. His grants, fellowships and residencies include The Michener Center for Writers, The Vermont Studio Center, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Lannan Foundation.

Sarah Lindsay, a Lannan Fellow, National Book Award nominee and recipient of the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from the Poetry Foundation flew in from North Carolina. Lindsay’s three books include Primate Behaviour, Mount Clutter, and Twigs and Knucklebones — each receiving high praise.

Heather McHugh is the Milliman Writer-In-Residence at the University of Washington. McHugh brought her bright wit and regard for other poets. Numerous awards and accolades include the 2009 MacArthur Fellowship, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. She is the author of 13 books of poetry, translation, and literary essays.

Alberto Rios, recipient of six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, traveled from Tempe, Arizona, where he holds the post of Regents’ professor of English at Arizona State University.

Together they laughed, read and waxed serious about language and how words can mean something bigger and brighter than the thing they themselves describe. Copper Canyon Press’s imprint is composed of the two Chinese characters that together stand for poetry — word and temple. The event title was borrowed from the first line of another poem, Vicente Aleixandre’s “A Longing for the Light,” and this reading’s emotive fluidity created a special space for the light of language.

Dickman read from his collection Flies alongside tales of his offbeat dreams of book shopping at Powell’s, while Lindsay treated attendees to a poem evoked by witnessing a squid orgy. McHugh took us around the world, with some favorite poems written by others, sharing a work in progress and the lasting image of a still swing.

Alberto Rios spoke of a time in Arizona when the (then) governor asked him to compose and read a poem to Vicente Fox, then president of Mexico. Rios’ span and perspective encompassed the Southwest and the divisive war there on multiculturalism. From politics to folklore and imagination, poetry was the light, spilling out into the last glimmerings of the year’s longest day as the audience lingered over book signings and conversation.

More on these poets, including poems, reading and interviews:

Heather McHugh was featured in a KUOW morning interview. Listen here.

Read Alberto Rios’ “Refugio’s Hair” here.

Find excerpts from Sarah Lindsay’s “Twigs and Knucklebones”  here.

See Michael Dickman read from Flies (at an earlier event) here.

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