- MATT CORDDRY
I got to hear Kim-An Lieberman read her own work once, at Arundel Books way back in 2009. If you could tune out the sales clerks' never-ending rants about how President Obama was going to destroy the country, Arundel was a beautiful bookshop, and their reading setup was unlike any other in Seattle: The author would stand on the second-floor mezzanine and read down to the audience below. Lieberman read poetry from her first published collection, Breaking the Map, and we all stood on the main floor of the bookstore and gawked up at her like she was royalty.
The highlight of the reading was her poem "Wings," about a woman whose husband grows a pair of wings. At first, she can't believe he takes this miracle for granted—"He complained about their aching weight, how they poked holes in his favorite sweater/and sometimes, of their own accord, began to flap and pull his feet from the ground"—but then she grows jealous when he accepts his newfound beauty: "Even fully clothed he leaked gallons of light." The reading of "Wings" on that night was an extraordinary moment, and we all knew it: All we could do was look up and wonder at the poem, and the person who brought the poem into the world.
Earlier this month, Kathleen Flenniken, the former Washington State poet laureate, stood behind a podium at Jack Straw Gallery and read "Wings" to a room full of people. It was a wonderful interpretation—Flenniken clearly understood the poem down to its bones—but the room didn't respond with the ecstasy that the reading deserved. The circumstances were just too sad.
Kim-An Lieberman passed away on December 8, 2013, after a long battle with gastric cancer. She was a mother, a teacher, and one of the best poets in Seattle. She was only 39. Everything about that story is heartbreaking—it's a container of heartbreak, filled with hundreds of little heartbreaks, including the fact that Lieberman didn't live long enough to see the release of her new poetry collection, In Orbit. That first rainy Sunday in May, Lieberman's friends and family and colleagues gathered to celebrate the book's release by honoring her memory and reading her work to each other...