A Celebration of Poet Crysta Casey

I met Crysta Casey in 2002 at Red Sky Poetry Theatre (a long-standing open mic on Seattle’s Capitol Hill). It was held at poet Robin Schultz’s Globe Cafe for many years. I remember that Crysta and I talked on the street after the reading for a long time. We realized we shared some of the same favorite poetic influences (Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds). We exchanged contacts to meet up and share poems. What started as frequent cafe meet-ups to read/critique each other’s work, eventually turned into a weekly date in Crysta’s Belltown apartment with wine and food and an exchange of books and literary magazines.

In addition to new poems, Crysta and I shared creative ideas, opinions and educational riffs on art (Crysta was also a painter) and music (though I wasn’t playing out at the time, I was still practicing harp). Sometimes her friend George Stamas, who lived upstairs, would go out to dinner with us or want to show us a new painting he’d been working on.

painting of Monica Schley by Crysta Casey (2006?)

At the time, I was working on 3rd and Cedar St, only blocks away from her apartment, so it was easy for me to pop in for a quick hello, even if I couldn’t stay long. Over a couple of years, Crysta became a dear friend. She kept me company through a lonely and difficult breakup. It was only after her death, did I realize she was also my mentor and my artistic advisor – she had a terrific honest sense with her critiques of my work, and I think she really helped me to grow as a young poet/musician. She even helped find me an editor for my chapbook, Black Eden, but she didn’t live to see it published in 2009.

Crysta took herself quite seriously as a poet and lived an artistic lifestyle that I admired. She had a little studio apartment with bookshelves constantly overflowing with new and old books – a subscription to The New Yorker, literary magazines she’d recently been published in or that an editor friend had given her. Though she was continuously in motion with ideas, crafting poems, reworking them and writing in her journal, she was somewhat of a hermit. She would order her poetry from local bookstores Elliott Bay or Open Books (one out of only two all-poetry bookstores in America), where owners John and Christine knew her well. A photo of Crysta and her beloved crotchety cat Varmint hung on the cork board near the register until new ownership took over recently.

Crysta was somewhat of a miracle, like her cat, lucky to be alive. She had endured several abusive situations, cancer, schizophrenia, and a decade in the military as a journalist during the Vietnam Era. But when cancer came back, she couldn’t kick it a second time.

Cigarettes and rocking back and forth – this is the motion in which I remember Crysta moving. Her sound was a smoker’s laugh. She had to tried quit smoking many times, but I understood that the cigarettes and rocking were a medicine for her. Not a healthy one that would ultimately save her, but a love salve of daily coping. One that allowed her leave the apartment. One that soothed her discomforts from the past as well as the sometimes nasty voices in her head. Being a smoker brought her closer to many others who experienced turmoil like her. She would meet people on smoke breaks and write down their stories through narrative poetry – poems about outsiders, the downtrodden, veterans, handicapped, addicts, the under serviced, and unloved people in society. She gave their stories a place to live alongside her own.

She died in the spring of 2008. She was hospitalized at the VA and couldn’t come to my wedding (which I knew she probably wouldn’t have come to anyway). I found her present to be a hilarious phone message that I saved for a long time, her sound in a capsule of time for me to take whenever I wanted to hear her voice, soothing my feeling of sorrow.
She said, “God bless you both… Even though I don’t believe in all that… ha ha ha…”
cough… cough
(click)

A Celebration of Crysta Casey’s posthumous book, Rules for Walking Out, 
Friday, July 28
at Couth Buzzard
8310 Greenwood Ave N Seattle WA
There will be readings of Crysta’s poems, music and poetry by yours truly, capped off by an Open Mic.

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