Reviews and Other Comments: This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain



A Review by Barbara McMichael – The Bookmonger

A Review by Terri Brown-Davidson – from The Pedestal

A Review by Chris Dahl – Editor of the Olympia Poetry Network News



Short Reviews and Comments:

"Bill Yake has been a soft-spoken but essential presence on the Northwest poetry and natural history scenes for decades, especially where those kindred devotions meet.  Very few have apprehended the living, more-than-human world as keenly and rendered it in verse as precisely as he.  Yake's poems occupy this rarefied but earthy realm fully and richly, right alongside those of Snyder, McNulty, and Sund.  Yake believes that poetry can heal us "to the extent that it helps us attend to imagination and perishable wonders," and this is exactly what he accomplishes in This Old Riddle.  If you would like to see "the sun stuttering on water," hear "ducks and the hidden arc of their muted chat and gabble," or watch an osprey who "squared her wings to tread on rain;" if you care about creatures that run "through a thirst of living things," wish to explore "the flash behind flesh and the blush under cutbanks;" or shiver in your heart to "shards of shade and bone" and "the harsh divination of dark and light," then this book will reward your reading with delight beyond measure.  Whether traveling in the territory of human love and wonder or through the "millimeter ripples" of a banana slug, Bill Yake will lead you deeper than you've gone before, "detecting as you go . . . every muted forest pulse."  Dwelling among salmon and owls, tan cats and pictographs, caddis, wolves, and water, always the water, these poems take us all home to a world we never intended to leave.  I love Bill Yake's poetry, and I for one am very grateful for this grand retrospective collection."

Robert Michael Pyle - lepidopterist, essayist, naturalist, author of Wintergreen: Listening to the Land’s Heart, Where Bigfoot Walks, The Butterflies of Cascadia, and many others, editor of Nabokov's Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings. 


“Absolutely wonderful! I was starting to make a list of my favorites as I read, and found I was copying most of the contents. There is not a false note or poem in it. Every page glows with rich observation and understanding, and the deep music of the forest, the water, and the rocks. It is more than a brilliant collection; it is the work of a life well-lived, constantly in tune with the flow and mystery of reality.  I will be returning to this book frequently, I know--my old bones tell me so, because it refreshes my vision...”

Howard McCord - poet, teacher, essayist, author of The Complete Poems of Howard McCord, The Wisdom of Silenus, The Man Who Walked to the Moon: A Novella, and many others.


“I'm in awe. This has to be one of the best books of poetry I've ever held in my hands. I can't decide whether to chide you for taking so long or for thanking you for taking so long because of its rarity of care and beauty and strength of experience.

Bill Yake’s poems are pure Zen eyes and Zen heart. They breathe from the deepest part of his being from one moment to the next, demonstrating awakening in the natural world. He seems to have swallowed the earth whole and entered the timeless so he can give us actualized mica flecks, wings of frigatebirds, kindlings of bones that flow out of his bloodstream mingling with the tributaries of time and place. Bill serves us the magic that has always been in the layered interconnections of beauty and the grief of earth’s erosion. He reaches deeply into the tingling soil and transmits the experience of seed openings, teeth marks of wolves on elk bone, shimmering opal in Madang, miniscule eggs of butterflies, and music hidden under fish scales.
Every moment of this elegantly rendered collection of poems is worth waiting for. Bill has not forfeited modesty and awe before the sacred nature of all living things. He teaches us true reverence, care, and devotion. He is a true Zen master of poetry.”

Eido Frances Carney - Zen priest, poet, painter


“In Bill Yake¹s work the scientist¹s meticulous attention to detail, the poet¹s ear for music and the explorer¹s yearning for new territory dance together.  This Old Riddle: Cormorant and Rain opens us to possibility and takes us willingly along, all our senses engaged, to probe place and story, creature and word.  Even scat sings in Bill¹s poetry.

I love the order you’ve chosen, as well as the poems. Reading through is like kayaking around the next point.”

Carolyn Maddux - managing editor of the Shelton-Mason County Journal, poet, and author of Remembering Water 


“We need Bill Yake’s poems, for they are the voice of the land. We love our home precisely because, bound into its perfect silence, it cannot speak, yet our praise and worry must come in the only way we can offer them, as words. Yake’s, fitted into their tight, glittering mosaics, are the ones we choose: the ‘hundred little-god-like ornaments/penciled on the sky.’ Even the poems to people, even the tender love poems, belong to the wild chanterelles, the dark spruce slopes. From the sheer breathtaking wonder at how the land reveals itself, to its fierce defense, Yake’s poems range far and wide, giving us a possible path.”

Alice DerryPort Angeles teacher, poet, author of Clearwater and Strangers to Their Courage


Bill Yake’s poems breathe the moist air and resplendent light of authentic experience.  Yake is a keen and practiced observer.  He brings a scientist's insight and an ear pitched to the tones and pulsings of the natural world to his poems.  Like the slow lift of a heron or the glimmer of a salmon in deep current, these poems reawaken the possibility of wonder.

Tim McNulty – Olympic Peninsula poet, naturalist, author of In Blue Mountain Dusk, Pawtracks and Olympic National Park: A Natural History Guide


The Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain is a welcome and exuberant first collection of Bill Yake’s poetry, work that is generous in its astonishing vocabulary and use of language. A reader needs only to run down the title listings to recognize the scope of the poet’s attention to, and concern for, water, forest and land, the various creatures with whom we share the planet. These poems enable us to make fresh connections to northwest history (as in “The Mouth of the Columbia”) and to all sorts of people and critters in this world we’re part of, and so often take for granted. Never a mere tourist, Bill travels with a naturalist’s eye and spirit, a talent for descriptive and telling detail. The Preface acknowledges with gratitude some of his mentors and teachers (Whitman, Snyder, Pattiann Rogers, Hass, Howard McCord, Robert Sund, among others), and the Notes on the poems are informative and engaging commentary, prompting us to explore further. The poems of human love and affection are never trite, and they offer one more perspective on “this old riddle’ of life and living on this earth with care and appreciation. I commend the poet this book.  


Jeanne LohmannOlympia poet and writer, author of Gathering a Life, Granite under Water, Flying Horses, The Light from Invisible Bodies and many others.


 the poems are very fine. …takes me to the [Skagit] flats with a single line and sets my mind's eye course over familiar territory and into the whirl of the flock.”

Tony Angell – Pacific Northwest artist, author of numerous books including Marine Birds and Mammals of Puget Sound,  longtime Director of Environmental Education for the state of Washington