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The Book of Ocho
In a new collection of poetry, local writer Cameron Scott reflects on life through the simplicities of a cat afflicted with cancer
In a county of 7,000 souls, the wealth of artistry never ceases to amaze — from the painters to the sculptors, the photographers, the musicians and the writers. Some of the citizens of this corner of Oregon are lucky enough to have two or more artistic talents.
Beauty, if not even artistry, is in the eye of beholder. A high school Advanced Placement English Teacher said poetry is interpreted by the reader — what the reader brings to a poem, his past, his notions of things, help or influence his understanding.
“The Book of Ocho” is yet one more star in a constellation of published work by local writers. Author Cameron Scott has become a permanent, part-time resident of Wallowa County. After two years as a writer-in-residence with Fishtrap, the county’s literary nonprofit, the poet bought a house close to his favorite riffles on the Wallowa River, for Scott’s other calling is fishing. One might wonder whether fishing or writing came first. In an artist’s mind, one can argue both are first when it comes to priorities.
Scott’s collection of poems are named for Ocho, and orange, lymphomic cat with whom he shares a soul for a time, yet is punctuated with tales of the sun and love and of fishing which keeps Scott’s mind agile enough to return to paper with pen to log his experiences.
To be sure, the poems detail domestic life as well, armchairs, oak doors where cats appear with quarry, shared salmon dinners — and the beauty of Scott’s work is in the details — inside a mountain retreat or among the daisies that appear again and again in his lines.
Ocho suffers from cancer, but as any self-respecting cat, is determined to carry on as described in the opening poem, “From the Book of Ocho”: “And so I shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; that the world might be fulfilled with Ochoness.”
Rooming with Ocho, learning the ways and needs of the cat for whom he is charged to care, Scott reflects on life through both the simplicities and intricacies of a cat’s life who wonders why the sun tastes like car tires and considers, “If I just bite the head off one last chipmunk, I’ll retire.”
A nature poet to be sure, Scott intersperses his poems of Ocho with awakening spring, something a man who chooses to live in areas where winter holds on long into summer has a keen appreciation. “In the soft shoots and stinging nettles where I pluck and chew on dandelion leaves, listening to songbirds, watching white moths on the wing, ants and bees not yet worn to summer grit.”
In “Diary of Impossible Things,” Scott weaves the heart of the poet and the fisherman together, “If I were a fisherman I’d have a net and the skill to catch this frenetic flying thing (hummingbird) and release it back outside. And if I were a poet the net would be made of words and my heart would beat as fast as emerald wings. If I were a fisherman and a poet I’d slowly raise the net and catch this impossible thing then walk back out into the flowering world sweet with chirr and with a flick of my wrist open the net to the air.”
As for the interpretation of poetry being in the mind of the reader, poems are at times abstract and interjected with symbolism, but mostly the reader wants to see a painting in the words like in “A Duende for Guiding”: “Clouds boil into thunderheads before plunging headlong down ravines where the cold presses trout into the colors of gemstones, for which if you cast and cast again and let me add weight and let me see to all your tangles and offer an arm to hold onto we might thieve these amber and emerald banded creatures, capturing for display something to dangle from ears.”