Crysta Casey (1952-2008) was born in Pasadena, California. She graduated from The State University of New York, Stony Brook, in 1976, where she was one of the founding members of The Women Writers Workshop. After college, she became the first woman hired by the City of Irvine, California, in Parks and Maintenance.
In 1978, she enlisted in the all-new voluntary military, serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a journalist, then as a self-declared “Resident Poet” until her honorable discharge under medical conditions in 1980.
She moved to Seattle, Washington in the early 1980s, where she studied with the poet Nelson Bentley and collaborated with Esther Altshul Helfgott on the “It’s About Time Writers Reading Series”. Her first collection of poetry, Heart Clinic, was published in 1993 (Bellowing Ark Press). In 2004 she received a Hugo House Award from Richard Hugo House, and, in 2006, she was a finalist for Seattle Poet Populist. In 2010, Floating Bridge Press brought out a chapbook of her work, Green Cammie.
Rules for Walking Out was published in 2017 (Cave Moon Press). It represents the arc of Crysta’s life work and was the last manuscript Crysta completed and approved before her death at the Seattle V.A. in the spring of 2008.
Crysta’s papers are housed in the
University of Washington Libraries
“She was feisty and upbeat when I met her so long ago in Santa Cruz. Her fighting spirit stayed strong, but it was tempered by wisdom and hard-won forbearance. She was highly intelligent. In terms of her poetry, she was humble but tenacious. She was in love with poetry. She was eccentric. She was generous to her friends and probably saved at least one vet friend from suicide. She shares herself in her poems, so she is with us still. Read her.”
Author of Plato’s Bad Horse (Bear Star Press, 2006), Deborah Woodard has translated the poetry of Amelia Rosselli from the Italian, The Dragonfly: A Selection of Poems, 1953-1981 (Chelsea Editions, 2009) as well as Hospital Series (New Directions, 2015). Deborah’s collection, Borrowed Tales, was published by Stockport Flats in 2012. Her collection No Finis, Triangle Testimonies, 1911, with drawings by John Burgess, is forthcoming from Ravenna Press in 2018. Her The Book of Riddles (Boxcar Press) is in its third printing. She teaches at The Richard Hugo House.
“I first met Crysta Casey in a poetry class with Deborah Woodard at Hugo House, and something struck me about her immediately—she was a swayer, and by that, I mean she was one of those people that swayed—almost uncontrollably—and it seemed it wasn’t because of nerves or anxiety or excitement. Swaying was Crysta’s natural state. Since she passed and her collection, Green Cammie, was posthumously published by the great Floating Bridge Press, I’ve learned so much about Crysta that I had been afraid to ask—about her military career, how she became a self-declared “Resident Poet” and her struggles with cancer. I’m still not quite sure about the swaying, but even poets must keep some things private.”
Brian McGuigan founded Cheap Wine & Poetry and Cheap Beer & Prose. Currently at work on a memoir. Former Program Director at Richard Hugo House - Seattle, Washington. Works at Artist Trust, nonprofit dedicated to helping Washington State artists of all disciplines thrive.
“What I was—and remain—is a fan of her incredibly good writing. I first became aware of Casey at a reading. She was sharing the evening with two other folks, but I don’t remember who they were because, for me, the event was entirely hers. “My god, are those poems really that good?” I remember thinking, and saying to the curator at half-time, “That Crysta Casey is an astonishing poet,” at which point we were introduced. I found Crysta Casey to be direct, intelligent, down to earth and sincere. I bought her first book Heart Clinic as soon as I could and found the private reading experience as compelling and devastating as hearing her read the work aloud. Her work is the rare and remarkable kind of art that blasts apart my heart.”
First writer in residence at Richard Hugo House, co-founder of the Jack Straw Writers Program. Rebecca Brown’s novel The Gifts of the Body is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Faculty advisor in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont
“Everyone involved with the Seattle poetry scene knew and appreciated Crysta. Her life and her work were a remarkable combination of guts and grace. We all miss her.”
—Lana Hechtman Ayers
Lana Hechtman Ayers is a professional manuscript consultant and writing workshop facilitator. She also publishes Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Series, MoonPath Press NW Pacific States Poetry Series and is an editorial consultant at Crab Creek Review.
“I first met Crysta in the early 1990's, before her first collection of poetry, Heart Clinic, was published (1993). She came to the basement of the University branch library to read her poems on open mic at the "It's About Time Writer's Reading Series," which I was emceeing. She read in a loud, scratchy, almost monotonic voice. All the while she rocked. I began rocking too. The audience, the room, the library itself all seemed to be rocking. We were mesmerized. Crysta could do that to people. She would grab you and she was yours for life. That is what Crysta did to people – she grabbed them – and it is what her work does; it grabs.”
—Esther Altshul Helfgott
Esther Altshul Helfgott is the author of Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer’s (Yakima, WA: Cave Moon Press, 2014), Dear Alzheimer’s: A Caregiver’s Diary & Poems (Yakima, WA: Cave Moon Press, 2013) and The Homeless One: A Poem in Many Voices (Seattle: Kota Press, 2000). She is the founder of the “It’s About Time” reading series.
“For a decade my phone in Brooklyn would ring a few times a month at 4 a.m., and I knew it was Crysta even before hearing her raspy, twinkling voice, rocking in her non-rockable chair wanting to run her latest poem by me. She’d sit up all night rocking back and forth in her supposedly stationary hard-backed chair, staring out, thinking, rhythming, night after night after night. Her phone calls would arrive in the course of this, and I’d ask her what she was doing. “Rocking,” was always her answer. That’s when she was happiest. Smoking cigarettes and rocking.”
Mitchel Cohen is a New York writer, activist, poet, chair WBAI-FM Local Station Board, Brooklyn Greens, Red Balloon Collective, rabble rouser
Unless otherwise noted, all content © The Estate of Crysta E. Casey.