PUBLISHED: 6:06 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Former Sitkan minister leaves a legacy in verse
SITKA - James Hugh Drury has just moved away from Sitka, but his poetry and prose remain, capturing the spirit of Southeast Alaska alongside meditations on grief, love, family and faith.

Drury, a 60-year-old Lutheran minister, published his third book, "Do Not Dismiss What Is" this year. The poems in the book reflect his 17 years in Sitka, which included the pain of divorce and the joy of grandchildren.

photo courtesy of James Hugh Drury
  'Do Not Dismiss What Is," poet James Drury's third book, contains meditations on faith, family and life in Southeast..
Much of "Do Not Dismiss What Is" is about "what happens when life happens to you and you pay attention," Drury said.

This attention might lead to rumination on a raven in a McDonald's parking lot or the tumultuous emotions after the loss of a loved one.

"The whole middle section of "Do Not Dismiss" is yes, I know, it is a mess, but things get better, life triumphs," Drury said.

Drury writes his poetry to be accessible to as many as people as possible.

In the poem "Split Infinity: January 7, 2004" he notes, "who does not (in the quietest times) / reflect on losing one's self / in the ambiguities / on which we build daily life."

Drury's images of daily life are drawn from Sitka and will likely be familiar to Southeast Alaskan readers. In "Winter Boathouse" he writes, "A white quilt falls / over the red boathouse roof / draped unevenly along the / leaves looking like / rumpled sleepers newly awake."

Drury attributes much of his development as a writer to Sitka's Island Institute, which regularly hosts visiting writers and runs an annual symposium. While in Sitka he also developed a friendship with Alaska State Writer Laureate John Straley.

"That exposure to other people and their notions has been very helpful to my growth as a writer," Drury said.

Drury's faith and experience as a minister influences his poetry. He doesn't see a separation between his work as a minister and his work as a poet.

"The Psalms are all poetry," Drury said. "I've lived my whole life with that language."

While living in Japan during high school, Drury had a mentor who taught him haiku, from whom he learned the discipline of condensing as much information into as few words as possible.

"It's the exact same thing when I write a sermon," Drury said. "The inspiration, the whole process is exactly the same in the rest of my life."

Drury wrote poetry for years before considering publishing.

"I've written reams of bad poetry for a long time," Drury said. "You have to write about a million bad words before you get to the good ones."

After years of "bad poetry," Drury said he began to discover his voice and wrote Christmas poems for the church every year, and he began getting positive feedback. He had poems published in regional church publications and his big breakthrough was publication in "Christian Century," a major Protestant magazine.

"People kept saying, I want to read more," Drury said.

So he wrote more. And when he couldn't find a publisher he self-published. For him, reader feedback is the payoff.

In the end, whether he is writing a sermon or a poem, he seeks to connect with others. Although many of his poems are personal, he is not writing just for himself.

"It's always tricky to be that transparent and put yourself out there," Drury said. "But once you're done with it, and you send it out, it doesn't belong to you anymore."

James Hugh Drury's books are available from Old Harbor Books in Sitka or through his website,