Empty Bowl

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Empty Bowl[1] began as an independent cooperative small press specializing in the publication of periodicals, broadsides, literary anthologies, collections of poetry, and books of Chinese translations, and is currently located in Anacortes, Washington. Its mission is to publish the work of poets who share Empty Bowl’s founding purpose (literature and responsibility) and its fundamental theme (the love and preservation of human communities in wild places). A brief history of Empty Bowl is given in Westdal (2016).[2]


Empty Bowl was established in 1976 by Bob Blair and was located in Port Townsend, WA. It started as a letterpress publisher and emphasized works with strong eco-consciousness, often leaning toward Buddhism and other eastern philosophies. The name Empty Bowl, coined by Bob Blair, fit perfectly with the Buddhist influences and the fact that it involved cooperative efforts of seasonal tree planters, writers employed in various occupations, and laborers who were willing and could afford to attend to this emerging literary community.

During its early years Empty Bowl had collaborative ties to other small literary presses located in Port Townsend. For example, Sam Hamill of Copper Canyon Press provided advice on grant writing, printing and typesetting as did Scott Walker of Graywolf Press, and Tree Swenson of Copper Canyon Press contributed art work and helped design some of the Dalmo'ma publications.

For more than a decade during its early years, Empty Bowl published a literary anthology entitled Dalmo‘ma. The name is from a Pit River (CA) tribal legend and is a word for a place where Indians dug for turnips. The editors liked the image of a place where you could dig for roots on a land that had been occupied by your ancestors for thousands of years.

In addition to numerous poems by Pacific Northwest writers, Dalmo‘ma contained essays on such topics as bioregionalism, the concept of Ohode (a Makah word that means "all of us"), collections of poems and essays by people who worked in the Pacific Northwest environment, and Pacific Northwest landscape photographs of Steve R. Johnson.[3] The eighth and final issue of Dalmo‘ma, edited by Jeremiah Gorsline, came out in 1992 and was entitled Shadows of our Ancestors: Readings in the History of Klallam-White Relations. This was later reissued by the Jefferson County Historical Society.[4] Notable poets whose work appeared in Dalmo’ma include Robert Sund,[5] Gary Snyder, William Stafford, John Haines, Tim McNulty,[6] Tom Jay,[7] Barry Lopez, Sam Hamill, and Jim Dodge.

Besides Dalmo‘ma, Empty Bowl published numerous books of poetry and essays, including several early Chinese translations by Red Pine (aka Bill Porter). Poets whose books were published include Bill Ransom, Finn Wilcox,[8] Michael Daley[9] and Sharon Doubiago.[10]

In a talk given to the Jefferson County Historical Society ("Empty Bowl Redux"[11]) about the early years of Empty Bowl, founding editor Michael Daley writes that during the 70s and 80s, the struggle Empty Bowl was attempting to talk about involved "conflicting loves of place and industry in the Northwest and specifically on the Olympic Peninsula … Empty Bowl was a kind of refuge for those of us who wrote ‘from and for the outside.’" He concludes by saying "Empty Bowl and Dalmo‘ma anthologies were the artifacts, products of that collaborative and even tribal spirit that poets, artists and community working independently from their own aspirations to respond to this devotion to place could come together, see their art flourish as a body of collaborative energies in favor of protections that in the world of poetry has been too long ignored."

After running into financial difficulties in the mid-1990s, Empty Bowl closed its doors, only to be resuscitated in 2006 by Mike O’Connor with the publication of Tom Jay’s The Blossoms Are Ghosts at the Wedding. In its reincarnation, Empty Bowl became a division of Pleasure Boat Studio.[12]

In 2018, Michael Daley rejoined Empty Bowl as publisher and editor and launched a new series focused on the collected/selected poems from Pacific Northwest writers. The series began with Finn Wilcox’s[8] Too Late to Turn Back Now: Prose and Poems. In the fall of 2018, Clemens Starck’s Cathedrals and Parking Lots: Collected Poems is the second book in the series.

Notable publications[edit]

  • McNulty, T. 1982. Tundra Songs
  • Ransom, B. 1983. The Single Man Looks at Winter
  • Roche, J. 1985. Ghosts
  • Aliesan, J.[13] 1985. Desire
  • Red Pine (aka Bill Porter). 1987. The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma
  • Doubiago, S. 1989. Psyche Drives the Coast (won the 1991 Hazel Hall Oregon Book Award for Poetry from the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts)[citation needed]
  • Jay, T. 2006. The Blossoms Are Ghosts at the Wedding
  • Schelling, A. 2008. Old Tale Road
  • Daley, M. 2016. Of a Feather
  • Wilcox, F. 2018. Too Late to Turn Back Now: Prose and Poems, 1980 – 2016
  • Starck, C. 2018. (upcoming). Cathedrals and Parking Lots: Collected Poems

Literature cited[edit]

Westdal, J. 2016. The Printed Word in Port Townsend: Literary Presses of the 1970s and 1980s. Jefferson County Historical Society.


  1. ^ "Running on Empty".
  2. ^ https://www.jchsmuseum.org/About/MuseumShop.html
  3. ^ SharonahRobinson (29 June 2012). "Steven R Johnson, Artist & Photographer Edge of the Sea Gallery" – via YouTube.
  4. ^ "Publications". www.jchsmuseum.org.
  5. ^ "Robert Sund - Biography". www.robertsundpoetshouse.org.
  6. ^ "Tim McNulty". timmcnultypoet.com.
  7. ^ "Tom Jay". Empty Bowl.
  8. ^ a b "Finn Wilcox". Empty Bowl.
  9. ^ "Michael Daley". Empty Bowl.
  10. ^ "Home - Sharon Doubiago". www.sharondoubiago.com.
  11. ^ "Empty Bowl Redux".
  12. ^ "Empty Bowl Press". 7 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Archives West: Jody Aliesan papers, 1943-2012". archiveswest.orbiscascade.org.