Woodinville poet publishes first book of poetry — ‘Phlogiston’

  • Written by Woodinville Weekly Staff

Woodinville poet Dennis Caswell’s first full-length collection of poems, Phlogiston (pronounced FLOW-ji-stahn),   has just been published by Seattle publisher Floating Bridge Press.  Seattle poet Peter Pereira describes Phlogiston as “brimful with humor, intelligence, love of language, pop culture references, science factoids and sexiness, balancing joyful hilarity against a deeply personal and thoughtful poignancy.”

Asked about his book’s title, Caswell explains, “It’s actually an 18th-century scientific term for fire.  They believed fire was a substance trapped inside every flammable object.”

Caswell has lived outside Woodinville for 15 years and works as a software engineer in the aviation industry. He grew up in northern California and spent the 80s and 90s designing and programming computer games and educational software in Silicon Valley.  He began writing seriously when his family moved to Washington in 1997.

Describing his poetry, Caswell says, “Growing up, I was a math and science nerd, raised not on Shakespeare and Dickens but on Star Trek, Bugs Bunny and The Monkees. The idea of such a person becoming a poet seems a bit absurd, which may be why my writing is often concerned with absurdity.”

One of the more playful poems in Phlogiston is a cycle of five univocals. “A univocal,” Caswell explains, “is a poem that only allows itself to use a single vowel. Naturally, I wrote five of them, one for each vowel.  In the first one, the only vowels are As. In the second, the only vowels are Es, and so on.  They’re pretty sophomoric, but they’re fun.”

Set against this playfulness is a series of poems about the author’s father who separated from his mother when the author was 10 and died some 10 years later.

“I didn’t know my father well; I’m not sure anyone did,” Caswell says.  “This book is, in part, an attempt to understand, if necessarily from a distance, this mysterious person who made me.”

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