Sunday salmon

June 5, 2023

Please mark your calendar and join Rena Priest, Empty Bowl Press, and contributing poets in a celebration of the newly published collection, I Sing the Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State. The event will be held on Sunday, June 18, 2023, at the Squalicum Boathouse in Zuanich Point Park, in Bellingham. Doors open at 5:30pm and the reading starts at 6:00pm. Copies of the anthology will be available for sale and signing.

on poetry

June 4, 2023

“What sets me apart is an excitement to edit, detail orientation, being accidentally sudden, an awkward walk and my ability to untremble when it’s time to step up. It is nearly always time to step up.”
Buddy Wakefield
(b. June 4, 1974)

. . . . .
photo by Katherine Mager

Naomi Ruth Reimer used poetry
to explore family’s Mennonite odyssey

This is a guest post by Dean Kahn

Naomi Ruth Reimer was born in 1924 on a farm in west-central Oklahoma, the granddaughter of Mennonites from Ukraine who settled in the Panhandle State three decades earlier.

Naomi’s German-speaking family soon moved to the nearby small town of Corn, a Mennonite community, where her love of reading, and of writing poetry, helped her graduate as valedictorian of her high school class. The second oldest of eight children — five girls and three boys — Naomi would sit in the hall of their small home and read poetry to her younger siblings.

“She loved to entertain us by reading,” said Gordon Reimer, a younger brother who became an electrical engineer for Boeing Co. in Seattle and retired to Birch Bay. “I could read pretty well because Naomi taught me.”

In 1943, while Naomi attended college in the Midwest, her parents and siblings moved to the Custer area near Ferndale, where her father, Cornelius Reimer, operated a dairy farm. Later, the family moved to the Smith Road area north of Bellingham, where her father raised chickens.

The family’s move from the Midwest to the Northwest wasn’t an isolated decision. Dozens of Mennonites moved to the Whitehorn area, south of Birch Bay, to seek a better life in the 1930s and 1940s, and Cornelius had relatives in lower British Columbia.

When the family moved to Custer, Naomi enrolled at Washington State University to be closer to family. While in Seattle for a summer job, she met and married Bob Duke. Once their two sons reached school age, Naomi returned to school herself, earning a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Washington and a master’s degree in literature at Seattle Pacific University.

One of her sons, Brian Duke, a retired school principal, said his mother kept a journal by her bed in which she wrote personal reflections and poetry. Her favorite poets included Theodore Roethke and Robert Frost, whom she read to her young boys to calm them during storms.

Reimer, who later divorced, taught middle school English for about five years, in Renton and in the small community of High Prairie, Alberta. She also worked at the state capital in Olympia as a research editor for Bellingham lawmaker Barney Goetz, for Senate Democrats, and for the governor’s office. She retired to Birch Bay in 1996.

Through the years Naomi wrote a novel, but it was never published. She also wrote poetry, much of it about her Mennonite heritage. Naomi was raised in the Mennonite Brethren Church, and later attended other churches, including a Baptist church in Seattle, the United Churches of Olympia, and the United Church of Christ in Blaine.

Brian Duke said his mother’s interest in her Mennonite background developed late in her life, and she traveled to Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine to explore the lands of her ancestors.

She wrote poems about the lives, the persecution, and the migration of Mennonites in the Old World, and about her family in the New World. The title of her book, The Taken, refers to the millions of people, including Mennonites, killed or exiled during the despotic rule of Joseph Stalin.

Reimer, who had several poems published in Mennonite journals and magazines, self-published her book in 1997. A review in the Journal of Mennonite Studies said the weight of history in some of Reimer’s poems crowded out “the potential for evocative power her subject might possess.” The reviewer, Sarah Klassen, found more satisfying Reimer’s poems about her parents, about her own life, and about her grandfather, whose suicide haunted his children.

“Reimer’s poems are never self-indulgent,” Klassen concluded. “Even in her most personal poems she keeps herself in the background, modestly preferring to draw the reader’s attention elsewhere.”

Reimer died of cancer two years after her book appeared. She’s buried at Enterprise Cemetery, south of Custer.

“On Learning Solitude”

Run alone, a scarecrow girl in an older
sister’s handed down everyday dress.

At table, eat cabbage soup, fried noodles,
calling them kjielkje, but except for food
speak English — concealing the Plautdietsch.

Afternoons hide in an upstairs hall corner
next to a bookcase, read Little Women
four times, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King,
Milton’s Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes
not understanding the words, only knowing
the thunder of the lines like the shudder
and roar circling the house all one lightning
infested night, illumination coming and going,
mysterious, random — the terrible voice of God.

. . . . .

Dean Kahn worked for The Bellingham Herald for 29 years, with stints as a reporter, editor, and columnist.

This profile is an abridged version of one that appeared in the December 2019 issue of The Journal of the Whatcom County Historical Society. To purchase the issue, or other issues of the journal, go to, or visit Village Books.

. . . . .
Naomi Ruth Reimer photos used with permission

mark your calendar

June 2, 2023

The Poetry Marathon is an annual event in which participants write a poem an hour for 24 hours. There are also half-marathon (12-hour) options during the same 24-hour period.

Founded and run by Caitlin Jans (Thomson) and Jacob Jans with help from volunteers and a different editor for the anthology every year, The Poetry Marathon often allows participating poets to break through their usual boundaries as they push past tiredness. The resulting poems can form the basis for a chapbook or simply provide a large batch of drafts for further editing.

The 2023 Poetry Marathon will start on September 2 at 9:00am Eastern and go to 9:00am September 3. Half-marathoners can choose either 9:00am-9:00pm or 9:00pm to 9:00am.

Mark your calendar!

The 2022 Poetry Marathon Anthology, edited by Ofuma Agali and Cristy Watson, with cover art by Vidya Shankar, is available at bookstores and online.

on poetry

May 31, 2023

“[Poetry] is neither the art of the embalmer, nor that of the decorator. It does not breed cultured pearls, nor does it deal in semblances and emblems, and it would not be satisfied by any feast of music. Poetry allies itself with beauty — a supreme union — but never uses it as its ultimate goal or sole nourishment. Refusing to divorce art from life, love from perception, it is action, it is passion, it is power, and always the innovation which extend borders.”
Saint-John Perse
(May 31, 1887 – September 20, 1975)

. . . . .
quote from Saint-John Perse’s acceptance speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1960

submission time

May 29, 2023

Because we believe in the importance of having your work witnessed and because we know it’s not always easy to figure out where to submit your work, we offer below a rather ambitious list of Cascadia-based presses and publications that might welcome your submissions. First, a few notes:

  • Just because you live in Cascadia doesn’t mean you have to submit to local publications. But really, this is a list and we have to stop somewhere, right?
  • Not included are deadlines within the next few days (i.e., late May/early June 2023).
  • We’ve done our best to confirm this information and apologize for publications that may have vanished unannounced.
  • Please familiarize yourself with the publications/presses and follow the guidelines very carefully before submitting. (That includes proofreading your work!)
  • For more Cascadia lit links, see the sidebar.
  • Good luck!
* * * * *

Our First Apartment*

May 28, 2023

2022 Merit Award
By Flannery White

our sheets suspend across my second-
hand chairs; our socks and delicates
overwhelm his drying rack
we read together in
our laundry-wrapped room
our belongings

*Copyright © 2022 by Flannery White. Broadside illustrated by Christian Anne Smith.

Poet’s bio:
After growing up overseas in Beijing and The Hague, Flannery White moved to the Pacific Northwest at 17 to attend the University of Washington. Her work has previously appeared in Potluck Mag, Foliate Oak, Cirque, and the “Your Body of Water” Collection of the Seattle Poetry on Buses project. “I began writing ‘Our First Apartment’ soon after my now-husband and I moved in together. I didn’t want to forget the poignancy of our first small, shared space, knowing we would eventually move on to larger pastures. I choose to use a nonet because the decreasing line length down to one final syllable echoes a relationship deepening into a single shared life, and nicely mirrors folding laundry, too.”

NOTE: a chapbook of the 2022 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest winning poems, including this one, is available at Village Books in Bellingham. All sales profits benefit the annual contest.

tonight in Anacortes

May 27, 2023

The wonderful Madrona Poetry Series continues tonight, Saturday, May 27, 2023, at 7:00pm, with two fine poets, Tom Aslin and Jeremy Voigt. Join them at Pelican Bay Books in Anacortes.


May 26, 2023

In case you missed it, the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest awards ceremony this week was a rollicking success. In a contest year notable for its first in-person awards ceremony since 2019 and its unusually small organizing committee, the standing-room-only event went without a hitch and much audience appreciation.

Special thanks to this year’s judges, Caitlin Scarano and Leslie Wharton; to emcee Kevin Murphy; to the contest committee: Sarah King, Rachel Mehl, Joan Packer, Matthew Stuckey, and Flannery White; to the artists who illustrated the placards for the winning poems: Angela Boyle, Megan Carroll, Christian Anne Smith, and Kimberly Wulfestieg; to everyone who helped move chairs, including Dean Kahn and Matthew Scott; to Susan J. Erickson for the gorgeous flowers; and last, but definitely not least, THE POETS!!

This Sunday, May 28, the last of the 2022 winning poems will be featured here on The Poetry Department. On Sunday, June 11, and each of the next 19 Sundays, we will feature one of the 2023 winning poems, which will then be linked to the Winners page. Your Likes and Comments are greatly appreciated.

If you live in Whatcom County, Washington, and you believe poetry is important, the contest committee welcomes new members. It’s not a demanding job (unless it falls on the shoulders of only one or two people) but it’s definitely rewarding. Interested? Drop a note to BoyntonPoetryContest [at]

At the awards ceremony, each of the judges has a chance to make a few comments. Leslie Wharton noted that so many lines of poetry continued to run through her mind that she decided to make a poem of them. Her cento poem, below, uses a line from each of the 2023 winning poems. Watch for them in the coming months.

Sue C. Roll

Because when stars collect, they look like you
what my younger sister once found most beautiful
as she sleeps, her lips begin to bloom
You might say there’s nothing other-worldly
except for a sapphire hole releasing heaven
Then she looks up, thinks, falling star?
You are acres of berry bushes full of fruit
who feels with kindness for all people
There are so many kinds
runaway combat boots, party shoes tripping
We will hug each other ‘til we are numb
hoping not to die
Silvers — Coho Salmon — swim above concrete
creeks had swollen like the pulse in her veins
In the unknown, all is known
random events explode into existence
reminding me that things will fall down from time to time
but I am not ready to leave
moving fast and joyfully
I feel peace

. . . . .
photo by Flannery White
“Sue C. Roll” cento assembled by Leslie Wharton

the zine scene

May 25, 2023

The winning zines in the 8th Annual Washington State Zine Contest have been announced and you can see the list here. They will be digitized and available online soon, but meanwhile here are a few places you can see and learn about zines now, in person and/or online, in no particular order:

Make some zines this summer and add your work to one or more of these collections!

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