salmon poetry

April 30, 2022

This is a guest post by Rena Priest.

Greetings Poets! Happy National Poetry Month!

As the month winds down and I head into my second year as Washington State Poet Laureate, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to share a few words with you. It has been a fantastic year full of new faces and reconnecting with old friends in the poetry community. I’ve shared poetry with many organizations, libraries, schools, and institutions, and I’ve written several new poems for special occasions. I have even collected a new manuscript!

Now I want to read your poems, specifically your salmon poems. Over the summer and early fall, I will be offering a traveling workshop called How to Catch a Salmon Poem. In this workshop, we’ll respond to a series of prompts to cultivate poems for a salmon-themed anthology. By the end of our time together, attendees will have a fresh catch of ideas to help them reel in new poems.

Why salmon? Salmon are the unsung heroes of our region. Adventurous and brave, they swim from their natal rivers out into the perils of the open ocean, where their bodies soak up the rich nutrients of the sea. Persistent, resilient, and strong, they swim upstream against swift currents for hundreds of miles to return home to spawn and complete the cycle of life. A keystone species, after spawning, they die and transfer all the marine-derived nutrients carried in their bodies to the animals, insects, soil, and plants in and around their natal stream.

Salmon are sacred to my tribe, the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. We celebrate them in ceremony and song, and they have long been central to our Sche’le’ngen, our way of life. By celebrating salmon through poetry in every corner of the state, I hope to raise goodwill and a feeling of reverence for the salmon, a feeling that my people have felt since time immemorial.

Seattle-based writer Timothy Egan writes, “The Pacific Northwest is simply this: wherever the salmon can get to.” Before dams were installed, salmon inhabited streams throughout Washington state, even as far inland as Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and beyond. They have been a massive part of our regional identity, and with many species struggling, it’s time to love them enough to save them.

Saving salmon and acknowledging our shared humanity through poetry is at the heart of my motivation to create an anthology celebrating our state’s salmon runs as well as our poets. I hope you will join us in one of these generative workshop offerings and be inspired to submit a poem or two about our iconic wild salmon of Washington state. I will be sharing workshop dates as they are set.

In the meantime, if you happen to have salmon poems in your repertoire, you can submit 1-3 poems via email to poet [AT] humanities.org. The open call deadline is June 1, 2022.

In your email, please affirm that

  • you currently live in Washington State
  • your poems are previously unpublished, or
  • your poems are published, but you retain the right to republish

If your poem is previously published

  • give the places and dates of all previous publications
  • affirm that you retain all rights to the work, and
  • include links to websites where available

If you’d like to have me offer a workshop in your community, you can send a message through my website (www.renapriest.com) and we can talk about scheduling a date. Stay tuned for more info! I look forward to reading your poems!!

Yours,
Rena Priest
Washington State Poet Laureate (2021-2023)

. . . . .

Rena Priest is a poet and an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She has been appointed to serve as the Washington State Poet Laureate from April 2021 to 2023. She is the 2022 Maxine Cushing Gray Distinguished Writing Fellow, an Indigenous Nations Poets Fellow, a Jack Straw Writer (2019), and a Vadon Foundation Fellow. She is also the recipient of an Allied Arts Foundation Professional Poets Award. Her debut collection, Patriarchy Blues, received an American Book Award, and her second collection, Sublime Subliminal, was published as the finalist for the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Priest holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

. . . . .
author photo by Savanna Estey
salmon photo from Salmon Need Water

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