on poetry

May 24, 2023

“You don’t necessarily have to write to be a poet. Some people work in gas stations and they’re poets. I don’t call myself a poet, because I don’t like the word. I’m a trapeze artist.”
Bob Dylan
(b. May 24, 1941)

. . . . .
2019 photo by Dave J Hogan

for your book list

May 23, 2023

Wondering what will go on your summer reading list? Here are some suggestions:

Have a poetry book recommendation? Leave a comment!

Next Generation*

May 21, 2023

2022 Merit Award
By Joselyn Vasquez

Craving inspiration for our next generation
See, we need to save the population
Start some operation
Save this inhumane foundation
Let’s just start a conversation
Not antagonize discrimination
Revive our motivation
to survive this simulation
Immigration, starvation, hesitation
All things stopping us from mass celebration
See, this just my speculation
but shit won’t change without

*Copyright © 2022 by Joselyn Vasquez. Broadside illustrated by Megan Carroll.

Elizabeth Watts Henley’s poetry
survived life filled with personal challenges

This is a guest post by Dean Kahn

Elizabeth Artis (Watts) Henley was born into a prominent Bellingham family in 1912. Her parents, Arthur and Maud Watts, encouraged their four children to pursue higher education, and all of them left their mark.

Sister Ruth was a research chemist. Brother Arthur, Jr., became a general practitioner in Bellingham. Sister Catharine, who went by “Kitty,” took over her father’s real estate and insurance business and became a community, regional, and national civic leader.

Elizabeth, who went by “Betty,” showed literary promise when she won a children’s poetry contest judged by Ella Higginson, Bellingham’s nationally known writer. Elizabeth went on to publish numerous poems in prominent magazines, but her writing and teaching were derailed for several years by the Red Scare after World War II and by time in a mental institution.

The precise reasons she spent more than two years in a mental health facility remain opaque. John Henley, her sole surviving child, says he hasn’t explored public records about his mother’s life, and says any pertinent papers his parents might have possessed have disappeared.

Elizabeth began writing poetry professionally during the early years of the Great Depression. She also was a poetry editor at The Puget Sounder, a weekly newspaper created by June and Farrar Burn, a well-known literary couple who lived for many years in the Northwest, including time in Bellingham.

Elizabeth earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree at the University of Washington, where she wrote a master’s thesis about 16th century English poet Edmund Spenser, and taught English from 1934 to 1940. While at UW, her friends included left-leaning activists and at least one acknowledged communist.

She also met and married Preston Henley, who attended UW to study business. She and Preston moved to New York City, where Elizabeth taught at Hunter College High School and had more poems published. After the war, the family moved to Boise, Idaho, and then to Portland, Ore.

Elizabeth taught at Portland State College and became friends with many fellow Oregon poets, notably William Stafford and Vi Gale. Her poems appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, and in McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies Home Journal, which were more literary then.

But John Henley says his parents’ marriage became tense, in part because his mother kept her liberal views while his father was “very conservative.” In addition, investigations of alleged communists in academia arose after World War II. A legislative committee investigated the University of Washington. Among those questioned was English professor Sophus Winther, who acknowledged being a communist in the mid-1930s. Elizabeth knew Winther, and mere close association with communists posed risks for one’s job, reputation, even custody of one’s children.

Henley recalls that his mother told him that a top administrator at Portland State College asked her to resign, to protect the college from possible bad publicity. She left the college, then, to avoid bringing ruin on her family, committed herself to a mental health facility.

Elizabeth and Preston divorced in 1956. He gained custody of the children, and later remarried. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s poet friends lobbied Oregon’s new governor, Mark Hatfield, to gain her release. Hatfield helped Elizabeth obtain a job in 1959 at Oregon State University, in Corvallis, teaching English composition to remedial students.

She disliked being paid less than male professors, and being sexually harassed by colleagues without recourse for help. On the positive side, she continued to write, she loved teaching, and her students loved her. She retired in 1975, and died Jan. 2, 1981, in Corvallis. She’s buried in Bayview Cemetery, in Bellingham.

No book of her poems was published during her lifetime, so, in 2000, her son John and a cousin, Ellen Watts Lodine, published To Hear Unspoken Things, a selection of her work. Here is one of her poems:

“Song of Wheels Turning”

Listen my child to the song I sing,
It is old, it is trite, it is true.
Never go back to the one green hill,
Let it come back to you.
Little and dark, a muffin of trees,
It fades where horizons drop.
You learn as you leave how partial a view
Of the earth you saw from the top.
Taller you travel for being there,
It is less if you return.
Let it come to you as a windy height
Captured from boulder and fern.
There would be tear, only tears, if you found
So much as a gnarled tree,
And cried, “It is here, It is just the same,
The change is in me, in me!”

. . . . .

Dean Kahn worked for The Bellingham Herald for 29 years, with stints as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He wrote more than 1,000 columns, of which about one-in-seven focused on local history.

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 https://www.whatcomhistory.net, or visit Village Books.

Elizabeth Watts Henley photo courtesy of John Henley

If you submitted a poem to the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest, this year or any previous year, and it was rejected, now you have a chance to show it off to the world!

Boynton Bouncers returns to the mic at Greene’s Corner in Bellingham on Thursday, May 25, 2023, at 6:00pm. Here are the guidelines:

  • Rejected-by-Boynton poems from any contest year, 2006-2023, are eligible.
  • Poets must read their own poems; if their work has been turned away in multiple years, they may read up to two poems.
  • Poets can just show up and read, or, to assure a spot in the lineup, send an email with your name, phone, and poem title(s) to boyntonbouncers@gmail.com.
  • The event is free and the public is invited.

Celebrate rejection with some of Whatcom County’s finest poets!

Awards Ceremony!

May 17, 2023

Next Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at 7:00pm, the Bellingham Cruise Terminal (355 Harris Avenue in Fairhaven) will again come to life with the sound of poetry. The Awards Ceremony for the 2023 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest is free and open to the public. The evening will be hosted by everyone’s favorite emcee, Kevin Murphy, with comments from the judges, Caitlin Scarano and Leslie Wharton, and the year’s award-winning poems read by their poets. Please come celebrate community poetry at this heartwarming event.

The Break

May 16, 2023

Spend an hour online with poet Kaveh Akbar on the last Monday of every month, 5:00-6:00pm Pacific, as The Break celebrates “amongness, collaboration, and interdisciplinary creative experimentation.” It’s free. Follow the link to learn more and mark your calendar for The Break: Monday, May 29, 2023.

2022 Merit Award
By Vincent Tsan

You are like your house
Earthy and youthful
And all the smells you cook yourself into

You are your backyard garden, transformed from hand
The wooden bed with summer kale and beets

You are the tarp you made that protects your foyer
And the pieces of dark sturdy wood that bind your house
That is still there when I come over

You gave life to the thanksgiving party
Cranberry cider and shrimp chips fizz in my mouth

On the top of your tall staircase is
A party of rubber ducks with various costumes
You make ME look forward to growing up
So I can buy my own house

I will buy rubber ducks
And through living, I will become a house

You are life at the purest form,
I love you Yee Ma

*Copyright © 2022 by Vincent Tsan. Broadside illustrated by Christian Anne Smith.

Poet’s bio:
“My name is Vincent Tsan. I am 18 years old. This is my first published poem. I will graduate from Sehome High School and plan to attend WWU. My favorite food is either dumplings or char siu bao (Chinese Barbecue Pork bread). ‘Yee Ma and her Homey Vibe’ is about being excited to grow up. Yee Ma means Aunt in Cantonese, which is my native tongue. Her home is one of my favorite places in the world and I celebrate many fun holidays at her house. I want a house like hers when it is the time for me to buy my own home.”

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.

ideas we love

May 13, 2023

Members of Olympia High School’s Poetry Club (above) created a school-wide poetry installation project to promote National Poetry Month in April. Club poets wrote prompts for short poems on cardstock leaves and distributed them to English teachers, asking them to have their students write corresponding poems on the back of the leaves. The leaves are displayed on a ‘Poet-tree’ at the student entrance of the school (below, and behind students, above). Well done, poets!

. . . . .
photos by Carolyn Gilman
good news courtesy of the Washington State Arts Commission

Zoom poetry

May 12, 2023

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 13, 2023, at 4:00pm Pacific, The Poetry Box LIVE will present three stellar poets reading from their new books: Lana Hechtman Ayers, When All Else Fails; Susan Johnson, The Call Home; and Joel Savishinsky, Our Aching Bones, Our Breaking Hearts. More about the poets here.

PLEASE NOTE – To join the online reading, you must register in advance.

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