This evening, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at 6:00pm Pacific, you are invited to celebrate Rena Priest’s appointment by Governor Jay Inslee as Washington State’s 6th Poet Laureate. This very special event is organized and hosted by the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Humanities Washington, ArtsWA (the WA State Arts Commission), and the Washington Center for the Book. Past Laureates Claudia Castro Luna, Tod Marshall, Elizabeth Austen, Kathleen Flenniken, and Sam Green (in absentia) will be honored guests as we gather to pass the laurel in an evening of poetry, speech, and song. Produced by Children of the Setting Sun Productions.

Register here.

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Rena Priest has been appointed 2021-2023 Washington State Poet Laureate by Governor Jay Inslee.

A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Priest will be the first Indigenous poet to assume the role. Priest’s literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with the 2018 American Book Award, and her most recent work is Sublime Subliminal.

The two-year term officially begins April 15, 2021. She will succeed Claudia Castro Luna, the current poet laureate. Prior to Castro Luna the position was held by Tod Marshall (2016-2018), Elizabeth Austen (2014–2016), Kathleen Flenniken (2012–2014), and Sam Green (2007–2009).

“I am incredibly excited and honored to take on this role,” said Priest. “I’m fascinated by the way people come together around poetry. I am always delighted by how they gather in quiet rooms and let themselves be drawn in, lit up, and transformed by the words of other people. It’s a powerful way of connecting.”

The Washington State Poet Laureate program is jointly sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA). Poets laureate work to build awareness and appreciation of poetry — including the state’s legacy of poetry — through public readings, workshops, lectures, and presentations in communities throughout the state.

“The position of Poet Laureate in our state is so much more than ceremonial,” said Humanities Washington CEO Julie Ziegler. “It’s a dedicated outreach position where you meet with thousands of people each year, using poetry and language as a starting point for connection.”

Laureates are selected through an application and panel review process that evaluates candidates’ writing acumen, commitment to reaching diverse communities, and experience promoting poetry.

“The panel was impressed by Rena’s skill and compelling nature of her poetry and work,” said ArtsWA Executive Director Karen Hanan. “She was also chosen for the depth and breadth of her connections to communities and her capacity to further extend those connections through her role as State Poet Laureate.”

Each laureate puts their own unique focus on the position, and Priest will focus on two primary goals during her term: celebrating poetry in Washington’s tribal communities; and using poetry to increase appreciation of the natural world and the threats facing it.

“There are 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington, composed of 140,714 tribal citizens,” said Priest. “I’m sad to say that in the hundreds of poetry readings I’ve attended over the years, I’ve only met a handful of Native poets. I know that this is not because we don’t exist, but because we don’t have the same access to writing communities as people living in cities and towns.”

For the environmental piece, she “hopes to use poetry and story to invite readers to engage in contemplation of how they can help protect the natural world.”

“We are in an important historical moment when science has given us a deadline to make significant changes to heal our planet,” she said. “I want to use poetry as a tool to offer new perspectives and generate enthusiasm for the idea that we can slow and reverse the effects of ecological destruction simply by loving the Earth.”

Priest was drawn to poetry from an early age. Her grandmother published a small chapbook of poetry, and she cites that and Shel Silverstein’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends as “among the finest gifts I’ve ever been given.” And as a child, Priest would lie in bed at night and “whisper pleasing word combinations. It was the best thing I knew how to do. It’s still the best thing I know how to do.”

In addition to winning the American Book Award for Patriarchy Blues, Priest’s latest book is Sublime Subliminal. She has received the Allied Arts Foundation 2020 Professional Poets Award, and residency fellowships from Hawthornden Castle, Hedgebrook, and Mineral School. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Vadon Foundation Fellowship. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a 2019 Jack Straw Writer. Priest’s work can be found in Poetry Northwest, Pontoon Poetry, Verse Daily, Poem-a-Day at Poets.org, and elsewhere. She has taught Comparative Cultural Studies and Contemporary American Issues at Western Washington University and Native American Literature at Northwest Indian College. Priest holds a BA in English from Western Washington University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.

“Poetry is a gift,” said Priest. “This is my approach to it and my belief about it: I’m very lucky to have it. We all are.”

a new laureate

March 27, 2021

It’s poet laureate season and congratulations are in order to the following new poets laureate, who will serve their communities from 2021 to 2023.

Armin Tolentino has been selected as Poet Laureate for Clark County, Washington. He will take over from Gwendolyn Morgan on April 1, 2021. Read the story in Clark County Today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In Auburn, Washington, James Rodgers is the new Poet Laureate, taking over from Susan Landgraf.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Meanwhile, in Tacoma, Lydia K. Valentine has accepted the laurels from Abby E. Murray. More about Lydia here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We are likely to hear additional announcements soon, including the identity of the much-anticipated Washington State Poet Laureate, who will take over from the beloved and long-serving Claudia Castro Luna.

. . . . .
Tolentino photo
Rodgers photo
Valentine photo

better than flowers

February 8, 2021

Sunday, February 14, 2021, is Valentine’s Day and here are a couple of sweet options.

The League of Canadian Poets presents Poetry in Union. You book a 15-minute time slot (7:00am to 1:00pm Pacific) with a Canadian poet and after a brief conversation you will receive a poem written specially for you and your sweetheart. Advance booking recommended.

From Noon to 3:00pm on Sunday, the Olympia Poetry Network (OPN) and Cultivating Voices LIVE Poetry presents an international celebration of poets laureate: Laureate Lovefest. Poets laureate from Ireland, Canada, and across the U.S. will participate in a three-hour lovefest of readings and conversation, including special video readings by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and current U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. See the lineup (including Claudia Castro Luna, Kim Stafford, and former Youth Poet Laureat of Seattle Azura Tyabji) and register here.

Thank you!

December 22, 2020

Year in and year out, whatever the circumstances, our poets laureate encourage and support the presence of poetry in our lives. If they’re paid, it’s a pittance, though they say the rewards are considerable. Some laureates serve for a year, some for two, some, well, just serve. At the close of this highly irregular year, some of our regional poets laureate are completing their terms, others are continuing behind the scenes to figure out ways to bring poetry into our homes and hearts during 2021. This post is simply an acknowledgment and thank you to this group of creative individuals. You are appreciated!

(pictured from left)
Top row
Claudia Castro Luna (Washington); Susan Landgraf (Auburn); Tia Hudson (Bremerton)
Second row
Gwendolyn Morgan (Clark Co., WA); Sady Sparks (Olympia); Raúl Sánchez (Redmond)
Third row
Jourdan Imani Keith (Seattle Civic Poet); Bitaniya Giday (Seattle Youth Poet Laureate); Chris Cook (Spokane)
Bottom row
Abby E. Murray (Tacoma); Susan Lynch (Vashon); Anis Mojgani (Oregon)

If we’ve missed anyone, apologies, and please let us know in the Comments. Also, we note that Ellensburg, Washington, has recently approved a city poet laureate position, but has not yet named the first poet to serve.

THANK YOU, poets laureate!

Mapping Literary Utah

November 9, 2020

We’ve mentioned various poetry-mapping projects, including Washington Poetry Routes, and here’s another worthwhile addition to the list: Mapping Literary Utah. Created by Paisley Rekdal, Utah’s fifth poet laureate, the archive includes poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction by hundreds of native-born Utahns, current residents, and writers who spent a significant period of their creative life in the state.

Among the writers is Dayna Patterson, who will be teaching a two-hour poetry workshop, “Exploring the Feminine Divine,” this Saturday, November 14, 2020, and will also be one of five featured poets the same evening for SpeakEasy 27: A Spiritual Thread.

LiTFUSE 2021!

October 28, 2020

Yes, September 2021 is a long way off, but if you’ve ever felt the disappointment of signing up for a master class only to find it full, now is your chance! LiTFUSE 2021 will be held September 24-26, in Tieton, Washington (“fingers crossed,” as Program Director Lauren Westerfield says), and pre-registration is now open for master classes with Claudia Castro Luna, Camille Dungy, and Brooke Matson.

your turn?

October 24, 2020

Applications are now being accepted for the position of Washington State Poet Laureate.

The position serves to build awareness and appreciation of poetry through public readings, workshops, and presentations in communities throughout the state.

The new laureate will serve from April 15, 2021-April 14, 2023. The position is sponsored by the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) and Humanities Washington, with the support of Governor Jay Inslee.

To be considered, applicants must meet all eligibility requirements and submit an application online. Applications must be submitted electronically by 5:00 p.m. on December 4, 2020.

Those wishing to apply are encouraged to attend a webinar on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, at 3:00 p.m. or Wednesday, October 28 at 5:00 p.m.

The current poet laureate is the wonderful Claudia Castro Luna (a hard act to follow, as were her predecessors). A Washington State Book Award-nominated poet and creator of Washington Poetic Routes and One River, Many Voices series of readings along the Columbia River, Castro Luna has held hundreds of poetry workshops and readings across Washington State since February 2018. See more on the Washington State Poet Laureate blog.

Is it your turn?

Seismic

September 8, 2020

Seattle was designated as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017. But long before that title became official, local writers had begun reflecting on what it would mean to the citizens and the character of the city. They have continued to do so, and now Kristen Millares Young has collected and edited an anthology of essays by local writers, Seismic: Seattle, City of Literature, to be published this month.

Read an article by Trevor Lenzmeier in The Seattle Times and an excerpt by Claudia Castro Luna in Crosscut.

The Seattle Public Library will host a virtual release party for Seismic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, at 7:00pm. The event is free, but registration is required.


Image credit: Seattle Early Music

This is a guest post by
Jennifer Bullis

In January 2018, out of the blue, I received an email from a composer in Seattle. He wanted to compose a cantata about the mythical Sirens, he explained, and was looking for a librettist. He had an idea: to seek a poet to write the lyrics. Standing in Elliott Bay Book Store, browsing the recently published Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, he flipped to the mythology section, where a poem of mine happened to appear. When he contacted me, I was intrigued by his concept and by the prospect of working with someone in a different artistic medium. Thus began my collaboration with Aaron Grad on “Honey-Sweet We Sing for You.”

Aaron detailed for me his ideas for the cantata and his reasons for choosing the Sirens as his subject. Inspired by the #MeToo movement and Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, he wanted to compose an original piece reimagining the story of the Sirens from their own point of view. Based on his idea, Early Music Seattle was planning a myth-themed concert of short pieces by Baroque-era composers, highlighting women’s stories and voices, for the 2019-2020 season.

This collaboration has been an education and a joy for me at every phase of the process. Aaron asked me to draft the libretto first, and then he composed the music to it, and we worked together to revise the libretto as the whole cantata took shape. Initially, to help me prepare to write, Aaron gave me a fascinating crash course in operatic vocal composition and the cantata form. I learned, for example, about recitative and aria passages, including the good and necessary “rage aria,” a section conveying the character’s fury at being wronged.

Developing the content, I got to research other versions of the Sirens myth, and found useful models for transformation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It offered Aaron and me a different way into the Sirens narrative, one that de-centers Odysseus and his sailors and focuses instead on the Sirens’ original devotion to, loss of, and search to recover the goddess Persephone after her abduction by Hades. In this new context, the Sirens’ songs of enchantment can be imagined as not only a seductive lure to sailors, but as cries of outrage, grief, and searching. “We sing for her,” sings the soprano voice in the cantata’s final recitative; “We sing for all our sisters.” The program’s title was adapted from this lyric.

Since planning for “For All Our Sisters” began, it expanded to include even more women’s voices and artistic forms. EMS Executive Director Gus Denhard commissioned Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna to narrate the program and perform original poems, and Seattle dancer Milvia Pacheco to choreograph and perform an original dance.

The live performance was scheduled for May 30th, but because of the pandemic is being rescheduled. In the meantime, Early Music Seattle is posting an exciting series of videos in which the program’s musicians and other artistic contributors, filming from home, present excerpts and discuss their visions for amplifying women’s voices through their performances. You can watch these videos on Early Music Seattle, with new videos posted weekly, and enjoy these artistic collaborations highlighting women’s voices and stories.

In addition to the links embedded above, learn more at:

. . . . .
Jennifer Bullis is the author of the chapbook Impossible Lessons (MoonPath Press). Her poems and essays appear in Verse Daily, Cave Wall, Water~Stone Review, Terrain.org, Cherry Tree, Gulf Coast, and Under a Warm Green Linden. She is nominee for Pushcart and Best New Poets awards, and is recipient of an Artsmith Residency fellowship. Her full-length manuscripts have been finalists for the Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes for Poetry and the Moon City Poetry Award.

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