This is a guest post by
Holly J. Hughes

As I write, the rain chants her ancient litany on the skylight. While I’m weary of putting on raingear to walk each day, I’m grateful for lengthening days that bring light to what’s been a dark winter here in the Northwest. For many days now, I’ve turned off the news and turned to the task in front of me: readying for publication I Sing the Salmon Home, a collection of poems about salmon edited by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest, our third project as co-publishers of Empty Bowl Press, the mantle my husband, John Pierce, and I assumed last August.

This project felt right from the start: from my delight in working with Rena, a poet I’ve long admired for her passion, honesty, and sense of humor, to my own decades-long personal connection to salmon, to my growing sense of urgency that we need to act now to have a shot at saving Washington state salmon runs from extinction. Each time I switched off the news, I felt heartened to be working on a project that might make a difference here in our local watershed.

To write my introduction, I reread the speech Ursula Le Guin gave when she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Book Awards in 2014: “We live in capitalism, its power seems unescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.”

In that spirit, Rena cast a wide net. From the more than five hundred poems that were submitted, she selected poems that together speak to the power of our collective relationship with salmon. As we read them, we were deeply moved by the diverse voices: poems expressing admiration for salmon’s indomitable spirit; poems bearing fierce witness; elegies for salmon runs lost; humorous haiku; an address to the Columbia River dam; erasure poems that form lyrics from the language of science. All these poets affirm the power of art to re-imagine and to resist: what writers have been doing for centuries. When the daily news is overwhelming, we need poetry to remind us what matters, to give voice to those who’ve been silenced and those, like the salmon, who can’t speak, yet who, as our Northwest kin, have been stitching the sea and sky together for centuries and who have been — and continue to be — honored and stewarded by local tribes on the Salish Sea since time immemorial.

As we read through the manuscript one last time, we considered how we could amplify these powerful voices. We decided to donate copies to Save Our wild Salmon, a local nonprofit whose mission is “committed to protecting and restoring abundant, self-sustaining fishable populations of salmon and steelhead to the Columbia-Snake River Basin for the benefit of people and ecosystems.” A coalition of northwest and national conservation organizations, as well as local tribes, Save Our wild Salmon has many projects, including breaching the dams on the lower Snake River. According to executive director Joseph Bogard, these copies will be shared with policymakers whose decisions could help determine the future of those salmon runs.

Meanwhile, today, March 9 is Billy Frank, Jr. Day. It seems fitting to end with the words of Nisqually tribal member Billy Frank, Jr., former chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, who devoted his life to fighting for salmon and for treaty rights for his people, and whose words we included as an epigraph: “I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in. Those who learn to listen to the world that sustains them can hear the message brought forth by salmon.”

We hope you’ll help us celebrate in April when the collection is released! We have two readings set up: on Saturday, April 8, 2023, at 2:00pm, a Book Launch/Celebration will be held at the Seattle Public Library in downtown Seattle. Another reading is planned for Monday, April 10, at 4:00pm in the State Reception Room at the Capitol Building in Olympia. As they are planned, we’ll be posting other regional readings on the Empty Bowl website at, so be sure to check back.

Ed. note: While it is not a part of the official rollout of I Sing the Salmon Home, Holly Hughes will host an AWP off-site reading on Saturday, March 11, at 5:00pm at Casey Commons in the Casey Building at Seattle University. Featured readers are Empty Bowl authors Kate Reavey, Ann Spiers, Rebekah Anderson, and Rena Priest.

. . . . .

In addition to serving as co-publisher of Empty Bowl Press, Holly J. Hughes edited Keep a Green Bough: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia, and is the author of Hold Fast and Sailing by Ravens, coauthor of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, and editor of Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease. Her fine-art chapbook Passings received an American Book Award in 2017. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula, where she leads writing and mindfulness workshops, consults as a writing coach, and directs Flying Squirrel Studio, a writing retreat for women on the aboriginal territory of the Suquamish (suq̀ʷabš), who continue to live on and protect the land and waters of their ancestors for future generations. You can find out more at her website:

Saturday evening in Anacortes

February 15, 2023

The Madrona Project: Vol III Number 1: Art in a Public Voice bridges the divide between visual arts and literary arts. In this lavishly illustrated volume, writers respond to public artworks in the state of Washington.

On Saturday, February 25, 2023, at 7:00pm, as part of the bookstore’s ongoing monthly poetry series, a selection of contributing writers will read from the anthology at Pelican Bay Books in Anacortes.

Featured readers
Samuel Green • Sally Green • Michael Daley
Rena Priest • Jill McCabe Johnson • Kevin Miller
Luther Allen • Judy Kleinberg • Ed Harkness
Bill Ransom • Gary Thompson • Jeremy Voigt

Please join us!

This Sunday in Bellingham!

September 16, 2022

This Sunday, September 18, 2022, make your way to the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham for a long-awaited in-person celebration of poetry: SpeakEasy 29: Waymaking. Inspired by the work of Olympia poet Bill Yake, Sunday’s event will feature Bill Yake, Empty Bowl Press, and a stellar group of poets responding to Yake’s poem “Waymaking By Moonlight.” Doors open at 3:30pm, the reading begins at 4:00pm, and it’s entirely free. Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

SpeakEasy returns!

September 9, 2022

The Bellingham-based poetry series returns to in-person programming for the first time since 2019 with SpeakEasy 29: Waymaking.

This audience-friendly afternoon of poetry will feature Bill Yake, Empty Bowl Press, and a curated program of fine poets. The free, public event will be held at the Mount Baker Theatre Encore Room on Sunday, September 18, 2022, at 4:00pm. Masks and proof of vaccination are required.

Poet, naturalist, photographer, traveler, and occasional essayist Bill Yake has been published widely in books, magazines, and anthologies. His book Waymaking by Moonlight (Empty Bowl Press) and the title poem were inspiration for this SpeakEasy.

In addition to Bill Yake, Empty Bowl Press will be represented by newly announced co-owner Holly J. Hughes along with Marie Eaton, Kathryn P. Humes, and Lois Holub.

Reading their own poems in response to Bill Yake’s poem “Waymaking by Moonlight” will be Barbara Bloom, Nancy Canyon, Linda Conroy, Rick Hermann, David M. Laws, Charles Luckmann, Jerry Dale McDonnell, Victor Ortiz, Dayna Patterson, Raúl Sánchez, Leslie Wharton, and Richard Widerkehr.

SpeakEasy is an occasional poetry series that emphasizes themed, audience-friendly presentations of quality poetry by Cascadia-region writers. It is produced in Bellingham, Washington, by Luther Allen, author of The View from Lummi Island, and Judy Kleinberg. Please join us!

call for salmon poems!

August 4, 2022

With the support of a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest is creating an anthology of poetry dedicated to salmon, and is calling for submissions from Washington State writers.

“Salmon are the unsung heroes of our region,” she says. “Adventurous and brave, they swim from their natal rivers out into the perils of the open ocean. 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.

“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 huge part of our regional identity, and I hope you will submit a poem or two about our iconic wild salmon.”

This project is supported in part by Humanities WA, the Washington State Arts Commission, and the Academy of American Poets. Empty Bowl Press will publish the anthology in 2023.

The submission deadline is September 18, 2022. See the complete guidelines here.

Mark your calendar for Friday, May 27, 2022, 7:00pm, when contributors to The Madrona Project #3: Human Communities in Wild Places will read live, in person, at Pelican Bay Books in Anacortes. The new volume from Empty Bowl is edited by Michael Daley and features the writing of 73 contributors. The evening’s readers will include Luther Allen, Michael Daley, Virginia Hietpas, Georgia Johnson, and Bob Rose, as well as 2021 and 2022 Washington State Poetry Out Loud champion and Student Poet Laureate Lucy Shainin reading her work.

Oh, how we’ve missed these live, in-person gatherings and oh, how happy we are to see them emerging once again.

Tomorrow, Friday, April 29, 2022, at 7:00pm, Empty Bowl presents a reading by Jessica Gigot and Gary Thompson with musical accompaniment by Erik Christensen at Pelican Bay Books in Anacortes.

Finding Light Together

December 21, 2021

This is a guest post by Holly J. Hughes

To share stories during dark times has long been a necessary, radical act.
~ from the Introduction to
Keep a Green Bough: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia

As I write this, we’re losing just four seconds of light each day as we approach the winter solstice, when the days will begin to stretch longer again. This incremental, daily loss of light is elemental as gravity, our seasonal rhythm, but for the last two years, the darkness has felt darker, deeper. And for the last two months, I’ve had to look hard each day to find the glimmers of light that sustain me. I know they’re there — all I need do is step out my door to see them: rain-slick rhododendron leaves, abandoned apple trees still holding a few apples, bright berries of the madrona, billowing clouds that part for a few stray rays of sun. But some days even those glimpses aren’t enough. For me, one of the enduring lessons of the pandemic is that we’re in this together — and that’s when I turn to other writers to help sustain my spirit.

A year ago, I was invited by the publisher of Empty Bowl Press to edit an issue of The Madrona Project. Responding to the mission of Empty Bowl as a publisher of “literature that reveals human communities in wild places,” I put out a call for submissions, asking my sister writers how living in our Cascadia bioregion has sustained them during the past challenging year. I was hopeful that in these divisive times, this invitation might offer a way to come together around this place and our shared common fate.

My hope was to express the diversity of voices in the Cascadia bioregion, so I reached out to many writers, starting with those who’ve lived here since Time Immemorial, as well as women working the land and the sea. My inbox was soon overflowing with poems, essays, and art reflecting not just the beauty of our place but the resiliency of the human spirit. As the voices came together, the title, too, came: Keep a Green Bough: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia, after the Chinese saying, “Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come.”

Keep a Green Bough has been out in the world for six months now. From the amazing turnout at our Finnriver farm launch to our last Zoom reading hosted by Peninsula College’s ʔaʔkʷustəŋáw̕txʷ House of Learning, those in the audience have been visibly touched and, I hope, heartened. Each time we read together, I find myself in tears at the end, moved by the beauty and power of words spoken honestly, and the resilience not only of the human spirit but of all our kin.

For me, this collection has become a steady reminder of what was affirmed last year: how essential that we connect with our living Earth and witness her human history, even the painful parts, then join together to do all we can to create a just and sustainable future for all beings.

As Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us, this is the role of the poet:

O tell us, poet, what do you do? — I praise.
But those dark, deadly, devastating ways,
how do you bear them, suffer them? — I praise.

. . . . .

In addition to editing Keep a Green Bough: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia, Holly J. Hughes is the author of Hold Fast and Sailing by Ravens, coauthor of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, and editor of Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease. Her fine-art chapbook Passings received an American Book Award in 2017. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula, where she leads writing and mindfulness workshops, consults as a writing coach, and directs Flying Squirrel Studio, a writing retreat for women on the aboriginal territory of the Suquamish (suq̀ʷabš), who continue to live on and protect the land and waters of their ancestors for future generations. You can find out more at her website:

author photo by John Pierce

best selling

September 3, 2021

Nice to see two Cascadia-region publishers (Empty Bowl and Fonograf) and five titles among the top twenty poetry bestsellers for August from Small Press Distribution! All available through your favorite independent bookseller.

meanwhile on Vashon Island

August 20, 2021

Back in 2016, we introduced the Vashon Poetry Post in a conversation with Vashon Island’s inaugural poet laureate, Ann Spiers. The Poetry Post is still there, and so is Ann Spiers, who is busier than ever, though Sandra Noel has recently been appointed poet laureate.

In fact, Spiers has a brand-new, full-length book of poems, Rain Violent, published by Empty Bowl Press.

On a recent hot, smoky day, Elizabeth Shepherd sat in her battery-operated, air-conditioned Nissan Leaf to write this review of Spiers’s collection, which we happened upon in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.

It’s not the easiest time to launch a book, so we’re happy to see that Rain Violent is available through Empty Bowl and independent bookstores everywhere.

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