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.

meanwhile in Spokane…

January 16, 2021

Browne’s Addition is Spokane’s oldest neighborhood. Chris Cook is Spokane’s Poet Laureate. Where the two meet is one of Cook’s current projects: #onlyinbrownes.

As Cook walks through the neighborhood, he snaps photos of sights that strike him as quirky or unusual and posts them to #onlyinbrownes on Facebook. Now (through February 12, 2021) he’s inviting current or former residents of Spokane and the Spokane area to submit poems paying tribute to Spokane’s neighborhoods. See the guidelines for In the Neighborhood Poetry Project and read more about the project in The Inlander.

Each year, poets in Oregon and elsewhere celebrate the prolific poet William Stafford to mark his January 17 birthday. There seem to be fewer readings than usual this year, but we’ve found these three free online events:

  • Saturday, January 9, 2021, 2:00pm – Milwaukie Poetry Series and the Ledding Library present a William Stafford Birthday Celebration with featured readings and an open mic.
  • Thursday, January 14, 2021, 7:00pm – Southern Oregon University presents the 26th Annual William Stafford Poetry Celebration with featured poets Angela Decker, Barry Vitcov, Susan DuMond, Pepper Trail, Tiel Aisha Ansari, and Michael Dylan Welch, followed by a special presentation by James Armstrong on “William Stafford and Popular Modernism” as well as an open mic.
  • Sunday, January 17, 2021, 3:00pm – Oregon City Public Library presents a William Stafford Poetry Reading by members of the Third Monday Authors Group, plus an open mic.

If you know of other 2021 Stafford celebrations, please feel free to note them in the Comments.

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!

Living Nations, Living Words

November 28, 2020

As you may have heard, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has announced the appointment of U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo to a third term, to begin in September 2021. Harjo is only the second laureate to receive this extension since terms for the position were established in 1943.

Among the laureate’s responsibilities is the creation of a signature project. Hayden’s announcement also marks the launch of Harjo’s signature project, “Living Nations, Living Words.” Designed to “introduce the country to the many Native poets who live in these lands….The ‘Living Nations, Living Words’ project features a sampling of work by 47 Native Nations poets through an interactive ArcGIS Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection.”

“Each of the 47 Native Nations poets featured in ‘Living Nations, Living Words’ selected an original poem on the theme of place and displacement, and with four touchpoints in mind: visibility, persistence, resistance, and acknowledgment.” Forty-seven may not sound like a lot, but this is an ambitious project. Follow the links above to learn about the poets, hear and read the poems, and read transcripts of the poets reading and discussing their poems. All of the material is now archived in the Library of Congress.

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?

meanwhile, in Vermont

September 28, 2020

When Mary Ruefle was appointed Poet Laureate of Vermont in October 2019, she probably was not imagining that her first year (of four) in office would be defined by a pandemic. (Or, for that matter, that her latest collection, Dunce, would be one of two finalists for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in poetry.)

Each laureate envisions projects for their tenure and Ruefle decided to send 1,000 poetry postcards to Vermont residents. Selecting recipients from the phone book using her own quirky system, she sends poems that seem to have a particular resonance to the current moment.

Read about Mary Ruefle’s postcard project here.

. . . . .
photo by Matt Valentine

Amidst plenty of gloomy financial news, the Academy of American Poets has announced awards of $50,000 each to 23 Poets Laureate of states, cities, counties, and the Navajo Nation. Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program is in its second year, with expanded coverage and a change in focus, as poets are subject to travel restrictions and other distancing requirements. You may recall that Claudia Castro Luna’s One River, A Thousand Names project was funded last year.

Cascadia’s sole winner this year is Susan Landgraf, Poet Laureate of Auburn, Washington. A poet and journalist, Landgraf is the author of What We Bury Changes the Ground (Tebot Bach, 2017). She will partner with the Muckleshoot Tribe and Reservation and the City of Auburn to offer poetry workshops at the Tribal School and in the Auburn Public Schools Tribal Programs, as well as for adults and children at the Tribal Center. The project will culminate in a book of participants’ poems, as well as a series of readings on the Reservation, in the City of Auburn, and at the State Capitol.

Congratulations to Susan and all of this year’s grantees!

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