The SpeakEasy poetry series is honored to feature Rena Priest, the new Washington State Poet Laureate, at SpeakEasy 28: Homecoming. Presented on Zoom on Saturday, April 24, 2021, at 7:00pm Pacific, the reading will also include Rena’s poet/mentors James Bertolino, Anita K. Boyle, Nancy Pagh, and Jeanne Yeasting. For a Zoom link, please send an email to othermindpress AT gmail.com.

sale on classes!

April 15, 2021

If you were thinking about taking a class at Hugo House this spring but hadn’t quite gotten around to signing up, now’s your big chance. Hugo House is having a flash sale, today, April 15, through Sunday, April 18, 2021, (11:59pm Pacific). Sign up now and all classes will be 15% off with the code SPRING21.

There are wonderful courses on offer, including, for example, a single-session course with Kim Stafford (April 16) and another with our new state poet laureate, Rena Priest (April 17).

View the catalog and sign up now with the code SPRING21.

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.”

Poetry of Revolt

January 13, 2021

The 23rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference presented by the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force will include a variety of events, workshops, and presentations, including Poetry of Revolt.

This free online gathering of diverse poets from Cascadia and beyond will celebrate poetry as a form of resistance, revolt, and healing. Performers include Rena Priest, Romeo Romero, Danny Canham, PoetryNMotion, and others. Poetry of Revolt will livestream on Facebook tomorrow, Thursday, January 14, 2021, 5:30pm.

Listen to Margaret Bikman’s interview with Rena Priest about the Poetry of Revolt today, January 13, at Noon, 4:00pm, and 9:00pm, on KMRE 102.3FM or find the podcast on the KMRE Arts & Entertainment Spotlight.

This is a guest post by Rena Priest.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.” Virginia Woolf

I first read this quote from “A Room of One’s Own” while lounging in a bathtub in Spokane. I was 19, and it was cold, and a hot bath was the best, cheapest way to stay warm. I was very poor, and this idea that writing what you wanted was more precious than silver, well, it was exhilarating.

For many years I stayed true. I said as much of what I wanted to say as my abilities would allow. But recently, I’ve felt daunted by having so little to show for the years and effort I’ve devoted to writing. What I “want” to write has changed. I no longer want to write the truth in my soul. My soul has too much grief, too many expletives, and not enough flowers, birds, or sunsets to appeal to mainstream poetry audiences.

These days, I want to write the kind of poem that I can screen print on a pillow and sell on Instagram by the truckload. I want to write a sing-song children’s book that will fly off the shelves like hot-cakes so that I can cast off the shackles of my student loans.

Last year, for the first time, I made sacrifices from the hair of the head of my vision and went for the silver pot. At the urging of a colleague, I applied for and was awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society to write about a captive killer whale. I did the work. I researched, and I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again until I had a draft of something that someone else would perhaps pay money to read.

In the beginning, it wasn’t writing that I wanted to do so much as writing that must be done. I was doing it for the cause, and the byline. Eventually, the story drew me in. It raised questions in me. I became deeply invested in the whale’s fate. The more I learned about her, the more imperative it became to share her story. Nothing has ever felt so important to get right as the story of this whale, and I have never been so engrossed or challenged in my writing.

In the end, my vision aligned with the work, bringing me to this conclusion: If you don’t want to write something, you’ll half-ass it for a while until you chuck it and start over, or you won’t do it. But if you give yourself to the writing — authentically give yourself to it — you’ll be true to your vision. It can’t be otherwise. Not “a shade of its colour” will be sacrificed.

Publishing, however, is a whole other story. 😉

. . . . .

Read “A captive orca and a chance for our redemption” by Rena Priest, just published in High Country News.

. . . . .

Rena Priest is a poet and a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. Her literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with a 2018 American Book Award. Her most recent collection, Sublime Subliminal, was published by Floating Bridge Press. Priest’s work can be found in literary journals and anthologies including: For Love of Orcas, Pontoon, and Poetry Northwest. She has attended residencies at Hawthornden Castle, Hedgebrook, and Mineral School. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a Jack Straw Writer (2019). She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

tonight in Seattle

January 16, 2020

It’s Thursday, January 16, 2020, and that means it’s time to crawl out of your snow cave, strap on your snowshoes, and go hear some live poetry. Tonight at Common AREA Maintenance in Belltown, Margin Shift Presents this stellar lineup: Sarah A. Chavez, Anne Liu Kellor, Rena Priest, and Suzanne Bottelli. Doors open at 6:30pm. Go!

Poem Booth time again!

January 7, 2020

The Bellingham Poem Booth once again invites submissions from Whatcom County, Washington, residents. The winning poem is displayed for three months on the Forest Street side of the downtown Bellingham Co-op. Winning and runner-up poems are posted on the Poem Booth blog. The deadline is midnight, Saturday, February 15, 2020 and the guidelines are here.

The Poem Booth, which has been ably guided by a handful of volunteers since its inception, now has a new team: John S. Green, Rachel Mehl, Rena Preist, Sheila Sondik, and Elizabeth Vignali.

Jack Straw voices

November 2, 2019

You have two opportunities to hear the 2019 Jack Straw Writers, this year selected by curator (and former Washington State Poet Laureate) Kathleen Flenniken.

Today, Saturday, November 2, 2019, at 2:00pm, the Downtown Seattle Public Library will present new work by Dianne Aprile, Shankar Narayan, Rena Priest, Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Samar Abulhassan, Christianne Balk, Leanne Dunic, Michael Schmeltzer, Josh Axelrad, Gabrielle Bates, and Suzanne Warren, hosted by Kathleen Flenniken.

Tomorrow, Village Books in Bellingham will host a six-pack of Jack Straw writers reading selections from the 2019 Jack Straw Writers Anthology. Join the audience at 4:00pm to hear Dianne Aprile, Christianne Balk, Leanne Dunic, Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Rena Priest, and Suzanne Warren.

Both readings are free.

More about Jack Straw.

tonight! Seattle!

November 3, 2018

Come hear a rollicking collection of voices at a MoonPath Press reading curated by Risa Denenberg, tonight, Saturday, November 3, 2018, at 7:00pm, at Open Books in Seattle. The stellar lineup features MoonPath poets Ronda Piszk Broatch, Glenna Cook, Alice Derry, Lorraine Ferra, Christopher J. Jarmick, Carol Levin, Rena Priest, Raul Sanchez, and Connie K Walle. See the poets’ bios here, then join them in person.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: