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:

Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest opened the January 10, 2023, session of the Washington State legislature with her poem “These Abundant and Generous Homelands.” Her reading, and the full text of Rena’s poem, can be viewed on YouTube.

poetry and conversation

January 11, 2023

Join Laura Da’ (Eastern Shawnee), Rena Priest (Lummi, current Washington State Poet Laureate), Cedar Sigo (Suquamish), and Arianne True (Choctaw, Chickasaw), in person or online as they read selections from their work and speak about poetry and the world through an Indigenous lens. Hosted by Linley Logan, the FREE event is taking place on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, at 7:00pm, in Olympia at s’gʷi gʷi ʔ altxʷ: House of Welcome, and will also be livestreamed. Register on eventbrite to participate in-person (nearly sold out!) or online.

The Larger Voice

November 6, 2022

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) advances equity and cultural knowledge, focusing on the power of arts and collaboration to strengthen Native communities and promote positive social change with American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples in the United States.

The NACF National Artist Fellowship initiative was built around the fact that in order for any artist to succeed creatively, they need time, space, and financial support to cultivate their creative process, improve their craft, explore new concepts and, for some, take risks that they might not have had the capacity to take otherwise.

The Larger Voice: Celebrating the Work of Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Literature Fellows is a new publication by NACF that highlights the work of National Artist Fellows in literature. Edited by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest, the collection features cover art by Dyani White Hawk Polk (Sičáŋǧu Lakota), a foreword by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Mvskoke), and selected works by Sherwin Bitsui (Diné), Laura Da’ (Eastern Shawnee), Natalie Diaz (Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe), Heid E. Erdrich (Ojibwe Turtle Mountain), Kelli Jo Ford (Citizen of the Cherokee Nation), Santee Frazier (Citizen of the Cherokee Nation), Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), Layli Long Soldier (Citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation), Mona Susan Power (Enrolled Member of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation), Luci Tapahonso (Diné), David Treuer (Ojibwe), Michael Wasson (Nez Perce [Nimíipuu]), and Elizabeth Woody (The Confederated Tribes of the Reservation at Warm Springs, Oregon).

Read The Larger Voice on issuu or request a PDF.

your turn

October 26, 2022

Rena Priest (along with Claudia Castro Luna, Tod Marshall, Elizabeth Austen, Kathleen Flenniken, and Sam Green) has set a very high bar, but if you have the energy, personality, poetry chops, time, organizational skills, flexibility, and interest, applications (and nominations) are now open for the 2023-2025 Washington State Poet Laureate.

see you in La Conner!

October 5, 2022

The Skagit River Poetry Festival gets going tomorrow, Thursday, October 6, 2022, with a soirée at Maple Hall in La Conner followed by a special reading: Welcome to Indian Country: A Reading to Celebrate our First Nation Roots, with Rena Priest, Sasha LaPointe, and Ray Young Bear, Music & Blessing with Kevin Paul and Katherine Paul of Black Belt Eagle Scout.

On Friday, high school students from eight local districts will attend four sessions of panels and readings. The public is invited to attend additional panels on Friday afternoon beginning at 2:30pm, and an all-poets reading at Maple Hall at 7:30pm Friday.

A dazzling array of panels continues through Saturday, 8:00am to 5:00pm, and the festival culminates with a special reading by Lorna Crozier, Terrance Hayes, Jane Hirshfield, and Karen Solie: Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness & Connection.

See the Schedule with the complete list of activities, sessions, and faculty. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.

Hope to see you there!

award, reading, conversation

September 22, 2022

Every two years, The Seattle Foundation at the University of Washington awards the Maxine Cushing Gray Endowed Libraries Visiting Writers Fellowship to “an established prose writer, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist or critic, who is a writer of sustained achievement and whose intent is serious and talent noteworthy with roots in the Pacific Northwest.” The award is named in honor of Maxine Cushing Gray, who was a prominent Northwest critic and editor.

Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest was named the 2022 Maxine Cushing Grey Distinguished Writers Fellow, and on Tuesday, October 18, 2022, at 6:00pm, she will present an online reading to be followed by a conversation with UW Tacoma professor Danica Miller, with an opportunity for audience questions afterward.

Mark your calendar and Register to participate in this free event.

. . . . .
Thanks to Peter Messinger for the heads up!

Spend an evening at the lovely Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon as Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest offers a reading followed by a generative poetry workshop. The event, on Saturday, September 3, 2022, at 7:30pm, is entirely FREE, thanks to Humanities Washington, the Washington State Arts Commission, Skagit River Poetry Foundation, Skagit Land Trust, and Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.

. . . . .
photo by Calvin Miller (@cmjphotojournal)

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.

reserve your seat!

June 3, 2022

If you think that Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest just sits around waiting for the muse, think again! In addition to fulfilling her geographically challenging laureate duties, writing articles and poems, leading classes and workshops, and pursuing numerous community projects, Rena has found time to work with illustrator Jake Stoumbos on a new book: Northwest Know-how: Beaches.

Described as being “Entertaining, educational and highly giftable,” the book features descriptions of more than 30 beaches in Washington and Oregon, providing tips for visiting, fun facts, natural history, poetry, and lore.

Village Books and the North Cascades Institute invite you to join Rena and Jake for their book launch, presented as part of the Nature of Writing series on Friday, June 10, 2022, at 7:00pm, in the Readings Gallery at Village Books in Bellingham.

PLEASE NOTE: Village Books is still operating at limited capacity for in-person events. Proof of full vaccination is required, masking is optional, and advance registration is strongly recommended.

%d bloggers like this: