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.

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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:

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