Artists help us to see

November 6, 2021

Dear Friends,   

In the last year and a half, I have really put in the hustle to establish myself as a reliable freelance writer, a warm and insightful guest speaker, an arts lecturer, and a friendly roving poet. I like to think that I have taken care of my community and myself by creating new poems that are infused with light, hope, beauty, and love, and by doing work that has given my tribal community something to celebrate. 

I took the leap and left my secure, tribal government position, knowing that Artist Trust’s Vadon Foundation Fellowship for Native Artists allowed me to take a calculated risk as I accepted an appointment as Washington State Poet Laureate. In this way, Artist Trust’s funding has been hugely beneficial to me, to the Indigenous community, and to the Washington poetry community by making it possible for a candidate that would otherwise be excluded due to economic limitations, to be eligible to take on this very demanding and highly visible role.   

I am ever motivated to share my love of poetry and art; to give to others what so many poets and artists have so generously given to me — a way of seeing the world that helped me see beyond my own experiences — a springboard for my own imagination.

I believe now, more than ever, artists need financial support. We are in a time where it’s going to be crucial to imagine a new world and a new way forward. Your gift to Artist Trust will directly support the artists who are catalysts for this imagining. Creation is our business. We are cultural change agents. Storytellers and artists help us to see the world as it is and as it could be. They offer us new perspectives and entice human culture toward evolution.

The world is made brick by brick of stories, images, and models that take shape in the world first by inspiring a new way of seeing, which evolves into a set of beliefs, then actions, then reality. Who will envision this new reality if our visionaries cannot do their work because they’re forced to choose between making rich men richer with their labor or making the world beautiful through their art?   

Hoykweche,   

Rena Priest

a visit from Rick Steves

October 20, 2021

Rick Steves may be “America’s most respected authority on European travel,” but Washington state is his home base and poetry is on his agenda. With that in mind, Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism invited Rick Steves to sample the local fare, which he did, in three episodes. In the third and final segment, his cultural tour concludes with a poem read by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest. We don’t get to see Rena, but we get a coastal flyover and we hear her voice as she reads her pantoum, “Focus and Circuli: Songs on the Salmon Scale” beginning at about 04:30 on the video timer.

Window on Rena Priest

August 2, 2021

There’s a nice article by Frances Badgett on Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest in the new issue of Window, the magazine of Western Washington University. Have a look at “Ending the Plague with Poetry.”

. . . . .
thanks to Nancy Pagh for the lead

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.

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.”

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