Earthlings*

January 31, 2021


2020 Merit Award
By Steve Hood

Panda bears of the sea, killer whales
like to eat seals that eat fish that eat plankton.

Orcas like to jump into the air like majestic
reminders of the beauty of nature.

Blue skies, clouds, San Juan Islands
mark the world whales can only glimpse

before they return to their cold, liquid
home in the vast ocean at the dawn

of a new day on Earth as the watery globe
turns slowly in outer space.

*Copyright 2020 by Steve Hood. Broadside illustrated by Kim Wulfestieg.

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.

orcas in Seattle, tonight!

November 12, 2019

Hear scientists and writers discuss the fate of the endangered Southern Resident orcas and read from the anthology, For Love of Orcas (Wandering Aengus Press, 2019), tonight, Tuesday, November 12, 2019, at 7:00pm, at Hugo House. Featured readers include Sarah DeWeerdt, Bob Friel, Paula MacKay, Brenda Miller, and Adrienne Ross Scanlon. The reading and talk, which is free and open to the public, will be moderated by anthology co-editor and poet Jill McCabe Johnson. Details and participant bios at Hugo House.

holiday weekend

June 29, 2019

As you’re lining up events for your holiday weekend, please plan to join the editors and contributors to For Love of Orcas on Sunday, July 7, 2019, at 4:00pm, at Village Books in Bellingham, for a reading of work from the anthology.

hear the whales singing

April 26, 2019

Next Friday, May 3, 2019, Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre Encore Room will host a chorus of poetry in tribute to whales as SpeakEasy 24: For Love of Orcas celebrates the publication of a new anthology edited by Andrew Shattuck McBride and Jill McCabe Johnson to address the plight of the southern resident orcas, chinook salmon, and their extended ecosystem.

The evening’s readers/contributors include Luther Allen, James Bertolino, Anita K. Boyle, Nancy Canyon, Susan Chase-Foster, Seren Fargo, Jessica Gigot, Mary Elizabeth Gillilan, Carol Guess, Julie B. Hunter, Jill McCabe Johnson, J.I. Kleinberg, David M. Laws, Rob Lewis, Carole MacRury, Christen Mattix, Andrew Shattuck McBride, JS Nahani, Cynthia Neely, Paul E. Nelson, Sheila Nickerson, Nancy Pagh, Betty Scott, Carla Shafer, and Sheila Sondik,
with additional work by Ronda Piszk Broatch, Sam Hamill, Jim Milstead, and Alina Stefanescu

The event, which starts at 7:00pm, is free and copies of For Love of Orcas, as well as other books by participating poets, will be available for purchase and signing.

The Blue Whale*

August 5, 2018


2018 Merit Award
By Elizabeth Vignali

I was lamplight when night fell. I was speared
and flensed, minced and melted.

I was notched from upper jaw to tail fluke
with your insufficient rulers.

I was lather and varnish, fabric and rope.
I was corset, collar, whip and toy.

You brought home my rorqual heart.
Displayed my boat-large parchment

skull in dusty museums.
You drove cars beneath my arched ribs.

But you could not catch my decibel moan,
my hymn to the silver path.

I am barnacle coven and seaweed plantation.
I am a salt-slapped planet to a thousand

open-mouthed moons. We sing louder than your
engines. We sing despite the sonar shroud.

. . . . .
*Copyright 2018 by Elizabeth Vignali. Broadside illustrated by Christian Anne Smith.

now sounding

March 25, 2016

Moby Dick Big Read

It’s been several years since we mentioned Moby-Dick Big Read and it definitely seems worth a reminder. Out of a symposium convened in 2011 at Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University, UK, by artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare was born an online version of Melville’s epic tome, each of the book’s 135 chapters read aloud by voices celebrated and unknown and broadcast online, public and freely accessible. With readers from Tilda Swinton to Mary Oliver, each chapter is accompanied by a piece of artwork.

Listen at Moby Dick Big Read, read along with your copy of the book, or, as you listen, look at Moby-Dick through the eyes of artist Matt Kish, whose book Moby-Dick in Pictures (Tin House 2011) offers an illustration for every page of the original book.

Placard design by Egress Studio
2009 Merit Award
I Build You a House of Whale Bones*
By Brenda Beehler

jailed on a beach in winter
lodged among lungs, left-over fish
we waited for the whale to spit us out
counting barnacles to pass time

handcuffed to the ribcage ‘longside you
I dreamed the day the whale would die
decay ‘round us
I’d find keys to the cuffs, unlatch your wrists

then swath the skeleton in rags from my dresses
we’d build balconies of sun-bleached bones
and gather feathers for our bed
plant roses near sea grasses
that they might twist their heads
inside the slats and brighten our quarters
but they would never
not in a garden of sand and saltwater

during this forever you’d twist your frame over
my skirts, bring me gifts of eggs and lavender
things not made on beaches

we’ve been waiting forty days
‘prisoned in the belly of this beluga
punishment for misters and mistresses
who dare to stare into the sun

*Copyright 2009 by Brenda Beehler. This poem is included in POETRY WALK: Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest – The First Five Years. Info: Book!
Placard design by Egress Studio.

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