Washington State Poet Laureate

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Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Work Still Undone

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It seems impossible to think of Dr. King, and to celebrate his achievements and his legacy, without also thinking of the ways his dream has not yet been fully realized. I want to recommend a few articles and books that have helped me think and feel more complexly about the moment we are living in, regarding racial justice.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (This piece in the New Yorker gives an excellent summation of why this book is an urgent, essential read.) Personally, I’ll just say that one of the (many) astonishing things about Citizen is the way it made me feel how exhausting it must be to resist the casual, thoughtless racial bias that still permeates our culture.

Mosaic” by Tim Seibles. A little taste here (the whole poem is online in Poetry):

In America skin was
where you belonged,     a who
you were     with, a reason

someone might: how — at the

parties     of hands unknown —

astonishing deaths
could meet you.

I’ve been a fan of Seibles’ work for a long time, this poem gathers together all his powers. (I also highly recommend his collection Fast Animal, which, like Citizen, was a finalist for the National Book Award. No one’s voice is quite like Seibles.)

The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I suspect that much of the history in this long essay in The Atlantic is far too familiar to African-Americans. I knew a little about discriminatory housing practices, but I didn’t know how flagrantly and persistently the U.S. government had perpetuated these.

Finally, I’m listening to the audio book of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings while I drive around the state. It’s so potent, so mesmerizing, so unbelievably beautifully written, I sometimes have to turn it off so I can wrest my attention back to the road. She, of course, has (I can’t quite make myself use the past tense) a gorgeously expressive reading style, and to have Angelou’s company on the road in this way is a gift.


Poetry for All: Generative Writing Workshops in a Community Near You?

"Poetry for All" at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane

“Poetry for All” at Aunties Bookstore in Spokane

Here we are in a new year. Perhaps one of your intentions for 2015 is to write more, to return to writing, or to try writing poetry for the first time? I’m offering generative writing workshops many times and places in the coming months, and would love to see you there.

Here’s where I’ll offer free “Poetry for All” workshops in January (click on the blue text for location info).

Jan. 16: Mount Vernon Library. 4:30 to 6p.

Jan. 21: Northwest Indian College – Nisqually campus (Walker building). 1to 3p.

Jan. 28:  Port Angeles Library. 3:30 to 5p. (This workshop is FULL.)

Poetry for All

Join Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen for a free, hands-on poetry workshop designed to engage participants’ imaginations, life histories and sense of empathy through language. The class includes close reading of a few contemporary poems, then using one as a model for writing our own first draft. No previous writing experience needed, and all are welcome. Maximum 20 participants.

And here’s a list of some of the model poems we’ll read and discuss:

“The Gate” by Marie Howe

“Restoration” by Mary Cornish

“Twenty Years After His Passing, My Father Appears to Us in Chicago, at Bobby Chin’s Crab and Oyster House, in the Guise of Our Waiter, Ramon” by Peter Pereira

“memory” by Lucille Clifton

“Eating Together” by Li-Young Lee


Lines from Mark Strand

I’ve just learned that poet Mark Strand passed away. Here’s one of his remarkable poems, which seems perfect for the day, the season, the political climate:

Lines for Winter


for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

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Veteran and Poet: Interviews from the KUOW archive

This Veteran’s Day, I’m thinking about how much my <limited, civilian> understanding of war has been expanded/complicated by poets who are also veterans. I’ve had the good fortune over the years at KUOW to interview or feature several extraordinary poets who are also veterans. Here are links to a few:

Yusef Komunyakaa, on his collection Warhorses

Brian Turner, reading from Here, Bullet

Christopher Howell, reading “Home Is the Sailor



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Poetry on the road: Day 11, Wenatchee Valley College and Chelan Library

You know how you're never supposed to deface library books? Well, that's still true, but the lovely folks at the Lake Chelan library gave  Stehekin poet David Kurth and I these  very cool art books made by a local artist named

You know how you’re never supposed to deface library books? Well, that’s still true, but the lovely folks at the Lake Chelan library gave Stehekin poet David Kurth and me these very cool art books made by Chelan artist Mary Sherer. (Side note: I don’t know what’s going on with this picture, but do not be fooled by the bizarrely pumped appearance of my left bicep. I am not lifting while on the road, or, er, while at home. iPhone, what filter is that?)

Wonderful audience at Wenatchee Valley College! Thank you, Derek Sheffield for inviting me.

Wonderful audience at Wenatchee Valley College! Thank you, Derek Sheffield, for inviting me. (And thank you, readers, for your patience with my less-than-expert photographic skills…)

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Poetry on the road: Day 10, Poets’ Round Robin at the Leavenworth Library


Thanks to Thomas Davies for this photo from our reading.

At the Leavenworth Library with Cynthia Neely and Derek Sheffiled. Thanks to Thomas Davies for this photo from our reading.

Turns out Cynthia Neely, Derek Sheffield and I all have numerous birds in our poems. On Day 10 of my road trip, we read together at the Leavenworth Library, alternating poems (this is known as “round robin”) and finding threads of connection. Fun for us, and apparently for our generous and engaged audience, too.  Cynthia’s new book is called Flight Path and she also did the beautiful cover art. Derek’s book is Through the Second Skin, and it was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.





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