Washington State Poet Laureate

Sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission

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A Thank You and a Greeting

Elizabeth Austen:  Your dynamic service throughout our state impacted many people in positive ways.  Few of us can claim that we have spent a fraction of the hours that you have spent working to enrich the lives of others:  you can make that claim–but I know that you are as modest as you are generous with your time, and so I felt compelled to make the assertion for you.  Let me write this again:  thank you.

Each of the three previous poets to serve in this position spent time bringing the arts to many people–through sharing poems and talking about poetry, through helping to stimulate the creation of new poems by writers both well-practiced at the art and writers new to the joys and challenges of writing.  I will continue this meaningful work through projects both similar to their efforts and also, I hope, marked by my own enthusiasms.

I am grateful to Humanities Washington and The Washington State Arts Commission for this opportunity.  Although looking back at the fine work of Sam and Kathleen and Elizabeth fills me with anxiety, I am also excited at the chance to advocate for an art that has meant so much to me for so long.  I’ll take energy, too, from Walt Whitman and other poets.  Here’s some robust and optimistic poetry from “Song of the Open Road” to launch this journey:

Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.


The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible
at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.


Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.



Time to Say Thank You and Farewell

My notebooks are full of DIY phonetic pronunciations of Washington place-names (“pond-or-RAY”), snippets of landscape descriptions (“so many shades of green, and not one the color of money”), early drafts of what eventually became poems for Bedtime Stories, Citizenship Day and Country Doctor Community Clinics, ideas about how to improve a workshop or a prompt, new favorite restaurants (Cugini, in Walla Walla).

No two years of my life have passed more quickly — or been as rewarding on so many levels — as these. The whole experience of serving as the Washington State poet laureate was an incredible privilege, and I grew as a writer, teacher and person in ways I suspect I will be assimilating for some time.

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Poetry for All: Prompt 5

Finally, here’s the 5th installment of the “Poetry for All” series of short video writing prompts: Call and Response. Please feel free to use the “Comments” section to share your response to the prompt, and to forward this video on to others.

This prompt features Ellen Bass’s poem “The World Has Need of You” from Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press).

See other prompts.

Poem credits:

Ellen Bass, “The World Has Need of You” from Like a Beggar. Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

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Remembering and Reading C. D. Wright

I am heartbroken by the news that poet C. D. Wright has died. I don’t think I realized until tonight just how much her work has shaped my sense of what poetry can/could/should do.

Just this month, Copper Canyon Press published a brand-new collection of her essays, “The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All,” and believe me, I want that book in my hands right now.

In the coming days, I’m sure there will be many tributes to C. D. Wright, by people who know her work far better than I do. (See this tribute in The New York Times, and this one on NPR.)

But tonight, I’m thinking about  One With Others: [a little book of her days], Wright’s 2010 book-length poem. Several years ago, I taught it as part of a class called “Writers Read.”

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Meet Your New Poet Laureate: Tod Marshall


TodBridgeI’m delighted to tell you that Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed Tod Marshall as the Washington State Poet Laureate for 2016-18. This is great news — Tod is a marvelous poet and a gifted teacher, and he will be a terrific advocate for poetry in our state. His term begins Feb. 1, 2016. Tod plans to use this site, so if you haven’t yet signed up to follow wapoetlaureate.org, please do.

If you want to get a sense of Tod’s voice and sensibility as a poet, give a listen to “Three Dreams from the Eastside of the Mountains,” as featured on KUOW.

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Celebrate Madeline DeFrees, Jan. 9

defreesPoets Anne McDuffie and Kathleen Flenniken will host a celebration of the life and work of beloved Northwest poet Madeline DeFrees on Jan. 9 at 2p at Elliott Bay Books.

Madeline died in November, just a few days shy of her 96th birthday. I spent this morning reading various tributes to and interviews with Madeline (find links to many at madelinedefrees.com). I’ll add just a couple of thoughts here, and share one of my all-time favorite DeFrees poems.

Blue DuskMadeline was an essential part of the Seattle poetry community for more than 25 years. She published eight full-length poetry collections, including Blue Dusk: New & Selected Poems, 1951 – 2001 (Copper Canyon Press) which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

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Better Than Never: Bringing 2015 to a Close

For me, the new year begins the day after the Winter Solstice, when the days begin to lengthen again. And as I do every 12 months about this time, I’ve started to panic about what I didn’t get done, what I promised and failed to do, what I really, really meant to do… Sound familiar? This year I’ve decided late is OK, that it is almost always is better than never. So here’s the first of what will likely be a few posts about things I meant to share with you ages ago.

Poetry On Buses

4Culture and King County Metro reinvented its fabulous, populist “Poetry on Buses” program – did you catch it? 365 short poems in multiple languages, from people of all ages, on the theme “writing home” – just gorgeous.

banner-this-is-home1In case you missed it, here’s the link: http://poetryonbuses.org/collection/

You can also listen to this KUOW story about the program.




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