Washington State Poet Laureate

Sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission


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Pacific NW Poets Respond to the Fires

Travel writer/photographer Amanda Castleman captured this view of the Alder Lake Fire.

Travel writer/photographer Amanda Castleman captured this view of the Alder Lake Fire.

I forget where I’ve said it out aloud, so forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but here’s what I’m up to: posting a poem every other day until fire season ends. We’ve all been affected by the fires this year, some in life-altering, heartbreaking ways, and others in the form of small inconveniences, changed plans.

Today on KUOW, we aired a couple of fire-related poems by firefighter-turned poet Kevin Goodan and poet/novelist/photographer Nance Van Winckel. I hope you’ll give it a listen. (Big thanks to Allen Braden for introducing me to Kevin Goodan’s work.)

See more of Amanda Castleman’s gorgeous work here.


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Susan Rich: “Childhood Study: Fires Late August”

Childhood Study: Fires Late August

Awake in the middle of the night,
we listen to the grass crackle, to the new world of evacuate.

Like monkeys we screech as the trees go pop—

yellow candelabras, we see and then not.
Now danger damages our capillaries

for the first time, the ladder trucks and sirens

seem like small toys compared with
the neighbor’s fire-fangled trees.

What lit-up between us that summer—

three sisters clustered like barn cats— I can’t say
except for a time camaraderie

warmed the soles of our feet, our robes

remaining intact just one season—
before it all burned away.

—Susan Rich

“Childhood Study: Fires Late August,” by Susan Rich, from Cloud Pharmacy. Used by permission of the author.


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“The Tillamook Burn” by William Stafford

I’ve just come back from an overnight trip to Mineral School, where I had the good fortune to meet and read with mountain guide and writer/editor Charlotte Austin. Before I headed home, I stopped by the informal information center across from the Alder Lake Fire, which has been burning since a lightning strike on July 26 — a nano-second compared to the Tillamook Burn, which flared every six years in Oregon for several decades (yes, you read that right). Here’s what William Stafford had to say about that:

The Tillamook Burn

These mountains have heard God;
they burned for weeks. He spoke
in a tongue of flame from sawmill trash
and you can read His word down to the rock.

In milky rivers the steelhead
butt upstream to spawn
and find a world with depth again,
starting from stillness and water across gray stone.

Inland along the canyons
all night weather smokes
past the deer and the widow-makers–
trees too dead to fall till again He speaks.

Mowing the criss-cross trees and the listening peaks.

—William Stafford

“Tillamook Burn,” by William Stafford, copyright © Kim Stafford. Used by permission of Kim Stafford.

Read more and see pictures of the Tillamook Burn.


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“Endless Summer” by Kelli Russell Agodon

Endless Summer

We can forgive lightning,
a god of fire reaching a pale arm

into the trees, searching for something
dropped in a carpet of green.

It’s not so easy to forgive the careless
smoker flicking his cigarette behind him,

the woman burning love notes
near her tent. Somehow we want them

to know better, to crush a cigarette
until it falls apart, read the signs–

Banned: fireworks, campfires, propane
stoves, floating lanterns. At night,

when the woods glow orange,
the deer believe they can be saved

by wading into the river to let fire burn
past them. But everything boils

as firefighters wander forests. There is
never enough to drink, never enough talk

about leaving and this summer stretches on
like birdsong, a wildfire cry–

dry, dry, dry. We’ve already lost three.
We wonder what fall will bring, if rain

will appear, if winter snow will cover
the branches where flame once did.

—Kelli Russell Agodon

“Endless Summer,” by Kelli Russell Agodon. Used by permission of the author. Read more of Kelli Russell Agodon’s work at agodon.com


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Applications Due for Next Washington State Poet Laureate July 31

If you’re planning to apply for the position of Washington State Poet Laureate for 2016-18, this is your friendly reminder that applications are due at the end of this month. If you have questions about the role, I’d be more than happy to talk with you.

From the Humanities Washington press release:

The Poet Laureate serves to build awareness and appreciation of poetry — including Washington’s legacy of poetry — through public readings, workshops, and presentations in communities throughout the state. The new Laureate will serve from Feb. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2018.

Washington joined several other states in appointing an official state Poet Laureate in 2007. The position is sponsored by ArtsWA and Humanities Washington, with the support of Gov. Jay Inslee.

Selection of the Washington State Poet Laureate is governed by state regulation. To be considered, applicants must meet all eligibility requirements and submit an application onlineApplications must be submitted electronically by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 31.

More information here.


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Poem for the Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle City Hall

Acts of Citizenship

Oh beautiful, oh say can you see
what we begin together today?

Remember every turn on the path
that led us here, what we’ve left behind

and what we carry still. Let us bring
what we know in our muscles and bones,

sing in the syllables and tones
of our mother tongues. Oh beautiful,

oh say, let us pledge ourselves. Can you see,
can you say, the America yet

to be? How are we changed by what we
promise today? Can you see how beautiful?

What will you learn or do or make today
and know: now I too am an American?

Will it be the ballot in your hand?
Will you sign a petition, write a song,

don a uniform, start a union?
And when our names are called—

for honor or duty, how will we respond?
Oh beautiful, oh say, I pledge my country.

What will we sow, what tend, what harvest here?
Oh beautiful, oh say, let us dedicate ourselves

to spacious skies, this Salish Sea,
the unstoppable salmon, every Cascade peak.

Oh beautiful, oh say can you see
the America yet to be? Oh beautiful,

oh say, let us pledge ourselves: My hand, your hand.
What will we make of our America?

Elizabeth Austen
June 14, 2015

Just got home from the Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony and Citizenship Festival at Seattle City Hall. Twenty-two people from 17 different countries just took the oath of citizenship. The celebration included a moving speech by Cuc Vu, who directs the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, about leaving Vietnam with her mother and siblings. One of the event sponsors, Seattle CityClub, invited me to write and give a poem. I’m grateful to have been part of this day — and for the chance to try to craft a poem that would serve as both a welcome and a summons for us all.


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May 30: Hike & Write

Photo courtesy of Dana Hubanks.

May 30 from 12:30 to 4p on the Iron Horse Trail

The start of summer means it’s time to move the writing outside!

I hope you’ll join me for a short, meditative hike (4 to 5 miles)  and a brief, guided writing session in response to our walk. Bring writing materials, water, snacks and warm layers. We’ll sit on the ground to write, so you may want to bring something to sit on.

Meet at 12:30pm at the Rattlesnake Lake parking lot (exit 32 from I-90) and look for the “Hike & Write with the Poet Laureate” sign. No pre-registration needed, and no previous experience with hiking or writing required.

In case of rain, we’ll write in the Cedar River Watershed Educational Center, which is adjacent to the Rattlesnake Lake parking lot. (We’ll still meet up at the parking lot.)

From the 2014 Hike & Write at Deception Pass State Park. Photo courtesy of Dave Wenning.

From the 2014 Hike & Write at Deception Pass State Park. Photo courtesy of Dave Wenning.

This program is free, and open to the public. It is sponsored by The Black Dog Arts Coalition, Humanities Washington and ArtsWA.

Reading at the Black Dog Arts Cafe in Snoqualmie at 7p

After the hike, I’ll give a reading at The Black Dog Arts Café in Snoqualmie at 7p. Why not make a day of it? Come out and hike, then have dinner at the Black Dog, followed by poetry and live music.

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