In 2021, the Washington State Legislature approved additional funding for the Washington State Poet Laureate program. A few positive changes are now in the works. Later this year, this webpage will be shut down and all traffic will be directed to ArtsWA’s Washington State Poet Laureate page. You will be able to follow the Laureate’s activities, explore multimedia, and sign up for updates. We look forward to exploring the expansive world of Washington poetry with you!
Salmon are the unsung heroes of our region. Adventurous and brave, they swim from their natal rivers out into the perils of the open ocean. Persistent, resilient, and strong, they swim upstream against swift currents for hundreds of miles to return home to spawn and complete the cycle of life.
Salmon are sacred to my tribe, the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. We celebrate them in ceremony and song, and they have long been central to our Sche’le’ngen, our way of life. By celebrating salmon through poetry in every corner of the state, I hope to raise goodwill and a feeling of reverence for the salmon, a feeling that my people have felt since time immemorial.
Seattle-based writer Timothy Egan writes, “The Pacific Northwest is simply this: wherever the salmon can get to.” Before dams were installed, salmon inhabited streams throughout Washington state, even as far inland as Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and beyond. They have been a huge part of our regional identity, and I hope you will submit a poem or two about our iconic wild salmon. Deadline: September 18, 2022.
This project is supported in part by Humanities WA, the Washington State Arts Commission, and the Academy of American Poets. Empty Bowl Press will publish the anthology in 2023.
- Submit a 100-word bio;
- Submit 1-3 salmon poems in a single document by September 18, 2022;
- Affirm that you are a current resident of Washington state;
- Give dates and places of all previous publications, including contact information or links;
Please submit all poems using this link or the button below. Readers will be doing the first review of submissions in September and will be in touch shortly after that. We look forward to reading your poems!
My name is Rena Priest. I am the sixth Poet Laureate of Washington State and the first Indigenous person to hold this honor. As one of my first activities in this position, I’d like to invite you to participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day, which takes place across the U.S. and Canada every April in celebration of National Poetry Month.
This year we’ll celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 29th. I’m pleased to share these pocket broadsides as a gift from the Washington State Poet Laureate program, to be distributed freely by bookstores and libraries during National Poetry Month and beyond.
About the poem: I put out a call for youth poets to send in a short poem or an excerpt. I selected this excerpt by Sadie Olsen for its brevity, and clarity of message. She chose to submit these lines because water is life. The official translation into Xwlemi Chosen was approved by fluent speaker, Ted Solomon. Thank you for joining us in celebrating National Poem in Your Pocket Day!
PARTICIPATING LIBRARIES AND BOOKSTORES
- Watermark Book Co.
- Eagle Harbor Bk Co.
- Northwest Indian College Library
- Henderson Books
- Eclipse Books
- Lummi Admin Building
- Village Books
- Whatcom County Libraries
- Neverending Bookshop
- Ballast Book Co.
- Shakespeare and Company
- …and Books, too!
- Kingfisher Bookstore
- Darvil’s Bookstore
- Pearl Street Books & Gifts
- Bay Bookstore
- Time Enough Books
- A Book For All Seasons
- Lopez Island Bookstore
- Orca Books Co-op
- Browsers Bookshop
- Port Book and News
- Imprint Bookstore
- Liberty Bay Books
- Bookit Nook
- Left Bank Books
- Couth Buzzard Books
- Madison Books
- Elliott Bay Book Co
- Third Place Books
- Open Books
- Phinney Books
- Auntie’s Bookstore
- A Good Book
- King’s Books
- Vintage Books
- Vashon Bookshop
- Book & Game Company
- Trail’s End Bookstore
- Inklings Bookshop
From the window next to my desk, I can see Vashon Island, the Salish Sea — today placid and richly blue — the snow-capped Olympics as regal as ever, and here and there, in between my neighbor’s tall evergreens, the fuzz and flurry of pink cherry blossoms hollering one unmistakable thing: Spring is here!
And what a spring this is. A spring like no other we have ever lived, a true beginning after a long, long, painful year of shortcomings and losses of all kinds including that of people we loved and cared deeply about. I find myself heaping gratitude to each crocus and daffodil bursting forth from winter slumber, and to each blossom-laden branch, thankful to have made it through last year, hoping that soon the pandemic will be under control and we’ll return to some kind of normal.
Perhaps because I have come to the end of my term as Washington State’s Poet Laureate I am feeling the transition from winter to spring more keenly. When I consider the past three years: the remarkable people I met, the students and general public I interacted with, the poets I had the pleasure of reading with, the travel and discovery, my heart overflows with gratitude.
I have shared spaces and gathered with Washingtonians in remote areas and in urban centers, in libraries, schools, parks, churches, and every time I have marveled at the power of words to bring us together in peace. Across the state, there are many quietly going about their days working on behalf of poetry: volunteers setting up readings and open mics week after week, librarians and teachers, arts and literary non-profits, booksellers and bookstores, printers operating presses, university professors, small publishers, poets sitting alone at their desks, dreaming poetry lines as they sleep, noticing the world around them, and of course, there are elders and story tellers who know the ancient tales of how the world came to be and share them powerfully with those around them.
I have now interacted with poets laureate across the country and I can say that we have a wonderful program here in our state. The people at ArtsWA and at Humanities Washington have jointly shepherded and made this program stronger and more successful with each laureate, but it is the poets tinkering away, considering words, weighing their valences, who sustain and enrich the poetry ecosystem in the state. From Vancouver to the islands in the Salish Sea, from the peninsula to Spokane and points northeast, from Walla Walla, Yakima, and Ellensburg to Bellingham and Olympia, we have a state full of poets and poetry enthusiasts, and how lucky we are for it.
In 2018, the evening of the event known as The Passing of the Laurel, when I formally took the reigns from Tod Marshall at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library, I read a poem from the now deceased Nicaraguan priest, revolutionary, and poet Ernesto Cardenal. The poem asks the reader to, “Think of those who have died.” We walk on their memory, we are their representatives, Cardenal writes. As I end my term, I find myself again thinking of those who have died. Not only the humans we tragically lost to COVID-19 this past year, but the dwindling salmon in our waters, the whales who are no more, the acres and acres of trees lost to fires, the diminished rivers, and the life that is disappearing due to climate change. They will inform my new journey as I return to a more private sort of life, back to my dear family and hopefully, back to my desk.
The Poet Laureate program is now in the excellent hands of Rena Priest. We are fortunate that she will be sharing her genius and light with all of us.
I have been sheltering in place with my family for two weeks now. We have established a routine at home that involves school work/work for the adults, gardening time, cleaning, cooking, reading, listening to music. Things I know we are all doing in solidarity with each other.
This morning I got up to upload the poems that came in for “Poems to Lean On.” To read through the poems and respond to those who sent them has become something I very much look forward to. Each poem I upload touches exactly a part of where I find myself emotionally, mentally, physically.
I find these poems deeply comforting, more so because the senders are all folks in Washington State. This is us. This is what we are living through in our Evergreen State, in our Columbia-River State, in our Palouse State, in our Puget Sound State, in our Olympic Peninsula State, in the Yakama, Colville, Cowlitz nations, in all the tribal territories across Washington territory.
This past week as the news and facts from the Corona Virus accrued, I have found myself restless, at moments rudderless given the uncertainty and lack of clarity all around. My children’s schools are closing for safety and courses at local universities are being taught remotely. Events, literary and otherwise, are being canceled around me and I myself have decided to cancel my own events. Whatever readings, travels, meetings were entered into my calendar have dropped off, swatted by the virus’s relentless advance.
The social separation necessary to spread contagion can also bring a destabilizing effect. I am thinking here of the big things: economic, social and political implications. But small things , things the length of our arm, things inside us, will also suffer from this isolation. I realized that I must not be the only person feeling confused, isolated, worried, in these uncertain times. I realized that turning to the wisdom of others in times of uncertainty can be helpful and offer solace.
In this spirit I thought of “Poems to Lean On” a space where we can share with each other poems to offer fortitude, hope, resilience, humor.
The idea is to share a link to a poem and in two or three lines convey what about this particular poem resonates with you, tell how it moves you.
It is at liminal times is when we most lean on poetry: weddings, births, inaugurations, graduations, funerals. Times of transitions, times of change, times thick with emotion. This is such a time. Please send your chosen poem with a link (unless it is your own poem you would like to share) and your two to three line explanation to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will post them in the WA Poet Laureate website under the tab, Poems to Lean On.
Thank you for sharing of yourself with the rest of us.
[ I took the photograph this spring when I visited the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum near Joshua Tree, CA)
For the third year in a row this January I will have the honor to present a poem on the Senate’s first day of the Legislative Session. It is a solemn occasion and a memorable one. To be in Olympia in the grand Capitol building with all members of the Senate present, to witness the Presentation of Colors and to watch our Lieutenant Governor open the Session for the year at hand, to watch our democracy in action is something to cherish.
This year marks my third carrying out this honor because Governor Inslee extended my my term as Washington State’s Poet Laureate to January 2021. I accepted the extension with humility, respect and joy. I am well aware of the tremendous commitment the position requires and was overcome with gratitude that our Governor valued my work to entrust me with another year.
On the horizon are four months of exciting travel as I finish the four stops remaining in my State-wide project, One River, Many Voices. In January the poet Maureen McQueery will join me in the Trick-Cities where among readings and workshops I will also attend the Poetry Out-Loud Competition at the Kennewick Library on Thursday January 23rd. In February I will visit several cities in Clark County including Washougal, Camas, Ridgefield and Vancouver. Clark County’s Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Morgan and Oregon’s State Poet Laureate Kim Stafford, will join me for a reading at the Vancouver Library on February 22nd. In March I will be in White Salmon and at the Maryhill Museum, and in April I will visit Wahkiakum County to meet the Columbia River as it heads into the Pacific Ocean.
At each of these stops I will read with local poets, visit classrooms and read from the book-length poem, One River, a Thousand Voices, which I was able to print thanks to a Kickstarter Campaign to which many of you donated. Thank you again and again for your support. I hope to soon distribute the book to all library districts across the state.
I look forward to meeting for the first time and encountering anew many of you at each of these stops, and to another year of singing back to the world what the world signs to us each day.
“Aslan’s Song” –Ethereal Art by Katey Elise
I write from Whidbey Island watching mature cedars and hemlocks stand their ground against the forceful wind that shut power earlier in the day, marveling at the slate cloud cover pregnant with rain sweeping over our heads. In an hour or so there will be no more natural light. The big dark, the quiet days of January are upon us.
I think about the year gone by and swell with gratitude. I feel grateful for the myriad writing communities that thrive across the state, for all the people who year round organize and maintain poetry readings and open mics, for booksellers, for those who publish our poems in journals, newsletters, online magazines and books. In particular I feel gratitude toward teachers and librarians who are on the ground everyday sharing their love of letters and igniting other’s imaginations with their enthusiasm for learning and books.
Fondly I am revisiting the various literary and poetry festivals I attended this year: Inland Poetry Prowl in Ellensburg in early April, Get Lit! Festival in Spokane in late April, Cascadia Poetry Festival in Anacortes in May, Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham in June, Centrum in Port Townsend in July, Poets in the Park in Redmond in late July, LitFuse in Tieton in September, Seattle’s Lit Crawl in October. What a list! And to think that these are not all of the literary happenings in the State.
Here I share a few of the titles I have picked up along my travels.
With the pitter-patter of rain against my window I send best wishes for a healthy New Year full of poetry and literary discovery!!
Columbia River at Kettle Falls
Last week I concluded the fourth stop along the Columbia River for my project, One River, Many voices. I visited Mattawa middle and high schools and led a workshop at the library located in the Cultural Center of the Yakama Nation in Toppenish. Two weeks prior I had been in Wenatchee where I held several events at Wenatchee Valley College, and at the wonderful CAFE (Community for the Advancement of Family Education) While in the area I was also part of a wonderful reading alongside Derek Sheffield at the Leavenworth Public Library organized with the bookstore, A Book for All Seasons.
In Kettle Falls, my first stop, much of my work revolved around the Kettle Falls library. Thanks to the head librarian I held a wonderful Friday evening reading with Lynn Rigney Schott. On Saturday I co-led a spirited workshop. Later I learned that some of the participants had driven up to two hours to attend. Libraries have been central to all the work I’ve done as laureate.
Come to think of it, libraries and the Columbia are both sites of confluences. The Columbia is mighty in part because it absorbs many waters, gentle and truculent, the length of its entire course as it seeks release into ocean. I’ve said many times that libraries are much more than places where books are borrowed. They are community hubs through which many currents run: knowledge, ideas, neighborhood news, homework centers, places of quite respite. In some towns I’ve visited the library bulletin board is the place to learn of upcoming events and learn of relevant news.
At the moment I am in the middle of a campaign produce and distribute an new book-length poem about the Columbia to all 67 Library districts and 27 tribal libraries across the state. The idea is to share poetry, raise awareness of the Columbia and contribute new material to library collections across our state. Please take a look at the video in the link below, and please, pass the word around to all who might be interested.
This photograph was taken on September 21st in Olympia where thanks to the wonderful effort of the Olympia Poetry Network all five of us who have served/are serving as Washington State Poet Laureate were gathered. It was the first time all of us had come together in this fashion, and oh, how wonderful and special it was.
We began the event with a round table. The writer and poet, Patrick Dixon had prepared a series of questions for us to share insights gleaned on the job as well as memorable experiences we’ve had on the road. It was fun to hear echoes of my own encounters in the other’s telling, and heartening to hear how, even though we are all different individuals, our work as Laureates has been rooted in service and love of poetry.
The second part of the event was a reading, and what a reading it was. The poems were masterfully delivered, pitch, tone, content in concert. Each poem read with honesty and vulnerability, breath and word in unison, leaving traces long after the reader stepped down from the podium. I am still thinking about the poems I heard that evening.
What an honor to be one of the five, to be in attendance, indeed to have spent the day in Olympia, with other poets and poetry lovers some of whom travelled from well outside the area to attend.
Thank you St. Martin’s University for hosting us. Thank you Olympia Poetry Network for bringing us together. Thank you Sam Greene, Kathleen Flenniken, Elizabeth Austen and Tod Marshall for your words, wisdom and service.
To see more photographs visit Olympia Poetry Network’s website: https://www.olympiapoetrynetwork.org/laureatefest.html