All in a day’s reading

I travelled yesterday to do a reading at the Oak Harbor branch of the Sno-Isle Library System. The library is shared with the Whidbey Island location of the Skagit Valley College and so my day also included visits to a few English classrooms.

Oak Harbor 1As I stepped out onto the street to begin my travels I thought it would be interesting to document my day.

How many poets are there after all, who could claim going from a major metropolitan area (at the top of rush hour traffic)  on busy highways, to catch a ferry onto an island, drive for an hour through lonely rural roads to arrive at a sea-side town where the local library serves both town and community college, all to do a reading?

Very, very few indeed. And how lucky I felt to be such a poet making such a journey on a glorious, crisp December day.

Oak Harbor 2
Seattle’s Skyline from the High Point neighborhood

Not pictured: bumper to bumper traffic on I-5 and every arterial leading to downtown.

 

 

Mukilteo – the ferry dock (with hardly any cars!) and lighthouse

Oak Harbor 5

Last week I was in Philadelphia and New York City for readings at Temple and NYU respectively. As my days in the east coast wore on I started to miss my life here in WA State. Most notably I missed the trees! The lushness of them, their stoic stance and their silence. How much pause and serenity they bring into our lives — into mine.

On one of these Whidbey Island trees pictured here I saw a hawk, its back turned to the morning sun. Frost covered the ground and I imagined what must have been a cold night for all critters. I saluted her with a “Good morning Mrs. Hawk!” as I rolled by in my car, then, less than 800 hundred meters ahead,  a dead racoon. Its front legs were crossed one over the other and even from the car I could see its fur covered in icicles. Death never far away to sharpen my vision, to make me appreciate the splendour of life.

 

After a quick bite to eat and a cup of tea in Bayview I drove on the length of the island to Oak Harbor. I had only ever driven through the town, never been to its old section — a mistake.  I wished that I had time to explore the shops and take in the view of the marina from the park that faces it. Instead I drove onto the college, visited four classrooms where I gave short presentations and then walked to the library for my 3 p.m. reading.

Oak Harbor 8Oak Harbor 9

 

This was the scene about 10 minutes before the reading. It was really well attended with town folks, community college and high school students. I read and answered many relevant and interesting questions and afterward exchanged photographs and anecdotes with many of the attendees. Here I am with the very last group to leave – four very smart high school students.

 

 

 

Good bye day. Good bye Oak Harbor. Thank you Mary Campbell from Oak Harbor Library. Thank you Gail Davern from Skagit Valley College.

 

I left the town at 5 p.m. The first picture here is from the library and the second one from the road along the marina. The island is a dark place in the evening. My drive on 520 south to Clinton to catch my ferry was not as easy as the morning drive had been. But again the ferry dock was nearly empty and I was able to get on the return boat easily.

Oak Harbor 13

By seven p.m. rush hour traffic had died down in Seattle. Only as I approached downtown did it thicken enough to merit snapping this picture. I arrived home tired but satisfied, thankful for having been granted a fine day of discovery, community and poetry.

Oak Harbor 14

 

On this day of gratitude

Spokane
Spokane – Centennial Trail

I write these short lines on Thanksgiving morning, a holiday which for many is the most important one of the year.

I for one feel extremely grateful to have served the past 10 months as the Poet Laureate of Washington State. I can say without equivocation that every corner of our State I have visited, from the barren hills overlooking Clarkston in the south east corner to the rolling hills of Orcas Island in springtime, from Spokane in full autumn glory to Bellingham under the spell of summer’s solstice, has filled me with awe and marvel.

I am thankful to have basked in myriad moments of natural beauty and to have shared my love of words with all sorts of writing communities: some small, some thriving, some mighty and some in the making as in young writers in the schools. I have also interacted with so many individuals who value community building through the power of language, such as the inspiring teachers and librarians with whom I have collaborated and others who have invited me to share poetry in community centers, longhouses, farms, vineyards, cafes, bookstores, parks, classrooms, auditoriums and radio stations.

I thank every adult, every youth and child I have thus far connected with for keeping my inner fire and hope alive, for sharing with me a joint conviction that words matter. It is through them that we convey our joint humanity.

The poem I am sharing to mark this day of gratitude is part of a four-part cycle I titled, American Four Seasons, written in response to Charles Yves’ New England Holidays symphony. This poetic venture was part of a larger collaboration with The Seattle Symphony https://www.seattlesymphony.org/inthecommunity/simple-gifts/projects/all-of-us-belong

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Autumn Thanks

We are gathered here today

to observe, not so much the end of the Fast

which continues to this day relentless,

the way ancient glaciers dragged

boulders across centuries.

The rumbling mass of injustice

fueled by greed that you sought to starve César,

still careens under western and eastern skies alike

extracting widows, homeless, mourners, sufferers

in the lamentable social strife

in which we find ourselves.

Light wanes turning leaves fire and gold

revealing over horizon’s lip

the margins of our days.

Time it is to give thanks

for grandpa and grandma

sitting in the old living room sofa holding hands

waiting for their slice of apple pie

and for the cousins playing

their annual football game

in the park across the street.

We gather to acknowledge

our mothers’ lost hours,

lost on growing the alabaster

bones on which we stand.

We give thanks for ancestors

who came before us and lost,

for courageous walkouts

and for those who subsist

on malnourished minimum wage checks

for they will one day be relics

of our grinding, slow march

toward justice.

If we in our days, put a fraction

of what bird puts into her song

we may yet reap a future

when injustice and war are the moraine

of our present, bitter, epoch.

We are gathered here today.

 

Notes

César Chavez – “We are gathered here today to observe, not so much the end of the Fast” from On Ending Fast – 1968

From participant’s notes Cascade Women’s Program – “grandpa and grandma”


Abraham Lincoln – “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged” from Proclamation of Thanksgiving

From Whidbey Island

beautiful blooming blossom blue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is the first full week of school for my children who started their new grade levels a few days after Labor Day. It has not been easy rallying them out of bed after throwing bedtime routines out the door for a few weeks. To enjoy the summer break late in August we travelled to Whidbey Island, even taking our 5 chickens along. We’d hoped to visit Useless Bay every day as we have done in years past, but poor air quality due to wildfire smoke kept us indoors lamenting what could have been.

One of the smokey grainy mornings on the island I braved sitting on a porch to do a bit of writing. I’d read earlier that after 17 days of carrying her dead calf in mourning, Tahlequah, the orca whale, had finally let go of the corpse. Staring at a blank page, watching azure skies channel through a clump of heavy hydrangea heads, my thoughts drifted to the hundreds of children separated from their mothers and fathers, alone, afraid and withering in ICE detention facilities. If an animal deeply mourns the loss of her offspring as Tahlequah has, then imagine what the thousands of moms and dads that have lost their children against their will must be feeling? What torments might they be going through? And what of the children’s experience? What do their feelings portend?

Immigrants are leaving El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, on foot, in great numbers, women and children, men and children, children alone. They are leaving because of unprecedented violence from gangs that had their origin in the streets of Los Angeles, they are leaving because of poverty, because they have zero prospects for earning a living, and they are also leaving because of environmental degradation. This summer, El Salvador experienced extreme heat and the longest draught ever recorded. For millennia predictable rainfall from May to September has nourished corn, beans and squash –the triumvirate of the local diet. This year the entire annual production of subsistence grains has been jeopardized because of abnormal high temperatures and lack of precipitation.

Could it be, I asked myself sitting under the eerie sky, feeling the itch in my throat increase from breathing the ashy air, that the orca in Puget Sound is connected to the lost corn, squash and beans in Central America and to the hundreds of children holding on to themselves in ICE facilities?

My meandering brought me to Chief Sealth’s speech of 1854 where he addresses the interconnectedness of all things. There are a couple of versions of the speech, but in my favorite one which you can watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9a70fz6420 he states, “We are part of the earth and it is part of us […. ] Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it – Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

In early August I had the pleasure of traveling to Vashon Island to a reading organized by Merna Hecth, the Island’s Poet Laureate. There I read with Shankar Narayan, a Seattle based poet originally from India. Shankar shared a poem with us that evening that has haunted me ever since and he was ever gracious to le me share it in this forum.

From Whidbey Island, to the Salish Sea, ICE detention facilities, Central America, India, Vashon Island, to Seattle, “Every part of the earth is sacred,” as Chief Sealth once said.

The Times Asks Poets to Describe the Haze Over Seattle

No one asked me, but I would have said this apocalypse

looks like home. The laureate

says a grey gullet has swallowed

a molten coin, another calls it powered cadmium

and cirrhosis, dystopian, grotesque, a crematorium. Yes,

 

all of these describe my Delhi, and which

of my well-meaning friends will understand

that for a week now I have woken to the warm nostalgia

of exactly the familiar cataclysm that hangs

there every day as I imagine Hiroshima’s

 

mushroom cloud might have done before dispersing into that dead

silence? Every sunrise and sunset so brilliantine,

and like the finest earth-to-table restaurant a new recipe

daily for the fresh soup of toxins, the plastic mill, the pyre

ground, the matchstick factory where every day five year olds blow off

 

fingers. There has been no blue

for years. No, these are not things to be proud

of, and looking up at this brown smudge of a Seattle

sky I know I should look away, feel for evacuees and ashed

homes and bear and deer and antelope, but

 

in the confusion of entanglements holding my life

together I cannot say what’s catching

in my throat, am I now animal remembering how once I would run

in Delhi, laps around that little brown park

with its mongooses and illegally grazing buffalo, before the haze

 

pressed in, caught into its creep my blackening lung

and squeezed, or is my animal

brain transported to another home on days outside

those twenty-one per year I am allowed

to be my other self, exhale into just another no-different

 

anonymous body, or is my animal howling

to dam the forgetting when breathing clean so long feels like birthright,

blowing down all those accidental animals, of whom I

am one, whose water is hauled from Cascadian streams where no one

may so much as dip a grimy toe, whose children will never leach carpet-factory

 

mercury into their bodies, is my animal screaming

blue murder that if some can’t breathe

then none shall breathe, my asbestos lung rasping

to anyone in this town who will listen— this is how the world

lives. And there is nothing that cannot burn.

 

Shankar Narayan

 

 

“She Who Shines For All”

Snoqualmie poetry pole

In May I travelled to Snoqualmie to the Black Dog Arts Cafe home of the Black Dog Arts Coalition to dedicate their poetry pole. The sun was out that afternoon for the first time in a while engaging in spectacular fashion the light greens and deep greens on either side of I90. As I climbed up to the pass, leaf, branch and bark seemed to rejoice, as I did, in the lovely spring light.

It could not have been a more perfect day to celebrate the value of words and the importance of community. Inside the Café I read poems and said a few words that the existence of this carefully chosen log, would over time serve as gathering place for thoughts and sentiments lovely and otherwise, thoughts articulated with care and deliberation. After the remarks, those of us who chose poetry over sunshine went outside, sat on the deck and one by one read the poems we’d brought to offer the pole. I include two of the poems down below.

In the meantime, I know of a few other poetry poles in the state: on Vashon Island,  in  West Seattle and the mother of poetry poles, the one who has inspired others in Selah, WA. This pole is the work of Jim Bodeen, founder of Blue Begonia Press Poetry Pole

“The Pole is energy, She Who Shines For All, from nine kinds of flower, the singlepoetic theme of life and death, the question of what survives after the beloved.”

Jim Bodeen

 

Poems From Snoqualmie’s Poetry Pole dedication: 

there is a charm in verdigris

my breastbone shatters
against the memory
of you.
you — of goldfinches
in the backyard who
once were chickadees —
you crack me open
and i weep
as you make a
daughter
out
of me.

– Lily Renner

 

SAD LISA

The tune blows hauntingly from my soul

The exhalation of life’s young breath spent

Tender ears hear the beauty of sorrow incarnate

Weaving of melody with heart’s pained yearning and learning.

Repeated

Each refrain calling

Drawing inner world to sound

Exquisite ache reaching down

The poignant frailty of strength

Knowing – flowing through the simple clay.

Repeated

Each chorus building

Mightily shaking with grounded emotion

Ebbs like the ocean, mounts a wave

Spirit grows luminous, years and tears

Pushed out in a breath, released to the ears.

-Sheri J. Kennedy

Please let me know if there are poetry poles in your community that I may add them to this blog post.

Snoqualmie Poetry pole dedication

National Put a Poem in your Pocket Day

This blog post first appeared in the Seattle School of Visual Concepts Blog2018+Poem+In+Your+Pocket-44.jpg

April is National Poetry Month; across the country there are festivals, readings, workshops, and write-ins that celebrate the power and beauty of words. As Washington State Poet Laureate and as SVC’s Designer in Residence, I created a project to acknowledge the month, and April 26th in particular, which is also known as National Poem In Your Pocket Day.

With abundant help from SVC’s staff; shop director Jenny Wilkson; my Letterpress 2 instructor Amy Redmond; teaching assistant, Chris Copley; and SVC office assistant Carrie Radford, I printed 2,000 miniature letterpress broadsides. On each was a poem, in both Spanish and English, titled “El árbol dentro de mi / The tree inside me,” which will be distributed today by independent bookstores across Washington State.

Michelle Carranza, an 8th grade student at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle, wrote the poem. For the past four years, I have been teaching a series of poetry workshops in Spanish at this school. For the month of January, we wrote poems exploring ways in which humans are interconnected with the natural environment.

Choreographing my right foot, my right hand, then my left hand on the treadle-operated platen press for hundreds of impressions, I was minutely aware that much time had lapsed from the morning in which Michelle, sitting in a bright classroom, wrote the first draft of her poem. The words, thus arranged in this particular composition, travelled a long journey from Michelle’s imagination to a page of college ruled paper, to a relief printing plate, and to the Neenah paper that was their final destination.

Standing at the press, I understood that printing is much like writing a poem. They are both inexact sciences, driven by the mystery of intuition, overseen by the ruler of all things: time. What I mean to say by “inexact” here is not that precision is optional in a printing run. On the contrary, one cannot serialize something that was not exactly measured so that each document is faithful to the one before. The ability to replicate is, after all, the revolutionary power of the printing press. What I mean to say is that in a letterpress print run, adjustments need to be made every step of the way. Human hand and judgment and exquisite tinkering, are needed to attend to all of the details involved: mixing inks to obtain the desired hue, obtaining the right amount of pressure from plate to paper, etc. Said another way, printing requires time. Lots of it.

Unbeknownst to us when we admire a poem — its voice, form, rhyme, content — we are also paying tribute to Mother Time. Poets spend hours, sometimes years, working with a poem to reach full expression of the thing which intuition sparked. Likewise, when we admire a hand printed object, time is one of the components inherent in our admiration, whether we are aware of it or not.

The poem could not be shaped, the printed object could not be created without time’s filaments threading through them. Time hangs from every letter like dew hangs at dawn over every blade of grass in a spring meadow.  Human awareness is needed to create and to behold that something eternal and unmeasured, that thing that catches our breath, that thing we call art.

El árbol dentro de mi

En el río de los recuerdos
las raíces de mi árbol
buscan la seguridad
de un lugar de siempre
caras familiares
amigos del pasado
el tronco fuerte y alto
resiste como un faro
la tormenta de pensamientos
no se deja caer
aunque las olas
lo empujen y empujen
entre el vacío de las palabras
y el silencio de mi cuerpo
aún asi, mis ramas tratan
de alcanzar una aventura
lejana entre planetas y estrellas

Michelle Carranza
8th Grade
Denny International Middle School

The tree inside me

In the river of memory
the roots of my tree
search for security
yesterday places
familiar faces
friends of the past
my trunk, strong and tall
resists like a lighthouse
thunderstorms of thought
it refuses to fall
even after
wave after wave shove it
between the emptiness of words
and the silence of my body
even then, my branches clamor
a far away adventure
among planets and stars

Translation Claudia Castro Luna
WA Poet Laureate

2018 Poem In Your Pocket-5.jpg

Ode to brilliant spring

Karen_Inslee_Claudia

I recently had the honor of meeting Governor Jay Inslee at his office in Olympia. Our appointment, which was made weeks and weeks in advance, was for 10:30 in the morning.Outside on the Capitol Plaza cherry trees were in bloom and spring’s verdor was eminent on tree branches all around. When I walked in to his office he was sitting at his conference table reading Emerald City Blues, one of my poems. We launched into an easy conversation about poetry, he asked about the latest trends, we talked about what had inspired me to write the poem on his desk.  At one point I mentioned that the Washington Transportation Department had recently held a haiku contest that I judged and explained that the winning haiku would appear on the Ferry Summer Sailing Schedule.

He looked at me and said something like, “Let’s write one!” Before I could respond, he was gazing out the stately window and in the next second his pen was gliding across the page in front of him. He looked up once to verify the syllable count. In a swift minute Governor Inslee had composed a perfect haiku.

Ode to brilliant spring

Hangs on tip of alder branch

And falls at first dawn

I admired his agile mind and his ability to quickly descend into the internal quietude needed to walk into a poem’s territory. I wondered how many Governors had the temperament, talent and graciousness to sit and compose a haiku in the course of a busy morning. Not many – I am sure. As the Poet Laureate I thought how very fortunate for us poets and for libraries, universities and schools across Washington to have such a person hold the highest office in the State. Read the Governor’s proclamation for National Poetry Month.

Governor's haiku

 

The rails of the printed page

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This week libraries across the country are celebrating National Library Week. We all have read, or heard, stories of how libraries have literally saved people’s lives. Those lives were perhaps mired in difficulty and libraries offered a way to engage with new ideas, imagine possibilities and experience lives different than their own.

Growing up in El Salvador I did not have any public libraries. I knew there was a National Library in San Salvador, the capital. There were probably libraries in larger towns, but they were not easily accessible nor part of the collective consciousness. My father and mother, both teachers, were avid readers so I was lucky to have many books at home. They showered me with books they thought useful for me to read. They signed me up for a Book-of-the-Month Club through which I read Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Juan Ramón Jímenez, and many of the Western classics. It was not until the fourth grade when I attended a school run by American Maryknoll nuns that I had access to a children’s library for the first time. The excitement on library day was palpable. Every week we selected a book of our choosing without any adult mediation. Such freedom.

Libraries are mothers of love in my opinion. Everyone is welcome to the books on their shelves and the worlds, ideas and feelings within them yield their riches equally to all who take the time to read them. With our taxes we contribute to their existence and in turn reap benefits beyond what we individually could afford. Avarice and knowledge hoarding are anathema to public libraries; libraries keep the flame of democracy alive.

The poem that follows is one of three I wrote for Seattle’s Public Library while serving as the city’s Civic Poet. Whenever I share it out loud, I introduce it by saying that I don’t write love poems – or have written very few – but this is definitely one of them.

Ode to Library Books

Because more than ink glints beneath the rails of the printed page

Because like snow flakes, each person’s hands profile unique lines

Because every time a library book is borrowed, lifelines overlay each other

Because borrowed books bear fingerprint constellations on their backs

Because on borrowed pages we leave something of ourselves behind as tender evidence

Because fingerprints remain as glaciers remain in the valleys they carve

Because imagine all the points of connection

Because older hands may yet find their youthful versions on the cover of the same book

And because over the same borrowed book, neighbors not on speaking terms may still shake hands amicably

Because books visit our homes and witness the contents of the bags we carry

Because the trouble we would be in, if library books could talk

Because hand upon hand built the seven wonders of the ancient world

Because in a city of almost a million, chances are we’ll find each other first on the pages of a library book

Because from hand to hand, home to home, library books map the city

Because a hand that turns pages of a book collectively owned feeds a gracious and gentle    thing, a communal spirit whose wings span over park benches, over streets and p-patch plots, affirming dreams and daydreams alike, hatching songs that pour and cycle over us all — like spring’s pollen and winter’s rain.

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