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.

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.



The Humans Behind the Headlines

Yesterday, KUOW featured two stunning poems by Seattle-based poet Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. Each, in its own powerful way, carries us past the headlines, beyond the numbers, and reminds us of the very real human beings who are confronted on a daily basis by war and terrorism. I hope you’ll take a few moments to give “Fragment” and “Running Orders” a listen.

Learn more about Lena Khalaf Tuffaha’s work and Broadsided Press.

Photo by Trocaire from Ireland. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Poem for the times: “Deciduous”


Days like today
I could let it all go.

Release ambition
like a balloon floating

into someone else’s
yard. Let the radio

keep its death toll
and speeches. I will give

myself to what will answer
with blossom and fruit.

Could I die back?
Could I be mere twigs,

waiting? Give me
light, rain, a piece of ground.

Here I might remember
the prayer of silence, practice

one thing until done well,
heal what lies

within reach.


-Elizabeth Austen

I wrote this at the start of the Iraq war.


Poetry at Walla Walla Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Correctional Center

Prison Library Poetry Workshops

This photo by Alan Berner for The Seattle Times does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere. I walked long corridors like this to get to the library. (See http://projects.seattletimes.com/2014/prison-labor/1/)
This photo by Alan Berner for The Seattle Times does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere. I walked several long corridors like this to get to the prison library. (See http://projects.seattletimes.com/2014/prison-labor/1/)

“I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,”

I began the workshops at the Walla Walla Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Correctional Center with Stanley Kunitz’s “The Layers.” It’s a poem I’ve carried with me for years, and often recite at the start of readings. I also hoped that its images and ideas would speak to the incarcerated men I had just met.

“When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength”

With both groups, I read a couple of my own poems, and listened as they read theirs aloud. We talked about revision and how to write so that our work might connect across wildly different life histories. With the smaller group at WW Pen, we also discussed poems by Lucille Clifton (“memory”) and Yusef Komunyakaa (“Facing It”).

“In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.”

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Fire Series Concludes

Voices from around the state

For the past couple of months, I’ve posted poems here related to fires and the people who battle them. The series has included the voices of Washington poets from the Methow Valley, Spokane, Ellensburg, Yakima, Kingston, Leavenworth, Lake Chelan, Seattle and (because fire knows no border) poets from Oregon and Idaho.

My deep thanks not only to those poets whose work is featured here, but also to the dozens more who sent in their poems, and to all of you who took the time to read them.