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.