Writing a Poem for Others

A few weeks ago, I received this poem via email from Cynthia Trenshaw, a poet who lives on Whidbey Island.  She sent it because she wanted to share it with those immediately affected by the fires of this last summer in order to let them know that others felt compassion for their situation.  The gesture reminded me of Kathleen Flenniken’s wonderful project to share poems of support with those affected by the Oso mudslides–or Elizabeth Austen’s great project to share poems connected with the raging fires in the Methow area of our state.  I love it when poetry tries to reach directly to others and let them know that they are not alone in their travail.

Here’s the poem:

Prayer to the Scarlet Sun


On my bedroom carpet and on the closet doors

patches of muted morning sunlight

throb an alarming red.

This week’s every molecule is murky,

hazed by the savage wildfires

on the Cascade mountains’ other side.


On that inferno side

families are evacuated,

reluctantly abandon homes, their personal

museums of memorabilia,

to a gluttony of flame.


Ashes fly westward to land

on my side of the mountains —

small gray supplications settling

on my flower pots and windowsills:

Help us!

            Pray for us!

            Pray for my home,

            pray for the smoke jumpers,

                        sweating, choking, dying in the flames,

            pray for the hundreds of thousands of trees

                        that used to breathe for us here.


But prayer is far too sanitized a pledge

for the murky ache that duplicates

the air on both sides of the mountains.

Any god that I might pray to

is obliterated by the smoke and ash.

So I send my supplications

to the sun that’s red for me,

the sun those refugees can’t even see

as they flee their homes,

fight back flames

and despair.


On this, the safe side of the mountains,

I tell that surreal scarlet sun

I won’t pretend to empathize —

that’s far too painful.

But please, please let them know,

on the other side of the mountains,

that I hear them,

and I touch the ashes reverently

for all the suffering they contain.

By Cynthia Trenshaw



An Art Festival, Nirvana Nostalgia, and the Pacific Ocean (as far as the eye can see)

I was honored to be part of the first Cathlamet Arts Festival; from Steampunk gizmos and pottery classes to compelling music and memorable poetry, the two-day gathering showcased how a small town with dedicated citizens can put together a memorable event:  memorable for the arts but also memorable because of how it brought people together in conversation.  Conversation.  That word is on my mind after listening to a compelling podcast where Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue talk about beauty and interiority, how in the best conversations we surprise ourselves.

(Thanks to Diana Zimmerman of The Wahkiakum County Eagle for the first photo).  The finale of the festival featured Bob Michael Pyle and Krist Novoselic and Ray Prestegard performing as Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole–

My last day in the SW corner of the state took me to the ocean.  I thought of Robert Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” when I stood near the edge of the continent and looked out at the vast stretch of grey; I thought of the rich history of our state when I walked around Oysterville–and was glad to read with Cate Gable and Bob Pyle in the beautiful Espy House (1871) for a wonderful group of poetry enthusiasts (during the Seahawks game, no less!).

And I thought of journeys:  my 45,000 miles driving around the state suddenly seemed cushy and lavish travel next to the imperative Thomas Jefferson gave Lewis and Clark as they embarked on their exploration:  “The object of your mission . . . the Pacific Ocean.”


The Huge Summer Has Gone By

But not quite–(slow down, Mr. Rainier Maria Rilke: from “Autumn Day” or, in a different translation, “Day in Autumn“).  I’m thankful to have had a slow summer, rereading through WA 129, continuing to explore modern European history, and poking around in poets’ work who have given me sustenance in the past.  Catching a few fish, walking miles and miles on mountain trails, trying to breathe a little after the frenetic spring.

And, of course, preparing for the many events of the fall–readings in Bellingham and LaConner, festivals and workshops in Tacoma and Tieton, as well as many library and school visits throughout the state.  More on all of that soon.  In the meantime, here are some photos from early summer–

Was honored to read with Tess Gallagher and to be a part of the tribute to Raymond Carver (with such delicious pie and gracious company) at his grave just outside of Port Angeles.  I look forward to returning to Port Angeles this fall to celebrate WA129 and to gather with many other poets at readings throughout the state!  Details coming soon!

photo by David Haldeman

May Day

I am grateful for my many journeys during National Poetry Month (and 2017 in general); May is also busy, and I hope that it starts tomorrow (peacefully) with sunshine in our state.  WA129 is in the world, and the wonderful poets who will be part of the digital part of the project should have received a note so that we can move forward with that work.  Here are some images from Louder than a Bomb Tacoma (Nate Marshall), Poets on the Avenue (Auburn!), “Don’t Feed the Goats” (!), and, one of favorites:  a disruption notice (poet in the house).  Thanks to all who hosted me this spring.  Will launch some posts on some recent books that I have found compelling, some upcoming poetry conferences and festivals, and the details of the digital part of WA129 soon.


National Poetry Month

Have visited three islands, five libraries, some bookstores, a few schools, a fire station, and Grant Mountain Preserve as part of several poetry events in the last ten days.  Busy!  This week will bring the launch of WA 129 book in Olympia and several other poetry events.  And:  heard Robert Wrigley read from his great new book, curated an art portal, saw deer in my yard, and celebrated Edna St. Vincent Millay in Ellensburg.

Update:  am almost finished sending out acceptances to the digital section of the WA 129 project–looking forward to working on that over the next few months!  More poetry news soon.

WA 129

An update:  Acceptances for the printed anthology have all been been sent, and I’ll start sending information to poets who I’d like to be included in the digital project soon.  All poets who submitted should get some sort of notification from me in the next couple of weeks.  I apologize that it’s taken so long to get back to folks, and I’ll be in touch soon!


WA 129: Over 2000 poems submitted

img_1275I apologize that I haven’t had the chance to update this in the last few weeks.  It seems that poets like to put off submitting poems until the last possible minute:  about 600 poems came during the last week that submissions were open!  Although the vast majority of poems came in via email, I also received a couple of hundred poems via postal mail.  Anyhow, I’ve been reading through the many, many poems that were submitted, and I’ve started to send out acceptance notes: I will send acceptances for the book manuscript first; I will send acceptances for online publication next; after I’ve finished those duties, I’ll send thank you notes to those that submitted whose work will not be included in the project.  So many admirable works–but I can only include a few hundred in the project!

Of course, the wild world keeps spinning in its wild journey through the wilderness of space.  Here’s a poem by Naomi Lazard that has been on my mind:

Ordinance on Arrival

Welcome to you
who have managed to get here.
It’s been a terrible trip;
you should be happy you have survived it.
Statistics prove that not many do.
You would like a bath, a hot meal,
a good night’s sleep. Some of you
need medical attention.
None of this is available.
These things have always been
in short supply; now
they are impossible to obtain.

This is not
a temporary situation;
it is permanent.
Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.
For reasons beyond our control
there is no vehicle out.


Okay–back to reading through submissions.