Local poets asked to give voice to cities
The state and Tacoma both have poet laureates, and now Redmond has joined the shortlist with its own poet laureate, Rebecca Meredith.
Seattle Times Eastside reporter
Rebecca Meredith poetry reading
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: SoulFood Books, 15748 Redmond Way, Redmond.
What: Redmond laureate Rebecca Meredith is scheduled to read her poetry at SoulFood Books in Redmond at SoulFood Poetry Night along with writer Trisha Ready. Free, with open-mic reading to follow.
Source: SoulFood Books
To find out more about poetry in Washington, see www.washingtonpoets.org
For more about the state poet laureate and former laureate Samuel Green, see www.washingtonpoetlaureate.org/samgreen.php
To learn about the Seattle Poet Populist program, see seattle.poetpopulist.org
Let Summer Stay Late
If spring comes slow, then let summer stay late —
Let us leave our empty shoes forsaken in the high cornstalks
and slide our blessed feet in stream beds, on hot beach sand,
along the blue tile edges of swimming pools.
Let no-school boys fly clouds on the ends of kite strings,
bikini-clad girls with pedicured toes waft by
on clouds of chlorine perfume, and Eau de Lemonade.
Let sleevelessness carry the day; let the chocolate eaters
go seeking the cool shade as if their souls are melting
and they are running headlong for Sunday school.
Let all girls be California Girls, all boys Beach Boys.
Let laughter wide as the Mississippi roll out
past Kool-Aid teeth and Tanqueray tongues
'till the goldfinches at the feeder can't help but laugh along,
doing improv in the sun, in the heat of the day
and tucking their fledglings into tree-slung beds
at twilight, under the purple moon.
If spring comes slow, then let summer stay,
and stay, and stay,
until we have filled up,
stored it up,
until we could, ourselves, burst with it,
like a thunderstorm, and rain the sweetest rain
down on autumn's thirsty ground.
— Rebecca Meredith,
July 28, 2007Summer-themed poem written on site of Redmond's Arts in the Parks program, using words and phrases from audience members.
The list of poets in the state who can claim the title of poet laureate is short. The state and the city of Tacoma have anointed poets laureate, while the city of Seattle does its own egalitarian thing with an elected poet populist.
But last year, the city of Redmond popped up on the list.
Redmond is far more famous for a certain tech company than its literary ambitions, but perhaps that's the point. The Redmond City Council last year approved $5,000 per year for the position, and a committee selected poet and former Redmond resident Rebecca Meredith as its first poet laureate.
Poetry and writing are fundamental to a city's arts culture, Meredith said.
"It begs the question of what makes a city and a civilization," she said. "Once you can tell a story about it, you've got a civilization. It really is old stuff."
Not that long ago, the state couldn't even claim its own poet laureate. In 2007, when the state Legislature created the position, Washington was one of just 10 states without a formal writer or poet position, said Kris Tucker, executive director of the Washington State Arts Commission.
Seattle has been electing poets nominated by local arts organizations since 1999, fitting for a city that has topped "most literate" and "most educated" city lists.
But that egalitarian system comes at a poetic cost — Seattle's poet populist is paid a rather paltry $500.
Not that the state poet laureate position fares much better — at least right now. At the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire, the state, which is facing a $2.6 billion budget shortfall, suspended its search for the next poet laureate, who is paid $10,000 per year. The state has been without a laureate going on a month now, since Samuel Green's term expired at the end of 2009, Tucker said.
But Tucker hopes to have the program reinstated.
"The state has a really strong commitment to literacy, to communications and to the arts," Tucker said. "Poetry pulls all those things together. It's such an accessible art form."
Once you have the title, there is also the question of what to do with it. Tacoma's former laureate, Bill Kupinse, helped put together a book with 75 Tacoma-based poets.
State laureate Green spent much of his time traveling the state — from Forks to rural areas north of Spokane — talking to students and doing readings. He even wrote a poem for the dedication of a new land bridge in Vancouver, Wash.
Green viewed himself as an ambassador for poetry and an advocate for the poetry community.
"It's just a matter of having somebody represent a hitherto-before unrepresented genre," he said. "I just considered myself the union representative, not just for the people who write, but the people who loved it and learned it."
Seattle's poet populist Mike Hickey started a program called "Seattle Writes," which posts poems online for any King County resident who writes one. Through connections made as the city's spokespoet, he also works as a poet therapist with kids in juvenile detention at King County.
One of the best poems Hickey ever wrote, he says, was for the Audubon Society. The society asked him to do a reading, so he researched John James Audubon and wrote a poem.
"It would be nice to bring poetry back out to the populace," he said. "I hope that I've been able to help do that in my own tiny small way."
In Redmond, some of the ideas for the poet laureate aim even higher, with some envisioning a poet who gives voice to the city's character.
The idea of a poet laureate floated around for years, said arts administrator Mary Yelanjian. But after state laureate Green did a reading at a City Council meeting, officials were inspired to act.
As the council worked on the 2009-10 budget process, it solicited feedback from city residents, who told the council they wanted more of a sense of connection and communication, Yelanjian said. The Arts Commission decided to allot existing funds toward a poet-laureate position.
In public hearings, some questioned the wisdom of spending money on a poet laureate in the midst of a recession, Yelanjian said.
But the city went ahead.
"There's no better time than during economic troubles to think about where you're spending your money," said Arts Commissioner Clint McCune. "Being daring enough to spend a little money on poetry might be the thing to push us forward."
"Spirit of city"
McCune said he envisions the poet laureate as someone who can speak to the "spirit of the city." Meredith will be part of the city's creation story, he said.
Redmond, with roughly 50,000 residents, is rural, suburban and urban all rolled into one, said Meredith, who now lives in Seattle after 20 or so years in Redmond. She has a reading Thursday in Redmond and is still figuring out her role as she goes.
But her work most likely will include writing poems inspired by the city. She wants to address its diversity with a poet's eye.
"Poetry is in the details," she said.
Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or email@example.com
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