The State of Washington has sponsored an official poet laureate since 2007, but for the current poet laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, the past year has been unlike any other in state history.
Traditionally, the state poet laureate travels to communities all over Washington hosting poetry readings and workshops and reading poems at significant statewide events. But the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to all those plans and forced Claudia Castro Luna to think of creative ways to engage the public with poetry. One of those ideas was called “Poems to Lean On.”
“Essentially what I did was I put out a call to anyone who wanted to share a poem that gave them solace. And this I started at the very beginning, I think it was in February when I started. And it was incredible. Just people sending in whatever poems that inspired them. And very soon, however, people started sending their own poems. So the solitude somehow brought people to their desks to write.”
Castro Luna stopped collecting “Poems to Lean On” in June, but she kept them up on the Washington Poet Laureate blog as a sort of time capsule of the early pandemic.
“Because it does capture a moment of distress and uncertainty, deep uncertainty. So I hope the state keeps it. Just to read through the poems is really amazing.”
And, of course, many of the state poet laureate’s events have moved to virtual platforms, which presents a unique set of challenges.
“More so than before, doing these virtual events requires some setup with the poems. So to give context, cushioning them inside stories that tell of how the poem came about. And then it looks very similar to what would be in person, which is I always did a little bit of reading and then the Q & A dicated the rest of the reading. If I could respond to a question with a poem, then I do that.”
Claudia Castro Luna is hosting two virtual events with Spokane Community College on October 28th, one for SCC students and the other, at 6:30 p.m., open to the public via a live stream on YouTube. The poet laureate hopes these types of events will continue even beyond her term, which will end in early 2021.
“The silver lining is that now we know the person who is in this position could hold a poetry reading anywhere in the state without having to travel all the miles. So before, it seemed daunting, you know? How are you going to get a poetry visitor online and how do I do that? But now we all know how to do that. So I’m hoping that for the poet laureate program, this will really make the person more accessible in all corners of the state.”
Humanities Washington and Arts WA, the two organizations that sponsor the state poet laureate program are now accepting applications for the next poet laureate, who will serve a two year term beginning early next year. To find out more about the Poet Laureate visit Arts.WA.gov. Information about Claudia Castro Luna’s events with SCC on October 28th can be found at SCC.Spokane.edu/Live.