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Washington's Poet Laureate optimistic about possibilities for sharing poetry in 2022

Rena Priest.Washington State Poet Laureate
Courtesy of Rena Priest
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Rena Priest says verses are best shared in person, rather than virtually.

Artists, including musicians and poets, are going back to performing again for live audiences. That’s welcome news to Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest.

“When you are sharing poetry live and in person, you have a sense of the room that you’re in and who your audience is and you can play off of that a little bit and respond to what they’re responding to," she said. "You can change up your reading and everything based on who your audience is, but doing it through Zoom, you kind of go in and you’re talking to the bubble for an hour.”

Priest is a Lummi Indian who received an American Book Award for her first collection called “Patriarchy Blues.” She’s finishing the first half of her two-year term as the state’s leading poet. She has talked with a lot of groups this first year, many of those meetings virtual. Now, with the society re-emerging from behind closed doors, Priest has new ideas for promoting poetry.

“I’m hoping to collect an anthology of poetry about salmon and put out a call for submissions throughout the state, starting here in National Poetry Month. That’s going to be one focus of the coming year and then there are some other things that we have planned as well," she said.

That includes the Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 29. On that day, many people will carry a poem with them.

“This year the Poem in Your Pocket project is coming from the stories of arrival, a refugee and immigrant youth voices poetry project," she said.

It features this poem, "Letter to Burma," written by a young Myanmar refugee named Suan Pao, a ninth-grader at Foster High School.

"This isn’t a place where we need to be fighting.
Let us encourage each other.
Let us fight for our rights.
Let us not kill ourselves, like shooting birds in the sky."

Priest spoke last Tuesday at Gonzaga University and talked on-air with SPR’s Verne Windham.