Bust out those quills and gaze out thoughtfully at the steel gray, Seattle sky. Tomorrow marks the start of National Poetry Month, a celebration launched by the Academy of American Poets nearly 30 years ago. It has particular meaning locally, because our poets are well-versed. (See — we’re poets and didn’t even know it.)
Some of the best wordsmiths in the country got their start in the area taking inspo from PNW beauty and culture (who wouldn’t?). Here’s a rundown of who they are — and what they’ve written. 🪶
The former 2017-2019 Seattle Civic Poet and Hugo House Poet-in-Residence has gained a strong following for their unflinching look at race and sexuality, described as “simultaneously cutting, vulnerable, wry, and audacious.” Anastacia-Reneé’s “apocalypse (22.a)” opens with the striking line, “she tells you to stuff a live parakeet in your mouth that it isn’t really a parakeet[...]”
Notable work: “FORGET IT”
Shop for it at: Small Press Distribution
Quenton Baker 📚
Those who visited the Frye Art Museum in 2018-2019 may have seen Baker’s installation “Ballast,” a visual offshoot of his collection of poems that examines a 19th century slave revolt. His exploration of “erasures” and the afterlife of slavery continues to make a lasting impression.
Notable work: “Diglossic in the Second America”
Shop for it at: Punch Press
Rena Priest 📚
A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Bellingham-based Priest is currently serving as Washington State’s official Poet Laureate. Her works — many of which explore the Indigenous experience — contain such evocative imagery. In “Tour of a Salmonberry,” she describes the fruit as “a golden basket/ woven of sunshine/ water, and birdsong.”
Notable work: “Patriarchy Blues”
Shop for it at: Village Books and Paper Dreams
Richard Hugo 📚
This late scribe (who has a whole writing space named after him) was raised in White Center, worked at Boeing, and went to UW where he learned under Theodore Roethke (another entry on this list). His style is spare but powerful, like in “West Marginal Way” when he writes, “Some places are forever afternoon.” Whew, goosebumps.
Notable work: “Making Certain It Goes On”
Shop for it at: Elliott Bay Book Company
Theodore Roethke 📚
Though not born in Seattle, Roethke was a hugely popular professor at UW and taught Hugo, as well as other prestigious poetry talents like Tess Gallagher and Carolyn Kizer. Befitting someone who spent so much time here, his compositions on nature stand out — “a fine fume of rain driving in from the sea/Riddling the sand, like a wide spray of buckshot” (from “The Storm”).
Notable work: “Straw for the Fire”
Shop for it at: Secret Garden Books
Check it out: You can catch Priest and other local poets reading in person this Saturday from 12:30-2 p.m. at Hugo House’s free “Poetry and Civic Life” event. 🎤