So far in our “Pioneers in Poetry” series, we’ve highlighted the poet laureates of California, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. This week, however, we’re switching over to the country’s other Washington- Washington State, that is! Washington State has only very recently introduced an official poet laureate position; in 2007, the State Legislature passed an official bill to establish the position. The current state poet laureate of Washington is Elizabeth Austen. Read on to find more about her and her mission for poetry in Washington!
Elizabeth Austen, in addition to being the author of a full poetry collection and two chapbooks, also self-published an audio CD of her work. Her audio-related work extends outside this CD as well; she is a producer of poetry programming at Seattle NPR station, KUOW 94.9- tune in if you are in the area! This alone is evidence of how a career in poetry can extend beyond merely publishing in journals and print form; it opens up a wide range of possibilities.
Poetry Recommendations from Washington’s State Poet Laureate
As poet laureate, one of the things that Austen does is keep a running list of recommended reading on her blog. Creating a list of poetry collections and poems you love is something that any poet, amateur or professional, can do! Share your list with fellow writers and learn more about the different kinds and styles of work out there; you never know what will end up influencing your own writing.
Another of Austen’s projects as poet laureate is, according to her website, to visit all 39 of Washington’s counties to raise awareness and interest in the state’s poetry culture. She runs community poetry workshops geared towards introducing beginning writers to the workshop atmosphere and helping writers learn how reading and performing their pieces can give them a whole new meaning.
Even if you are not a Washington State resident and cannot participate in one of the poet laureate’s workshops, nothing is stopping you from setting up a workshop of your own! Hearing the feedback of fellow writers is arguably the only way to improve your own work, and you’ll be amazed at the new ideas that are generated by a little conversation. If you like the pieces that you workshop with fellow writers, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!