Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Muse: New Washington Poet Laureate

Kathleen Flenniken was appointed Washington's new State Poet Laureate earlier this month. Only the state's second Poet Laureate, Flenniken will serve a two-year term ending in February 2014. 

Samuel Green was Washington's first official state poet, serving from 2007 to 2009, after which the Poet Laureate program was suspended for budgetary reasons. In 2011, agreement was reached to resume the program but without state funds. The $10,000 stipend that Flenniken has received to help cover her activities on behalf of poetry, including public readings, workshops, and lectures, comes from the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities Washington; support for the program also comes from private donations. For Flenniken's current schedule of poetry-related events, go here.

Background on the law that established the Poet Laureate program and articles and other laureate-related resources are found in this February 2011 post.

* * * * *
I started writing poetry in my thirties. I learned what I learned
over pots of spaghetti, a child or two tugging on my pant leg,
and in my precious night class that saved my sanity . . .
It's a joyful way to enter poetry. . . .
~ Kathleen Flenniken*

Award-winning Seattle poet Kathleen Flenniken published Famous (University of Nebraska Press), a debut collection of 51 poems, in 2006; that book received the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, was a finalist for a Washington State Book Award, and was named a Notable Book by American Library Association. Flenniken published this year her second collection, Plume (University of Washington Press; Pacific Northwest Poetry Series), about the nuclear waste dump Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where the poet, a civil engineer and hydrologist, worked there three years. (See the book trailer at the end of this post.) On her Website, Flenniken describes Plume as "part memoir, part history lesson, part cautionary tale, part quest... at its heart a search for identity...."**

Here's a favorite poem of mine from Famous:

The Nuns' Remains

On the eighth day of rain,
the nuns—
stacked in twos
in their Calvary graves—
washed down the hill
to our own back garden,
where each found
a bed of her own.
Mostly they favored
golden rays of early daffodils
or the pheasant eye narcissus
with its delicate crown.
But one chose
the tender white blossoms
of a freesia
which we brought inside.
It smelled like black pepper
and illumined the dark.

What I particularly like about this poem is the depth it acquires as it shifts us from the stunning visual of the graves "washed down the hill" to the garden, which, fed by the remains, blooms. The details ("golden rays" of daffodils with their connotation of rebirth; the "delicate crown" of the pheasant eye narcissus, also known as the poet's narcissus; the flowering of white freesia, symbolizing purity and innocence, which "illumined the dark") take on religious significance but are not in the least heavy-handed. And the wonderful addition of "It smelled like black pepper", keeps the poem grounded and accessible. Like many of Flenniken's poems, this one yields more with a second or third reading.

Flenniken's poems have appeared in American Life in Poetry, DMQ ReviewThe Iowa Review, Mid-American ReviewPoetry Daily, Poetry NorthwestPrairie SchoonerSouthern Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Willow Springs, and other literary periodicals and anthologies.

In addition to a Pushcart Prize (2012) and an Artist Trust grant, Flenniken has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship (2005). President of the nonprofit Floating Bridge Press, which publishes and promotes the work of Washington poets, Flenniken teaches poetry writing through Seattle's Writers in the Schools and other arts programs. 


Poetry © Kathleen Flenniken

* Quoted from Author's Statement at NEA Writer's Corner

** Quoted from Background and Interests Section at Kathleen Flenniken Bio

Mary Ann Gwinn, "Poet Kathleen Flenniken Nabs 'Dream Job'", The Seattle Times, February 9, 2012

Kathleen Flenniken Profiles at Poetry FoundationPrairie Schooner, and Poets&Writers

Kathleen Flenniken Poems Online: "The League of Minor Characters" and "Gil's Story" at The Writer's Almanac (Audio Available); "Graphology" at SLOG/Seattle Poetry Chain 25; "What I Learn Weeding" at Verse Daily; "The Man Who Played Too Much Tetris" at Reimagining Place; "Richland Dock, 1956" at Washington State Magazine; "Coyote", "Reading Wells", and "Museum of Doubt", All at DMQ Review; "You only get this haircut", "Matinee", and "Coconut", All at Word Riot; "Elisabeth Reads Poetry" at Clackamas Literary Review; "The Nun's Remains" and "What I Saw" at Crab Creek Review;  "Old Woman With Protea Flowers, Kahalui Airport" at American Life in Poetry (also at Poetry Foundation); "Sea Monster" and "The Sound of a Train" at Verse Daily; "Mosquito Truck" at Willow Springs;  "It's Not You, It's Me" at Bark; "Sotto Voce" at NEA Writers' Corner; "The Inventors" and "The League of Minor Characters" at In Posse Review; "Out of Cupid's Range",  "For Solange", and "The Five Senses", All at Literary Salt; "Lost coat, Pls Call" at The News Tribune; "Horse Latitudes" at Kathleen Flenniken Poems and Orcas Issues (Also see the section "Hear the Poems" at Kathleen Flenniken Poems.)

Video at Story/Stereo 5, March 2010 Reading

Excerpt from Famous (This 13-page pdf is made available through University of Nebraska Press.)

Jeremy Hatch, "A Review of Kathleen Flenniken's Famous", 42opus, Vol. 6, No. 3, November 29, 2006 (Review)

Diane Lockward, "Kathleen Flenniken: 'Famous'", Valparaiso Poetry Review (Review)

Humanities Washington State Poet Laureate Page

Washington State Arts Commission Page for Samuel Green

Here's the book trailer for Plume:


Megan Willome said...

So glad you posted that poem!

Louise Gallagher said...

Me too -- glad you posted that poem!

and her story.

Calgary is about to get its first Poet Laureate!

Peggy said...

Thanks for introducing us to this fascinating poet, and for your rich reading of her "The Nuns' Remains." You have become the Edward Hirsch of the internet: introducing us with grace (and hard research-work on your part) to so many fine new poets.
Peggy Rosenthal

Maureen said...

Thank you for that extraordinary compliment, Peggy.

Louise, I heard! You will have to introduce the PL.

Lisa W. Rosenberg said...

Lovely! Especially the moment where she contrasts white freesia and black pepper. Thank you for introducing us to her work.

S. Etole said...

Your words of meaning were as enjoyable as the poem for me.

Laura said...

That poem...I can see those white blossoms like delicate pages of a book-which is what I always associate with the sisters.

Did you know that our poet laureate just passed away? She has long been a mainstay in all things literary--Irene McKinney--and she will be missed.