Poetry in Motion

Humanities Washington Executive Director Julie Ziegler is excited about two things: Seattle’s Super Bowl victory and the state’s new Poet Laureate. Disparate topics? Not when one considers the power of a shared experience.

Julie Ziegler

Julie Ziegler, Humanities Washington executive director

“It’s time. It’s almost too late.
Did you see the magnolia light its pink fires?
You could be your own, unknown self.
No one is keeping it from you.

On February 2 in New York City, the Seattle Seahawks knew it was their time – and proved it to the rest of the world. They were, truly, poetry in motion on the field on Super Bowl Sunday.

The recent Seahawks Super Bowl victory has been a terrific boost for our state. On the day of the victory parade, our staff happened to be in Spokane and, even there, 280 miles from the Seahawks’ home city, we were greeted with “GO HAWKS” and saw people gather jubilantly in River Park Square to celebrate the victory. I was buoyed by these displays of statewide pride and heartened by the unifying effect this victory and the team had on our region.

On the same day as the Super Bowl parade, a quieter celebration – though no less significant for our state’s cultural community – occurred in Olympia as Elizabeth Austen was introduced as the new Washington State Poet Laureate. She opened the business day for the State Senate with a reading of her poem “This Morning”:

“It’s time. It’s almost too late.
Did you see the magnolia light its pink fires?
You could be your own, unknown self.
No one is keeping it from you.

The magnolia lights its pink fires
daffodils shed papery sheaths.
No one is keeping you from it—
your church of window, pen and morning.”

(You can read the full poem here.)

Elizabeth Austen, photo credit John Ulman

New Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen performs at West of Lenin in Seattle in 2013. | Photo by John Ulman

I was struck how this beautiful poem aptly captured the moment for our hometown team and our new poet laureate.

Elizabeth succeeds Kathleen Flenniken, a tremendously talented poet who served from 2012-2014. Kathleen should be celebrated for her own winning season: in the past 24 months Kathleen visited each of our state’s 39 counties, presenting 224 workshops and readings in schools, community centers, libraries and museums (and putting more than 17,000 miles on her car’s odometer in the process!). Kathleen “hit a home run,” “scored the knockout punch,” and “ran for the TD” in so many ways. We are grateful for her commitment to expanding the audience for poetry, the grace and warmth with which she greeted each community she visited, and, of course, the fact that she dedicated two years of her life to sharing her talent with our state.

Elizabeth Austen will also do much to advance awareness of poetry and our state’s rich legacy of poetry. She is the author of the collection Every Dress a Decision (a finalist for the Washington State Book Award) and two chapbooks, “The Girl Who Goes Alone” (Floating Bridge Press, 2010) and “Where Currents Meet” (Toadlily Press, 2010). She is adept at engaging audiences in poetry, a natural skill that has been honed with her experience producing poetry programming for NPR-affiliate KUOW.

“My aim is always to provide a frame that helps the listener ‘step into’ a poem,” Elizabeth has said. “I hope to reach people – even people who think they don’t like poetry – by sharing works that are both vivid and relatable.”

Elizabeth is eager to get started, and is already scheduling engagements across the state. Like Kathleen, she hopes to reach new audiences with poetry – but while Kathleen focused on sparking a love of poetry in children, Elizabeth hopes to inspire that same passion in adults. In addition to solo and group readings in general and school settings, she is also interested in leading generative (poetry writing) workshops and poetry-aloud (reading) workshops. She is also interested in encouraging book groups to read poetry and is happy to facilitate conversations as time allows.

To get in touch with Austen or book her for a workshop or presentation, email her at poet@humanities.org.

We wish Elizabeth some “12th man love” for a successful and fulfilling tenure as our 2014-2016 Washington State Poet Laureate. And of course, Go Hawks!


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1 thought on “Poetry in Motion”

  1. What a wonderful blend of humanism and journalism! Go teams!

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