Roosevelt High School Students Present Anthology at Powell’s

It was the first time reading in public for many of the Roosevelt High School students who participated in the Where the Roses Smell the Best presentation at Powell’s on Hawthorne, July 11. This anthology of writing on the people, places and lifestyles of Portland is the first book produced by Unique Ink, the publishing house run by the students of the Publishing and Writing Center at RHS. Many of the students were nervous, but well-known writers who contributed to Where the Roses Smell the Best were there to support them, including Oregon Poet Laureate and former high school teacher Paulann Peterson. She read her poem “To Love Hard Enough” about the deaths of tent caterpillars that plagued the trees of Portland in her childhood.

Paulann Peterson

Paulann Peterson

“It’s an honor to have a poem in this anthology,” Peterson said of the students’ publication. “This Roosevelt High School endeavor is launching itself in Powell’s. Every writer in the world wants a reading at Powell’s.”
Renee Mitchell, a Pulitzer-nominated former journalist, read “Let Me Be Born” about leaving the safety of her job at the Oregonian to follow her heart. Mitchell reassured the uncertain students saying, “I think it’s important to let young people know that we still get nervous. It takes courage to be in front of people expressing your words. This is such an incredible opportunity we didn’t have as teenagers.”
Roosevelt student Miranda Mendoza read “Bus 75,” a vignette about a walk on Lombard Street. She described Renee Mitchell as an encouraging mentor who helped her to believe in her own talent. “I was one of the people who sat in the shadows and thought I wasn’t good enough,” said Mendoza. She gained confidence when she got feedback from Mitchell on a poem that will appear in the next book, coming out this summer.
Renee Mitchell

Renee Mitchell

In a symbiotic partnership between two student-run presses, the graduate students from Ooligan Press pass on their knowledge of publishing to the high school students of Unique Ink. In an earlier post, Ooligan blogger Rebekah Hunt described the rewarding experience:

[Ooligan founder] Dennis Stovall and the Ooligan students help them call for and sort through submissions, write acceptance and rejection letters, edit the submissions, design the interior and exterior layouts of the book, target their audience, market the book, organize events and readings, and anything else that may come up. I found that being involved with the process in a teaching capacity sharpened my own skills and understanding and gave me a new perspective on the publishing process.

At the Powell’s reading, Zachary Learned, recent RHS graduate and former Project Manager for Unique Ink, explained that he had learned important career survival skills in the process, including how to send business emails and use Excel, and had vastly improved his grammar. He plans to apply those lessons to his college experience when he majors in marketing and business at Portland State University.
Where the Roses Smell the Best is already selling briskly. The Heathman Hotel is going to put a copy of the book in every guest room to acquaint newcomers to Portland. That’s 150 copies in just one sale!

Zachary Learned

Zachary Learned

Please visit the RHS Writing and Publishing Center’s Facebook page to learn more about the project. You can purchase Where the Roses Smell the Best at many local bookstores including Powell’s, Annie Blooms, and Broadway Books. The final book reading will be at Annie Blooms on July 29th.

Lilija Valis Guest Poet Post

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Lilija Valis, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!


We are strangers among strangers.
Even within our blood families, where we establish strong bonds, we have our secret thoughts, desires and deeds. We may use the same words, but we don’t speak the same language. We often consult some type of translator, today called therapist, to unravel our tangles. The first job of this translator is to explore what is embedded in the words we use to hide what we want.
“Love” means different things to the teenage girl and to her grandmother, as does “freedom” to the son and to his father.
Since ancient times, we have sought to discover what lies beyond what we see and hear. Long before we created a formal language with signs and rules, we had poetry as our spirit language.
It uses words to reach what we have no words for in order to reveal the hidden, the primary connections, bridging time and space.
Poetry releases love and expands family. My family now includes the Celtic people who since ancient times blessed everyday life; the numerous Chinese poets who for thousands of years have been sharing what they saw and felt, and the wisdom that grew out of their experience (Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching); the Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz for pouring “light into a cup” for us to drink; New England’s nineteenth century Emily Dickinson for detailing her soul; early twentieth century Anna Akhmatova for baring the gritty Russian soul (“It’s not Promised land….. Yes, for us it’s the grit between our teeth.”); to name just a few of my large family.
We know poetry is powerful because poets have been and continue to be imprisoned and executed for their life-changing words. They have been tortured, sent to slave labor camps to die, like Osip Mandelstam, whose words we still read today, when we can’t remember the names of his jailers.
As poets we take our bloody, pulsating hearts and pass them into the hands of others, putting our trust in this world of broken promises and betrayals, but also of love and beauty.

Poetry Party

Local poets partying with words at the Poets Potluck, hosted by Lilija

In spite of everything, or maybe because of it, poets are well known to be party people. We like to connect and celebrate. Even when we go off into the mountains to get away from our agitating societies, we still do things to connect and celebrate the life around us. Han Shan, or Cold Mountain if you prefer, couldn’t help chiseling his poems onto stones and trees in his chosen isolated mountain home for us to read, a thousand years later. We have named after him a local movement to save forest trees.
Currently in Vancouver, British Columbia, you can attend some poetry event almost every day – at times, five events the same day. We have numerous local groups, such as Poetic Justice, Twisted Poets Literary Salon, and Hogan’s Alley Open Readings. International organizations, like World Poetry, Poetry Around the World, and Writers International Network bring together poets from all cultures, India, Afghanistan and Latin America among them. We have Dead Poets societies to keep up our connections with deceased family members like Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda and Robert Frost. We have links to painters and musicians and get together to celebrate each other’s art.

Writers International Network Group Photo

Writers International Network Group Photo

Anything that shifts our perceptions, enlarges our view, and increases our understanding and appreciation builds community. Poetry does these things. Candice James, the Poet Laureate of New Westminster, reminds me, “I am the architect of my own fall.” Margo Prentice’s view of death as returning to the Mother Nature she loves reconciles us to the inevitable. Gavin Hainsworth made me laugh as I recognized a truth about human nature in the title of his poem, “The Condemned Man Ate A Hearty Meal.”
In addition to local activity, we now have new technologies to enable us to connect easily with poets, as well as other sympathetic souls, all over the world, enlarging our sense of community and shrinking our alienation.
Yes, poetry creates links. It invites us into each other’s inner lives, to form a community unbroken by time and distance.
Han Yu (768-824):
Don’t forget,
if it rains
stop in for a visit.
Together we’ll listen
to the raindrops splash
on all the green leaves.
And Li Po (701-762):
Then let us pledge a friendship without human ties
And meet again at the far end of the Milky Way.

Poetic Justice reading at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster

Lilija is in the center of this poetic group at the Poetic Justice reading at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster.

Lilija Valis, born in Lithuania, has lived on three continents during times of war and peace, riots and festivals. While pursuing education and working in cities across America—from Boston and New York to San Francisco—she participated in programs that help to liberate people from poverty and personal misery. Her poetry has been included in four anthologies and her book Freedom On the Fault Line was published in 2012.
Lilija’s poem, “Everyday Things,” is featured the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.

Leah Stenson Guest Poet Post: “Poetlandia”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Leah Stenson, a poet from Portland, OR who also worked as an editor for the collection. Please enjoy her post!


Portland is getting good coverage in the media these days. It’s a city that works—replete with good public transportation, farmers’ markets, socially conscious citizens and a thriving literary community. In fact, there are numerous literary communities in Portland and the poetry community is just one of them…and it is thriving!
When I first came to Portland in 1993, with the exception of Café Lena, there was hardly an open mic poetry venue to be found. Now there are so many poetry readings and open mics that one is hard-pressed to choose which ones to attend. I host the Studio Series Poetry Reading and Open Mic on the second Sunday of every month at Stonehenge Studios in SW Portland and many people attend the reading religiously. Sometimes I joke that I’m hosting a poetry church. We have regulars; we have new-found converts; we have hard-core poets and beginners; we have poetry devotees who are content to sit and listen; and we have the faithful who step up to the open mic week after week. In other words, we have diversity, the spice of life and the ingredient that makes a poetry reading exciting.

Stonehenge Studios Storefront

Stonehenge Studios Storefront

The poetry community in Portland, or “Poetlandia” as I’ve taken to calling it, is rich in diversity as well. There are lyric poets and narrative poets, word poets and slam poets, performance poets, and we even have some poets who have coined a name for their particular kind of poetry—Inflectionism. The great thing about the Portland poetry community is that these different kinds of poets come together in community. Once a year, in January, poets join together to participate in poetry readings that celebrate the life and poetry of William Stafford, formerly Poet Laureate of Oregon and Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, who was also a conscientious objector in World War II and a beloved teacher at Lewis and Clark College. Thanks to Paulann Petersen, the current Poet Laureate of Oregon, who organized the first Stafford reading back in 1998, Portland poets have a reason to come together in the coldest, darkest time of the year. This January there were over twenty-six Stafford readings in the Portland metropolitan area alone. Poets from various poetry “sects” communed and created community as they gathered in Stafford’s name. I believe that this act of celebrating a mentor, not only a fine poet but a fine man of integrity, has elevated the creative consciousness of Portland’s poetry community. Ripples of that consciousness have spread to other parts of Oregon as well as other cities in the United States, in addition to a number of countries abroad that have taken to hosting commemorative Stafford events.
Portland also is home to the VoiceCatcher (VC) anthology which showcases women’s poetry, prose, and visual art. The idea of a women’s cultural collection isn’t remarkable, but VC is remarkable in its support of women creatives. The editors work patiently with writers to suggest ways in which a piece might be improved. Frequently, writers are encouraged to resubmit that piece after reworking it. This kind of nurturing and hand-holding is hard to find in the competitive world of poetry publication.
And now we have Alive at the Center, an anthology that showcases poets of the Portland metro area as well as those of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., extending the sense of literary community we have here in Portland to the wider Pacific Northwest. Somehow, it just seems so Poetlandia-ish that such a project should originate here. The idea of a student-run university press is a novel idea, and Ooligan Press’ initiative to take on a project that would not only create a greater sense of community in Portland but extend that community to two other cities in a similar geographic area—one in another country, no less—is visionary. Moreover, there was a real need, in my opinion at least, for a poetry anthology featuring Pacific Northwest poetry that branched out beyond the natural world—which understandably dazzles poets fortunate enough dwell in this Pacific Northwest paradise—to focus on a more urban, edgy experience.
When I heard that Pacific Poetry Project was going to have an urban orientation, I was delighted, and I was honored to have a say in deciding whose work was chosen. For that, I owe a debt of gratitude to John Sibley Williams.
Over the years, Portland has provided many venues for many new poetic voices. In publishing Alive at the Center,Portland has invited poets from two Pacific Northwest sister cities to join the party. I feel very much alive at the center of Portland and its thriving poetic demimonde, Poetlandia.

Leah Stenson earned an MA in English Literature in 1971, and went on to do editorial work for the Soka Gakkai, serve as Managing Director of the Oregon Peace Institute for three years, actively support various nonprofit organizations, and publish multiple chapbooks, Leah has co-authored an English textbook as well as articles and book reviews, some of which have appeared in The Oregonian, The World Tribune, and School Library Journal. Her poetry has appeared in Oregon Literary ReviewNorthwest Women’s Journal, and Verseweavers, among others.
Leah’s poem “Night Train” is featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Portland edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer. Click here to hear Leah read “Night Train” and perform other poems! Or use the video below.

Susan McCaslin Guest Poet Post: “The Han Shan Poetry Project: How Poetry Came to Save a Rainforest”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Susan McCaslin, a poet from Fort Langley, BC. An earlier version of this piece was first published in the March 2013 issue of Common Ground. Please enjoy it!

The Han Shan Poetry Project: How Poetry Came to Save a Rainforest

Last Thanksgiving, my husband and I visited an old rainforest in GlenValley, Langley, British Columbia, not far from our home. We’d heard the Township of Langley was planning to sell it off to raise funds for capital projects.
As we walked through the forest, we paused at the base of a giant Black Cottonwood, possibly 240 or more years old. I’d fallen in love with a forest and become an activist.
This forest and a neighboring one had been publically owned for decades. The westernmost parcel, known as “McLellan Park West,” had been taken off the market because of public outcry led by a local group of residents called WOLF (Watchers of Langley Forests). In July, WOLF was given a two-month window to raise three million dollars with which to purchase McLellan Forest East.
Many felt it unfair to force residents to buy back land already belonging to them. Besides, shouldn’t there be other ways to raise funds for capital projects than destroying a rare, wild ecosystem?
It was rumored a local developer wished to selectively log and build private country estates. If this happened, the land would no longer be accessible to the public. It would cease to be a vital ecosystem providing suitable habit for the endangered Pacific Water Shrew, Oregon Spotted Frog, the blue-listed Red-legged Frog and Great Blue Heron.
Scientific reports had documented the ecological value of the forested areas, but the Mayor and Councillors continued to speak of the land as “inventory,” “surplus,” and “idle land.”
It takes a village to save a rainforest. But what can an artist do? It occurred to me that poets understand the intrinsic value of nature and out need for it. So I decided to organize “An Afternoon of Art and Activism” or “Art in the Park” in McLellan Forest East.
This event drew together local visual artists, poets, musicians, ecologists, photographers, a dancer, university students, high school students from the Langley School of Fine Arts, and the general public.
A week later, 160 high school students from the Langley Fine Arts School poured out of two big yellow buses to sketch, sing, and photograph the forest. After sharing their art in the woods, they organized a poetry reading and photo show of their own at a local café.
Next, my husband noticed an ad in the local paper announcing renowned wildlife artist Robert Bateman would be signing books in a nearby mall. He quickly emailed Bateman’s website, and within an hour or so, Bateman himself responded: “Yes, I’ll be there in the morning.”
Bateman commented on the irony of logging a vital ecosystem in order to build a recreation center elsewhere. “This is the recreation center, right here!” he said, gesturing to the earth. Shortly after, the story went national.
My poet friends were eloquent in their support for protection. Dispersed acrossCanada, many would be unlikely to come see the forest for themselves. How could their voices be present here?
Then I remembered studying the zesty poems of an old hermit monk from ancient China named Han Shan from Cold Mountain. There he scribbled poems on rocks and suspended them from trees. Han Shan was to become my mentor and muse. The Han Shan Poetry Project was born.
I put out a call for tree poems on the websites of the various writers’ organizations. Soon my calls appeared on people’s blogs and websites all over the world. Over 150 poems poured in within a week and a half, and within two weeks the number had gone up to over 200.
Han Shan Poems in Trees
We placed the poems in plastic paper protectors, threaded them with colorful ribbon, and festooned them from the trees. Poems poured in from all over the lower mainland, Vancouver Island, other provinces, as well as New Mexico, California, Florida,  the UK, Australia, and Turkey. The exhibit included poems by major prize-winning Canadian poets like Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, Fred Wah (the Poet Laureate of Canada), and children as young as six years of age.
Poems pirouetted like white angels. Heavy drops of rain, frost, sprigs of moss, and bark covered them and seemed the forest’s way of claiming them. We advertised the event in the local papers as the forest’s anthology. Poet had set their small gestures of creative expression beside the vaster creativity of nature.
Han Shan Poems 2
People arrived from all over the lower mainland to stroll through the woods, pausing to read the poems. Local visual artist Susan Falk donated a painting to the ongoing work of WOLF. The Opus Women’s Choir performed in the forest.
At the Langley Township meeting just prior to the December deadline, WOLF informed the politicians they weren’t able to raise the three million. A letter from the BC Ministry of Environment arrived that afternoon saying that, in response to recent government ecological studies, McLellan Forest should be protected as an “ecological reserve.” However, they would not provide funding to allow this to happen.
Within a few days, the Mayor and Council turned around, announcing the forest had been given another reprieve. A local newspaper declared McLellan Forest the “story of the year.”
In response to grassroots initiatives, in January of 2013, the Mayor and Council sent out a press release saying they were taking the parcels in the western part of the McLellan East off the market, while authorizing the sale of the four lots to the east. The community was greatly relieved that sixty percent of the forest would be saved. It was clear that without the public outcry, and months of work, the entire forest would have been sold.
Elation was qualified by disappointment, since the portion of land the politicians wish to sell contains some of the most sensitive habit for species at risk and endangered species.
Yet poets claim this union of arts and activism a victory for all. The Han Shan Poetry Project demonstrates that the arts have an untapped potential for transforming society. Art and activism can dovetail in remarkable ways. I would say this is because art pauses before beauty, raising the conflict between conservationists and developers beyond their various ends. It appeals to a common recognition of beauty in biodiversity.
An activist must live in the paradox of unknowing. For me, it wasn’t easy being in the process without attachment to outcomes. Yet there is always the consolation that nature holds us within a larger story, a more expansive narrative; that somehow our words and actions matter.
Han Shan Spirit
Yes, poetry matters, as old Han Shan himself could have told us.
The forest’s story is not over. McLellan Forest East and a  neighboring forest, McLellan Forest West have been taken off the market, but they are not yet permanently protected. If you wish to help, please write the Township of Langley and the Provincial government of BC, urging them to work together to designate McLellan Forest East as a park or ecological reserve both for the community and for posterity.
Township of Langley
Ministry of Environment, Hon. Dr.TerryLake

Three Poems for the Trees of McLellan Forest East,Fort Langley,BC

Susan McCaslin


Dear Black Cottonwood

   (GlenValley, Langley, British Columbia)
“I stood still and was a tree amid the wood…”
–Ezra Pound
Your saffron leaves unselve us
hollowed trunk a doorway
summoned from forest floor
Melded branches winding
whispered texts entangled
torqued to speechless autumn skies
flaming torsos rising
mottled leaves dropping
honed to shape of tears
What would take you out,
hang for sale signs by the roadway
all in the name of development
de-creating where children
breath in the moist greening
courtship cries of wild barred owls?

Dear Lovers’ Tree

I fell in love with a forest
and became an activist
but first there was you
one, no, two, two cedars twinned
around the heartwood of a tree husk
a realm—two torsos attuned
stretched limb to limb
two root systems’ wet entangling
two of you ascending
splitting, reuniting
like Plato’s round being
against the gods of progress
There are those who would chainsaw
your wide open hearts
and, yes, you pant toward union
under the sky canopy
bride-ing the soar of day
palm to palm like holy palmers’ kiss*
blessed jointure each to each
pressed each into the other’s ahhhh
So, silenced at your mossed knees
I surrender all
to the forest which makes and remakes
your lust and breath
your aching stately pavane**
*holy palmers’ kiss: Juliet to Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch,/ And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” Palmers are pilgrims who go to a sacred site.
**pavane: a stately Renaissance dance

Dear McLellan Forest

(for the students of the Langley School of Fine Arts who came on Oct. 15, 2012 to experience the endangered McLellan Forest, Glen Valley, Langley, BC)
For the graced and gravitied trees
lolling by the Fraser, this green hymn
Hildegard’s viriditas,
greening power, stemming from the woods
Green man, green woman, green child
mossed and tossed from green
for the unabashed tree huggers
who know it takes a village to save a forest
forHopkins’ Binsey Poplars
hacked and hewn
for the tall earth-honouring dream
and the dropping, dripping boughs
for the squadron of teens
streaming steadily from yellow buses
into the sacred space to stand
among maidenhair ferns
with serenades for the mushroom stairway
climbingCottonwood’s hollowed heart
for the auric fairy rings still visible
to un-inventoried eyes
for the Councillors who would barter heritage
for a recreation centre elsewhere
a deeper council, wisdom works,
a pealed appeal rising
Land appellants come
singing for hemlock and cedar—
those who long to be re-created
by mother world, held in green veils
chanting green

Susan McCaslin is an award-winning poet from Fort Langley, British Columbia, and Faculty Emeritus in English Literature of Douglas College in New Westminster, BC. Her most recent volume, Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press) was a finalist for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award, 2011) and the 2012 winner of the Alberta Book Publishing Award (Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award).
Susan’s poem “Border Boogie” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer

Jeannine Hall Gailey Guest Poet Post: “Building Community in a Tech Center—“Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Jeannine Hall Gailey, a poet from the Seattle, WA area. Please enjoy her post!

Building Community in a Tech Center—“Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks:” On Being Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington

Let me admit from the beginning of this post that I’m a reformed former techie—I spent a dozen years working as a technology manager at companies like AT&T, Capital One, and Microsoft.  So, though I have been focusing on life as a poet for the last ten years or so, I do have a special place in my heart for the kind of person who would rather talk about code, or Dig Dug, than the latest music or fashion.
When I first moved to Redmond over ten years ago, I couldn’t find an Open Mic, poetry workshop, or a bookstore with poetry readings anywhere in a thirty-minute driving radius. Seattle’s “Eastside” (two words smashed together into a general term covering cities like Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville, and Issaquah) was notorious for being a bit sterile and frosty: a bunch of malls and bedroom communities for high-tech workers uninterested in the kind of thriving arts scene that Seattle has been home to for years.
I was motivated then—and now—in trying to bring together not just poets but other artists who might help bolster and support each other being creative and finding spaces that were friendly to the arts. I didn’t want people to have to drive over the famous floating bridge to have an experience with poetry.
So the job of trying to build a poetry community in a town built largely around the technology industry (Microsoft, Nintendo, etc.) was one I was happy to take on when I took the job as Redmond, Washington’s second Poet Laureate. But the task of actually putting a plan into action has been challenging. I wanted to work in an innovative way, not just doing readings and writing occasional poems, but reaching out with topics that the local non-poet might actually be interested in—the language of science in poetry, e-publishing and social media, comic books in poetry.
I brought in other poets to talk about these topics, and when I did readings, I tried to incorporate other art forms—music, art, and theater.  I even created a slogan: “Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks!” The idea was to present the kind of work our community might enjoy, and in turn, that the community would see that poetry wasn’t just for the right-brained, but could appeal to math-lovers and coders and physicists as well.
I had wonderful partnerships with the local library—our library in Redmond is an anchor of one of the best library systems in the whole country, the King County Library system—and the librarians were wonderful about setting up events, providing space, and encouraging people to attend. We had lovely readings and panels at all hours, on weekends and weekdays. I had a great time visiting a local high school creative writing class, holding workshops with teens on things like anime and Japanese poetic forms, and holding a reading and a haiku workshop at a local art museum.
Some events were more successful than others; one book group I tried had only one or two people show up—but the talk on “e-publishing and social media for poets” brought in a full crowd of interested and engaged audience members, some of whom said they had never visited their library before. State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken brought in a healthy audience as well, bolstered by extra publicity from the KCLS Library system and a local book group who decided to try Kathleen’s book as their next choice, and even passers-by who were interested in talking about issues around Hanford (Kathleen’s second book, Plume, examines her childhood and early adult life and its relation to the Hanford nuclear site.)
I’ve asked more questions about the kinds of things that might help people be attracted to poetry and gotten to know people—neighbors, teachers, librarians and city officials—I might never have known if I hadn’t been in this position. I’ve done things I never dreamed of, like discussing poetry with my city’s mayor, or reading poetry for the city council.
In my second year, the question of how to continue making inroads in my community is an interesting one. Do I reach out to local workplaces, to the business community (Chamber of Commerce readings? Partnering with local visual artists?), or should I try harder to make inroads at the already overburdened school system? I’m a little daunted, and a little time-crunched, but that’s everyone working in the arts these days.  I’m hoping the guests I’ve brought in—artists, publishers, poets—and the groundwork I laid building up social media resources will help the next Poet Laureate find a more flourishing poetic community than the one I found when I first moved here. I’ve met many intelligent, thoughtful people who are committed to helping build an arts community here, which gives me hope for the program going forward.

Speaking of hope: my ambitions might be less grand that they were at the beginning of my two-year tenure. I’m a little more realistic, perhaps, about creating the vibrant poetry community that I once dreamed of.  I hope that the excellent poetry book selection at our local library has more customers than it used to; that newcomers to the town looking for poetry don’t feel quite as lost as I did all those years ago; that students at the local schools might get a chance to meet a real live poet and talk about poetry.
My definition of success right now is that even a few people will be drawn to poetry who have never before considered themselves “poetry people;”  that Redmond might be a friendlier town for writers (and avid readers) in the future; that the slogan I came up with for my tenure: “Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks” might be realized.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the current Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and has authored two books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011). Her third book, Unexplained Fevers, will be published this spring by New Binary Press.  She teaches a graduate seminar course at National University in California and was on the core faculty of the Centrum Young Artists Project in Port Townsend, Washington. Gailey’s work addresses feminist issues of power in mythology and comic book cultures, turning fairy tale stepmothers into empathetic characters, and holding up a mirror to contemporary American culture’s images of powerful women.
Jeannine’s poem “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter [Medical Wonder]” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Seattle edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.

Paulann Petersen Guest Poet Post: “Dedication”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Paulann Petersen, Oregon’s current Poet Laureate, who resides in Portland. Please enjoy her post and her 2013 Valentine, which follows.


“There isn’t really such a room with a connection to this struggling poet—is there?”
This is the opening sentence of a letter dated 23 March, 1993, a letter I’d just received from Bill Stafford, that struggling poet extraordinaire. He was asking about my classroom at West Linn High School.
I was in the spring of my second year at West Linn, a markedly crowded high school facility. The first year I taught there, my classroom was an AV cart I pushed to a different place each period, using other teachers’ rooms during their prep times. The second year, I got a classroom of my own, and the privilege of naming it. The West Linn English Department had a Jane Austen Room, a William Shakespeare Room, a Robert Frost Room, and a number of other rooms named—by the teachers who occupied them—for major literary figures.
It was my turn. What writer did I want to honor? I was a teacher who wrote, a writer who taught. What better writer/teacher/luminary than Bill? What better star than the one shining close to home, in Lake Oswego, just a few miles north of West Linn? So, the brass plaque above the door leading into my newly acquired classroom said THE WILLIAM STAFFORD ROOM.
By that spring of 1993, I’d had several months to settle in. On one wall, I’d put a number of Bill’s poems and photographs of him. But he wasn’t the only person feted in that room. On other walls, I’d posted my students’ poems, and dozens of photographs they’d taken. I put up student paintings and drawings I’d purchased. And big posters of Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Tina Turner, and Miles Davis.  And programs from West Linn theatrical productions.
Then more posters of Janis Joplin, Thelonius Monk, Gracie Slick, John Lee Hooker, Dexter Gordon, and Judith Jamison. The room buzzed with color and pizzazz. I’d painted a wild sunburst on the wall, surrounding the clock. Thai kites flew up and around the florescent lights.
I wanted to celebrate this showcase of creative personalities, so I wrote to Bill asking if he’d be willing to preside at a dedication party. In my letter to him, I briefly described the room, naming some of the others honored there, wondering if he’d be put off by such an eclectic, unconventional bunch.
He wasn’t. He agreed to come.

William Stafford and Paulann Petersen,
photograph by Mike Markee

The late April dedication day was stormy and raw. I filled the room with bouquets of lilacs from home. The department teachers pitched in to provide cookies and punch. An hour before Bill was due, the power went out. As soon as my last class left, I scrambled—pushing the refreshment table up near the room’s only outside window, hoping that its bit of natural light would be enough for Bill to read the few poems he’d said he’d read, enough to spotlight him. But why did I bother to worry? The power came back on shortly after Bill arrived.
People gathered in the room—teachers and students, a few with requests. Anne, our Fulbright Exchange teacher from Australia, asked him to read “Fifteen,” a poem she’d taught for years Down-Under. She was astonished that this world-famous poet had come to visit. A National Book Award winner, a former U.S. Poet Laureate was right there in the American public high school where she’d been assigned. She couldn’t quite believe it. Neither could the rest of us. We were gathered to dedicate a room named for a poet and peace activist who was extraordinarily dedicated to our community of readers and writers and teachers. We had come to honor him. By being there—in his easy, unassuming way—Bill was honoring us.
Bill read the poems people requested. He talked with our students, our teachers. He signed books, even putting his signature below “Fifteen” where it appeared in the text book Anne had brought with her. The afternoon grew late. Bill took his leave.
That day I’d brought a pot of Star-Gazer lilies to school, a gift for him to take home to Dorothy, a small way of saying thanks. Standing in my classroom doorway, under the WILLIAM STAFFORD ROOM plaque, I watched him walk away—down the long hall, toward the outside door. He had the pot of lilies in his right arm, tucked up against his ribs. With each step, those pale blooms bobbed from side to side.
That was April. He died in August.
Later, after the memorial gathering for Bill at Lewis & Clark, Kim Stafford and I exchanged a few words about the dedication of that classroom at West Linn High. I told Kim I was still a little amazed that his father would take the time and trouble to be there that late April afternoon. Amazed at his unpretentiousness. Grateful for his generosity to other teachers.
“Oh,” Kim said, “That’s just like Daddy! He was such a small-town guy.”
Paulann's Valentine

Paulann’s Valentine, 2013

Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate, Paulann Petersen, has published five full-length books of poetry, most recently The Voluptuary (Lost Horse Press). Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The New Republic, and Prairie Schooner, among others. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the recipient of the 2006 Holbrook Award from Oregon Literary Arts, she serves on the board of Friends of William Stafford, organizing the January Stafford Birthday Events.
Paulann’s poems “Appetite” and “Bloodline” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Portland edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.