Just in time for National Poetry Month, there are two newly published poetry collections by writers with roots in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
“Rose Quartz” is the debut poetry collection by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe, the author of “Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk,” the featured book for the 2023–24 season of Whatcom READS. LaPointe, from the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian tribes, comes from a strong tradition of storytelling, as the great-granddaughter of Vi taqʷšəblu Hilbert, respected teacher of Lushootseed language and culture.
The poems are divided into four sections, each titled with the name of a healing gemstone and a tarot card, the significance of which is not spelled out. The symbolism in this book is there to discover, but not without some effort.
LaPointe appears to be the central character of the poems that collectively form a story of trauma and growth. If you have read her memoir, “Red Paint,” you’ll recognize the themes of that book, told here with poetry and metaphor. The book is spellbinding and the language alternates between ethereal and concrete.
The book is spellbinding and the language alternates between ethereal and concrete. (Image courtesy of Milkwood Editions)
The author summons Northwest Indigenous cultural myths and European fairy tales to deliver digestible truths. Like Hansel and Gretel, she drops breadcrumbs to keep us on the right path: references to bands like Boys II Men and Bikini Kill, movies such as “Wolverine” and “Pocahontas” and the television show “Twin Peaks” remind us how we are connected to this poet. Localities such as La Conner; Skagit County; Astoria, Oregon; the Space Needle; and the Duwamish River tell us this is happening where we live, up and down Interstate 5 and Highway 101. LaPointe is a storyteller for our time and place.
Another collection to look out for is “I Sing the Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State,” edited by Rena Priest.
A poetry anthology is like a flight of beers at your local taphouse. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to a variety of flavors and walk home with some new favorites.
As the culminating project of her two-year reign as Washington State Poet Laureate, Priest, from the Lummi Nation, has put together a flight of 100 poems from Washington state poets, celebrating the salmon that have always lived in our waters.
The poets in this collection are published by Empty Bowl Press, located in Chimicum, Jefferson County. Contributors include everyone from elementary school children to world-class writers like Port Angeles poet Tess Gallagher and her late husband, renowned short story author Raymond Carver.
As the culminating project of her two-year reign as Washington State Poet Laureate, Rena Priest, from the Lummi Nation, has put together a flight of 100 poems from Washington state poets, celebrating the salmon that have always lived in our waters. (Book cover art courtesy of Joseph Seymour Jr., "The Run That Used to Be")
With poets hailing from Spokane to Seattle, Yakima to Point Roberts, I was somehow not surprised to find 27 poets from Whatcom County represented in this volume. We are surrounded by writers.
Cast your net into this river of poems, and you will get a haul of stories and prayers and memories and hopes. You’ll read poems that take place in Roxhill Park and Thornton Creek, Hammersley Inlet and the Grand Cooley, Newhalem and Bellingham’s Taylor Dock. LaPointe’s heartbreaking Salmon People’s Island is another point of reference: “on a wooden square / in the Salish language / it read Salmon People Island / and I was excited to find / something about this place / that I could recognize,” she writes.
Some of these poems are snapshots of life, or subtle commentary on our mistreatment of salmon, some are visual poems, some are anchored with scientific terms or Indigenous words. Some are humorous, some call upon tradition. Some are about saving the salmon, some are about eating them. A hundred voices, a hundred thoughts, a hundred poems written by our neighbors.
In her introduction, Priest writes, “It is my hope that stitching together these poems will bond the poets in real life as well as in these pages … ” Hear from her, and a number of other poets in the anthology, at public readings taking place at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at the Seattle Public Library, and 4 p.m. Monday, April 10 at the State Reception Room on the third floor of the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. Both events are free. Find out more at arts.wa.gov.
Neil McKay is the online experience coordinator for Whatcom County Library System. Visit wcls.org to place your hold on "Rose Quartz" and “I Sing the Salmon Home” and to learn more about the power of sharing at the library.
Submit your own poetry through noon on Monday, April 17 for a chance to be published in Cascadia Daily News. Check out the rules.