Rena Priest, Washington State Poet Laureate
I thought about that word, ‘discovery’ and how it was used to justify the dispossession and genocide of Indigenous Peoples of the western hemisphere. The poem was written with an urgent feeling that everyone ought to pull together and figure out how to live sustainably on this Earth with each other, otherwise, we carry ‘discovery’ forward in our hearts, as a justification for genocide and the continued destruction of our planet.”—Rena Priest
Out On a Limn
As we enter into this summer of post-Covid recovery, it feels as if we’re on the threshold of a new world – one that is familiar but reconfigured at the same time. Throughout this turmoil, we’ve turned to nature as a source of solace and healing. During the Covid months, I found daily comfort in the natural world – jumping the waves with my dogs, listening to the wind howl down Deception Pass, keeping track of my favorite Downy Woodpecker at the feeder, waiting for the first Rhododendron bloom of the season. Our reunion with nature during a time of plague is certainly ironic – a definite reversal of 21st century expectations – but as we cross the threshold into this world, the poets can be our pathfinders, enriching our relationship with nature.
In our May group practice, we explored regional poets in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, specifically Theodore Roethke, Tess Gallagher, Samuel Green, Kathleen Flenniken, Washington State’s current poet laureate, Rena Priest, a Lummi tribal member, and Christ Church’s own, Margo Huth. All these poets express a deep reverence for the Earth, for the glory of natural living, for the beauty of kinship that we possess with nature. They also pose the hard questions, the ones that we ponder personally and politically: Why do we continue to neglect and harm the Earth? Why don’t we preserve the natural world for those who come after us? How do we live in a way that blesses the Earth?
In addition to Roethke’s The Waking, linked above, we read In a Dark Time and discussed his influence on other poets, like Tess Gallagher and Samuel Green. Watch below: Theodore Roethke (1908-1963), is celebrated in SCCtv’s half-hour documentary by award-winning filmmaker Jean Walkinshaw.
- Place yourself in the setting of the poem. What can you see, hear, taste, touch and smell? What sensation stands out for you in the poem?
- What is the pace of the poem? Does it move quickly or slowly? Boldly or timidly?
- What is the voice of the poem? For example, is it relaxed, passionate? Humorous or sober?
- What do you notice or appreciate about the poem?
- What connections do you have to the poem? What chord does the poem strike in you? Memories or experiences that you’ve had?
- How do you feel as you read the poem? What is the mood of the poem – the “emotional weather” of the poem?
- What dazzles you in the poem? What line or image “lights up” for you?
- How has the poem continued its effect on you since our mindful reading?
Watch: Rena Priest reads her poem, Silence from the Deep…