For Trevor Rotzien, it’s the chalky bones of miners haunting the gravelly hills around the port. For Chia Collins, it’s a personal journey of endurance lived out on South Ninth and I streets. For Sharon Chambers Gordon, it’s about exploring Mount Rainier.
But for Lucas Smiraldo, Tacoma’s current poet laureate, the Laureate Listening Project is about every one of the 55 voices captured in the online audio anthology of poetry designed to capture Tacoma’s sense of place. The project will be presented at a live open-mic launch this Friday.
“I’m really thrilled with it,” Smiraldo says of the Spark grant-funded project that caps his two-year laureate term. “It’s in the spirit of democratizing the arts — it includes the voices of folks who would not traditionally be included in literary compilations but have something to say about their region.”
The project consists of a webpage within the City of Tacoma’s site that links recordings of local people reading their own poems with a photo of them and a Google Earth view of the place that inspired their poem. Each poem/poet is also marked on an interactive map of the city, so that the poems can be searched by geographic location or by a photo list.
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Smiraldo, who began recording the poems last year at Tully’s downtown, had only one requirement for inclusion: That the poem be somehow reflective of a spirit of place, centering on Tacoma.
Tacoma’s poet laureateship is a two-year city-managed position charged with furthering Tacoma’s literary life through workshops, readings and more permanent projects. Previous laureates have compiled traditional book anthologies, but Smiraldo wanted to get away from that concept and into the oral, folk poetry tradition.
There were no cuts — “If folks were willing to come to be recorded, they were in,” Smiraldo says — and poets range from published authors like Connie Walle, Smiraldo himself, former laureate William Kupinse and spoken word artist Josh Rizeberg to scientists, railroad superintendants, teachers, even a 30-voice collage poem by students at the Peace Community Center. There are poems from Fort Lewis to the tideflats, from Gig Harbor to Mount Rainier — poems about nature, about the city, about intensely personal experiences and about history. Most last a minute or two, making it easy to dip into the anthology; it’s also mobile-friendly.
Of the 55 people who contributed, about half will read their poems live at the project’s launch Friday at B Sharp Coffeehouse, where Smiraldo also hosts a monthly poetry night.
But the Laureate Listening Project isn’t over yet. Smiraldo says he wants more diversity in the project, particularly the inclusion of Native American voices, and hopes to get another grant to take the project on the road to different communities.
But overall, Tacoma’s poet laureate — who will hand over his position to a new poet in May — is happy with the first wave of the project, which he sees as community-building in a larger way.
“It’s a permanent piece of oral history for what Tacoma was like in 2014-15,” he says.