Elizabeth Austen is on a mission share the experience of poetry in all 39 counties in Washington state.
Austen, 49, is the state’s poet laureate and she will kick off the Gig Harbor Library’s spring poetry series with a reading on Thursday (April 2) night.
Austen wants to break the misconception that all poetry is old, dry and written to be read in a high school English class. She wants people to realize that poetry is alive and well. That’s why she’s traveling the state sharing her poems with people.
“When people tell me they don’t like poetry, I tell them, ‘You just haven’t heard the right poetry,’” she said.
Austen is based in Seattle and in her day job works at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Her 2011 poetry collection, “Every Dress a Decision,” was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.
She began her tenure as poet laureate in February 2014. Her term will expire in January.
Austen said that many people use stories to explain the world, but poems have a way of encapsulating what can’t be explained.
“(Poems) capture the mystery of being human,” she said. “That’s why we reach for them at funerals and weddings.”
The spring poetry series is a long-running tradition for the Gig Harbor Library. The April series ties into National Poetry Month.
Branch manager Joy Kim said the readings show that libraries are more than book depositories. There is a difference between simply checking out a book of verse and hearing the written word aloud.
The readings also bring together people who may not know much about poetry and those who are passionate.
“It’s really about building community,” Kim said.
In total, the library will host three readings and a workshop. Other readings include:
• April 23: Tim Sherry, a Tacoma-based teacher and high school principal. He was an Artsmith Artist Resident on Orcas Island and his poems have been published in various literary journals.
• April 30: Kevin Miller, a former Fulbright Exchange teacher in Denmark and 39-year veteran of public school teaching. He has received poetry honors and grants.
Miller will lead a poetry workshop called Poetry is Not a Gated Community at 9 a.m. April 25. The workshop will include writing and time to share work, edit, revise and correspond. Registration is requested; to register visit piercecountylibrary.org/calendar.
Austen keeps a blog at wapoetlaureate.org. Examples of her poetry are available at elizabethausten.wordpress.com/poems.