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State poet laureate will read poetry with local youth

Washington state poet laureate Elizabeth Austen will read poems with three young island poets. - John Ulman Photo
Washington state poet laureate Elizabeth Austen will read poems with three young island poets.
— image credit: John Ulman Photo


When Washington state poet laureate Elizabeth Austen was invited to read poetry with three Vashon youth this week, she says she jumped at the chance to join them.

“I want to signal that I support those who engage in poetry,” said Austen. “It will be my first reading on Vashon as poet laureate, and besides, who can resist the chance to come to Vashon?”

The three fifth-grade poets — Kolibri Enson-Overstreet, Kai Godsey and Malio Nelson — have been working for the past two years with Sharon Shaver through Family Link. Shaver said creating poetry is a boisterous experience for the three boys.

Poetry as an experience fits well with Austen’s philosophy and her vision to help others see the poetic light. Austen, whose tenure as poet laureate began last February, plans to visit the state’s 39 counties by the end of her term in 2016. Hoping to speak to book groups and generate poetry-writing workshops across the state, Austen created the website to show where she’ll be at any given time. She said she hopes the tour will help promote her philosophy that poetry belongs in everyone’s life.

“Most adults have a bad taste in their mouth from poetry as a child. I can’t imagine my life without poetry, so I want to gather 10 to 15 people in a group to read and write poetry to understand how it works and what it offers.”

For Austen, poetry offered refuge after the death of her older brother. It helped make sense of his death and what it means to be alive. She explained that poetry is often used for weddings and funerals because as poet Marie Howe wrote, poetry is a cup of language to hold what can’t be said.

“I want people to know that those experiences are part of everyday life as well,” Austen added, “and poetry helps with that.”

Following the three Vashon poets, Austen will read work by poets from eastern Washington and from her recent book “Every Dress a Decision.” She says she believes in the power of the spoken word.

“Something magical is possible in a performance that doesn’t happen anywhere else — something electric, immediate and entirely ephemeral,” she said.

The reading will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Vashon Bookshop.

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