A new poet laureate has been crowned on Vashon.
Susan Lynch, who has taught poetry at the Harbor School and also presented, read and juried poetry at recent exhibitions at Vashon Center for the Arts, accepted the mantle as laureate on June 27 at a ceremony at Vashon Winery.
Lynch follows several other distinguished poets — Ann Spiers, Ina Whitlock, Cal Kinnear, Lonny Kaneko and Merna Hecht — who have served as Vashon’s poet laureates since the post was established in 2011.
The process of selecting a new laureate has varied through the years, said Hecht. But in Lynch’s case, the decision was made by a committee that included grandees of the island’s poetry community and all the surviving former poet laureates. Kaneko died in 2017.
Lynch moved to Vashon Island in 2014, after completing a master’s degree in creative writing and poetry from Goddard College’s West Coast program in Port Townsend. She earned her undergraduate degree in English from Reed College, with a year at Oxford University.
Remarkably, all of Lynch’s adventures in higher education began when she was in her mid-50s.
Originally from a suburb of Chicago, Lynch followed other career paths that have included working as a singer and recording artist with Epic Records and as a private consultant in the tech industry in Los Angeles, among other jobs. She has had an affinity and connection to the Pacific Northwest since her teen years when she dropped out of a boarding school to co-found a commune in the wilds of Oregon. The land is now a deeded benevolent family conservation trust, she said.
Now, at age 65, Lynch finds herself a leading figure in Vashon’s vibrant poetry community.
“It was really such an honor,” she said, recalling that shortly after she had moved to Vashon, she’d found out the community had a poet laureate and felt “some little spark of me thinking, ‘I’d like to be that thing.’”
Her plans for what she will do as laureate are still taking shape, she said. She currently leads a weekly poetry group on the island, edits collections and is also a shamanic practitioner in private practice.
“My tagline is that I want to ‘do cool stuff with poetry,’” Lynch said. “I have some ideas, and I’m just waiting a little bit to start mapping them all out — I’m being hesitant right now, but it will be good.”
Lynch praised the traditions already in place in the community, including a robust schedule of readings at Vashon Bookshop and the existence of several poetry groups that meet regularly at various island locations. She said she was also excited by her experiences at Vashon Center for the Arts, calling the arts center “a fertile ground for island poets and artists to work together.”
She said she also hopes to bring more poetry events to Snapdragon’s new Black Cat Cabaret.
In recent years, Vashon’s poet laureates have been instrumental in organizing a biennial poetry festival on Vashon, last held in 2017. In 2019, the poetry festival did not take place, as its traditional April presentation conflicted with the first edition of Vashon Lit Con, held at Vashon Center for the Arts that month. Local and regional poets participated in that event, instead.
But Hecht, the outgoing poet laureate, said that she supports the idea of the return of the poetry festival, as it was well attended in the past.
Highlights of Hecht’s tenure as poet laureate included a 2018 fundraising effort that ultimately raised approximately $4,000 for the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project. As part of that effort, Hecht organized a sold-out reading at Vashon Bookshop by poets including the Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna. In May 2019, another sold-out poetry event at the Bookshop, spearheaded by Hecht, featured famed Northwest poet Tess Gallagher.