No Rhyme or Reason

Act II of the City of Olympia’s tale of the poet laureate is about to open. 

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.

Juliet, Act II, Scene I, “Romeo and Juliet”

As you may recall, the previous act of this drama ended when the city declined to award the distinction to the one poet who applied for the position during the most recent call for entries and declined to respond to calls to reconsider, saying it was unusual to receive just one entry.

The poet, Lene`e Reid, whose application has been retained by the city, was not pleased and she and the 365 people who signed a petition on her behalf accused the city of bias against her. The city has said that’s not the case.

The city’s Arts Commission is planning to meet December 10 at 6 p.m. to discuss the process to be used to select the next poet “with a focus on addressing diversity, inclusion, and community.” It also will make a recommendation to the Council on whether to move forward with a call for applications or to wait until a review of the application process is complete.

An exhaustive two-page staff report recounts interviews with board members of the Olympia Poetry Network who were aware of the opportunity. Some felt the pandemic would hamper the work of the Poet Laureate, others did not, it says. 

Of particular note is the Network’s concern about the title of the position and the work that is required. “The poetry community considers the title ‘Poet Laureate’ to be an honorific, bestowed upon a poet of great stature,” the report says. “The work required of the Olympia position, to engage the community in the literary arts, is considered to be more along the lines of a Civic Poet.” The city of Seattle has a civic poet position; the Network thinks Olympia should consider re-titling the program to match the work of the position.

Another theme that emerged from others commenting is the importance of having Black, Indigenous, and People of Color representation in the position of Poet Laureate. The staff report says that goal aligns with the City’s “dedication to equity and inclusion.” 

The city recently hired an Equity and Inclusion Coordinator and is developing a community Social Justice and Equity Commission. “Now is an especially pivotal time to utilize the power of poetry and language to contribute insight, understanding, and healing to the community dialogue of current events. Tailoring the Poet Laureate program to respond to issues of the day, such as equity and inclusion, climate change, etc., can also help to underscore the service aspect of the appointment,” the report said.

The Commission has determined that a minimum of four applications will be required. 

Maybe we’ll find out the title for the position in Act III. 

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By Mindy Chambers

2 Comments

  • Avatar
    Katherine Kelly -

    Thank you for writing about this. When I asked the question, I was told that the person who had applied didn’t have the “right credentials.” Since I could find no credentials required posted on any City webpages and no City staff could tell me what those “credentials” might be… I assume that the City was hoping for someone a little more “mainstream.” As a poet and a member of the Olympia community, I think the City, once again, failed to consult with the people affected by the decision.

  • Avatar

    I am the person that applied and I’m over qualified. The city told everyone that contacted them something different. They just want anyone but me to be poet laureate. This is evidenced by their former poet laureate selection, a college student from Indiana. I am in my 40s and perform on stage better than anyone on the Olympia poetry network board and they all know it. I was the last grand slam winning poet in town. I am published. I have volunteered in the schools. I perform live in front of hundreds of people regularly. I just opened the Seattle Women’s March. I was in a a documentary. Literally it’s pathetic how they did me. You could not have more biases and be told it and still turn around looking for someone else. No one else wants it and no one else has a petition with over 300 signatures.

    This is how impossible it is for disabled people of color to get a job and it broke my spirit.

    People of color literally deal with this exact narrative all the time and it needs to stop. When I applied there was no minimum pool requirement. It’s pathetic how they did me. Poetry is about the only thing I am qualified to do. Poetry heals me sleeps me alive.

    Credentials? I’ll let the internet in on a secret right here. My grandpa was a baptist preacher. My grandma was the choir director. I grew up sleeping in the pews. I read the Bible in its entirety. I have a massage therapy degree and organize inclusive community. Black folks from the church don’t need a degree. I have perfect pitch. I memorize. I project. I don’t need a mic. Seems like people hate that.

    And I’m not qualified to read and speak?

    They interviewed academic retirees who run an monthly show. That’s their two page research. I ran a weekly poetry show for over a year. Volunteered and booked it myself.

    It’s just flat out disgusting. Credentials? Hogwash.

    Poetry is my passion and half the town knows it.

    Honestly it’s just sad and I don’t care anymore but I wish more people knew how impossible it is for disabled people of color. It’s really not that complicated or difficult to see.

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