A poetic grid for the city of Seattle.
A "poetic grid" for the city of Seattle. Courtesy of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture

Seattle’s Civic Poet, Claudia Castro Luna (yes, we have our very own civic poet) has created a poetic map of Seattle, with support from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.

Castro Luna’s “interactive poetic cartography of the city” includes poems from luminaries like Denise Levertov, Theodore Roethke and Richard Hugo, alongside a superb roster of local writers like former Washington state poet laureate Kathleen Flenniken, Michelle Peñaloza, Quenton Baker, Jim Cantu, Susan Rich, and Imani Sims, among many others.

“I just think that it's a way of understanding the city visually,” Castro Luna explains. “We have street grids, we have telephone grids. Why not a poetic grid, that kind of tells us just where we are as individuals?”

“Seattle needs this,” Castro Luna continues. “We are a place that's being transformed by technology and this just fits in with who we are as a city. I mean, these changes are tremendous changes occurring in the city, so we need to also occupy a digital space.”

Seattle certainly has its fair share of digital projects documenting the city’s changes—there’s Ghosts of Seattle Past, and a host of depressing maps illustrating the rapid gentrification of Seattle’s neighborhoods. But, Castro Luna says, a poetry map is just as important to chronicle the emotional temperature of the city.

“Poetry is like a vertical and horizontal line meeting each other: feelings and technology. Poems are all about feeling, each point on the map is like a little bubble of feeling. And I think they're just able to tell us so much more than statistics could.”

During her two-year stint as Civic Poet, Castro Luna collected work from poets as well as senior citizens, South Park elementary and middle school students, and other Seattleites at drop-in poetry writing sessions during her residency at the Seattle Public Library.

The map presents a pretty diverse swath of the city, with poems in multiple languages like Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic. Castro Luna chose to leave those poems untranslated on the map—and encourages anyone who seeks to understand the poem to seek out a translator or a friend who knows the language. “I'm an immigrant,” Castro Luna explains (she arrived in the U.S. from El Salvador at the age of 14), “and there's something about just being there, and claiming that space.”

You can also contribute your own poems about your neighborhood as well. “I want this to become kind of a living map. I don't want it to be static,” she adds.

Castro Luna will read from the Seattle Poetic Grid project this evening, joined by other writers who contributed to the project, at Open Books in Wallingford.