This morning Governor Jay Inslee passed on the state's laurels to Seattle's outgoing Civic Poet, Claudio Castro Luna. She'll assume the laureateship on Feb 1. 2018, following an official handoff ceremony at the central branch of the Seattle Public Library on January 31st.
"We're really excited to have Claudia taking over this position," said Tod Marshall, the state's current poet laureate. "She’s experienced at outreach, she’s a wonderful speaker, and she’s passionate about bringing poetry to underserved communities."
Marshall, who was a member of the selection committee for the position, says his experience working with Castro Luna at a bilingual writing workshop in Wenatchee, WA, made a big impression on him. "I saw her working with kids and also some adults with limited English, and I could just see how easily she moves back and forth between communities, and how she connects poetry to people in ways that move beyond beyond academia's abilities, though she’s completely fluent in that world, too."
Along with giving readings and hosting workshops, during her tenure as Civic Poet Castro Luna created Seattle's Poetic Grid, a map of the city that she says chronicles "the emotional temperature of the city." Each point on the map features a poem that speaks to the experiences of people in that corner of the city.
In her capacity as the state's laureate, Castro Luna says she's excited to share the contributions that immigrants make to American life. "We often think of immigrants as working people—construction workers and people who work in restaurants—but we also work in the arts, and it's important to show that," she said.
She's also excited to serve as a role model for immigrant and nonimmigrant girls across the state, young women who, like her, might see writing a possibility for themselves but don't know it yet. Originally from El Salvador, Castro Luna came to the US when she was 14. She came to writing late, and says she thinks she would have started earlier if she'd met writers who looked like her.
One of the proposals she pitched to the selection committee involves working with community colleges across the state—she's identified seven with significant immigrant populations in Eastern Washington and in the the Skagit Valley— to create a network of emergent poets. "Poetry has the capacity for personal transformation, but also communal transformation that I hope can be activated so that those of us in the state can come closer to one another through our poetic experiences," she said.
Castro Luna says she's also looking forward to traveling all over the state—which is a huge part of the job—so that she can help create those poetic experiences for people. "In Seattle we have a wealth of literary activity—in Spokane and Bellingham as well—it is in the places in-between where bringing the light that poetry offers is really a wonderful and important thing," she said.
Right now she's in the process of gearing up for the adventures that await, which involves trading out her "really old" Toyota van for something with 4-wheel drive. "I have driven the same car for the past 12 years," she said. "I'll never make it back and forth across the pass with that thing. But thankfully my family is willing to give me this perk now that I have this position."
The poet laureate program is sponsored by Humanities Washington and ArtsWA, which Marshall says we're lucky to have. "I’ve been at lots of events where people have come together—had meaningful evenings talking about what community means. What it means to share language. What it means to think about how important it is to speak to one another openly and honestly. I know in other states there aren’t organizations like that. But the sad thing is that we could use more funding," he said.
Writing for the Seattle Times, Marshall points out that the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies ranks Washington 46th in the nation in terms state arts funding: "Washington’s per capita support is just 16 cents compared to neighbors Oregon (51 cents) and Idaho (46 cents). The highest? Minnesota ($6.26). Lowest? Arizona ($0)."