Date: May 18, 2023
Starting with the 28th issue of the 3rd Thursday Newsletter, I will be chronicling the Tacoma Artists Initiative Program project I am working on to compile and publish an anthology of poetry of Tacoma. The project is called Voices of Tacoma: A Gathering of Poets.
The underlying goal of this effort is to give other creatives an opportunity to share their passion through their writing. My purpose in taking on this project is to support the writers and poets who have formed a vibrant literary arts community in the South Sound.
The project will culminate with the publication of the book, set for early Autumn 2024, and so for the next several months I will be sharing with readers of this newsletter the journey to make this happen.
Chronicle of Voices of Tacoma: A Gathering of Poets - Part I
The first task, immediately after getting word that it was selected for funding, was to finalize the project plan. Before compiling, editing, and publishing the book even begins there are monthly gatherings to coordinate, workshops to schedule (which requires finding interested - and interesting - facilitators to lead topics of which the subjects had yet to be determined). So much to do.
It was a little overwhelming at first but once I put the plan on paper, with all of the steps I could think of that I would need to complete, I felt a little better about how to get things going.
First of all I realized there had to be a call to action - a reason for poets to want to join the project. The monthly gatherings needed to be scheduled. Word needed to spread so anyone who wanted to join the project could participate.
Flyers were made and printed and I began my pilgrimage to find every place in Tacoma where a poet might wander into, where I could post these announcements for their attention. Bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, tea shops, local grocery stores, local bars and eateries, community centers, barbershops (yes, poets get their haircut too), and any other place that would let me put it on their bulletin board.
In some cases the business didn’t have a public facing community board but they posted the flyers in their employee break rooms, which was even better. Soon I discovered issues with the first version of the flyers, so I revised and reprinted them and then continued on my journey to post them.
The website needed to be designed and so I worked on that in the wee hours of the night. I am sure there are professionals cringing when they click on the link, but I am happy with it for now.
Of course the project needed a social media presence and so @agatheringofpoets accounts were created on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Mastodon. The anthology will be “poetry of Tacoma, about or inspired by” and so the social media strategy needed to follow the same thread. While I was on my pilgrimage to the various corners of the City passing out flyers I would pull my Subaru off the side of the road and jump out to take photos of iconic Tacoma landmarks with my phone. I also have been including images taken years ago of a Tacoma which has since disappeared, to memorialize our city’s past.
One thing that I had put a lot of thought to was the statement in my TAIP application that this was to be, “the first Tacoma Poetry anthology published in more than ten years.” Although I had every reason to believe that was true, based on my original research, I was concerned that I didn’t know enough to substantiate that statement. I certainly didn’t want to dishonor the work that had come before.
So, one day when I was in the Tacoma Public Library Main Branch (passing out flyers), I asked the librarian how I could find out more about the history of anthologies of Tacoma poetry. Their eyes lit up and, with an I’m-glad-you-asked-I’m-a-librarian-smile, they told me how to schedule time with the staff in the Northwest Room on the website.
In advance of my appointment I had researched three books which were anthologies of poetry with connection to Tacoma. They all had been published in Tacoma, by Tacoma poets, but the focus of the poetry in these anthologies was not strictly “poetry of, about, or inspired by Tacoma” and two of them had indeed been written more than 10 years ago.
The first of these, and the one I had in mind when I was writing the application, was In Tahoma’s Shadow: Poems from the City of Destiny, 2009, by William Kupinse (first Tacoma Poet Laureate, 2008-2009) and Tammy Robacker (2010-2011 Tacoma Poet Laureate). This book is a collection of poetry by Tacoma-based poets and a testament to the strength of the literary community as many of the contributing poets are still active today and many went on to write their own books of poetry.
The second book was Sarasvati Takes Pegasus As Her Mount, 2013, by Josie Emmons Turner (available at King’s Books). Turner, the 2011-2013 Tacoma Poet Laureate, created a beautiful collection of poems that speak across a broad range of topics, but only two of the poems reference Tacoma: “The I Street Presbyterians” by Tammy Robacker (see above), and “The Cleaning Up of Puget Creek” by Turner.
The last of the books which I had was We Need A Reckoning (2021) by Gloria Joy Kazuko Muhammad. This incredible anthology, published by Blue Cactus Press, includes poetry, essays, and memoir by women and non-binary people of color in the Tacoma area. I was fortunate to be able to have joined the Book Launch event for We Need A Reckoning in December 2021 and the list of contributors again demonstrates the strength and beauty of our literary community.
I highly recommend all three of these books to anyone interested in poetry - I had a hard time finding my copy of In Tahoma’s Shadow: Poems from the City of Destiny, but both of the others are available at King’s Books.
On the Saturday of my appointment I arrived, as instructed, at the loading dock of the Main Library, in the alley, and was escorted through the back door into the Northwest Room. The Library staff was amazing. Based on the information I submitted when I scheduled the appointment they had prepared several items for me including: a list of keyword searches for Tacoma poetry, several books, two file folders with news clippings going back to the mid-1930’s, and a large moving box which contained all of the files from the Tacoma Poetry Appreciation Club, from 1937 to 1977.
After the Librarian explained to me the materials which they had compiled, I was informed that there was also an audio collection of poetry from the Tacoma Public Library Book Notes Radio Program which they would email a link to me. The "Book Notes" radio program aired on KTNT radio (1400 AM, owned by the Tacoma News Tribune) on Sunday nights from the 1950s through the 1970s. Listening to the recordings when I got home I was amazed to hear these “fireside” conversations with local poets.
I was overwhelmed by what the staff at the library had prepared. The wide ranging material will keep me busy as I do further research on the topic. The one thing that stuck out to me in my survey of the material was the rich literary community was alive and well nearly 100 years ago, and that the more recent history is rich with an interlacing of poets - many who are still a part of Tacoma’s literary scene!
Stay tuned for next month’s installment of this series, which will include the first Gathering of Poets, as well as other stories about the formation of Voices of Tacoma: A Gathering of Poets.
More information about Voices of Tacoma: A Gathering of Poets
The first Monthly Poet Gathering (a hybrid writer's group) will be held at 6:30pm on May 31 at Tacoma Public Library - Moore Branch. All of the meetings will also be accessible via Zoom. For more information check out Voices of Tacoma or scan the QR code below.
There will be four poetry workshops facilitated by local poets, publishers, and literary artists. These will start in September and we have a couple of exciting facilitators lined up already. We are gathering ideas for topics and are looking for more facilitators so please reach out if you have suggestions or would like to lead a workshop.
The third component is the poetry submission process, (open to poets of all ages and from anywhere). The topic of the anthology is poetry about, or inspired by, Tacoma. The plan is to open the submissions in early 2024.
The last component is the compilation and editing of the poetry anthology, with a publishing date in Fall 2024. There will be poetry readings where all contributors will be invited to participate and celebrate their work and all contributing poets will receive a copy of the anthology.
For questions or media inquiries about the project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This project is partly funded by the Tacoma Artists Initiative Program.