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In Step With Laura Da’: ‘Poetry That Engages with History and Image in Cascadia’

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

By Laura Lee Bennett

On October 14th, 10:30 am at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse, Redmond Poet Laureate Laura Da’ will discuss the practice of writing about the place and history of the Cascadia bioregion. Da’ will read from her collections of poetry and provide context into her creative process of engaging with the land and history both as a writer and teacher. Also, Da’ will discuss her engagements with the waterways and lands of Redmond during her tenure as poet laureate, including her poetic maps of the Lake Sammamish and Sammamish River

We caught up with Laura for a bit of Q&A.

RHS: Where does the term “Cascadia” come from? What is meant by the “Cascadia bioregion”?

Laura: “Cascadia” is a term that has been used for the last few decades to describe the region from the Cascade Mountain Crest to the Pacific Ocean in the areas of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Our region’s incredible natural abundance, diversity, and saturation all contribute to its status as an utterly singular region.

RHS: How does poetry connect us to history? How do we honor place and community through writing poems?

Laura: Poetry connects to the history through the movement from the individual poet’s vision to the collective of the historical narrative and of the audience itself. Poetry embraces the ambiguity of history—not just one story or place, but a biome of narratives.

RHS: What gave you the idea to create “poetic maps” of local waterways? How did you create the poetry prompts?

Laura: I proposed the creation of poetic maps to encourage creative engagement with the land. Many people are fundamentally disconnected from the land they live, work, and learn on, and I am so pleased to have learned more about the lands and waters of Redmond by creating these maps and walks and encouraging greater knowing in the public as well. I elected to highlight waterways to acknowledge the original routes of movement and ecosystem environments of the region.

RHS: During your tenure as Redmond Poet Laureate, you’ve worked with the City’s Streams and Habitat Team, and led workshops at the Old Firehouse Teen Center. How have these experiences informed your teaching style and curriculum?

Laura: Being in community has been the best part of my laureateship. I particularly treasure all of the time and knowledge that the Streams and Habitats Team has generously offered me, from showing me a pre-contact tree off a trail to explaining the Bear Creek fish rehabilitation process. Working with young people to write about the local ecosystem also helped me feel more deeply connected to the community.

RHS: In the 2023 issue 1 of Humanities Washington Spark Magazine, in an interview with WA State Poet Laureate Arianne True, she says, “Anyone can do poetry. Poetry is for the People.” What are your thoughts on this?

Laura: I agree with this statement!

RHS: You are Eastern Shawnee, and past WA State Poet Laureate Rena Priest is a member of the Lummi Nation. Also, Arianne True is Choctaw/Chickasaw. What are your thoughts on why poets of Native Nations are currently serving in these roles? Is there a trend here?

Laura: Indigenous poets are not so much the trend as the integral and perpetual storytellers of the land itself. I see myself as a product of tribal sovereignty, someone who benefited from tribal education and community connections that helped prepare me to serve. Perhaps that is a part of the resurgence of Indigenous representation. We are speaking from community traditions that have always been here and it is a beautiful thing to be a part of.

RHS: What's the status of the Idylwood Park Poetry Walk? We can share info (and/or flyer) on our website and social media. Please let us know how we can help to promote this event.

Laura: The Idylwood Poetry Walk is currently being installed with a focus on the unique ecosystem of Lake Washington and the Kokanee Salmon. Resources can be found here: . We will be holding a special celebration event with projections and prompts on site on the evening of October 6.

RHS: Let’s step outside the RPL role for a moment. As Poetry in Public (formerly Poetry on Buses) Poet Planner, you are leading a 4Culture project called “Places of Landing.” In a nutshell, what can you tell us about that? How can the community participate?

Laura: I am the Poet Planner for King County for the next two years and I brought many of my experiences from my laureateship to the experience. I want to encourage poetry across the county and to honor the histories and ecosystems of our region. I came up with the following theme: Many of our transportation hubs, roads, docks, and recreational spaces exist directly over Indigenous places of landing. As our community grows and changes, new paths will arise. The concept of landings extends from the land itself to each person’s sense of being, and we all hold memories of the places that shape our days. “Places of Landing” will offer writing and thinking prompts created to engage with place, water, and season and to connect literacy and land with a sense of balance, agency, and regard of place.

Please feel free to check out the resources, attend a workshop, and submit a poem.

More info about this October 14 Saturday Speaker program:

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