February was a banner month for Seattle civil engineer turned poet Kathleen Flenniken. President of local poetry publisher Floating Bridge Press, she released a new collection, Plume (about growing up in the shadow of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation), and was appointed poet laureate of Washington state, a two-year position that comes with an annual stipend of $10,000 (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) and a mission to build a statewide audience for poetry.
During her reign, Flenniken plans to organize poetry readings in all 39 of the state’s counties, featuring poets from across Washington.
“I think of it as matchmaking,” she says, “finding new audiences for excellent poets and finding exciting new poets for audiences all over the state.” She’ll also teach poetry workshops in schools, especially in areas where arts funding has been cut.
During April (National Poetry Month), she’ll be busy doing several readings from Plume, which she calls a search for identity. “I grew up in Richland, and our town lived one truth about Hanford: that it was safe,” she says. But after that belief was proven to be false, she wondered, “How could my parents’ generation—the most ethical, moral, responsible people I could imagine—be party to this deceit? It’s that tension that fuels the poems.” Flenniken uses a variety of forms (personas, documentary, lyric) to approach the topic. “It’s about Hanford, yes,” she says, “but it’s a universal and very human story.”
See Kathleen Flenniken at Richard Hugo House (1634 11th Ave.; 206.322.7030; hugohouse.org) April 4 at 7 p.m. Along with other writers, she will be reading her contributions to A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry edited by Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz.
For more information on future readings, visit kathleenflenniken.com.