ArtSEA: Swimming in salmon odes for National Poetry Month

Plus, wolves, whales and fancy pigeons on view in art galleries around Seattle.

left photo of a woman with brown hair in a dark shirt, right side book cover reading I Sing the Salmon Home

Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest has edited a new collection of more than 150 poems about salmon, written by contributors from all over Washington state. (Hillary Cagey)

How would you describe salmon? Determined? Tasty? Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest thinks of the keystone species as “scrappy, formidable, and generous.”

In a new anthology of collected poems, I Sing the Salmon Home, she celebrates all manner of fishy associations — environmental, culinary and deeply personal. (Book launch April 8, 2 p.m at Seattle Public Library downtown.)

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

Featuring more than 150 poems written by Washington state residents — from first graders to tribal elders to revered poets like Tess Gallagher and Raymond Carver — this charming title from local Empty Bowl Press is a shining school of odes and appreciations.

In “Self-Portrait as Spawner,” Seattle poet Sierra Nelson expresses kinship with an aging fish. “Now I’m a little longer in the cycloid,/my odolith has been around the block,” she writes. In Raymond Carver’s “At Night the Salmon Move,” he imagines salmon leaving the river to head into town: “They avoid places with names like Foster’s Freeze, A & W, Smiley’s,” he notes.

“My mother roasted him over coals on an Oregon beach,” former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken recalls of a childhood big catch. And in “Salmon,” Gabrielle Bates writes with melancholic intimacy about a father/daughter dinner, beginning, “My father and I sit at a sushi bar in my new city/sampling three different kinds of salmon nigiri.”

There are many salmon haiku, and a few poems shaped like salmon swimming across the pages.

In the preface, Priest says this was a “dream project” she first voiced hopes for in 2018. A member of the Lummi nation — Coast Salish “salmon people” — she notes that in addition to the fish’s sacred status, ecologically, “everything relies on [salmon], and if we want to be okay, the salmon must thrive.” 

Will reading 150 salmon poems make you feel stuffed to the gills? Not if you spread out your servings over National Poetry Month (salmon makes excellent leftovers). The overall vibe is a sort of pesca-fest, one that honors the epic journey and impact of a fish that swims through ancient times and recent memories.

“Spirit of the Hunter,” one of several mixed media works by Heather Johnston on view at Stonington Gallery. (Stonington Gallery)

Animalia in Art

Salmon aren’t the only animals receiving their poetic due this month. Check out these art shows featuring the furred, feathered and finned. 

In Journey to Alaska, the Ways of the North (April 6 - 29 at Stonington Gallery) Alaskan artist Heather Johnston (Unangan/Alutiiq) shares her intriguing series of mixed-media works reflecting everyday life in Alaska alongside “the cultural and spiritual connections to the land and animals.” Drawing and painting on antique maps of Alaska, sheet music and book pages, Johnson creates what look like vintage tableaus of wolves, bears and whales.

Also in Pioneer Square, where a soggy artwalk is happening tonight, Foster/White Gallery presents a new series of work by Northwest ceramic sculptor George Rodriguez. Ritual Vessels (April 6 - 22) features Rodriguez’s signature layered and embellished tiles, this time in service of curious containers. In the “Amigo” series, various creatures — eagle, jaguar, quetzalcoatl — hold human heads in their mouths.

Downtown, at Traver Gallery, two new shows highlight animal traits and shapes. The Place Where You Go to Listen (April 6 - 29) features 20 new sculptures by Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary. Think bears, ravens, birds and seals — all created with the artist’s blown and sand-carved glass technique.

Also on view at Traver is Native Influence: Tony Jojola’s Life of Impact (April 6 - 29), a group show honoring the late glass artist, who worked with Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra at Pilchuck Glass School. Featured artists include Raven Skyriver, RYAN! Feddersen and Dan Friday, among others (art adornments include birds, coyotes, whales and frogs).

At Roq La Rue in Madison Valley, Boston-based painter Josie Morway — known for her insanely intricate featherwork in portraits of exotic birds — presents a new and vivid series that leans more toward the surreal. Fore // Ground (April 8 - 29), includes a flock of birds in surprising settings, including ibises in a cactus hothouse and fancy pigeons with cream puffs, as well as a “Caracal With Heirloom Tomatoes, Peonies, and Gummy Worms” and a series of delicate moths who may be on acid trips.

Seattle poet Quenton Baker (left) will read from a new collection, ‘ballast,’ with fellow poet and former Seattleite Anastacia-Renee. (Meron Menghistab)

Black Arts Legacies is Back!

Getting back to celebrating Poetry Month, Seattle poet Quenton Baker is launching their much-awaited collection ballast (April 10 at Elliott Bay Books), a “poetic sequence” about an 1841 slave revolt on the ship Creole and the long afterlife of slavery.

Baker will be reading along with poets Jane Wong and Anastacia-Renee — the latter of whom was featured in Crosscut’s Black Arts Legacies project last summer. 

Which is the perfect reminder that Season 2 of Black Arts Legacies is kicking off this month, showcasing 15 more stellar Seattle artists spanning genres and time periods. For updates on the project, be sure to sign up for the Black Arts Legacies newsletter, which will resume its weekly publication schedule this month.

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