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Tacoma's Top Poet Digs In

Josie Emmons Turner experienced the impact of Tacoma’s Poet Laureate program first hand when the city’s first Poet Laureate, Antonio Edwards, visited the high school creative writing class she was teaching and put a public face to the poetry that she had been teaching her students.

“I really appreciated that,” she recently said while taking a break from her classes at Clover Park High School. “I thought about how the Poet Laureate concept has made poetry much more visible in the community. I really think poetry should be acceptable and I thought, well, why not try.”

Last month, Turner became that public face when she was named Tacoma’s newest Poet Laureate during a ceremony at Bellaballs that featured past Poet Laureates including Tammy Robacker, the title-holder for the last year.

Turner’s turn at the position will be a little different from her predecessors. For the first time since the position was created by Urban Grace Church in 2008, the Poet Laureate will serve two full years, rather than one. Turner will provide two free poetry-related workshops in each of those two years and recite her work at various public events in exchange for a $2,000 stipend provided by the Tacoma Arts Commission, which took over administration of the program this year.

Turner says she plans on using the role to expose children to more poetry outside of the classroom, which is where, as a child, she discovered it.

“Poetry has been a part of my life for probably all my life,” Turner recalled. “I was really lucky and I had parents that were very involved and they read me poetry all the time. They gave me my first book of poetry when I was six years old and I started writing poetry when I was fairly young—an adolescent.”

That love of poetry has landed the writer in numerous national journals, as well as the MFA program at the Rainier Writers Workshop where she earned her Masters in 2007. Turner has also created a body of work centered on the history of California. While she is reluctant to predict what will come from her newfound position, she does believe that her interest in the history of place will help her create something unique from the experience.

“As part of my Poet Laureate, I am really interested in Tacoma’s history and I’m hoping to take some of those historical moments and be able to craft poetry around that,” she said. “I love the idea of doing something with the Chinese Reconciliation Project. That was such a horrible event, and I’m really interested in seeing how that could be crafted into a poetic voice.”

See more in the May 2011 issue   →