Pair of poets honored as laureates (with video)

First in county to hold post plans to focus on building community

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer



“Renaissance Perspective: The Archaeology of Patterns of Precipitation” by Christopher Luna

New Yorker easily identified by umbrella/

waiting for you at the Land Bridge/

is simultaneously a denizen of the ’Couve/

who now realizes that if one waits for the weather to clear up

it could be months before you go outside/

The Land Bridge is a miracle:

A man-made structure which enhances/

rather than detracts from/

our experience of the City.

From this vantage point/

all is visible/

& framed by black metal tubing:

Single-engine planes and 747s/

Burst forth into view, heading skyward.

Present and past/

Now and then/

River and sky/

Mountain and highway

At the top of the ramp/

I admire freight train graffiti/

as the boxcars crawl to a stop/

blocking my view of the water/

and throwing shadows /

upon the photographs of Vancouver’s past.

Strolling hand-in-hand toward the Old Apple Tree/

allows couples to head back in time

As the totemic spirits of Northwest Indians/

dance slowly across the concrete /

in soft focus/

embodying negative space.

A great place from which to observe /

the majesty of the I-5 Bridge/

And its garland of starlings.

I can imagine making big decisions here:

embracing, kissing/

getting down on one knee.

The freight cars buckle in succession/

as the BNSF train begins to move —

for a moment I fantasize/

about hopping a ride/

out of town —

Looking for graffiti, I see the following message/

on the side of a maroon-colored car:

I was Lost & I found U.

and as the sun pokes through/

you arrive.

If you go to listen to Clark County’s first poet laureate speak at 7 tonight at the Vancouver Community Library, you’ll likely hear some poetry. But you should also expect a talk focusing on the importance of community.

Christopher Luna, named first poet laureate last month by the Clark County Arts Commission, says the title won’t be used as a commendation for himself or his work. Rather, he sees it as a calling to engage with the community, both through his poetry and the work of others. He wants to bring people together to create a shared narrative of what locals both love and worry about as part of life in Clark County.

“Everyone needs to get stuff off their chest,” Luna said. “You see that the community often has similar concerns. And that’s why, for me, building a community is so important. This isn’t the Christopher Luna show.”

The 42-year-old Luna says his goal is to engage. He hopes to hold workshops, and encourage folks to get out and read their poetry to an audience in a comfortable atmosphere. Poetry, he says, is not about competition, but rather, “it’s about community.”

“One big thing is to get poets, not just me, into the schools,” Luna said. “I want to get into other parts of Clark County, as well. To support the community. With this (poet laureate designation), you’re being given the opportunity to bring poetry to more people.”

Luna fell in love with poetry in his youth, through the works of Alan Ginsberg and Walt Whitman. He moved from New York City to Vancouver more than a decade ago, just a month after the Sept. 11 attacks. The transition gave birth to a poem epic in length that chronicles his quest for information in the aftermath of the attacks.

The poem uses text from source material from places he admits are now long forgotten. He believes the poem to be unpublishable because he didn’t properly cite his sources, a lesson he now drills into students he teaches at Washington State University Vancouver.

Still, it marked a transition from his life in a bustling city reeling from tragedy to a quieter existence in his new home, the city he lovingly calls “the ’Couve.”

And Luna’s admiration for Vancouver is apparent in his work. In a piece titled “Renaissance Perspective: The Archaeology of Patterns of Precipitation,” Luna gives tribute to the land bridge that spans Highway 14 between Fort Vancouver and the waterfront.

Naming a poet laureate is a move the Clark County Arts Commission hopes will place poetry more prominently in the region’s history. Luna is expected to serve as a type of cultural ambassador for the region and to compose poems to commemorate special events.

“The main focus of this is to promote poetry and literature,” said Elizabeth Madrigal, member of the commission. “Poetry is in everyone’s lives … rap, spoken word, slam poetry. The focus is to get the message out.”

Yacolt’s poet

The town of Yacolt named a poet laureate of its own a few weeks before Luna was designated as the countywide laureate.

Patrick Knowles, a 57-year-old Yacolt resident, came to poetry later in life, after experiencing a series of serious health problems.

Knowles suffered from seizures through most of his youth, stymieing his ability to work a steady job. Brain surgery in 1983 solved the issue, and allowed him to hold a job and move on with his life.

But his world changed again in 1991 when doctors discovered he had brain cancer.

Knowles said he took the bus home from the hospital that day, and in a state of drastic emotional turmoil, he began to see the trees for more than he had before.

“The trees, they meant a hell of a lot more,” Knowles said. “They weren’t just trees, they were God’s gift to the world. I looked at things a whole different way.”

Knowles says the hospital helped him and his wife pay for some of the many bills he had accumulated over his stays, and when he asked how he could ever repay them, “the sister said, ‘Just be kind to somebody.’”

“I sat down and I wrote a poem, and my feelings started pouring into it,” Knowles said. “I tried to be as humble as I could, but also as inspirational as I could.”

Now Knowles is sharing his work and encouraging others with monthly workshops at the Yacolt library.

He’s also spreading a message about appreciating all that life throws at you.

“I’ve had a lifetime of medical problems, but I think they helped me along with poetry,” Knowles said. “They really did have a big part of it, so you got to see some good out of it.”

"Poem by Patrick Knowles"

Please open your gates Lord for this

master of rhythm. She unselfishly lived

her life teaching and giving. She taught

all music past the age of eighty-seven.

Please ask her Lord to play your harps

in Heaven.

She taught all instruments from harp

to guitar, organ and piano.

Blessed with two daughters who sing

alto and soprano.

A conductress of music became her choice

of living. Unselfishly she gave her life

to teaching and giving. Accept this lady,

a master of rhythm: on her ninety-ninth birthday

she quietly stopped living.

She taught all music past the age of

eighty-seven. Please ask her Lord

to play your harps in Heaven.

If you go

What: Christopher Luna will make a public address.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.

• • •

What: Patrick Knowles’ workshop on poetry reading and writing.

When: 6 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.

Where: Yacolt library, 105 E. Yacolt Road.