Gwendolyn Morgan has crossed paths with some serious celebrities since she was named Clark County Poet Laureate last year, but none of them transformed her into a fangirl the way Rojo the Therapy Llama did.
Rojo visited the Clark County Poetry Pop-Up booth that Morgan brought, with help from the Washington State Arts Commission, to the May 4 charity Walk-Run for the Animals in Esther Short Park. This particular poet and this particular therapy llama made a great match, because Morgan’s not just a farm-bred animal lover — she’s also the manager of spiritual care at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. Morgan is passionate about all three things: poetry, therapy and animals.
“It was so much fun to be there with Rojo,” said Morgan, who handed a new writing journal to any child who stepped up and volunteered, “I write poetry too.” There were a lot of them, Morgan noted with satisfaction.
As Clark County’s poet laureate, Morgan has spent the past school year shining light on other poets and readers. She’s worked with student poets in Ridgefield and Washougal, judged poetry contests and led workshops; she also won a Washington State Arts Commission grant for a mobile Clark County Poetry Pop-Up project that will “reach out to communities that may not have exposure to the literary arts and poetry,” she said — like homeless women staying on local church floors during the winter, thanks to the Winter Hospitality Overflow project. Morgan planned that event with the late Rev. Jim Stender of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, who died in February, and went ahead with it in Stender’s honor in March, she said.
“The biggest thing for me is working collaboratively with other poets and writers, and other community members and partners,” she said. “I still have that goal. I want to lift up voices that people don’t even know are here.”
To that end, Morgan is spreading the word about a Spanish-language poetry workshop led by a special visitor: Seattle’s Claudia Castro Luna, the poet laureate of Washington. The free workshop is set for 10 a.m. June 29 at the Vancouver Community Library.
“Traiga sus ideas creativas y amplie sus habilidades de escritura,” Morgan wrote about the workshop — that is, “Bring your creative ideas and expand your writing skills.” The workshop will be conducted in Spanish by Castro Luna, she said.
Castro Luna grew up in El Salvador during that nation’s brutal 12-year civil war, and fled with her family to the U.S. when she was a teenager. She spoke no English, but wound up studying urban planning at UCLA, became a wife and mother — and then turned to poetry.
“I had no choice. It chose me. I really feel that way,” she said.
Castro Luna is the author of “This City,” poetry about Seattle, and “Killing Marias,” poetry about the disappeared women of Juarez, Mexico; she’s currently working on a memoir called “Like Water to Drink.” She’s also the creator of two interactive, map-based poetry projects, the Seattle Poetic Grid and, as of her recent travels as poet laureate, Washington Poetic Routes (https://washingtonpoeticroutes.com/).
Castro Luna recently won a big grant — $100,000 from the Academy of American Poets — to bring poetry workshops and readings to the whole length of the Columbia River in Washington.
“The river has been around forever, and it has nourished native people, but let’s take a look at what’s happening to it now, in the voices of the people who see the river every day,” she said. “The river bisects our state right in the middle, but that middle is kind of the part we hear about the least. This is a way of getting to hear those voices.”
Salmon Creek poetry
The night before that, June 28, Morgan will host an evening of dance, music and poetry in celebration of her new book, “Before the Sun Rises.” There will be interpretive dancing by Josh Murry-Hawkins and his Washington Dance Creative, a small artistic ensemble launched last year; music by Judy A. Rose, a composer and musician (and Morgan’s spouse), who will play the Native American flute; Castro Luna will read some of her poetry, too.
What’s “Before the Sun Rises” like? Morgan is a nature-loving poet whose day job is at a hospital, and much of her work draws connections between human health and the natural world — often specific, local natural worlds like Salmon Creek, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, the forests of north Clark County.
But Morgan’s fourth book also has a much keener political sensibility than the first three, she added. “A bulk of these poems were written after the election in 2016. It’s my book of protest,” she said. “I’m also trying to offer hope in the midst of everyone’s challenges, in different ways. It’s a challenging time on this planet.
“I will try to be bipartisan” in her remarks during the event, Morgan chuckled. “But some of the poems are not bipartisan at all.”
Perhaps political differences can get set aside over something as simple as appreciation for honeybees, Morgan added. On her reading menu for the event is an earlier poem about the major, ongoing decline of honeybee populations, she said.
“You may be taking a spoonful of honey for your tea,” she said. “And maybe that connects you to a woman making honey in El Salvador or Honduras — or in Ridgefield, Washington.”
If You Go
What: “Before the Sun Rises,” an evening of dance, music and poetry.
Featuring: Gwendolyn Morgan, Clark County poet laureate; Claudia Castro Luna, Washington poet laureate; Judy A. Rose, composer and musician; Josh Murry-Hawkins and Washington Dance Creative.
When: 7 p.m. June 28.
Where: Magenta Theater, 1108 Main St., Vancouver.
• • •
What: Taller de poesía española (Spanish language poetry workshop)
When: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. June 29
Where: Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St., Vancouver.
Did You Know?
Rojo the Therapy Llama, who lives in Ridgefield and is perhaps the world’s most popular llama, is easing toward retirement. The announcement was made earlier this month, just before Rojo walked in this year’s Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade for what turns out to be the last time.
Rojo will keep all his 2019 appointments, according to Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas, but after that the 17-year-old will spend most of his time at home on the farm, maintaining a light therapy schedule while enjoying a well-earned rest.
Rojo’s “younger buddies” will take up traveling to classrooms, hospitals and other events starting next year, according to a Facebook announcement from Mountain Peaks.
More on Gwendolyn Morgan
Excerpt from “May We Listen,” by Gwendolyn Morgan, in “Before the Sun Rises”:
I believe in listening to the white-breasted nuthatch
the song of the houseless, homeless man
singing outside his brick-red burnt-red REI tent
pitched along the creekside, miles from Yacolt
he sings constellations we have forgotten the names of