Elizabeth Austen

Producer, The Record

Year started with KUOW: 2001

Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen has been interviewing poets and producing poetry segments for KUOW since 2001. She began as an intern while in graduate school for an MFA in creative writing (poetry) at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Once she discovered the joy of blending her early background as an actor and director (Book–It Repertory Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Festival) with her passion for poetry as a spoken art form, she was hooked. She's been producing poetry for radio audiences ever since.

Her collection, "Every Dress a Decision" (Blue Begonia Press, 2011), was a finalist for the 2012 Washington State Book Award in poetry. She is also the author of two poetry chapbooks, "The Girl Who Goes Alone" (Floating Bridge Press, 2010) and "Where Currents Meet," winner of the Toadlily Press Chapbook Award and part of the quartet "Sightline," published in 2010.

Elizabeth's poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac and online at Verse Daily, the Bellingham Review and DMQ Review.  You'll find Elizabeth's poems in anthologies including "What to Read in the Rain" and "Poets Against the War" and in literary journals.

She's performed at venues including Poets House in New York City, The Loft in Minneapolis, the Austin ArtSpark Festival, and locally at the Richard Hugo House Literary Series, Bumbershoot, and the Seattle and Skagit River Poetry Festivals. An audio CD, "skin prayers," featuring 26 original poems recorded with a live audience in the KUOW studios, is available on her website, www.elizabethausten.org.

Elizabeth was the 2007 Roadshow poet, bringing poetry to underserved rural communities in Washington state under the auspices of the Washington State Arts Commission, Humanities Washington, and the Washington Poets Association.  She is committed to fostering a broader understanding and appreciation of the literary arts in general and poetry in particular. She teaches frequently at Richard Hugo House, a literary arts center in Seattle, and she has been a visiting artist for western Washington school districts and colleges.

Ways To Connect

Tom Zbyszewski
Courtesy of Jesse Michener

Among the three firefighters who lost their lives last month fighting the wildfires in Okanogon was one with a connection to poetry. Tom Zbyszewski, 20, grew up in the Methow Valley.

That got KUOW's literary producer and Washington state poet laureate Elizabeth Austen thinking about how Pacific Northwest poets have responded to wildfires. She talked with Marcie Sillman about poems by Kevin Goodan and Nance Van Winckel.

Courtesy of Helen Peppe

Elizabeth Austen talks with Marcie Sillman about a new chapbook from Seattle poet and teacher Quenton Baker.

Baker peels back layers of language to reveal the ways both blackness and whiteness are racialized in "Diglossic in the Second America," just published by Punch Press. 

Poet and registered nurse Martha Kreiner says poetry gives her "a wider container" for reflecting on her work with people who are homeless.
Courtesy of Amy Zimmerman

For the past five years, Martha Kreiner, a registered nurse and a poet, has tended to the medical needs of people living on Seattle's streets through the Healthcare for the Homeless network. The death of a patient lead Kreiner to write an elegy for him, in which she re-imagines his final moments:

James Alred

Over the past couple of decades, Jana Harris  has written a series of poetry collections that blend exhaustive research with "documentary imagination," as she calls it. In these poems, Harris gives voice to 19th century women living in the western United States. 

Her latest collection,  "You Haven't Asked About My Wedding Or What I Wore: Poems of Courtship on the American Frontier," focuses on stories of courting and marriage. 

Writer and performance artist Anastacia Tolbert
Courtesy of Zorn Taylor

Elizabeth Austen presents a piece by poet Anastacia Tolbert, a writer, performance artist and workshop facilitator. She's also a black woman and the mother of two sons.

Her poem "What To Tell My Sons After Trayvon Martin, After Michael Brown, After Medgar Evers, After, After, After, After and Before..." is a fierce assertion that black lives have always mattered. 

Michael Lionstar

Elizabeth Austen speaks with Jane Hirshfield, a fellow poet and long-time practitioner of Zen Buddhism. Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry, two collections of essays and several volumes of translations. She reads from her new books: a collection of poems, "The Beauty" and "Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World."

Courtesy of John Blackard

Marcie Sillman speaks with Washington Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen, who shares two poems about disasters, manmade and natural. 

Poet Tod Marshall.
Courtesy of Amy Sinisterra

In "Three Dreams from the Eastside of the Mountains," a sprawling, rollickingly Whitmanesque love poem, Tod Marshall summons the wildly various landscapes and identities of Washington state. 

"Ask the swirling dirt rising in spirals/from dusty furrows just outside of Ephrata"

Karen Finneyfrock
Courtesy of Inti St. Clair

If you could go back in time, what would you want to say to your teenage self?

Writers Karen Finneyfrock, Rachel McKibbens and Mindy Nettifee decided to gather poems they wished they'd had when they were younger. 

"If we could give [teenage girls] one charm to tuck into their pockets, it would be courage," reads an excerpt from the introduction of their new anthology, "Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls."

Courtesy of Sam Green

Waldron Island poet Sam Green reads two poems from his newest book, "All That Might Be Done." Each in its own way offers the gift of perspective.

"Constellations" tells the story of an outsider ("We knew he was different,") who prompts a group of boys playing baseball to see themselves -- momentarily -- as "stars in a field / of sky, said we should imagine each of us /a billion miles apart." 

Spencer Reece
Rosanne Olson

Aylin Barbieri made an impression on Father Spencer Reece, who also happens to be an award-winning poet. Abandoned by her family, Barbieri is one of more than 70 girls living at  Our Little Roses Home for Girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where Reece taught poetry and English in 2012. 

Susan Rich
Kelli Russell Agodon

Seattle-based poet and human rights activist Susan Rich reads two poems concerning the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The first is "The Wall" from her 2000 collection "The Cartographer's Tongue," winner of the PEN USA Award for Poetry. 

The second is "What We Were Taught / What We Have Lost," written in response to the most recent violence.

Poet Michelle Peñaloza
Dawn Tyler

Ever since she moved to Seattle from Eugene a little over a year ago, poet Michelle Peñaloza has been inviting volunteers to walk with her from Hugo House in Capitol Hill to a place in the city where their hearts were broken. 

Along the walk, each person tells Peñaloza the story of the heartbreak. She records and maps the conversation using her phone’s GPS system, and transforms some of the walks and conversations into poems.

Book cover Reckless Lovely
Saturnalia Books

Seattle poet Martha Silano found inspiration in an NPR story, "An Alien View of Earth," about an image of our planet taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The poem she wrote in response to the news story, "Pale Blue Dot," not only became part of her newest collection, "Reckless Lovely," but led her work in a new direction.

Poet Christine Deavel
Rebecca Hoogs

Poet Christine Deavel trains her empathetic eye on two familiar places: North Seattle's Thornton Creek ("In Your Care") and the grocery store checkout line ("Each Day on the Verge").  

As she transforms these places through unexpected language and imagery, she also holds open questions about what it means to be whole, to be a neighbor, to be in one another's care. 

Pages