Spokane Arts announced Wednesday that Chris Cook, who has published two books of poetry and been an active member of the Spokane poetry community for two decades, will serve as the new Spokane poet laureate.
Cook, a slam poet, is a co-host of Baby Bar’s Broken Mic night. He has also hosted Auntie’s Bookstore’s monthly 3-Minute Mic series since 2013.
He was a member of the committee that brought two Individual World Poetry Slams to Spokane, and he participated in the competition in Spokane in 2014. Spokane was the smallest city to ever host the competition.
He has published two books of poetry, “Damn Good Cookie” and “The View from the Broken Mic.”
“I think in recent years I’ve changed to where I find more value in teaching others and hosting events,” Cook said. “I think I’ve just developed more of a servant’s heart lately.”
Cook will succeed Mark Anderson later this month as Spokane poet laureate. During his two-year term, Anderson has kickstarted many art initiatives in Spokane, including Poetry at the Podium, which sets aside time at Spokane City Council meetings for poetry readings.
“I think Chris is in a really good place to be putting a lot of energy into it,” Anderson said. “He does a lot of things that are geared toward giving writers space to do their work.”
Born in Salem, Cook moved to Spokane as a teenager. His first time at the mic was in 2000, at Mootsy’s.
“Twenty years ago poetry slam was in its infancy, and it’s still is a raucous form, so it married up with Mootsy’s very well,” Cook said.
Cook’s participation in Spokane’s arts community is not limited to poetry. As a trumpet player, Cook has been a member of the Spokane Symphony since 1981, and he has been a Gonzaga University music department faculty member since 1990, teaching trumpet.
Music, he said, finds a way into his poetry, withrhyme and meter often finding their way into his work.
“I think, as a musician, that speaks to my poetry sometimes,” Cook said. “You can almost dance to the poetry.”
Cook said he wants to build even more collaborations between poetry and other art forms during his time as poet laureate.
“I just love the way that brings in new audience members … and the idea of cross-pollinating the arts,” Cook said.
Cook has published poems in many collections of children’s poetry, including “One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep,” which was collected by then-U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt. Cook hopes to work with children during his time as poet laureate.
Cook said his son’s girlfriend recently stayed with them over the summer, and she found one of his children’s poems while exploring the bookshelf. She recognized one of his poems, because she had memorized it as a child.
“I feel like I have a connection there and an insight, so I’d like to reach out to them,” Cook said.
Melissa Huggins, executive director of Spokane Arts, said one reason Cook appealed to the group was his desire to bring poetry to new audiences, such as children and the elderly in retirement homes.
“The jury was really excited about Chris’ ability to reach new audiences, groups that we haven’t offered a lot of poet laureate programming for yet,” Huggins said.
Huggins added that his work with programs like Broken Mic and 3-Minute Mic was also a factor, because he was committed to giving “an opportunity to anyone who has an interest in words or performing poetry to raise their voice and speak up.”
Cook’s poetry passion started young, after his grandfather read his own poetry aloud to Cook. Cook’s grandfather also exchanged letters with many famous poets, including William Stafford, who was the Oregon poet laureate and ultimately the U.S. poet laureate.
“I’ve got stuffed envelopes with Bill Stafford poetry that has his letterhead on it, well-packed with fresh poetry,” Cook said.
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