Born and raised in Spokane, poet Jonathan Potter fell in love with reading and writing during his sophomore year of high school. Naturally more of “a math and science guy” at the time, the shift was surprising.
“But I had this great teacher – the subject matter and the readings just lit me up for literature, and in particular for poetry,” Potter said, remembering the hours he spent trying to emulate the work of his early poetic hero, e.e. cummings.
With college on the horizon, Potter had pieced together a respectable collection of poetry, which his teacher encouraged him to submit alongside his applications. He would go on to earn a masters in English from the University of Washington.
He pursued teaching for a time at Grays Harbor Community College in Aberdeen. But “the trauma” of lecturing on English composition five days a week sent him back to UW to study Library Sciences.
Today, as a managing librarian for WSU, Potter combines his youthful fascination with math and science with a love of poetry and literature.
“I’ve pretty much dabbled at it, but fairly seriously,” Potter said.
After his time on the west side and later in Kennewick, Potter decided it was time to return home. Falling back into Spokane’s writing community really lit a fire under him, he said.
In the past decade, Potter has hosted a poetry open mic and reading series titled “Naked Lunch Break,” moderated literary panels at EWU’s Get Lit! literary festival and contributed work to the Hotel Spokane, Only Time Will Tell, Verbatim, Pictures of Poets and the 50-Hour Slam poet, artist, photographer and filmmaker collaborative projects, happenings and exhibits. His poetry also appears in the Imago Dei, Railtown Almanac and Spokane Writes anthologies.
Several poems from his first collection, “House of Words,” and his recent release, “Tulips for Elsie,” have made it onto Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac.” Search “Jonathan Potter Material” on YouTube, and a playlist of readings will pop up, several by Keillor and the rest by Potter.
A selection of valentines, sonnets and poems for friends and family, Potter’s most recent release, “Tulips for Elsie,” represents years of personal reflection and development.
In the title poem, Potter recalls his grandmother Elsie’s last days, the tulips he had meant to bring her and the guilt he felt when it was too late.
“The day moved on and tulips left my mind, though, / Until I thought of you again, too late, / The night descending, bringing sleep’s regrets. / The morning came and with its obligations / Distracting me, I let my dream of tulip / Fields plow under and turned to hear the news.”
Part sonnets – Potter’s favorite form – and part a mixture of other styles, what started with a handful of tulips slowly became a wilder and more varied bouquet of flowers woven together chronologically.
“I would hope that even the smallest of my poems might provide an epiphany of some kind shared between me and the reader,” Potter said.
To aspiring authors and poets, Potter offered the following advice.
“Of course you should read and write more, but, above all, look outside of yourself.”
Potter’s “Tulips for Elsie” is available at Wishing Tree Books.