Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Liberty Park Library salon speaks to power of poetry

By Azaria Podplesky For The Spokesman-Review

In a letter to T.W. Higginson, poet Emily Dickinson wrote “If I read a book (and) it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Spokane author Sharma Shields recalls that quotation when speaking about the power of poetry.

“The wonderful thing about poetry, like in all genres of writing, there’s a whole spectrum of poems being created and there’s lots of different options and so many brilliant, intelligent, accessible poems that can gut you and transform you on your first reading,” she said. “It can, in a very short phrasing, give us a new understanding or a fresh way of seeing things, a fresh understanding of our world and of one another.”

Shields will share this appreciation of poetry with established and aspiring poetry writers and readers at the Inland Northwest Poetry Salon, on Saturday at the Liberty Park Library.

Shields was inspired to create the Inland Northwest Poetry Salon after working with the Spokane Writers Conference, which focuses primarily on fiction, nonfiction and memoir. Shields put out a call for workshop proposals and ended up having to turn some proposals down because there was no room left in the daylong schedule.

“It’s going to be a day filled with poetry, lyricism and hopefully is something really accessible and fun for everybody who’s interested in poetry,” she said.

Each of the five sessions features two or three 50-minute workshops for attendees to choose from.

Session 1 runs from 10:10 to 11 a.m. and features “The Dying Art of Love Letters” with Spokane Poet Laureate Mery Noel Smith and “Animal Grief: Exploring Loss Through Animal Companionship” with Holly Thorpe, an Eastern Washington University graduate and member of the English faculty at Wenatchee Valley College.

“(Mery’s) whole ethos is about accessibility of poetry and poetry for everyone,” Shields said. “No gatekeeping in poetry.”

Session 2, from 11:10 a.m. to noon, features a “Build-A-Voice Workshop” with former Spokane Poet Laureate Mark Anderson, who Shields praised for always giving back to the poetry community, and “Falling Into Revelation Through Form” with Subhaga Crystal Bacon, an award-winning poet who has released four collections of poetry, most recently 2023’s “Transitory.”

“For poets in the area that really want to learn from someone who is kind of becoming a very established poet, she’ll be a great one to connect with,” Shields said.

After an hourlong lunch break (bring your own lunch or take a short walk to one of the many eateries in the nearby Perry District), Session 3, from 1 to 1:50 p.m., features an Old School Poetry Salon with past and present EWU MFA faculty members and “super established poets” Polly Buckingham, Christopher Howell, Jonathan Johnson and Nance Van Winckel.

As Shields explains, a poetry salon involves one person reading a poem followed by another person reading a poem related to the previous person’s poem and so on.

Session 3 also features “Integrating Field Recordings, Photos and Videos into Poetry” with poet and librarian Greg Bem, founder of Carbonation Press, and “Poetry for Non-Poets” with Heather Berndt, a trained spiritual director and expressive arts facilitator.

“She does some very visual storytelling and visual poetry,” Shields said about Berndt, who will use collages as writing inspiration for attendees.

Writer, artist, educator and mediator Asyia Gover’s “Journal Poems: Everyday Inspiration” and “Beyond the Sonnet” with Amelia Díaz Ettinger, author of three full-length poetry books and two poetry chapbooks, make up Session 4, from 2:10 to 3 p.m.

Poet and book enthusiast Ash Montenegro Hart’s “The Queer Collective” closes out the salon from 3:10 to 4 p.m.

Shields said she is pleasantly surprised by how well-received the idea of the poetry salon has been and, as some workshops fill up, she encourages those on the waitlist to show up to the Liberty Park Library because there is a good chance waitlisted writers will receive a spot in the workshops.

From her experience in the literary world, Shields feels like poetry and short story collections are neglected creative writing mediums, overlooked in favor of the more popular fiction, nonfiction and memoir. But Spokane poetry writers and readers are lucky because the city boasts a wealth of award-winning poets, including Maya Jewell Zeller, Katheryn Smith, Brooke Matson and Laura Read.

With the Inland Northwest Poetry Salon, Shields wants to shine even more of a spotlight on area poets, published or not, in hopes of growing and strengthening Spokane’s poetry community.

“I want to try to somehow celebrate the whole range of writers that are getting started and the ones that are more established,” she said. “The more of these events we have, and the more networking we have, the more success we’re going to see with our writers in general.”