by Danielle Champiet-Coronado
At the Passing of the Pen ceremony held at the Vancouver Community Library in Vancouver, WA on September 30, 2018, Gwendolyn Morgan was appointed Clark County’s newest Poet Laureate.
Clark County Arts Commissioner, LaRae Zawodny, hosted the vivacious event and the community was out en masse to celebrate its new ambassador. Speakers included dignitaries from Clark County and Vancouver as well as a medley of artists performing with readings of Ms. Morgan’s poetry. A talented painter as well, her beautiful paintings infused the room with dramatic color and cheer and made for a stunning backdrop for the podium.
Attendees overflowed into the foyer as Ms. Zawodny greeted everyone and introduced the first presenter, Andy Gregg, historian and Arts Community Chair to talk about what the poet laureate does for the community. Vancouver Mayor, Anne McEnerny-Ogle gave an eloquent speech and declared October as Poet Laureate Month. County Council Chair, Marc Boldt, read Gwendolyn Morgan’s official appointment as Clark County’s Poet Laureate.
Celebrating all manner of art inside and out, there were members of the Travelling Day Society playing enchanting melodies on Native American flute and drums as I approached the library. Inaugural Poet Laureate, Christopher Luna, read a few of Ms. Morgan’s poems while Jennifer Pratt-Walter played the harp. Angelo Luna sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ as Bryce Schramm accompanied him on the guitar. Washington Dance Creative’s band director of their jazz orchestra, Samuel Murray-Hawkins, read while Josh Murray-Hawkins and Autumn Cassity expressed the words and emotions of Ms. Morgan’s poems in dance. Ms. Morgan’s spouse, Judy Rose, gave an improv performance of Native American flute music from the heart as Ms. Morgan and Christopher Luna read more of Ms. Morgan’s prose. Ms. Rose also accompanied Ms. Morgan on the final performance of the afternoon. It was a spectacular event!
Marking her official beginning as poet laureate, there was an actual passing of “the pen” between Christopher Luna and Ms. Morgan followed by Ms. Zawodny placing a golden laurel wreath on her head. Representing honor and victory, the laurel wreath’s symbolism originated in Greek mythology and gained prominence during the Pythian games of Ancient Greece, the predecessor of the Olympic Games we enjoy now.
During her speech, Ms. Morgan gave a special acknowledgement “that we are on First Nations land” and to the Native American Arts Foundation which sits across from the library. Ms. Morgan’s paintings and both of her books, ‘Crow Feathers, Red Ochre, Green Tea’ and ‘Snowy Owls, Egrets, & Unexpected Graces’ have strong Native American influences in them. October 8th was Indigenous People’s Day and in honor of the protection and promotion of the rights of Indigenous People, Ms. Morgan announced that there would be a gathering with poetry, Native American drumming and flute playing. She also stated that she would support the programs that Mr. Luna had started such as Poetry in the Schools as well as Poetry Moves, and work with him and the community to build a directory of Clark County Poets. This would be the first of its kind. Ms. Morgan concluded her presentation by saying that acceptance should be practiced more and to send our “creative gifts out into the world. The gifts of respect, witness of poetry, kindness and grace.”
Grace and kindness are two words that immediately pop into your head when you meet Ms. Morgan. Her soft-spoken, humble nature draws you in and her passion for giving and amazing anecdotes send your mind spinning. For more than 13 years she has worked as a chaplain and the spiritual care manager at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital. That’s just the tip of the altruistic iceberg. Domestically and internationally, she has spent years helping those in need in a variety of ways. With such a legacy of giving, it’s no surprise that that spirit would translate so beautifully into her writing as well as her designs for her new poet laureate position.
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Ms. Morgan has also spent time in Alaska, which is reflected in her first collection and winner of the Wild Earth Poetry Prize, ‘Crow Feathers, Red Ochre, Green Tea’. The cover of the book is one of her paintings, ‘Crow Light’. Its serene colors mirror the strong yet subtle spiritual current that runs through its pages. The Crow, indicative of the animals and plants she so brilliantly uses to talk about feelings and situations she’s encountered in her travels such as loss, death and illness. She also celebrates the light within and our deep connection to nature and Earth. On the surface they are some of the most intriguing prose-styled stories that I’ve ever read. Something that could only come from a life lived widely. ‘How To Read Omens’, for instance, teases the imagination with its elaborate settings and vivid imagery, but dig deeper and you’ll see climate change, inequality, poor health care and income inequality.
As we talked over coffee about her goals as poet laureate, Ms. Morgan said that one thing she wanted to do was to have a poetry reading that benefited service animals. Her eyes lit and her voice which had been mellow and soft became more animated with joy as she told me of her plans. It was the same light she had when she talked about her spouse, composer Judy A. Rose’s songs, her amazing voice and upcoming collection. Ms. Morgan shared her admiration for Native American flautist, R. Carlos Nakai, whom her father studied with in Montana, and was quick to point out that the art on her book, ‘Snowy Owls, Egrets, & Unexpected Gifts’ (a Nautilus Book Awards winner), was actually a watercolor painting by regional artist, Susan Bourdet. At first and second glance, the picture looks like a photograph. Of her many talents, I’d say Gwendolyn Morgan’s talent for lifting up others is in her top five. It’s sincere and effortless and abundant.
That talent was instrumental in her plan to create a directory of poets for Clark County, a community collaboration with Printed Matter, Toni Lumbrazo Luna and Christopher Luna. She talked about it a little during her speech on September 30th. The criteria, she said, was that the poet “had to be at least 18 years old, a Clark County resident and be published somewhere.” Writing a blog, for instance, would qualify. Such a directory would be a great boon for aspiring writers who seek ways to build their resumes and establish credibility, honor established poets and lift up new literary voices in the region.
Please join us on October 30th at 7pm as Gwendolyn Morgan reads from her award-winning books, ‘Crow Feathers, Red Ochre, Green Tea’ and ‘Snowy Owls, Egrets and Unexpected Graces’. Also joining us is Clark County Arts Commissioner, LaRae Zawodny.
The Last Tuesdays poetry group is co-hosted by David Hill, Cathie Padgett and myself at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Vancouver, WA. All are welcome to attend this community event and, if they wish, read a family-friendly poem or two during our open mic sessions. If you are an avid open mic reader, Tiger Talk hosted by Joyce Colson gathers on the third Wednesday of each month at the Paper Tiger coffeehouse and Ghost Town Poetry hosted by Christopher Luna has an open mic on the 2nd Thursday of each month.