April is National Poetry Month and what better way to celebrate it than with a state-wide tour of Washington’s cities and dramatically diverse countryside. Fortune was ours this eve as we were graced with a visit from author, activist and Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna. Meeting her was truly an unforgettable experience.
Ms. Castro Luna merrily greeted the crowd of Vancouver poets who gathered early to meet her at Niche Bar in downtown Vancouver, WA. People traded seats throughout the casually set book signing to talk with Ms. Castro Luna and have their copies of her poetry collection, Killing Marias: A Poem for Multiple Voices signed. The laidback event in an elegant atmosphere allowed for easy conversation and connections between all. Ms. Castro Luna, despite battling a gremlin in her gps that had mischievously sent her to the wrong location at first, was very much at ease and welcoming. Her genuine warmth and friendliness radiated as she talked with people between autographs. We talked a little about her extensive travels and missing her chickens. I love road trips but I would be missing my fur-babies like crazy.
As 6pm approached, we all headed back to the Vancouver Community Library for an evening of poetry readings by community poets and a special presentation by Ms. Castro Luna. Co-hosting the event were Ghost Town Poetry’s Christopher Luna and Toni Lumbrazo Luna.
Clark County Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Morgan, thanked the members of the Clark County Arts Commission who were also in attendance; Lynne Bowden representing Vancouver Arts, Connie Bushnell representing Members At Large, Chuck Carpenter representing Washougal, Liz Collings representing Ridgefield, Toni Lumbrazo Luna representing businesses, Kay Nemjo representing La Center, Jack Osier representing Battle Ground and LaRae Zawodny representing Battle Ground. She warmly greeted the audience before introducing Ms. Castro Luna, “thanks to everyone here who supports arts and culture in our communities to make it a place where everyone is welcome to share their voices.” Ms. Morgan touched on a few of Ms. Castro Luna’s many accomplishments and encouraged audience members to check out her bio to see the rest and to read the very moving letter that Ms. Castro Luna wrote about the children who were separated from their parents at the border.
“Claudia is a visionary. She shines her light inviting other poets and writers of all ages to step into the poetic realm, speaking their stories, their poems, imagining us as working together to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Working for peace and social justice in this challenging time in our nation and in the world.” Ms. Morgan read an excerpt from the forward in Killing Marias which was written by Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs before turning the mic over to Ms. Castro Luna.
“I’m amazed and revitalized by the number of writing and poetry communities that we have in Washington state because it’s really about living together that makes poetry what it is….It’s not the books on the shelf, it’s the communion that happens when we hear each other read our poems,” Ms. Castro Luna said as she greeted the room. She began her presentation by talking about Washington Poetic Routes, a program that she’s launched to promote poetry throughout the state. “Roads bring us closer together, so it is through roads that we travel…..I wanted us to think of a different way to travel together which is through poetry.” The program which utilizes an integrated a map of Washington’s roads and cities with poems and art from cities and towns throughout the state has been growing in artistic contributions by writers of all ages. “I hope that as you click on the map you create new routes which are routes of imagination and of the heart.”
Born in El Salvador, she came to the U.S. because of war. “All poets have a passion, an obsession we have to return to it constantly. War is that thing for me that shows up even when I least expect it,” she shared before reading Tyranny of the Milky Way, a poem about her experience with war. Ms. Castro Luna switched briefly to a more lighthearted poem, Epicurean Matters, before reading from Killing Marias. Epicurean Matters is a unique poem made entirely out of the names of taco trucks. I’m inspired and blown away by her creativity.
However awestruck she leaves us by her ingenuity, it is Ms. Castro Luna’s attention to injustices that is truly inspiring. Killing Marias, which is nominated for a Pushcart prize, is about women who have been murdered in Juarez, Mexico. “We say that only when you are forgotten that you are dead…this is my way of remembering them and not letting them go.” She was quick to point out that femicides happen everywhere and that some communities have experienced them in outrageously high numbers such as Juarez and in First Nation communities in the U.S. and Canada.
Ms. Castro Luna invited musician/composer, Judy A. Rose, to join her. Ms. Rose offered up an impromptu performance on the Native American flute as Ms. Castro Luna read from Killing Marias.