Port Townsend moving forward with planned poet laureate program

Posted 2/19/23

The city of Port Townsend could soon have a poet laureate to represent the Olympic Peninsula via the evocative, written, and oral art form of poetry, starting in early 2024.

With recent approval …

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Port Townsend moving forward with planned poet laureate program


The city of Port Townsend could soon have a poet laureate to represent the Olympic Peninsula via the evocative, written, and oral art form of poetry, starting in early 2024.

With recent approval and discussion in the city’s Arts Commission as well as the Culture and Society Committee, local arts leaders are in the process of completing a poet laureate proposal for the city council to review and vote upon.

A poet laureate is an appointed position awarded to a poet to represent a particular country, region, or group — in this case Port Townsend — with the role of writing and performing poems or other tasks to present publicly in local events, celebrations, or other proceedings.

The poet program is a collaboration between the Arts Commission, Port Townsend Public Library, and Culture and Society Committee.

“It brings artists into civic discourse and gives us an artistic voice for the city,” said Lindsey Wayland of the Arts Commission during the Culture and Society Committee’s Feb. 8 meeting.

“I really believe that the job of a poet laureate isn’t to serve poetry, but to offer poetry as service to the community, to the residents,” Wayland said.

The role is a service-contract position co-managed by the previously mentioned city committees and library, and will have two-year terms as the poet laureate promotes Port Townsend’s literary arts and active creative community by celebrating the written word, according to proposal documents.

Some listed objectives of the role include raising awareness of the power of poetry, written word, and the spoken word; inspiring an emerging generation of critical thinkers, writers, and storytellers; celebrating the cultural heritage, the spirit of the people, and the unique qualities of the region; and more.

Planners intend to assign a poet laureate in January 2024 following an 11-month process of nominating three panelists to review applicants and look over applications, followed by the selection and announcement of the winner in January.

“This is a pilot program, so we really do want to see what will happen and who might come forward and apply,” Wayland said.

Before applying, potential candidates must meet a list of requirements for eligibility. Candidates must be at least 18 years old, have been a resident in east Jefferson County for at least a year prior and remain a resident while serving the poet laureate term, provide evidence of achievement in the art of poetry, among other standards, according to the proposal.

Applications are expected to be accepted in April, with a team of three panelists seated by the Arts Commission and approved by the Culture and Society Committee to vet and eventually recommend a poet laureate to the mayor.

Mayor David Faber would then appoint the poet laureate in December before the representative is officially announced in January.


The poet laureate will receive an honorarium of $1,200, with two payments of $600 through the year based on benchmarks established in the legal contract, according to the city.

City councilmembers on the Culture and Society Committee expressed discontent will the honorarium amount.

“I have some reticence about paying people in exposure, that’s not my favorite,” said Councilmember Amy Howard in the Feb. 8 meeting. “I’d like to pay them in money.”

“It’s a pilot program, but I would love to talk about making this separate from the existing Arts Commission’s budget in the future,” Councilmember Ben Thomas said of the $1,200 payout for the role.

“It’s modest … I am reaching out to lots of other organizations to compensate, and find other forms of compensation,” Wayland said. “One of the ideas, or the visions, is to collaborate with other organizations … I plan to reach out to Centrum to see if they will host a residency.”


Duties entailed with the poet laureate role are ceremonial, educational, and inspirational.

For the ceremonial side, the role will call for no less than four public, accessible events across east Jefferson County such as the first city council meeting, public art dedications, and public building dedications.

The poet laureate will also perform an educational role by providing quarterly social media and/or newsletter updates, participating and coordinating with the library for educational communications, and other tasks.

Inspiration-wise, the role entails poetic nourishment through a “special project” to inspire and engage the community, whether via a series of readings, workshops, or other programs to involve the community.


Panelists will also receive $300 for their efforts.

The three currently-proposed panelists for the program are Ellie Matthews, Lisbeth White, and Shin Yu Pai.

Matthews is on the Port Townsend Public Library Advisory Board and holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Washington with emphasis on cartography and graphic arts. She’s worked in design and software development, and has authored two books in nonfiction, a middle-grade level novel, and a memoir.

White is a poet, expressive arts therapist, developmental editor, elemental energy healer, listener, and ancestor celebrant. White is a co-collaborator connecting Black artists and writers with social and healing justice organizations for mutual inspiration and support, and has received awards, fellowships, and residencies from Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, Callaloo, Tin House, Writing By Writers, and more.

Pai is a Seattle-based writer and author of 11 books, as well as a recipient of awards from the city of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture, and The Awesome Foundation. Pai served as poet laureate for the city of Redmond from 2015 to 2017, is a 2022 Artist Trust Fellow, and was shortlisted in 2014 for a Stranger Genius Award in Literature. Her writing has appeared Atlas Obscura, The New York Times, Tricycle Magazine, Seattle Met, and more. Pai is a writer, host, and producer of “The Blue Suit,” a podcast on Asian American stories for KOUW Public Radio, Seattle’s NPR affiliate station, and was also recently announced as Seattle’s Civic Poet.

After getting the go-ahead from the Culture and Society Committee during its February meeting, the poet laureate proposal is set to go before city council in the near future.