By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Connection Through Poetry

Marie Marchand/Photo by Sami Jo Photo

Art is everywhere in Ellensburg, whether it be murals on the side of historic buildings, or music ringing through the summer air. But, where can we find Kittitas Valley’s literary arts? Look no further than Marie Marchand, Ellensburg’s first poet laureate and one of eleven official poet laureates in Washington. 

The Ellensburg position was implemented after previous arts commissioner Cassandra Town noticed the arts scene in Ellensburg was vibrant and growing, yet lacking in the literary aspect. Thus, through a grant from the Ellensburg Arts Commission, the Ellensburg poet laureate position came to fruition.

Marie Marchand is serving the second year of her two-year civic position as Ellensburg’s poet laureate. Her position ends June 31, after which a search will be conducted for the new poet laureate, who will start in January of 2025. “It’s been an honor serving in the role.” Marchand said. She also noted her excitement to see what someone else will do with the position, and how she wants to support them.

So what does a poet laureate do? It all dates back to 14th century Rome, specifically to Francesco Petrarco, often called Petrarch. Petrarch was a prolific poet, writing over 350 sonnets over his lifetime. Inspired by the tenacity of this man, 17th century nobles would often have poets in their courts to write and recite poems about important events, such as the birth of a new heir. Now, poet laureates will do something similar, just not for kings. They will organize and attend events for the city, and write or recite poetry at them. Marchand also wrote the city poem, which can be found in Ellensburg City Hall.

City Poem/Photo by Lee Beck

Marchand, being a peer counselor in her day-to-day life, wants to foster connection and a feeling of value through this position. She also mentioned poetry as a personal healing modality. “I write poetry and read poetry to heal my mind and my soul,” Marchand said. “As poet laureate I try to lead workshops that foster self-discovery and community building.” One way she does this is by hosting poetry nature walks, the next of which is May 11 at noon. Marchand’s personal poetry is heavily inspired by aspects of nature, “There are so many rich metaphors in nature. It’s easier to teach poetry outside,” Marchand said. She chose these nature walks to help inspire others to write poetry.

Marchand attends events held by other organizations as well as organizing her own. Marchand recently attended the CWU Chamber Choir retreat, where she held a poetry workshop. She mentioned that groups at CWU occasionally invite her to lead these workshops as a team-building exercise.  “I think the most important part of the job is connection,” Marchand said. She felt that fostering a greater connection between CWU and the Ellensburg community was important to her as poet laureate.

Marchand mentioned some collaborations with CWU throughout her tenure, including the CWU Chamber Choir performing a poem she had written at city hall in April 2023. She said her favorite thing to do as poet laureate was write for musical composition. Marchand mentioned another collaborative event with CWU student Mariah Sebastiani, the upcoming open mic at NuWave Gallery on March 7 at 5:30 p.m.. 

“I write a lot about how the metaphors in nature affect my life; my mind, my emotional life,” Marchand said. She mentions the metaphor of surrender she feels from rivers, noting the magnificence of the Columbia River. Marchand also spoke openly about poetry’s effect on her mental health journey, and how poetry has helped her to discover much about herself.

“I think a poem is successful if it makes you happy and when it reveals something about you that you didn’t know before,” Marchand said. Despite being a published poet, Marchand still frequently gets rejected after submitting a piece for publication, often calling it the “poetry industrial complex.” Continuing with: “Poets are soft empaths, so it’s hard for us to get rejected,” Marchand said. She mentioned how she liked to give poems to people as gifts to thwart these feelings of rejection, and to simultaneously make someone else feel valued.

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