Plight of migrants, refugees is focus of St. Cecilia's 'The Soul of Poetry' event

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Tod Marshall, Kathleen Flenniken, Samuel Green, and Elizabeth Austen. Courtesy photos Tod Marshall, Kathleen Flenniken, Samuel Green, and Elizabeth Austen. Courtesy photos

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – Prominent poets will bring attention to the crisis facing migrants and refugees when they unveil new works at the April 26 “The Soul of Poetry — Share the Journey” event at St. Cecilia Church.

“April is National Poetry Month and it seemed like a good way to increase knowledge and awareness of the millions of people throughout the world displaced through no fault of their own,” organizer Mona Lydon-Rochelle said in a news release.

The 7 p.m. event to benefit Catholic Relief Services (free-will offerings will be collected at the door) will feature the first four Washington state poet laureates: Samuel Green, Kathleen Flenniken, Elizabeth Austen and Tod Marshall.

Lydon-Rochelle, a published poet and former professor at the University of Washington, taught obstetrics and gynecology to health care workers serving displaced people in Liberia and Kenya. Now she helps organize global discipleship activities at St. Cecilia’s as a CRS Parish Ambassador. The Soul of Poetry event “is a different way to talk about an issue we’ve all heard about,” Lydon-Rochelle said. “Maybe hearing it in a different way will help people gain a better understanding of the problem and what’s being done to solve it.”

Marshall, a creative writing professor and director of writing at Spokane’s Gonzaga University, completed his two-year term as state poet laureate in January 2018. He will present a new work, “Thank You Says the Wind,” that he began writing in January. The challenge, Marshall said, has been writing a poem that is effective, has a certain quality of craft, and in a poignant way expresses the work of Catholic Relief Services. CRS operates in over 100 countries and serves more than 130 million people.

In addition to the poets, Jesus Huerta, CRS relationship manager, will speak during the event about the ways courage and compassion can change lives. Jesuit Father John Topel, a theologian and assistant to Seattle University’s law school dean, will give a talk titled “The Sacred Call of the Refugee.” Also featured will be a musical performance of Ennio Morricone’s score for the film “The Mission.”

Father Joseph Mitchell, St. Cecilia’s pastor, said the evening of poetry will increase people’s exposure to the work of Catholic Relief Services and foster a better appreciation for brothers and sisters in material need.

“It’s going to be an absolutely unique event,” he said.

A quartet of poets

These poets will be featured at “The Soul of Poetry — Share the Journey,” beginning at 7 p.m. April 26 at St. Cecilia Church, 1310 Madison Ave. N., Bainbridge Island:

  • -Samuel Green, the state’s first poet laureate (2007–09), will present “Unexploded Ordnance.” Green, who lives on Waldron Island in the San Juans, has taught at Seattle University and authored several poetry collections, including “The Grace of Necessity,” winner of the 2008 Washington State Book Award for poetry.
  • -Kathleen Flenniken, a civil engineer turned award-winning poet, will present “Hospitality.” Flenniken, poet laureate from 2012–14, teaches poetry writing in schools and spent 13 years as an editor at Floating Bridge Press, a nonprofit dedicated to publishing the work of poets living in Washington state.
  • -Elizabeth Austen, poet laureate from 2014–16, will present “Refuge.” Austen’s work has been featured in the Skagit Poetry Festival, the Richard Hugo House Literary Series and Bumbershoot.
  • -Tod Marshall, creative writing professor and director of writing at Spokane’s Gonzaga University, will present “Thank You Says the Wind.” Marshall was poet laureate from 2016 to January 2018.

The Washington State Poet Laureate program, established by the state Legislature in 2007, is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities Washington.