Hold this book in your hands, and you’re holding a gathering: Women who farm, fish, make art and write are all together inside.
And now a cross-section will present their words and thoughts to the wider world in two open-air, in-person readings from “The Madrona Project: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia.”
They’re a who’s who of 53 artistic women from across and beyond the North Olympic Peninsula — coming alongside women whose voices aren’t yet as well-known. Poets from Port Angeles, Neah Bay, Port Townsend, Chimacum, Sequim, Seattle and its environs will appear in the two readings, first at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday at Finnriver Farm & Cidery, 124 Center Road in Chimacum, with a public reception with food and drink available at 6 p.m.
In Clallam County, a reading is set for 4 p.m. July 25 outside the Dungeness River Audubon Center, 2151 Hendrickson Road at Railroad Bridge Park in Sequim.
Both readings are free to the public, while the paperback book, from Ancortes’ Empty Bowl press, will be available for purchase for $16.
Those who can’t make it to the reading can order it through local bookstores or at emptybowl.org.
At Wednesday’s Finnriver event, Washington state poet laureate Rena Priest will read from the preface she wrote for “The Madrona Project,” a piece that started out as a land acknowledgement: that the places where we live are the traditional lands of tribes including the Jamestown S’Klallam, the Quileute, the Lower Elwha and the Makah.
“This land was not empty when the first whites arrived. This land, these rivers, the tidelands, the waterways — for the original inhabitants, this land was a garden, cultivated and cared for, cherished and understood,” she writes.
In an interview Monday, Priest invited people who’ve never been to a poetry reading to come to one or both of this month’s “Madrona Project” get-togethers.
“Definitely give it a try,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to sit quietly and have images and sounds wash over you.”
The book’s subtitle, “Keep a Green Bough,” comes from an ancient Chinese saying, according to poet Holly J. Hughes of Chimacum, who served as book editor and organizer of the public readings.
“Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come,” the saying goes.
Hughes then quotes poet Kim Stafford, who wrote of his fellow artists, “We have not arrived to explain, but to sing.”
“I hope,” Hughes says in the book’s introduction, “our songs will spark your imagination, rekindle, and breathe life into these embers of hope. Together, may we envision a future that hears and honors all our voices.”
Priest, for her part, is looking forward to Wednesday’s reading: an in-person event after a long year-plus of Zoom sessions. She likes to get a feel for who has come to listen, and let that guide what she does.
“Madrona is just a really beautiful project in general,” she added. “I find it really inspiring that Holly reached out to Native writers, to make sure our voices were included.”
On Jan. 1, Hughes sent her call for submissions, not only to the region’s literati, but also to women who are nurses, teachers and crop growers.
They wrote back with stories and poems about beloved places and people, about the pandemic, the changing climate — and hope.
One reader, Hughes said, hailed it all as “a river of voices.”
Readers and artists slated to appear at Finnriver on Wednesday include Linda Okazaki, whose “Valley of Love in Birdland” is “The Madrona Project’s” cover art. Prints will be available for sale along with the book.
Susan Leopold Freeman, granddaughter of Aldo Leopold, is another who contributed art to this collection. Her life work includes the Tarboo Creek salmon restoration project near Quilcene; “on the rare occasions when her hands are clean, [Freeman] plays and teaches piano,” the book notes.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Maryna Ajaja, Kathleen Alcalá, Ronda Piszk Broatch, Kathryn Humes, Skye Levari, Zann Jacobrown, K’Ehleyr McNulty, Lauren Silver and Sara Marie Ortiz are also scheduled to share their art and words at the cidery.
The Dungeness River Audubon Center will open for the July 25 reading to include Tess Gallagher, the famed author of 11 books of poetry plus three collections of stories about life in the Pacific Northwest and Ireland.
Poet-educators Kate Reavey, Alice Derry, Carmen Germaine and Mary Morgan will read too, as will McNulty, Charlotte Warren, Paula MacKay, Risa Denenberg, Kathryn Hunt and Meredith Parker.
Sara Mall Johani, the Chimacum artist and writer, contributed an image to the book, titled “Wild Salmon World.”
Encircling a swirl of young fish and people are the words: “Earth’s proud orphans lost in a rain green land we’ve yet to love now find our desperate joy and simplest wisdom is to follow the seabright salmon home.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, senior reporter in Jefferson County, can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]