CELEBRATE ELWHA! — Inspired voices at Elwha Heritage Center reflect on dam removals

PORT ANGELES — This Tuesday night, the celebration begins: Voices, Native American and non-Native, will be heard together, like the blend of creatures whose lives are sustained by the Elwha River.

Poets from across the North Olympic Peninsula will offer their thoughts on the river — and the removal of its Elwha and Glines Canyon dams — in a free evening to start at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Elwha Heritage Training Center, 401 E. First St., in Port Angeles.

Internationally known writer Tess Gallagher, author and poet Tim McNulty and Lower Elwha Klallam tribe members Brenda Francis, Monica Charles, Christopher Thomas and Suzie Bennett are among those who will share their work in this unprecedented night.

Makah tribe members Brandon McCarty and Tor Parker also will offer poems, as will Port Angeles-area poets Kate Reavey, Alice Derry and Charlotte Warren.

Gallagher, when asked what she finds inspirational about the Elwha River restoration, said: “It is a huge imaginative leap we have made together, on behalf of two wildnesses: a wild river and these wild salmon in it.

“I feel so proud to be living in this place at this time when Native and non-Native poets can witness

. . . a gift,” she added.

This gift — the return of the great stream to its free-flowing state — “allows us to reimagine our own place in the story — not as those who simply make use, but as those who cherish and protect the irreplaceable energies of the Elwha River.”

A book collecting the poets’ works will be available Tuesday night and at other events this week. Titled Where Thunderbird Rests His Head and Waits for the Songs of Return — from a line in a poem by Lower Elwha tribal member John B. Boyd — its cover bears an image by Klallam artist Roger Fernandes.

Among the poems inside are “If I Could Dream in Klallam” by Francis and “Walking the Long and Shady Elwha” by Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize winner who grew up in Washington state.

The book will be sold for $10, with proceeds directed toward the Native Voices poetry workshops held monthly at the Elwha heritage center.

On Tuesday night, Gallagher will read “Where Water Comes Together with Other Water,” a poem by her late husband, the revered writer Raymond Carver; she will also offer her own poem “Emanation for the Red Child.”

Derry, whose first trip to the Olympic Peninsula in 1955 was to attend Makah Days in Neah Bay — “I remember that vividly” — still finds infinite energy beside the water.

“The river itself is so inspirational,” she said of the Elwha. “Any time you go up there, you start writing.”

Francis, for her part, pays tribute to her people in “Elwha Freedom”:

Escaping from the moments we didn’t have a voice.

Loving the fact that the dam is finally coming down.

Wanting restoration of our land.

Having a pride in those people before me that made this possible.

Ancestors.

“We started as different rivulets,” Derry said of the Native poets and the non-Native. “We’re coming together like a big river.”

Tuesday’s poetry reading is the first of several free events that are part of this week’s Celebrate Elwha! series. Klallam storytelling and a free festival on the Port Angeles City Pier on Saturday are among the activities listed at www.celebrateelwha.com.

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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