Poet in residence to hold public workshops in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND ¬­– A poet whose words stand as a witness to social injustice will be a poet in residence in Port Townsend for two weeks in January, bringing an authentic voice to school observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, leading up to Black History Month in February.

Gary Lilley, who lives in Washington, D.C., will be in Port Townsend on Jan. 16 through 31 to conduct programs and writing workshops at local schools.

He also will teach a poetry-writing workshop on “poetry as witness” — a genre that calls attention to the plight of the marginalized, he says — and give a free public reading.

Life experience

“His poetry and life experience will be powerful additions to Black History curricula in all grade levels,” said Julie Marston, who teaches at Jefferson Community School and Port Townsend High School.

Barbara Bowen, a local poet, is coordinating Lilley’s visit, which starts Jan. 16 with a luncheon at Jefferson Community School.

The visit is sponsored by the private school, which has grades sixth through 12th, in partnership with the Port Townsend School District Literacy Council, which received a $1,000 grant from the Jefferson County Education Foundation for the purpose.

Centrum also is sponsoring the visit.

Lilley was on the faculty of the 2008 Centrum’s Writer’s Conference in July.

On Jan. 17, Lilley will conduct a “Can I Get a Witness” poetry workshop.

“Poetry of witness” initially was used to document wars and atrocities, and it still is, Lilley said in a written statement, but it also presents the more subtle things that affect everyday lives, social or political.

“The bonding tenet is that it should always be artistic, because poetry is art,” Lilley said in the statement.

“This is a workshop and a discussion on witnessing, with a focus on developing, and improving the use of, concrete and significant details to sharpen our imagery, use of symbolism, and to create stronger metaphors, bringing clarity and more dynamic tension to our poems.”

The poet, who teaches creative writing at Warren Wilson College, has been a poet-in-residence at WritersCorps, Young Chicago Authors and The Poetry Center of Chicago and received the DC Commission on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry.

He is the author of four books: Black Poem, Alpha Zulu, The Reprehensibles and The Subsequent Blues.


On Jan. 19, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lilley will conduct an all-day workshop for Jefferson Community School students.

The workshop will include historical perspectives on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, Lilley’s personal experience, the role of young people in the movement and the impact on art.

Marston has conducted two expeditions for local students to the Sea Islands of South Carolina, where they studied the local Gullah culture and stayed at Penn Center, where Martin Luther King Jr. frequently stayed while planning his civil-rights campaign.

From Jan. 20 to 29, Lilley will work with public school students, appearing at assemblies and writing workshops at Mountain View Elementary School, Grant Street Elementary and Blue Heron Middle School.

“Mr. Lilley’s curriculum vitae reflects his ability to work with people of all ages in a variety of settings,” Marston said.

“The teachers in each building will decide how best to incorporate Mr. Lilley’s talents and gifts within their Black History curricula.”

Lilley will work for two days with Port Townsend High School students, Marston said, coordinating with their study of African-American writers and poets Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Bebe Cade Bambara, Brent Staples, Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou.


Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter/columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at jjackson@olypen.com.

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