Voices from the Heart of Cascadia

At the start of a new year, just days before insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, and only a few weeks before a “skinny black girl” reminded us:

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished…

poet Holly J. Hughes made a request. 

“I’m honored to have been invited to guest edit the second volume of The Madrona Project, to be published by Empty Bowl Press in 2021,” she wrote. As editor, she was asking women writers to reflect on the challenges and opportunities of the moment and submit poems and essays in keeping with the mission of Empty Bowl to publish “literature that reflects a sense of responsibility and explores human communities living in wild places.”

Her invitation went on to explain, “Your contribution could range from reflecting on how this bioregion/landscape has shaped and inspired you as an artist/writer–to witnessing the systemic injustices the pandemic revealed –to affirming efforts underway in your community to address them.” I was thrilled, humbled, and daunted by Holly’s request. She was committed to reflecting the voices of all the people in our region as well as “to give voice to the land and sea and all their inhabitants.” 

When Holly’s email arrived, I was scrambling to finish my new essay collection, Writer in a Life Vest, to be published by Homebound Publications next spring. I was using different non-fiction forms to give voice to the Salish Sea, and I thought (hoped) one of those essays might be a good fit for the Empty Bowl anthology.  My braided essay, “Not Just a Drill,” originated during my time as Writer-in-Residence with the Washington State Ferries.  The weekly Coast Guard drills on board inspired this call for action regarding the climate crisis, and Holly liked it. “This will provide a voice that so far has been missing,” she wrote in her email accepting the piece.  Now, six months later, The Madrona Project has released Keep a Green Bough: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia

Again, I’m humbled to be a part of it and in the company of many writers and artists I admire along with others whose work I’m just getting to know.

partial Table of Contents – Keep a Green Bough

The anthology’s title comes from a Chinese proverb: “Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come.” Artist Linda Okazaki’s painting “Valley of Love in Birdland,” serves as the collection’s cover art. For her, the piece “encourages a fanciful departure of healing of the heart with a focus on hope for the near future. The idea is to engage our imagination with ruminations of whatever livens the heart.”

In addition to the powerful voices from Cascadia (the bioregion that stretches from Alaska to northern California and east to Nevada and Wyoming), the book includes exquisite art work. 

In the preface for Keep a Green Bough, Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest describes well what the book offers:

“The blooms collected in this anthology are of a type that are beautiful to the mind’s eye, and below the surface are nourishing to the spirit. Some may act as bitter medicine; some may fill a peculiar emptiness in you that you didn’t know was there until you found you were filled up by what you’d read.”

Finnriver Farm and Cidery in the Chimacum Valley on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula hosted the book’s launch in style. 

Finnriver Farm and Cidery

Other events are in the planning, and I hope to join in. As I learn about other readings, I’ll post them so you can celebrate this new publication in person, too.

I thank editor Holly Hughes and Michael Daley of Empty Bowl for this volume. I hope you’ll add a copy of it to your library (you can order it HERE).


  1. Congratulations Iris! If I’d read this yesterday I would have congratulated you in person at the market today. I can’t wait to get a copy of the Madrona Project. xoSue


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