Sharing Stories During Dark Times

Like many writers I know, I often include a quote from an author in my email signature. Until recently, I used one from poet Kim Stafford:

“Figure out playful ways to write hard news that bring hope, that end in a song.”  

Those words from Oregon’s former poet laureate guided me throughout the writing of my forthcoming essay collection, Writer in a Life Vest, as I wrote about some of the effects of climate change on the Salish Sea and orca whales.

Lately, as I’ve been reading the anthology, Keep a Green Bough: Voices from the Heart of Cascadia, the words of editor Holly J. Hughes have spoken loudly to me.

Now I end my email messages with this from Holly’s introduction to the collection: 

“To share stories during dark times has long been a necessary, radical act.”

Rena Priest

In the book’s preface, Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest urges readers to acknowledge the Indigenous storytellers and stories of this region. She reminds us “their words too often go unheard among the din of voices who’ve come here to use the land and its riches as a palimpsest.”

Since I first wrote about the release of Keep a Green Bough, I’ve been making my way through the collection and paying particular attention to the Indigenous storytellers whose work is included. I’d like to acknowledge some of them here, beginning with Rena.

Rena Priest is a poet and an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. Appointed as the Washington State Poet Laureate 2021-2023, Rena’s debut collection, Patriarchy Blues received an American Book Award. 

Celeste AdameMuckleshoot, holds a master of fine arts in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Her poem “Duwamish,” included in the anthology, is an excerpt from “Medicine Creek in Four Parts.”

Samantha Della-DeVoney was born and raised on the Makah Reservation. She’s the Cultural Programs Manager for the Longhouse at Peninsula College and works in Evergreen State College’s Native Pathways Program. In her poem, “Cape Flattery,” she writes of the beauty and wildness of this northwestern-most point in the contiguous United States.

K’Ehleyr McNulty is a member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of Monterey Bay and Carmel Valley. She now lives on lands of the Elwha Klallam people and works with the Hoh, Quileute Makah, Elwha Klallam, and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribes. Her poem, “Unprecedented,” reminds us this isn’t the first pandemic.

Sara Marie Ortiz, Pueblo of Acoma, is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts and Antioch University’s MFA program. In her poem, “River,” she writes, “The pandemic is teaching us about relationship with place. The pandemic is teaching us about our relationship with story. The pandemic is teaching us about the importance of our relationships with memory and with each other.”

Meredith Parker (Mer) is an enrolled member of the Makah Indian Tribe, actively involved in the Makah culture. She enjoys capturing her homeland in poetry, as she does in “To Bear Witness,” as well as in photographic images and memoir.

Sandra Jane Polzin, the granddaughter of Mary Amelia of the Laxgibuu (wolf) clan in British Columbia, has been enrolled in the Nisga’a Nation since 2005. She earned a bachelor of science in nursing with an art minor from the University of Washington. Her “Keeping the Story Alive” and the story map, “The Time Between,” reveal a slice of her ancestry.

Leah Simeon is a citizen of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. She teaches at the Muckleshoot Tribal School in Auburn, WA. Her family’s annual camping trip along the Spokane River is the inspiration for her poem, “The River on the Reservation.”

Arianne True (Choctaw, Chickasaw) is a queer poet and folk artist who teaches and mentors with Seattle’s Writers in the Schools (WITS). She’s working on a manuscript of experimental poetry such as her piece in the anthology, “Pandemic: Even the Nice Days, We’re Inside.” 

Again, I thank Holly Hughes and Empty Bowl: A Pacific Northwest Independent Poetry Press, for this collection of poetry and prose. As Holly wrote, “These writers remind us that our lives in Cascadia are still interwoven with fir and cedar, salmon and kingfisher, heron and eagle, raven and crow—and perhaps even more so as we face an uncertain future together…These pieces span generations… these pieces span geography… these pieces speak up, acknowledging the painful history of the indigenous nations who’ve weathered the suppression of their culture.”

Another contributor, fisherman and writer Tele Aadsen, writes in a hopeful way in her essay, “Change.” She descrdibes her “faith in those moments when we do the unexpected, do the hard thing, when we go off-script and show what we truly value. When the storm continues but we’re not passive. When we reach for the tools before us—science, history, culture, art, community, love—and we make a change.” 

As we enter into another season of uncertainty, I look to stories like these, and the necessary, radical act of telling them. 


  1. Dear Iris Polly just read this to me- it is beautiful, timely, timeless. you continue to find messages that restore and nurture us. Blessings and gratitude, Steve


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