Olympia names first poet laureate: ‘Our voices can shape the community’

Olympia's first poet laureate recites 'Suburban Danger'

Olympia's first poet laureate, Amy Solomon-Minarchi, recites an original poem called "Suburban Danger." The poem was inspired by an encounter with a speeding car in an Olympia crosswalk.
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Olympia's first poet laureate, Amy Solomon-Minarchi, recites an original poem called "Suburban Danger." The poem was inspired by an encounter with a speeding car in an Olympia crosswalk.

As Olympia’s first poet laureate, Amy Solomon-Minarchi believes in the power of literary arts and their ability to shape the city.

Solomon-Minarchi’s appointment to the two-year position was approved Tuesday by the Olympia City Council. She will compose and deliver original poems, but her overarching goal is to collect voices from all corners of Olympia and assemble them into an anthology of poetry that reflects life in the community today.

“There’s so much to be captured,” she told The Olympian. “Olympia is in such a cool and weird evolutionary state. This is exactly what we need.”

Solomon-Minarchi, who teaches English and creative writing at North Thurston High School, also wants to engage children and young adults in schools with fewer arts-related opportunities.

During her tenure as poet laureate, she will host public workshops that encourage people to express themselves and discover opportunities for creativity. Poetry presents an opportunity to build bridges and a sense of interconnectedness, she said.

“It’s not about me. It’s about me organizing and helping everybody ‘connect the art dots,’ ” said Solmon-Minarchi, a New Jersey native who moved to Olympia in 2008. “Our voices can shape the community.”

Solomon-Minarchi was chosen for the post by the Olympia Arts Commission from among 10 applicants. Olympia resident Cecily Markham was chosen as an alternate.

Stephanie Johnson, arts program manager for the city, presented the city council with the commission’s recommendation Tuesday. She said one intent of the poet laureate position is to promote poetry as an art form and a community voice that contributes to a sense of place.

Mayor Cheryl Selby said the poet laureate program was initially brought forward by previous Mayor Stephen Buxbaum. She praised Solomon-Minarchi’s proposal to do outreach with Community Youth Services, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless young adults.

Councilman Jim Cooper said he appreciates that the new poet laureate writes with “a little bit of an edge” and noted how the arts can help promote civic dialogue.

“The arts can challenge our minds and our hearts to take us to different places,” Cooper said. “I’m really happy with the example that we saw.”

Suburban Danger

Solomon-Minarchi’s application for poet laureate contained five original poems, including “Suburban Danger,” which was inspired by a close encounter with a speeding car in Olympia. At that moment, she was pushing her baby in a stroller while walking her dog at a crosswalk at Seventh Avenue Southeast and Boundary Street in Olympia.

The poem attempts to capture a self-reflective emotional state of missing her family, she said, and compare it to some of the looming dangers that have always been right in front of everyone, such as the eruption of Mount Rainier.

“Suburban Danger”

By Amy Solomon-Minarchi

Cars speed past pedestrians in crosswalks

while babies stain Snugglies, dogs strain leashes

drivers yell, 900 points, and mean it.

Mount Rainier so majestic, could we climb it if

the tsunami hits? Better yet, seek the water tower

pack the power bars, guzzle Powerade

and wait to be saved. Or if it erupts

could we outrun the lava flow in our

Prius? Would we run out of gas mid-flee?

If only my mother were here. We could

be generations until the white waves

wash us out to sea, or the red hand claims us.