Exercise artistic democracy by standing up and voting for Seattle's poet populist

It's summer in Seattle, which means it's time once again for the Seattle Poet Populist election. Seattle residents can vote until August 21 for their favorite Seattle poet to be crowned the 2006-2007 Seattle Poet Populist. Go to www.seattlepoetpopulist.org to cast your e-vote. As with any Seattle election, only Seattle residents are allowed to vote.

Why a populist poet?

You may be wondering, what is a poet populist? According to the online reference tool Wikipedia, "a poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events."

Wikipedia has no entry for a poet populist. Rather than being anointed by bureaucrats, officials, or committees, a poet populist is chosen by a popular vote of the people. The central idea behind the program is to provide an arena for poetry that complements the tradition of academic poetry. The Seattle Poet Populist is expected to represent and promote the principals of populist poetic expression throughout our fair city when performing during her or his one-year term. The goal is to reach audiences otherwise unexposed to poetry.

The role of poet populist for Seattle originated in 1999 as a follow-up to the 1998 Neighborhood Arts Conference on February 13, 1999.

That day, 23 poets and performers performed in the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall in the Benaroya Symphony Hall for over 500 attendees. A dozen neighborhood arts groups exhibited in the lobby. Attendees to the SNAC as well as the general public cast ballots and elected Seattle's first poet populist, Barnard Harris, Jr. Other past poets populist include Bart Baxter, and Tara Hardy.

The contest

In order to ensure legitimate candidates, Seattle's literary organizations and curators were invited to submit nominations. The candidate receiving the most votes wins and takes "office" as the official Poet Populist of Seattle. The winner receives a $500 cash award from One Reel, the producers of Bumbershoot.

The Seattle Poet Populist agrees to read at least once per month at varied venues throughout the city. The Seattle Public Library and Bumbershoot are supporters of the Seattle Poet Populist program. They host public readings for the candidates before and after the election.

On Monday August 14 and 21, KUOW 94.9 FM radio's The Beat will air a voters' guide to the Seattle Poet Populist election. The broadcasts start at 2 p.m. The show's literary host, Elizabeth Austen, will provide listeners the opportunity to learn more about the Seattle Poet Populist program and hear each candidate read poetry. The candidates are Lyn Coffin, Jourdan Keith, John Burgess, Anna Maria Hong, Barbara Petite, Joannie Kervran Stangeland and Crysta Casey.

Burgess and Petite were featured on August 7; Casey, Stangeland and Jourdan Keith will be featured on August 14; and Coffin and Hong on August 21. You can hear the August 7 reading, as well as all of the others after they air, on-line by searching KUOW's archives at www.kuow.org.

On July 16, the downtown Central Library's Microsoft Auditorium hosted a reading by all seven 2006-2007 Seattle Poet Populist election candidates: You can access that reading on-line as well by visiting the Seattle Channel web site at www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2160642.

On September 2, at 12:30 pm, after the election has ended, Bumbershoot will stage a reading on their literary stage at the Seattle Center by the top four vote-getters. After the reading, the winning poet will be announced and awarded a $500 honorarium.

At the top

Seattle's current poet populist is Pesha Joyce Gertler. After handily winning last year's 2005-2006 election, Gertlerwas awarded the cash prize and was commissioned to write one original poem during her term. Gertler's term as Seattle's Poet Populist is enabling her to expand her passion for taking poems where they are not ordinarily heard.

She has read her work at venues ranging from homeless shelters to the swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Greg Nickels and for Seattle City Council members. She has taught creative writing workshops at North Seattle Community College, the University of Washington Women's Center and many other venues.

You can learn more about Gertler's term by clicking on "current poet populist" at www.seattlepoetpopulist.org. And, you can visit Pesha's website at www.peshajoycegertler.com.

Nick Licata is a Seattle City Councilmember.[[In-content Ad]]