Poetry Project to Follow the Length of the Columbia River

In April the Academy of American Poets awarded Claudia Castro Luna a Poets Laureate Fellowship, along with $100,000 in funding to support her new project, called One River: A Thousand Names. Next year she will travel the length of the Columbia River as it winds through Washington State on its way to the ocean, holding poetry readings and writing workshops. These events will convene at the point where the Columbia enters the northeastern corner of Washington and continue to its encounter with the Pacific Ocean, highlighting the importance of this natural resource.

Castro Luna studied anthropology and urban planning in a past life. This expertise infuses her poetry with a deep geographical intelligence and a desire to honor and investigate how Washingtonians interact with each other and the natural world. To Castro Luna, poetry is part of placemaking and people’s participation in the cultural makeup of the places they call home.

Claudia Castro Luna

Castro Luna sees the Columbia River as a uniting force in a state that is conceptually divided between east and west. The Cascade Mountains have long imposed a geographical and mental barrier. By focusing on the river and its surrounding watershed, she invites us to reconsider our connectivity and how we are in relationship across physical and conceptual borders. 

“We all have stories about the places we love. This is why writing about place makes sense,” she says. Castro Luna has taught many workshops to people who have never written a poem, creating opportunities for them to write about places where they have found meaning and where their lives have unfolded. “Poetry is an easy vehicle to express this [love of place] in a more creative fashion.” 

As part of the One River project, Castro Luna will identify established poets along the river to help teach poetry writing workshops. She also hopes to nurture the craft of new poets while fostering a love of poetry more broadly.

The Columbia River // Photo by Summer Hess.

Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, explained in a written statement to The Spokesman Review why Castro Luna’s project was among the most generously awarded. “Claudia Castro Luna is a poet whose work exemplifies how poetry can spark conversation and can help us learn about one another’s lives and unique experiences, which promotes greater understanding,” she says. Castro Luna also plans to pair poems with images from the state archive.

To get a taste of what next year’s One River project might entail, check out Washington Poetic Routes. This digital poetry-mapping includes a poem from Spokane’s Tod Marshall, along with poets writing about Newport, Cashmere, and Brewster. If Castro Luna’s previous work is any indication, One River may help generate even more appreciation for regions that are culturally and ecologically rich, but sometimes excluded.

She notes, “The middle [of the state] gets lost. This project will help carry voices and promote life and thinking and poetry from a part of the state we don’t hear about much.” Visit www.castroluna.com to learn more about One River and other projects. 

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