Bellingham and the surrounding Whatcom County communities are home to an incredibly supportive arts community. We host authors, painters, photographers, sculptors, as well as stage, dance, and film production companies to name just a few. Poetry as an art form is no exception. Our vibrant community of accomplished and aspiring poets create an incredible array of opportunities to consume, share, and perform poetic verse. The award-winning locals, literary journals, clubs, open mic nights, slams, and visiting poet readings and signings offer endless ways to appreciate the art—and science—of poetry all year long.
Sample Award-Winning Locals & Publications
Perhaps poets choose Whatcom County because they were influenced by the esteemed professors and alumni of Western Washington University (WWU). Professor of English, Bruce Beasley has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Artist Trust of Washington as well as three Pushcart Prizes in poetry. Senior Instructor Christopher Patton is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize.
WWU’s Jeopardy Magazine, founded in 1963, has served as an annual platform for generations of artists to publish work inspired by current culture. Since 2003, the publication has accepted submission exclusively from WWU students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The magazine also hosts one or two creative writing faculty showcases and an annual release party each May.
Bellingham is also home to award-winning poets like 2016 Jack Straw Fellow, Artist Trust Fellow, and 2016 nominee for the Stranger Genius Award in Literature, Robert Lashley. Although he grew up in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, when he’s not touring the country sharing his art, he calls Whatcom County home.
To get a taste of the poetry of Whatcom County, the curious can check out the anthology, Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, released in 2015. Edited by locals Luther Allen and Judy Kleinberg, the collection includes the work of more than 100 poets that live and create in the area. The pair also host the SpeakEasy poetry reading series. The latest, SpeakEasy 18: Voices from the Poetry Marathon, will happen at Mount Baker Theatre‘s Encore Room on Jan. 28, 2017.
Dead Cat Anthology includes many genres and will be roughly fifty percent poetry when it arrives around February 2016. This work, edited by local writer and poet Dee Dee Chapman, is a collection of pieces inspired by the theme ‘dead cat.’ Many locals know Chapman for her encyclopedic knowledge of film and her many years as the former manager of local video store Film is Truth 24 Times a Second.
Join Writing Groups, Workshops, and Readings
One can only speculate as to why so many successful poets call Bellingham home. Perhaps it’s the active community of writers.
- Village Books and Whatcom Community College collaborate to present Chuckanut Writers, offering poetry classes and workshops throughout the year as well as collaborative writing groups Poetry I and II.
- The Friends of the Ferndale Library hosts the Ferndale Poetry Festival each April.
- Whatcom Writers and Publishers offer opportunities and events for writers of all kinds.
- The annual summer Chuckanut Writers Conference also includes sessions for and by Pacific Northwest poets.
- If you get deeper into our poetry scene, you might have a chance to attend one of the number of private poetry events are also happening within the homes of locals. Kitchen Session Bellingham poetry potluck is among the most well-known.
This thriving community of writers works together to share and collaborate. Below are some opportunities to appreciate the art form and share your own work.
Experience Open Mic Nights & Slams
Poets brave the open mic to share their work, gain feedback, friends, and followers, and to feel the reaction from a live audience. For poetry fans, it’s the perfect way to discover your new favorite touring and local poet and also get a feel for the sheer variety that makes up the art form. Below is a quick list of free, all-ages events around Whatcom County.
poetrynight at Bellingham Public Library
Every Monday night at 8 p.m. for over 15 years, poetrynight has combined touring poets with new and established locals. Sign-up is in person at 7:45 p.m. If it’s a full house, sets are limited to three minutes, with time reserved at the end to showcase two featured poets. The non-profit program of the Whatcom Poetry Series also provides over 100 podcasts of past events on their web site.
210 Central Avenue
WWU’s Underground Coffeehouse
This campus coffee house offers poetry on the second and fourth Mondays each month. Cozy couches make for a super casual atmosphere. Sign up by 6:30 p.m. for the 5-minute performances that begin at 7 p.m.
Third Floor of Viking Union Building
516 High Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
Open Mic with Laurel Leigh at Village Books
Open mic with Laurel Leigh takes place in the Readings Gallery the last day of every month at 7 p.m. Enjoy 7-minute sets of spoken word from 12 participants. Sign up at the book store’s main counter on the first floor or call for your spot.
1200 11th St.
Bellingham, WA 98225
Honey Moon Mead and Cider
Owners Murphy and Anna Evans are as committed to the literary art form as they are to local music. Their support of the local poetry scene comes in the form of special events. They’ve hosted the complete reading of Beowulf and the appreciation of the sonnet, as well as parties for local literary magazines, readings, and poetry slams. Server and poet Erica Reed is deeply involved in the Whatcom County poetry community, who also spend time at the Honey Moon.
One of the longest running open mic events in town, Wednesday night’s Open Mic with Scot Casey includes both music and spoken word and draws in some the area’s best talent. Sign up for one of the 12 available slots no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Participants are selected at random and sets are up to 15 minutes long beginning at 6 p.m.
1053 N State Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
Chuckanut Sandstone Writer’s Theater Open Mic, hosted by Carla Shafer, gives local writers the opportunity to share their original poems, prose, plays and memoirs on the second Wednesday of each month. Sign up for a seven-minute slot at 6:30 p.m. to participate in the 6:50 p.m. event that goes until about 9 p.m.
1208 11th Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
More Odds and Ends in our Community
There are a few poetry-related events that are delightfully outside-the-box. They are also part of what makes our community great.
Since 2006, two respected judges choose 25 winning poems from those submitted by Whatcom County residents. Walk Award winning poems are displayed on a permanent poetry installation in front of Bellingham Public Library. Both Walk and Merit Award winning poems are displayed for a year inside Whatcom Transportation Authority buses.
Poets Shannon Laws and Summer Starr teamed up with a local painter to launch a successful Kickstarter campaign. An abandoned phone booth on North Forest Street in front of the Community Food Coop will be transformed into a work of art. New poems will be chosen to be displayed in the booth from among those submitted each quarter.
The Poem Store
The Poem Store is a writer-trio composed of Savanah Jordan, Natalie Fedak, and Erica Reed. These women write unique and custom poems on the spot on any subject on their vintage typewriter. They’re often found at the Bellingham Farmers Market and are hired for other local events.
There are even more poetry-related opportunities in Whatcom County than we could mention here. Check individual web sites and Facebook groups for all the latest details. Then you’ll be able to plan your next overnight, weekend, or week-long visit and get your poetry fix any time of the year.