Laura Da

Laura Da’ is the author of Instruments of the True Measure (University of Arizona Press, 2018), winner of the Washington State Book Award, and Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. In 2023, she was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Da' will produce a poetic map and walking installation of the Lake Sammamish ecosystem. The project will include an online, interactive brochure that encourages participants to learn more about the history of Lake Sammamish, a poetry walk installed at the sites of Idylwood Creek and Idylwood Park on the shores of Lake Sammamish, and a permanent installation of selected prompts. What do you hope for the future of poetry in Redmond, Washington, and what support do you hope future poets laureate in the state have?

Laura Da’: Being in the community has been the most interesting and gratifying part of my laureateship. I particularly treasure learning from the people and, particularly, the workers of Redmond. I gained such insight from the city’s Streams and Habitat team— from being shown a pre-contact Douglas fir in a ravine to learning how the city monitors salmon in its rivers and streams.  The experiences powerfully impacted  how I engage with poetry in Redmond. I hope that future poets laureate have the opportunity to experience the senses of possibility and mutuality that come from time and a deep connection to a community. How has being a poet laureate changed your relationship to your own writing?

LD: My time as a poet laureate has brought my writing home. I have found myself fascinated by the concept of a hometown and what it means to me as a poet. When I was young, I grew up on a farm in the very rural Cascade Mountains. I used to come to Redmond to buy new cowboy boots every June. As a poet laureate of the same city some thirty-odd years later, it is remarkable to me how much the region has changed. I think the feed store is an artisanal ice cream shop now. How can a poet, or poetry, bring a community together? 

LD: Poetry is an art that emphasizes close and careful observation, and a poet can use that skill to perceive and notice the elements of a community that may not sit at the absolute surface of any place but are nevertheless powerful and compelling. I approached my laureateship from a place of interest in both land and history; but through my time in the community, I gained an appreciation for the present and the power of everyday moments of creativity and poetry. What part of your project are you most excited about?

LD: The most exciting element of my project has been working with young folks and professionals to interpret the themes of the Lake Sammamish ecosystem and to track kokanee salmon via technology. We have considered how project-mapping software mimics stream, river, and lake dynamics, and connected ecosystem migration to traffic patterns. It has been a remarkable honor to make these connections. What obstacles, if any, did you experience when starting your project?

LD: I think there is always a challenge around the constraints of time and authentic relationship- building. You are a lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest. What inspired you to center your project around Lake Sammamish, specifically? 

LD: Lake Sammamish is a place with important Indigenous and ecological history. It is the home of the kokanee salmon, a unique landlocked salmon that is critically impacted by human alterations to the specie’s environment. On a deeper level, Lake Sammamish stands out in my memories as a place of refuge and beauty, but also one of ecological precarity. To me it has symbolic beauty  as a place of generational diversity and sustenance tucked into a seemingly bland scatter of Cascadian suburbs. It is a deep lake in a glacial trough—plenty there under the surface. Is there a poem on that inspires you and your work in Redmond? How so?

LD: I love “For-The-Spirits-Who-Have-Rounded-The-Bend IIVAQSAAT,” a beautiful poem by dg nanouk okpik:

The final image is one that I think of often:

I make a hole in the ceiling for smoke and prayers to rise together in song.
I remember cleaning smeared smelt off my hooks sharpening them
to catch mirror-back salmon, fins spread, heading the opposite way,
nosing up the river to spawn in eclipse water when the sun moves
      around the earth and all days are ebony backwards