Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #218: The 2006-2007 Seattle Poet Populist

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata with assistance from my LA Frank Video.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • VOTE!



It’s summer in Seattle, which means it’s time once again for the Seattle Poet Populist Election. Seattle residents can vote until August 21st for their favorite Seattle poet to be crowned the 2006-2007 Seattle Poet Populist. Go to to cast your e-vote. As with any Seattle election, only Seattle residents are allowed to vote. In order to ensure legitimate candidates, Seattle’s literary organizations and curators were invited to submit nominations. The one 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.


Starting this Monday, August 7th, and continuing the following two Mondays, the 14th and 21st, KUOW 94.9 FM radio’s The Beat will air a voters’ guide to the Seattle Poet Populist election. The broadcasts start at 2 pm on each of those Mondays. 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, Barabra Petite, Joannie Kervran Stangeland and Crysta Casey.

John Burgess and Barbara Petite will be featured on August 7th; Crysta Casey, Joannie Kervran Stangeland and Jourdan Keith on August 14th; and, Lyn Coffin and Anna Maria Hong on August 21st. You can also hear these programs on-line after they have aired by searching KUOW’s archives at

Back on July 16th, the downtown Central Library’s Microsoft Auditorium hosted a reading by all seven 2006-2007 Seattle Poet Populist election candidates: You can watch that reading on-line by visiting the Seattle Channel web site at

On September 2nd, 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.


You may be wondering, what is a Poet Populist? The Wikipedia says this about poets laureate: “A Poet Laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events. The term has in England for centuries been the title of the official poet of the monarch, appointed for life since the time of Charles II. Poets Laureate are appointed by many countries, some U.S. states and the United Nations.”

The Wikipedia has no entry for Poet Populist. Rather than being anointed by bureaucrats, officials, or committees, Poets Populist result from of 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 my 1998 Neighborhood Arts Conference, I sponsored the Seattle Neighborhood Arts Celebration (SNAC) to augment Neighborhood Appreciation Day on February 13th, 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 (and second) Poet Populist, Barnard Harris, Jr. Other past Poets Populist include Bart Baxter, Tara Hardy, and Pesha Joyce Gertler.


Seattle’s current Poet Populist is Pesha Joyce Gertler. After handily winning last year’s 2005-2006 election, Pesha was awarded a cash prize of $500 and commissioned to write one original poem during her term. Gertler’s one-year 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 Nickels and for Seattle City Council members. She has taught creative writing workshops at North Seattle Community College, University of Washington Women’s Center, and many other venues.

You can learn more about Pesha’s term by clicking on “current poet populist” at And, you can visit Pesha’s own website at


As a member of the National League of Cities, I am working to persuade other cities across the country to establish poet populist programs by offering my assistance in helping them establish and promote poet populist programs. If you believe this program has merit and happen to represent a literary organization or if you are a literary curator, I urge you to promote the creation of poets populist programs to your peers in other cities.

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