Kathleen Flenniken is the 2012-2014 Washington State Poet Laureate. Her first book, Famous (University of Nebraska, 2006), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association and a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, The Writer’s Almanac, Poetry Daily, American Life in Poetry, and many other journals and anthologies. Her second collection, Plume, selected by Linda Bierds for the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series, was published in Spring 2012 by University of Washington Press.
Flenniken’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Artist Trust, a Pushcart Prize, and grants from Artist Trust and the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s Fellowship by The Writer’s Center in Bethesda in 2010. She teaches poetry through Seattle’s Writers in the Schools program, Jack Straw, and other arts agencies. Flenniken is a co-editor and president of Floating Bridge Press, a non-profit press dedicated to publishing Washington State poets, and president of the board at Jack Straw.
I came to poetry late, after working eight years as a civil engineer and hydrologist, three on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. I started writing when I quit work to stay home with my young children. I took a night class in poetry--and I’ve taken it seriously ever since.
For years my subject was my daily domestic life. I saw myself as a natural historian of interiors. This is the focus of Famous. In 2004 I started (without recognizing it at first) a very different project, and for close to six years I wrote almost exclusively about Hanford, where plutonium was produced for 40 years, and about its bedroom community, my home town, Richland, Washington. Plume, the resulting full-length collection of poems, is part memoir, part history lesson, part cautionary tale, part quest. It is at its heart a search for identity, as I have tried to synthesize the truths of my childhood with the environmental facts. I’ve learned from the sustained examination of one all-consuming subject. Now I am at work on a new obsession--my own problematic, star-crossed love affair with my country, and my parallel relationship with romance itself.