Kathleen Flenniken is the 2012 – 2014 Washington State Poet Laureate. She began her career as a civil engineer and didn’t discover poetry until her early 30s. Her collection, Plume (University of Washington Press, 2012) , is a meditation on the Hanford Nuclear Site and her home town of Richland, Washington, and was a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America , and the Pacific Northwest Book Awards. Her first book, Famous (University of Nebraska Press, 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 other honors include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Artist Trust.
Flenniken is an editor and president of Floating Bridge Press, a nonprofit press dedicated to publishing Washington State poets, and president of Jack Straw Foundation, an audio arts studio and cultural center. Flenniken teaches poetry in the schools through arts agencies like Writers in the Schools and Jack Straw. As Poet Laureate, she is trying to reach all 39 counties in Washington, and is especially interested in visiting 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. She was Distinguished Visiting Poet at Seattle University in Spring 2013. Flenniken holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Washington State University and University of Washington.
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.