This Week Then: Celebrating National Poetry Month in Washington

Plus: Bothell turns 110
| Updated: April 11, 2019

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Washington's Bards

April is National Poetry Month, and this week HistoryLink looks at some of the poets who found inspiration here in Washington. We begin with Ella Rhoads Higginson, the state's first poet laureate. Higginson achieved fame in the 1890s for her short stories and poetry, and later served as campaign manager for Frances Axtell, who was one of the first two women elected to serve in the state legislature. Another poet who was involved in activism was Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino cannery worker who became an organizer in the labor movement.

Theodore Roethke was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who taught English at the University of Washington until his untimely death in 1963. While at UW, Roethke occasionally enjoyed his off hours at the Blue Moon Tavern, which celebrates its 85th birthday on April 15 and was a favorite haunt for other local poets, including Richard Hugo and David Wagoner.

Other poets who have called Washington home include Glenn Hughes, who was also head of the drama program at UW and a pioneer of "theater in the round"; prize-winning playwright August Wilson; Tomas Gayton, the grandson of black pioneers; and Lucia Perillo, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who in 2000 received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" for her writing.

Seattle has also had a vibrant slam poetry scene, as well as resources for poets, including the "It's About Time" writers reading series and Open Books, one of two all-poetry bookstores in the nation. Researchers will enjoy looking through back issues of Poetry Northwest, the longest running poetry-only magazine in the United States, which published its last issue in Seattle in 2002. And aspiring poets would do well to attend the annual LiTFUSE poetry workshop, held each fall in Tieton.

Down at the Yards

On April 11, 1897, the USS Oregon became the first in a long line of battleships to dock at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. During World War I the facility expanded to include shipbuilding, but it was during World War II that the yard really proved its mettle. Ships that survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor were brought there for repairs, and workers were ferried in and out around the clock. Meanwhile, the navy scrambled to complete an ammunition depot on Hood Canal, which didn't receive its first ordnance until April 14, 1945, less than a month before the end of the war in Europe.

After the war many of the vessels that served so valiantly in battle were mothballed in Bremerton. Some were scrapped, but others continued on in their duties. The USS Missouri received a hero's welcome before being decommissioned in 1954, and was a tourist destination in Bremerton for decades. The "Mighty Mo" was called back into duty for the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and returned to the shipyard on April 12, 1992. In 1998 the ship was moved to Hawaii, much to the consternation of those who considered Bremerton her home.


A County Created

On April 15, 1854, the Washington Territorial Legislature created Sawamish County out of Thurston County. Named for the tribe of Native Americans who lived along the bays and inlets of southern Puget Sound, it was later renamed Mason County, after Charles H. Mason, the territory's first secretary of state and acting governor.

A Writer Berated

The town of Bothell incorporated on April 14, 1909, and three days later residents got an eyeful of incivility after a local newspaper publisher wrote a scathing editorial about poor performance at the local post office. The town's assistant postmistress took umbrage and horsewhipped the man right on Main Street.

A Ship Inundated

The sinking of the Titanic on the night of April 14-15, 1912 sent ripples as far away as Puget Sound. Six Washingtonians went down with the "unsinkable" ocean liner, including filmmaker William Harbeck, who had filmed such historic events as the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and Washington's first airplane flight. Harbeck's body was recovered from the sea, but his motion pictures have disappeared.

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