This fall, our poet-in-residence, Laura Da’, enters the second year of her term. Laura has published two books of poetry, Tributaries, which won the 2016 American Book Award, and Instruments of the True Measure, winner of the 2019 Washington Book Award. In addition to working on a third collection of poems, Laura has spent time in the past year meeting with community members one-on-one during office hours and mentoring the 2019-20 Hugo Fellows.
We caught up with her to find out how her first year went, what she’s looking forward to about the second, and how her approach to her current writing project has changed over the last year.
You’re starting your second year as poet-in-residence at Hugo House. What are some things you’re looking forward to about the year ahead?
I’m looking forward to working with Ruth Joffre and the new Hugo Fellowship cohort. Creating a web of creative colleagues and supporters in community is a fresh hypothesis for the shifts that can create a more sustainable writing world. I’m excited to see what comes up for this year’s group. Facilitating and learning alongside the cohort is the primary facet of my role as poet-in-residence, and it gives me a profound sense of optimism and joy.
This year I am dedicated to being part of the community and accountable to the community in the imperative to counter white supremacy in creative spaces including here at Hugo House.
Can you tell us about a few memorable moments from your first year as poet-in-residence?
Working with last year’s group of Hugo Fellowship cohort, Jen, Abi, Piper, Sasha, Joyce, and Shelby alongside Kristen Millares Young was endlessly fascinating, moving, and delightful. Kristen is a beautiful and compassionate soul and she was the perfect office mate and co-conspirator. When I reflect on what we accomplished as cohort, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and satisfaction. We did it very differently and it shows. Centering love and mutual support facilitated a finely woven world of potential that I will carry into this new year. There are many wonderful moments, but my favorite was when one of the cohort’s poets was so beset with texts of affirmation and amazement from the rest of us that she had to move her phone off screen during a virtual reading.
You’re currently working on a hybrid work titled Severalty: A Lyrical Mapping. What can you tell us about the project?
The term severalty in the context of this project comes The Dawes Act of 1887, a destructive governmental genocide that resulted in profound loss of land and culture for Indigenous people. It gives me a moment of dissonance to see my proposed project in this language because my thinking around it has changed so dramatically. I have spent many hours as a writer bending the language of colonialism upon itself and asking it to account for its brutalities, but this deep time of pandemic reflection has turned my curiosity to my own Shawnee language as a place of richer potential and wellness. What I can offer about my writing now is that I am less interested in mapping and more interested in unearthing.
How has the pandemic and the switch to virtual access changed your approach to community outreach?
Virtual access can be used to increase flexibility and access, provided it is applied with consideration and care. I enjoy the way that virtual access allows people greater autonomy and agency when it comes to participation. On a practical note, I am an organ transplant survivor and as such, I’ve missed out on a number of readings and outreach opportunities. Virtual access allows me to be safely present, and I believe it can function in that way for many folks.
What books or writers have you been reading lately?
Here are my favorites from the past month or two:
Best book to read when you are grappling with complexity:
— How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy
Best book to read when you are cooking (again):
— Feed by Tommy Pico
Best books to read when you need an infusion of beauty and excellence:
— Black Imagination edited by Natasha Marin
— Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Best book to read when insomnia has you in its horns:
— The Broken Earth Series by NK Jemison
Best book to share with the kids:
— The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
Laura Da’ is a poet and teacher. A lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Da’ studied creative writing at the University of Washington and The Institute of American Indian Arts. Da’ is Eastern Shawnee. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Artist Trust, Hugo House, and the Jack Straw Writers Program. Her first book, Tributaries, won the 2016 American Book Award. Her newest book is Instruments of the True Measure (University of Arizona Press, 2018).