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Pass the torch

Abby E. Murray, military spouse, selected as 2019-2021 Tacoma poet laureate

On April 9, Tacoma Arts Commission announced its selection of local poet, educator, editor and activist Abby E. Murray as the 2019-2021 Tacoma poet laureate. Photo courtesy of Abby E. Murray

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As April is National Poetry Month, it should come as no surprise that on April 9, Tacoma Arts Commission announced its selection of the 2019-2021 Tacoma poet laureate as Abby E. Murray. Originally from Puyallup but now a resident of Tacoma, Murray is a prominent community activist, poet, educator and editor. 

"When I found out I'd be awarded this position, I had just washed a bunch of sour gummy bears down with a triple espresso," said Murray. "I was meeting with a former student and getting excited about the work he's doing for homeless youth in Tacoma, and I damn near fell out of my chair. My heart was ricocheting behind my ribs like a rogue firehose."

Murray will officially take up the mantle of Tacoma poet laureate April 24 at the City of Tacoma's "Pass the Torch" event. This event is free and open to the public. It features an official "passing of the torch" from Tacoma's current poet laureate, Kellie Richardson, to Murray, and poetry and musical performances by Murray, Richardson, Thy Nguy?n (Tacoma poet Laureate from 2015-2017), and local emerging poet Byron Gaines II. Audience members will also have the opportunity to participate in a hands-on project facilitated by Murray.

"I admire Kellie as a poet and person I'm just getting to know. I admire the work she's done as poet laureate," said Murray. "I've had students work with her and rave afterward, electric with their own voices. I'm lucky to meet her and shoot-the-sh@# over coffee with her, let alone accept the torch of poet laureate from her."

During her two-year reign as poet laureate, Richardson participated in and/or facilitated no less than 37 events, including poetry readings, writing workshops, keynote addresses, podcast recordings, and panel discussions. She also published her first collection of poems, What Us Is (December 2017), and curated Summer Soulstice, a wildly successful arts market highlighting emerging artists of color and LGBTQ artists in summer 2018.

As Tacoma's incoming poet laureate, Murray plans to hold public poetry readings, writing workshops and community events to bolster literary arts in Tacoma, as well. "My plan for the next two years admittedly looks a lot like it would without a title: I'm going to keep trying to bridge divides between civilian and military communities, citizens and refugees, and literary hubs and the underserved, and I'm going to do it with poetry," said Murray, who's husband is an active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). "I'll keep editing and publishing Collateral, and I'll keep teaching at Tacoma School of the Arts and University of Washington's fellowship program with the Army War College, and I'll keep being a kick-ass mother and spouse."

Murray is a self-identified "conflicted pacifist impacted by military service." Consequently, her poetry often explores the effects of war beyond the combat zone. Her work as the editor of Collateral, a literary and arts journal featuring work in the same vein, further exemplifies her focus on upholding space in the literary community for marginalized writers and artists.

"I'll also continue offering dialogue-centered poetry workshops for trauma survivors, undocumented youth, military families, and people interested in learning about poetry for the first time," said Murray. "Poetry has a way of succeeding where I sometimes fumble. It is inclusive. It is designed to see and hear people."

In addition to teaching and holding community workshops, Murray is the author of two chapbooks, Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier's Wife (2012) and How to be Married After Iraq (2018). She was awarded the Perugia Press Poetry Prize in February, and will release Hail and Farewell, her first full-length poetry collection with Perugia Press this fall. Murray holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Seattle University, a Master of Fine Arts from Pacific University and a Doctorate degree from Binghamton University.

"PASS THE TORCH": TACOMA POET LAUREATE CELEBRATION, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, Tacoma Arts Live, Studio 3, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, free,

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