Seattle’s first civic poet isn’t done mapping the emotions of our changing city

Claudia Castro Luna reflects on two years of listening to the creative voices of a city she thinks is evolving too rapidly for most people to take in, or understand what’s lost.

Some poems get away from Claudia Castro Luna. Seattle’s first civic poet calls these poems her “losses.”

One of them surfaced this summer during a poetry workshop she held at Green Lake Library for seniors, when a man in the group wrote a poem during the class about arriving at King Street Station in the 1950s.

“It felt right for him, and he just felt so lucky,” Castro Luna said. “I felt the same way when I came to Seattle.”

But there was longing in the poem, too, because that old Seattle is gone.

Castro Luna often collects poetry but can’t show anyone that poem; the man didn’t send it to her, even though she begged him to do so. When poems like these slip through her fingers, Castro Luna feels like she’s losing more than just a work of art. She’s losing a piece of Seattle’s history.

“That city is no longer there, but it is in his poem,” she said. “That’s why these poems are important — because that place exists in that poem he wrote.”

Seattle’s first civic poet, Claudia Castro Luna, just finished her two-year appointment. She developed the interactive Seattle Poetic Grid, which invites readers to click on dots on a map, representing neighborhoods, and read the poem that pops up about that spot. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Castro Luna has been collecting poems like this for the last two years. She was appointed in 2015 to Seattle’s civic poet position by Mayor Ed Murray, and in those two years she’s made it her goal to chronicle the changing city through poetry. She passed the torch to writer and performance artist Anastacia-Renee Tolbert at the end of July, but says she’s leaving the position with a deeper knowledge of the soul of Seattle.

Castro Luna is primarily a poet and a teacher — she has a master’s of fine arts in poetry from Mills College and is a K-12 certified teacher — but she also has a master’s degree in urban planning from UCLA. She submitted her poem “A Corner to Love” as part of her application for civic poet:

 

Maps of this city

number in the thousands

unique and folded

neat in each citizen’s heart

we live in the city

and the city lives in us

 

Possibly the most tangible product of Castro Luna’s work over the past two years is an interactive map of the city that she calls the…

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