The San Juan Islands inspire a book of poetry by Gary Thompson


Digging into the islands’ rich history fertilizes the poetry of San Juan Island poet Gary Thompson.

Thompson has been writing poetry since he was a child, but when he moved to the San Juan in 2007 – after previously living in Montana and California – his style of poetry changed. He became fascinated by the local history of the islands, which led him to his book, “Broken by Water: Salish Sea Years”.

Thompson’s sixth book describes the multitudes of the history of the Pacific Northwest.

“Once I moved to the Northwest, I just realized that I was starting to write different types of poems,” he said. “I continued to really focus my work on the places and history of the Salish Sea, which was controversial. Back then, if it was actually going to become an official name, the waters that surround us here. And in the process. I was sort of learning where we had moved.

What particularly inspired Thompson was when the Europeans established their position on the islands and how this affected the native population. In his book, one can find a section called Northwest Likeliness, which focuses on a man named James G. Swan. Swan was an American Indian agent in Washington. He lived among the Makah tribal group and wrote the first ethnography about them. The book is peppered with stories, details and biographies of the Native Americans who lived on the islands.

Thompson had a lot of experience with poetry before he became the poet he is today.

One of his first influences was Theodore Roethke, who taught at the University of Washington. Roethke won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1954. When Thompson attended the University of Montana for his graduate studies, he studied with Richard Hugo who was a student of Roethke.

“One of the reasons I went to Montana was because I was so fascinated with the work Roethke was doing. I just wanted to get a glimpse of his students, ”he said.

Since then, Thompson has created many poems, which he can’t choose a favorite because it’s like “picking your favorite child,” he said.

But in the end, he said that the one that grew on him is “After Vandalism,” which he wrote 10 years ago.

After all the segments that led him to move to the island 14 years ago, Thompson has found another niche of poets like himself on the island. He teaches a group of ten poets whom he meets once a month. They call themselves “the poets of winter”. They currently do not have sufficient space to expand the group.

One of Thompson’s favorite things about poetry is that it’s such a personal experience for everyone and he never knows how someone might interpret any of his poems. One thing he hopes readers will keep in mind is to slow down enough to hear the rhythm and sounds of the language, and the story within it.

“I would say that the most important idea that I hope to convey is that every place, but especially the places of these houses, is steeped in history. And so, you know, in order to understand a place or even to feel comfortable with a place, you have to start removing those layers of history and incorporating them into your feelings about the place, ”a- he declared. “It’s a good place to be a writer. “

“Broken by Water: Salish Sea Years” is currently available on Amazon.

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