PENINSULA PROFILE: Poet helps ‘beloved community’ speak through the written word

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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Raymond Carver Festival

KATE REAVEY AND Alice Derry, poets and teachers, will give a free creative writing workshop from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, during the Raymond Carver Festival in Port Angeles. No experience is necessary, Reavey emphasizes.

The workshop will take place in the Longhouse at Peninsula College, and more information about it and the many other Raymond Carver Festival activities from May 9-25 awaits at Participants may also phone Peninsula College’s Bruce Hattendorf at 360-417-6238 or email bhattendorf@

The workshop is “in the spirit of Raymond Carver’s incredible inspiration,” Reavey said. “He must have felt [it] here on the Peninsula, because he wrote so many poems here.”

It is also inspired by Tess Gallagher, Carver’s widow who still lives and writes in Port Angeles. “She encouraged Carver to write poetry and supported that process daily,” Reavey said.

Diane Urbani de la Paz
PORT ANGELES — Springtime in Tuscany. Steeped in Michelangelo, poetry, Italian sun.

“I’ll never get that gig,” thought Kate Reavey, poet, Peninsula College professor, rural Sequim mother of two.

But get it she did. Reavey was chosen by the state’s community college consortium to go in spring 2010 to Florence, where she would teach a study-abroad program in art and writing — with husband and children beside her.

Reavey and her husband Tom Harris and their daughter Maeve, then 13, and son Liam, then 10, spent the spring quarter in sunny Florence, with college students from around Washington state. Reavey was the profesora, yes, but she was a thirsty sponge, like her students. She learned, among other things, how experiences in a foreign land stay bright in the traveler’s heart.

Reavey has traveled plenty, crisscrossing this country. She is a New Jersey girl who came West 24 years ago after graduating from a Connecticut college, to work at Olympic National Park.

Here, as in Italy, Rea­vey has sought to build community through art, writing — and listening. With retired Peninsula College professor Alice Derry, she began facilitating the Indian Voices writing group in 2009, bringing together members of the Makah, Lower Elwha Klallam and other tribes at the Elwha Heritage Center in Port Angeles.

Reavey and Derry also coedited Where Thunderbird Rests His Head and Waits for Songs of Return, a collection of poetry and prose by Native Americans on the North Olympic Peninsula — with famous poets stirred in, such as Tess Gallagher and her late husband Raymond Carver. That book was finished fast, so that Reavey and Derry could present it in time for the 2011 events celebrating the demolition of the Elwha River dams.

Reavey’s next book, Firenze Primavera: Florence in Spring, is the fruit of her time in Italy. A collection of paintings, drawings, poetry and prose by 15 travelers, the book has taken nearly three years to publish. That’s partly because Reavey juggles family life, teaching at Peninsula College, working on her doctoral degree and facilitating the Indian Voices group, and partly because it took time to coordinate with the Washington Community College Consortium for Study Abroad.

At last, with support from the Peninsula College Foundation and just in time for National Poetry Month, the book will be unveiled this week. Reavey will give a free presentation during the Studium Generale program at 12:35 p.m. Thursday in the Little Theater at Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., and the public is welcome.

Reavey can scarcely wait to show her students’ work.

“When I saw the quality of writing, I thought, this needs to be published,” she says.

Rachel Van Ness, the one Peninsula College student in the group, now lives in Mexico, where she’s learning Spanish.

She wrote to Reavey recently: “When I need a lift, I think of those wonderful months in Italy and all the great writing I did, as well as traveling and learning from you and everyone else.”

The professor feels the same way, and quotes William Butler Yeats when describing her philosophy.

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire,” wrote the Irish poet.

Back in Port Angeles, Reavey sees her fellow writers building such a fire. The Indian Voices group, which this spring began a new chapter by changing its name to Poetic Blood Quantum, meets each month with Reavey and Derry. The facilitators offer writing prompts and share poems by the likes of Joy Harjo and Sherman Alexie.

Then they practice with different forms: sestina, haiku, villanelle.

These are like yoga poses, Reavey says. With instructions, beginners can slip into them.

There’s flexibility here, too: “We really encourage rule-breaking,” says Reavey.

She doesn’t tell the writers, “Well, that’s pretty good. But a poem should really look like this.’”

After all, if writers had always followed the rules, the poetic form called free verse would never have happened.

“Every voice counts,” Reavey emphasizes. “The key is to listen.”

Reavey is a great admirer of the young slam poets in the group, John Pritchard III and Zac Greene among them.

“I don’t know what I do for them, except be present,” she says.

“I just feel really lucky to be a participant, and a learner.”

Derry and Reavey met when Reavey was a new faculty member at the college.

“By great, good fortune, I was asked to mentor her,” Derry recalls. “She and I have team-taught in many situations, being among the first to bring learning communities to Peninsula College. We love working together as a teaching team.

“I could write pages about what inspires me about Kate: her enthusiasm, her knowledge, her warm heart, her ability to see to the heart of things . . . her loving ways.”

Derry and Reavey are volunteers with Poetic Blood Quantum. But, Derry says, “we receive many rewards in terms of watching writers grow.”

Reavey herself is working toward a doctoral degree in humanities and culture from the Union Institute in Cincinnati — inspired in part by her daughter’s History Day project at Sequim Middle School. Maeve’s research was on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, and now Reavey’s dissertation invokes “the beloved community,” a phrase King used. “Poetry as an Anchor for ‘the Beloved Community,’” is about the links between art, literature and social justice.

Her dream is to publish this as an accessible — not only scholarly — book.

Reavey’s Ph.D. will be built on more than 20 years at Peninsula College, and on two other degrees. Though she first moved here to work at Olympic National Park in 1989, she left for two years to attend graduate school at the University of California at Davis. There, she studied with the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder during his brief time at the university.

Reavey received her first degree, in literary writing and area studies with emphasis on African literature, from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. It was there where she discovered the poetry of Port Angeles native Tess Gallagher.

“I knew Tess’ work before I knew of Raymond Carver’s,” she adds.

Since moving to Port Angeles, she has joined the small group of poets who have put down roots here. One is Tim McNulty, the nature writer who lives outside Sequim.

“Kate impressed me,” McNulty says, “with her natural enthusiasm and immense curiosity about this place and its cultures.” Since then, he added, Reavey has hewn to Snyder’s philosophy: “to stay put and dig deep.”

The Reavey-Harris family is deeply invested in this place. Tom teaches at Five Acre School, the private elementary school in Dungeness — and in his off time, enjoys some good old outdoor recreation.

“My husband says that in a marriage, we are lucky if we bring the things we love most to one another.

“For us, that is soccer from him to me, and poetry from me to him,” Reavey says. “He writes about a poem a year, but I tell you, they are stunning.”

Over the years, Tom, Kate, Maeve and Liam have put together chapbooks of their poems to give as Christmas gifts to their extended family.

Reavey writes of joy in the natural world, of mothering and of grief. One of her losses is of her mother, Rosemary Karcher Reavey, who died in 2007 at age 64. She had a long career as an attorney, public defender and judge on the New Jersey Superior Court in New Brunswick.

Reavey’s husband Tom’s father, Dr. Edward Harris, died while the Reavey-Harris family was in Italy. In Firenze Primavera, Tom dedicates a poem to him.

Sharing poetry, stories, art: It can help us feel less alone in the world, Reavey says. Then she defers to the Italian poet Petrarca. “Perche cantado il duol si disacerba,” he wrote: because the pain becomes less acute in singing.

Last modified: April 20. 2013 6:27PM
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