October 29, 2019
Poet Laura Da’ is the winner of the 2019 Washington Book Award poetry category, for her UA Press collection Instruments of the True Measure! The Seattle Review of Books writes, “This year’s list of nominees was the finest in recent memory; the judges must have been under tremendous pressure to select a single winner from each category. It really, truly was an honor just to be nominated this year, because it placed you in company with the best authors this state has to offer.“
In Instruments of the True Measure, Da’ charts the coordinates and intersections of land, history, and culture. Lyrical passages map the parallel lives of ancestral figures and connect dispossessions of the past to lived experiences of the present. Shawnee history informs the collection, and Da’s fascination with uncovering and recovering brings the reader deeper into the narrative of Shawnee homeland.
Below, read an excerpt from an interview with Laura Da’ from the Seattle Review of Books:
“‘I think that I’ve always been well connected in the indigenous poetry community,’ Da’ says, ‘because I started my education at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and there are so many writers who have come out of that school. It’s a tight, small community generally speaking, though it’s incredibly vast in terms of talent and experience.’ She felt a part of that community almost immediately.
But even though she was born and raised in Snoqualmie Valley, and lived most of her life in western Washington, breaking into this city’s poetry community took more work. ‘Seattle is not easy to get in the door, I think, which is really unfortunate,’ Da’ says. She says Seattle’s literary community has a fair share of ‘gatekeepers’ who aren’t especially good at making new voices feel welcome.
But then ‘I was a Jack Straw fellow and a Hugo House fellow and that really helped me,’ Da’ says. What was it about those two programs that worked for her? ‘I met a lot of wonderful writers and good friends. I’m fairy introverted and shy, so usually I need an extrovert to sort of adopt me. And that was the way I found a place in the Seattle poetry community.’
The poets who influence Da’ range widely in terms of style and background. Da’ gushes over poems by Danez Smith, Natalie Diaz, Sherwin Bitsui, and Casandra Lopez. She speaks of Arthur Sze’s ‘respect for the reader and the reader’s ability to handle the ambiguity of the unanswered.’
Da’ is so enthusiastic about Sze’s writing that she doesn’t seem to realize that she could just as easily be describing her own work— these elegant couplets crafted from the smallest and most delicate materials, but which only grow finer with age.“
Read the entire interview here.
Congratulations on winning this incredible award, Laura!