Artist Profile: Carla Shafer's poem about honey part of 'Northwest Passages' concert in Bellingham

Bellingham poet Carla Shafer

The Bellingham Chamber Chorale, Kennewick composer Reginald Unterseher (the Washington State Music Teachers Association Composer of the Year for 2013) and Bellingham poet Carla Shafer premier an original composition, "Elixir of the Solar Spectrum," in a concert with the theme "Northwest Passages" at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 7, at First Congregational Church of Bellingham, 2401 Cornwall Ave.

Shafer gathered inspiration for her poem, which is about the varieties of honey in the Northwest, from her experience as a beekeeper.

The concert will also feature other compositions by Northwest composers.

Here's more about Shafer, who was born in Spokane and grew up in Sedro-Woolley. She attended Lewis and Clark College and Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

Question: What has been your career path?

Answer: My career path has been one of creating change and helping people on the margins get ahead. After teaching English in the inner-city in Buffalo, New York, for two years, I became an organizer with a community action agency in Oregon.

When I came to Bellingham in 1975, I was the director of a child-care program for low-income children, Bellingham Community Child Care. I worked for 13 years at Northwest Indian College, where I raised money for programs and scholarships.

Now I write federal grants for Everett Community College and direct a Title III program designed to increase student access and success. I take part in a writing group in Everett associated with the college and that keeps the poetry coming.

Q: Because your poetry doesn't always seem to reflect the "organizer" aspects of what you do, I'm curious what inspires you.

A: You remind me that my poetry doesn't seem to advocate in the same way. That's an interesting thought and I'll have to think about why that might be.

Partly it is because my mentor was William Stafford, who led me to write more as a witness to the moment, using what I touch, see, feel and hear. So my poetry has always been a way to let myself, and sometimes others, know what it is like here, now.

The unspoken cautionary note is to pay attention now, because it will change. I like poetry and I like to write it, so I keep doing it. When I read what I write, I know something a little more; I take one step a little further out to the world or into myself.

Q: What are some of the collaborative poetry projects you've worked on?

A: You know, writing poetry gives a person everything she needs, and collaboration just makes it better. When the word came out to submit a poem for a choral composition, I was very excited. It is great that BCC wanted to choose a poem from a Whatcom County poet. That's real recognition that we have many amazing writers here.

I was thrilled to have my poem chosen. Just last week at the Community Food Co-op, one singer described to me about how the music intertwined with images.

And that inspired longtime BCC singer Betsy Senff to go home from practice and make a quilt with the colors and ideas that came to mind. Mine was just a sticky little poem celebrating honey, but she and the composer, Reg Unterseher, have made the celebration musically and visually exciting! The BCC is a wonderful choir, so I am really looking forward to the concert.

"Phrasings" (a poetry-and-dance performance that Shafter has done for eight years with Bellingham Repertory Dance) is a great event. It takes a village of writers, choreographers and dancers to put it on.

Last November, Bellingham writers Betty Scott, C.J. Prince, Shannon Laws and I decided to hold a World Peace Writers Poetathon event. It was started in Vancouver, B.C., by writer-organizer, Ariadne Sawyer. At our World Peace Poets Read In! Write On!, poets came from Bellingham, British Columbia and everywhere to read for peace. More than 60 people shared thoughts and feelings about peace and war for seven hours!

Have we made the world a more peaceful place? Every time people speak their hopes, address their losses and fears and listen to each other, we are taking a step toward peace. I felt fortified by other people's words and music. If they believed in peace, then I had no right to get cynical or sit on the sidelines.

Q: What have been some of the high points of what you've done with your life?

A: I am a two-time winner of the Sue C. Boynton Contest and I have a poem in "Whatcom Places II," as well as some other publications.

I am the fortunate mom of two children who are amazing adults, one a middle school teacher and the other a union researcher.

Q: What are some of your other interests besides poetry and music?

A: Gardening, singing with Whatcom Chorale, speaking up on global warming.

In June, I will represent the Northwest region at the Presbyterian Church USA convention in Detroit to provide testimony on why they should vote in favor of an overture, which is basically against the siting of a coal export terminal at Cherry Point or in Washington or Oregon.


What: "Northwest Passages" concert with Bellingham Chamber Chorale.

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, June 7. A reception follows.

Where: First Congregational Church of Bellingham, United Church of Christ, 2401 Cornwall Ave.

Admission: $20 general, $15 students and seniors, $5 for those 17 and younger, through Brown Paper Tickets.

Details: 206-238-3927, bccsings.org.