Seattle poet draws on images of Snohomish school life

Bus rides to Snohomish High School on foggy mornings. Fall afternoons on the tennis court, with the sounds of football practice on the other side of a chain-link fence. Those are memories poet Marjorie Manwaring carries with her.

“I tend to think in these little segments of scenery. The smells, that kind of thing can totally bring me back to that time,” Manwaring said Tuesday. “Even though I didn’t know that much about poetry in high school, I had that sensibility. I’m really affected by the senses, the atmosphere.”

She graduated from Snohomish High in 1982. But her memory of tennis practice, and a sidelong glance at the football players, was fresh enough to include in a poem, “Cornucopia.”

That poem won the 2010 Artsmith Literary Award, bestowed by an Orcas Island arts organization. Her words conjure up this season of misty mornings, school days and the coming autumn:

“First Friday match, first home game

and dance — gold leaves, shadowed

restless, grass stains

heart-soaked and permanent.

Whispers in the field,

young September

chilling the air with loss.”

Next week, the 49-year-old Manwaring will return to Snohomish for a reading from her first full-length book of poetry, “Search for a Velvet-Lined Cape” (Mayapple Press; 2013). It’s a homecoming for the Seattle poet, who left Snohomish to attend the University of Washington. Her reading is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at AngelArmsWorks Studios.

Manwaring didn’t take a straight path to become a published poet. She first wanted to be a doctor. Halfway through college, with a good number of pre-med courses completed, she turned toward the humanities. “I ended up getting a degree in scientific and technical communication,” said Manwaring, who graduated from UW in 1986 and worked almost 10 years as a technical editor for Microsoft Corp.

While at Microsoft, she was lured into creative writing when she took several UW certificate courses — in literature, poetry, mythology and nonfiction writing. She joined a writing group.

Her scientific training has been a boost to her creative side. “There is something obsessive, the quality of being able to really dig down into something. You do that when you’re learning about science, and it’s something I do with writing,” Manwaring said.

Her poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies, including The Seattle Review; The Museum of Americana; Crab Creek Review; “Fire on Her Tongue: an eBook Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry;” “A Sense of Place: The Washington State Geospatial Poetry Anthology;” “New Poets of the American West” and others. Her work has also been featured on the public radio station KUOW (94.9 FM).

“Search for a Velvet-Lined Cape” includes a series of poems about a magician’s assistant. Along with qualities of magical realism, Manwaring calls on childhood and humor for inspiration.

Years ago, she found powerful influences in Snohomish classrooms. She loved writing stories and poems at Cathcart Elementary School. Her favorite task was journal writing. “It was silent writing time, when we got to be totally inventive,” she said.

At Snohomish Junior High, language arts teacher Terry Johnson and Mac Bates, who taught journalism, sparked her interest in writing. And in high school, American literature teacher Susan Cedargreen, creative writing teacher Zoe Hedman and English literature teacher John Boling encouraged her.

Once when a radio program featured one of Manwaring’s poems, she received a welcome surprise — email from Curt Johnson, her calculus teacher at Snohomish High.

“Being introduced to great literature was really key,” she said. “Reading great novels, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Great Gatsby,’ it just clicked with me. It sounds corny, but great writing is almost sacred.”

Teachers, take heart. Someone is paying attention. Your influence is lasting.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Poetry reading

Poet Marjorie Manwaring will read from her book, “Search for a Velvet-Lined Cape,” 7-9 p.m. Sept. 26 at AngelArmsWorks Studios, 230 Ave. B, Snohomish.

Homemade pies, tea and wine will be served. RSVP by phone or email to Karen Guzak, 360-568-1000 or Karen@KarenGuzak.com

Learn more about Manwaring at: www.mmanwaring.com.

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