Seattle has become a proud new tech hub, no longer just Microsoft out in Redmond but now transformed by the exploding presence of Amazon in the city itself as well as countless startups gravitating closer in. Yet many citizens of Seattle still go about their lives having little to do with the tech scene, and represent a vibrant history and culture much broader than a single industry. The city felt it should remedy that consciousness gap and recognize better the many facets and complex fabric of its urban life.
It decided to find and empower a Civic Poet, someone who could eloquently convey the uniqueness of the city and paint a variegated tapestry. Claudia served from 2015 to last month in that role, and among her projects, one stood out: an interactive digital, clickable map of Seattle showing streets, bridges, parks, and other landmarks, known as the Poetic Grid. Each point has a poem that relates to the chosen location. The poems come from well-known writers like Kevin Craft, Kathleen, and Quenton Baker; former and current Seattle youth poet laureates Angel Gardner and Lily Baumgart; and more ordinary folk who attended Claudia’s poetry workshops held at libraries across the city.
The poems represent a wide range of perspectives, voices, and experiences—covering passing romances, meet-ups with friends, addiction, homelessness, and gentrification. The poems reflect citizens’ feelings about the city both positive and negative. They evoke life beside and beyond a tech-centric community, and highlight all the different kinds of people who make the city their home.
As the Civic Poet of Seattle, Claudia was asked to understand the heart and soul of her city. She continues to manage the work on the Poetic Grid following her term.
Claudia came with her family from El Salvador to the US at age 14 in in 1981. She bounced through immigration networks starting with her aunt in Florida and moving to New Jersey and then California. She went to college at UC Irvine, got her masters at UCLA in urban planning, followed by scholarships to study abroad in France and Costa Rica. She taught in public schools, and later got another masters—in fine arts from Mills in 2012, thereafter embarking on her passion for writing.