Whale Stories and More from Poet Sierra Golden

the author in a fishermans jacket holding a large fish
photo by Tyler Jones

November 16, 2018
David Landoni ('19)

By David Landoni ('19)  

“I have heard the whales sighing all night, their breath rasping like sandpaper. The leaves have fallen, again.”

Most people have only seen the Alaskan coast on television, or perhaps from the bow of a cruise ship. But in the preface of "The Slow Art," the speaker invites readers to find home within its pages. “This place beside me, perhaps it is yours?”

As part of the Gonzaga Visiting Writers Series, poet and GU graduate Sierra Golden (’09) visited campus to read from her new poetry collection.

Golden’s poems from the collection are inspired by her work as a commercial fisherman, taking readers through Alaskan coastal towns and on to the open sea. For seven summers, from mid-June through August, she worked on a salmon boat off the shore of southeast Alaska – an occupation some might find surprising of a young woman bound for a career in writing.

The life of a seasonal fisher-person wasn’t the original focus of the book, but through the writing and revision process, it eventually became its dominant subject. She thought “compelled” was an appropriate word to describe why. “It’s meaningful to me and something other people enjoy hearing about.” 

Golden’s familiarity with the profession and the region are evident in her book, which carries readers out to sea and back, effortlessly connecting sensory details through careful attention to sound and music.

Before her reading at Gonzaga in October, Golden took questions from students. When asked if artists are obliged to write about issues of justice, she stressed the necessity of creative freedom to write about what they please, but that there is indeed a need for advocacy. In addition to her literary work, Sierra also works with Casa Latina, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to the economic empowerment of Latinx immigrants.

Golden traces the beginnings of her poetry studies to a workshop class she took under Professor Tod Marshall (who recently served as Washington State’s Poet Laureate) and publishing pieces in Gonzaga’s "Reflection" journal. Since graduating, she has received an MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University, and her poetry and prose has been published in a plethora of journals, including Prairie Schooner, Orion Magazine and Ploughshares. "The Slow Art" was published in September of 2018 and received the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize from Bear Star Press. Beyond the writing world she enjoys skiing, spending time outdoors and dancing tango.

Her advice to students and aspiring writers is to not be too critical of themselves or their own work. Writing, like advocacy and social justice, is difficult and time-consuming, but worthwhile in its own right. She explained that the process of publishing her book seemed endless, until it was over.

“It takes a long time and when you look back it wasn’t that long, so be nice to yourself.”

Explore more of Golden's work at sierrahgolden.com.