Her love of poetry began in high school, but for many years Sady Sparks ‘19 kept her poems to herself. Though not shy about her work, she lacked a platform to share it with the public. So, with the exception of a few close friends, poetry remained a mostly-private endeavor for her. All that changed when a friend from the Olympia Arts Commission suggested she apply to be Olympia’s next poet laureate.
Still a senior at Evergreen at the time, the 24 year-old assumed she was too young for the role. But her friend assured her that was not the case. Intrigued, she began reading about the position and decided to apply. She was on her way home from class when she heard the voicemail.
“I thought it was just a check up call,” remembered Sparks. “I was surprised, but I wasn’t surprised that it was me; it felt so right.”
Sparks was named Poet Laureate on November 27, 2018. Since then, she’s been spreading poetry throughout Olympia.
“My job is to promote poetry as an artform, to kind of be the face of poetry, the liaison, the advocate for it,” explained Sparks. “It’s a way to bring poetry to the everyday, to bring poetry to what’s already happening in Olympia, in addition to creating new spaces for people to explore poetry.”
To do that Sparks organizes poetry workshops, reads her poems at city events, and engages with the community in a variety of creative ways. After years of keeping her fondness for poetry mostly to herself, she now shares her passion with an entire city.
“It’s incredible to have this license to say, ‘Hey do you write poems?’ or to really ask people personal questions about their own writing process,” said Sparks. “People recognize me and they come up to me and start talking about poetry. For the first time in my life I represent what I love most.”
While Sparks appreciates poetry enthusiasts like herself, her focus has been on bringing the artform to those who might not otherwise experience it.
“My goal is to really focus on people who don’t already go to poetry workshops,” said Sparks. “Anyone can create poetry. I think there’s a big idea about what poetry is and what poetry isn’t and I’m here to just break all that up.”
Sparks has come up with several ways to make poetry more accessible to the community, from creating poetry games to bringing a typewriter to public events and writing impromptu poems for passersby.
Much of Sparks’ community work, as well her own writing, draws on spontaneity—something she feels adds a level of authenticity to the writing process. “There’s a certain magic in not having a month to write a poem,” she said. “It’s truth. The truth is coming out.”
In her poetry workshops, Sparks creates spaces for this sort of uninhibited, honest writing to take place. One of her favorite things about these workshops is seeing the ways different people respond when given the same prompt.
“It’s so exciting to me to keep seeing different results because then I can learn about people,” said Sparks.
Sparks still remembers the moment she began to deeply appreciate poetry. After a difficult breakup left her feeling heartbroken, one of her high school teachers introduced her to the work of Sylvia Plath. She read Plath’s poem “Elm” and was blown away by the emotion it conveyed.
“That was it for me,” she said. “I thought, ‘This woman knows what I’m feeling.’”
Since that moment, poetry and writing have become an increasingly large part of Sparks’ life. So you may not guess she originally came to Evergreen to study botany. After taking just two writing classes, however, she changed course, opting instead to immerse herself in writing, linguistics, and psychology.
Sparks, who grew up in Indiana before moving to Ohio for high school, might never have found Evergreen if it weren’t for one of her mother’s friends.
“I was telling her what I wanted in a college and she said, ‘Maybe you should check out where I went,’” Sparks said. “I looked at Evergreen and it was the most amazing place I’d ever heard of.”
At Evergreen, Sparks seized every opportunity she could to learn in new ways: studying abroad in France, participating in Student Originated Studies, and completing four Individual Learning Contracts before graduating this past spring. A dedicated animal rights advocate, she also coordinated The Vegan Club during her junior and senior years.
To Sparks’ delight, the college lived up to her lofty expectations, providing her with an experience she feels she could not have gotten at a more traditional school.
“It was the most supportive, inspiring experience,” said Sparks. “I think one of the most impactful things was that I had teachers that really took me seriously. Even when we would disagree about something they were really listening to my point of view.”
Sparks plans to pursue a Master’s degree and thinks she might one day like to be a teacher. For now, though, she carries on her work as poet laureate and continues to bring poetry and wonder to Olympia.
Sparks’ latest project, a massive poem displayed on the Schoenfeld building in downtown Olympia, will be available for viewing this Friday and will remain in place until mid-January.
By Sady Sparks
they say lightning never strikes the same place twice
sometimes it is nine times
sometimes someone breaks into your heart
sometimes they want to break out
make sure you hide a key somewhere
maybe near the lilies
or somewhere in the snow