Hope in Hard Times

One of the underlying stories told in the exhibit “Hope in Hard Times: Washington in the Great Depression” is about hope. On display now in the Washington State Historical Museum, the collection of photographs, meager personal belongings, paintings and artwork of those who lived during those hardscrabble years not only shows their pain and suffering, but also a distinct sense that better days lie ahead. People helping people is a theme seen often in the exhibit. And at its end, there is a small companion display of photographs taken by the young students at Key Peninsula Middle School through which they show and tell what inspires them – instilling that sense of hope to cap off the viewing experience. Period music playing in the background provides for a deeper, and sometimes ironic, experience, with songs like “Happy Days are Here Again.”

Such an immersive trip of sight and sound this exhibit gives that a group of Tacoma poets will explore just that in the upcoming event “Hope in Hard Times: Poets Respond to Adversity,” April 29 at the museum. Part of Tacoma’s National Poetry Month celebrations, this afternoon of thoughtful expression is being organized by 2010-2011 Tacoma Poet Laureate Tammy Robacker and The News Tribune Reader Columnist Maria Gudaitis. They and four other prominent Northwest poets: 2011-13 Tacoma Poet Laureate Josie Emmons Turner, Hans Ostrom, Allen Braden and Elijah Muied, will read their work. Like the exhibit, the readings will touch on poverty and resourcefulness, distress and courage, to show how artistic voices add meaning to memories of important eras. A gallery walk and talk through “Washington in the Great Depression” will be included.

“What worked for these people to pull through it? How did they sustain family and community? It really calls upon the human spirit to become resourceful,” Robacker said of the exhibit.

Robacker, co-editor of the Tacoma poetry anthology “In Tahoma's Shadow: Poems from the City of Destiny” and author/poet of “The Vicissitudes” (2010), is a freelance writer. She expressed kinship with so many Americans who are struggling these days in a tough economy.

“In these types of depressed times we’re having now, it’s hard to wake up in the morning and find value and a way to be happy and celebrate. Many people are jobless, losing their home, they don’t have health care, they’re going to food banks… People are really hurting, and I’m interested in how people stay hopeful in those scenarios. Hope is a big theme in my writing – to blossom in terrible times is inspiring.”

Gudaitis is a Korean-Lithuanian writer, essayist, editor and designer. “Even in the darkest time, people wrote poems,” she said. “We see this in the Bible, in Holocaust art, in the poems of Prague Spring and in poets under house arrest in China today. Art lifts spirits, and the South Sound could use a creative boost because the current economic downturn has depleted us,” she said.

Admission to “Hope in Hard Times: Poets Respond to Adversity” is $6 per person and begins at 2 p.m. The public will be invited to enjoy an exhibition briefing, guided gallery tour of the show, a break with refreshments provided by Anthem Coffee, and admission to the special poetry reading at 3 p.m. in the museum auditorium. All proceeds go to the Washington State History Museum, a non-profit organization located at 1911 Pacific Ave. Guests are also invited to join the poets at a post-event poetry party from 4-6 p.m. at Anthem Coffee and Tea (next door to the museum).

Also be sure and visit Gudaitis’ blog at mariagudaitis.com, where she writes about food, words, music and local events.

Gazeful at the World through Depression Glass

When I’m gazeful at the world

through depression glass,

my heart is a fluted blue teacup

that has not cracked.

My house dress dances

out of a gunny sack.

My milk glass pitcher

pours all the children back

who took to the rails

riding far from home

to go find work.

When I’m prayerful for the world

through depression glass,

my nickels roll up

to heaven then back.

My wishful fills

a pink candy dish.

My hopeful lights

bright amber candlesticks

pulled out

from an oatmeal box,

from this dark, thin air

like a magic trick.

--Tammy Robacker

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