MARQUEE - Award-winning Walla Walla poet nominated for Pulitzer Prize



Hanging almost in verse, important images, writing and other items hang from a wall behind Jennifer Boyden as she writes at her home. Wednesday, June 2, 2010


A large window framing shades and textures of green near Mill Creek fills the view for poet Jennifer Boyden as she works at her laptop in her home studio. Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Four hours spent writing each day for years has paid off for local poet and professor Jennifer Boyden. "The Mouths of Grazing Things," a collection of Boyden's poetry, was published in April by the University of Wisconsin Press.

The book has been awarded the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by her press. Though her poems have been published many other places, this is Boyden's first full collection to be published.

The publication of this book means a lot to Boyden, because the project has taken a decade to complete.

"It's a really nice validation of a long life serving and observing," she said.

For the past decade Boyden has sent her collection to publishers more than 300 times. During that decade there have been many changes to the book including new additions, title changes and rearranging.

Boyden isn't shy about her persistence to promote her work. Similar to the publication process, it took seven submissions to the Brittingham Prize in Poetry series to be selected. Along with each letter of rejection, the manuscript would have an encouraging note asking her to submit the collection again.

"When I got the phone call about the press's selection of the manuscript for the award and subsequent publication, I felt elation and incredulity. Elation because it validated work I believed in and had been working on for a long time. Incredulity because after having sent the work out for so long, I had nearly forgotten the goal, as I had adjusted to the process instead," she said.

Boyden hasn't always been focused on poetry though. Originally she wanted to be a fiction writer. She had a love for the storytelling within fiction, but the language didn't make sense to her. Poetry was a language she could both understand and speak fluently, and so it became her focus.

Born in the Midwest to a large family, Boyden finds a stillness in Walla Walla that is rare in this culture. It was love that brought her to Walla Walla to find this stillness. Boyden was selected for a wilderness writing residency program in Oregon 10 years ago and moved into a cabin owned by Ian Boyden's family. While stopping by to fix something in the cabin, Ian and Jennifer met for the first time. After her residency, Boyden moved to Walla Walla to follow Ian who worked at Whitman College and as a local artist.

"We're such a cumulative pileup of everything in our life," Boyden said. Her book includes poems from her residency and her life in Walla Walla. Each poem is affected by all of her experiences, each adding to the completeness of the collection.

Now Boyden can be found teaching literature and writing at Walla Walla Community College nine months out of the year. She loves teaching at the college and enjoys working with the students. During the school year, Boyden creates lists of ideas, titles and words she likes and interesting things she sees. During the summer she brings these lists out and explores the ideas. During the summer months, she spends four hours each day writing, often beginning with an image in mind. "I don't expect everything I write to be good," she said. "I just try to enjoy my time writing." For Boyden, when she is enjoying her time, her writing is genuine. Oftentimes she will go to her studio in Mill Creek to write so she can open the window and hear the water.

This fall begins a more intense writing schedule for Boyden when she takes a sabbatical to focus on writing. Boyden hopes to make progress on two projects she has already started. One is a book of essays inspired by her walking meditations and the other is a second book of poetry.

The essays began a few years ago when Boyden began taking walks each day at Bennington Lake reservoir. She would then returned to her keyboard to record the thoughts from her time outdoors. "It's really interesting to spend time in a single space," she said. These walks and meditations shaped the beginnings of the essay project Boyden hopes to work on this summer. She wants to have her book of poetry close to completion at the end of her sabbatical.

Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in