When settlers first arrived in Issaquah, they brought the necessities for survival, arguably impractical items that reminded them of home, and their hopes for the future. They also brought with them the cultural traditions of their homeland and ancestors: language, food, music, dance — and poetry. We’ve enjoyed sharing some of the poetry created in this valley.
The poems preserved in the Issaquah History Museums’ collections demonstrate the universal appeal of poetry and its accessibility as an art form. The homegrown poets we celebrated this month might have been hesitant to create a painting or write a novel, but they didn’t hesitate to express themselves through poetry. Poems were short, requiring less time and fewer materials than other creative pursuits. They were also easy to fold up and tuck away if the authors didn’t want to share their poetic thoughts.
Poetry is driven by creativity, emotion, and an appreciation for language. It does not require formal education, however. The poems in our collection were written by working-class people with limited education. Coal miner Robert Legg was illiterate when he first immigrated to the United States from England. Farmwife Hilda Johanson Erickson received a fifth grade education in her native Sweden, but wrote all her poetry in English, which she learned as an adult.
Finally, poetry offers insight into the emotional lives of some of Issaquah’s early residents. The poems we have gathered illuminate the emotions, motivations, and concerns that are common across humanity – loneliness, frailty, loneliness, scenic beauty. It’s a reminder of the commonalities between people from different places and different eras.
In observance of National Poetry Month, we have enjoyed posting some of our favorite poetry in the Issaquah History Museums’ collection. If you are eager for more, or want to explore other creative works in our collection, visit us at Gilman Town Hall. Our research center is open Thursday through Saturday, 11:00 to 3:00. Much of the material is also available in our digital collection at http://issaquah.pastperfect-online.com/31426cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks.