Tamarah Rockwood on Poetry, Writing and Her New Venture Bainbridge Island Press
Tamarah Rockwood has stories to tell…she tells them through poetry, short stories, essays, and even a 2019 Ten-Minute Play for our very own Ten-Minute Play Festival. However, it’s her love of poetry that drives her, and she’s immersed herself in our local poetry scene, and created her own poetry publishing company, Bainbridge Island Press.
It was through Tamarah’s involvement in the poetry community that we connected. She’s been instrumental in organizing events for this year’s annual Bainbridge Island National Poetry Month (April), which we wrote about earlier in the month (there are still several poetry events happening this month, click here to learn more).
Tamarah, who is of Canadian descent (her grandparents immigrated to the US from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), grew up in the Los Angeles area, where she spent her youth exploring the outdoors. When her parents divorced, she moved with her mother and siblings to the Bay Area, where she eventually met her husband, Ben, during her high school years, as she said, “we have been unquestionably together ever since.”
They remained in the Bay Area, where they started a family and Tamarah pursued her college degree through Ohlone College and then California State University Hayward, where she obtained her BA in British and American Literature. Nine years ago, they made the decision to leave California for a more tranquil and small-town environment to raise their five children. “We found Bainbridge Island and we found a wonderful home that was being sold by a woman who wanted to make sure a family would build memories in this house as much as she did,” she explained. “We have fallen in love with our home, with the forest around us, with the seasons of animals who visit us in the forest, with our wonderful neighbors, with the community…with everything. We have been so fortunate to live here, and we absolutely haven’t looked back.”
In addition to writing, Tamarah is the former Wine Committee Chairwoman for the Rainier Club in Seattle, and is now on her second year as the Literary Committee Chairwoman for the club. She also continued her education, obtaining an ALM through the Harvard Extension School in 2020. In January of 2022, she became the Poetry Editor for Poetry Corners and later, in September she became the Poetry Editor/Manager for Arts Poetica. As if that wasn’t enough, in December of 2022, she founded her own publishing house, Bainbridge Island Press.
Poetry Corners was created by Kathleen Thorne in 1999 and has been evolving ever since. “The format now has settled into a steady rhythm,” Tamarah said. In January, there is a call for poems, then submissions open up in February, which are sent as an anonymous manuscript to jurors in March, who then decide which pieces will be put onto posters and published in the annual journal. On April 1st, the poetry posters are hung in participating Winslow business windows. This year there will be a live reading at BIMA where the poets and their families, friends and supporters are welcome to join (the event is on May 6th from 5 – 7p.m.). The journals are printed through Bainbridge Island Press and will be available at the live reading, as well as participating bookstores for $15.
Ars Poetica was conceived by Bremerton’s Collective Visions Gallery, where exhibitions and readings were held there and in select Bremerton businesses. Over the years it expanded north, and three new venues were added at Poulsbo’s Front Street Gallery, the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse and the Bainbridge Island Library. Like Poetry Corners, the poems are compiled into a blind judging file, and chosen through a juried process. The juried poems are then sent to exhibit venues, where local artists choose one or more, and interpret them into a piece of artwork. In 2019, photographers were encouraged to interpret poems, and this year, the Bainbridge Island Photo Club joined, displaying their photos at the Bainbridge Island Senior/Community Center. In 2020, the writing and fiber arts studios at Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN) also sponsored their own Ars Poetica pairings and next year they will join forces and collaborate together.
Last November, Tamarah and her husband Ben were enjoying a glass of wine at their mid-week tradition of “Winesday,” and she was going over a past summer poetry series she’d organized. “After the Poetry Corners live reading event, I created a once-a-month summer series poetry reading at the Fletcher Bay Wine Tasting Room, and I was just overwhelmed with the words and the language and the experiences people brought with them and read through their poetry,” she told me. “I have enjoyed publishing in-house journals for dozens of years, so publishing the Poetry Corners journal was nothing new to me. Our voices are what carry our legacy of human experience beyond our lips and into the ether of time. I have a drive to capture those voices so we can read about these experiences, these longings, these griefs, these loves…and be connected with the experience of just being alive. I may have been going on and on about how much I love publishing poetry, and Ben asked, ‘Why don’t you own your own publishing house, already?’ That was what he got me for Christmas, was the paperwork for Bainbridge Island Press (BIP). And we took it from there!”
BIP currently focuses on poetry anthologies, collections, and chapbooks. Going forward, she may consider expanding into imprints for short fiction or novels, but poetry remains her main focus for the time being. In addition, Tamarah is a literary agent to a select few clients, as she explained, “Right now I’m helping some good writers get the editing, focus, and connections to other publishing houses… I’m just helping the author through the door to a sale and making sure they are safe and protected from vultures, or, worse, self-doubt.”
Tamarah’s short stories have been published in The Future of Us literary journal, Livinia Press, Book of Matches Literary Journal, Sad Girls Lit Club, as well as in The Airgonaut. She’s also published multiple essays in Ravishly, and her poem “Coyotes Laughing” appeared on the Longlist of the 2019 University of Canberra Vice Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize. She received an honorable mention from the Oregon Poetry Association for her poems “I” and “Bee Eaters”, and has a self-published book of poetry, titled Petals of Magnolia.
Her unpublished collection of short stories for her ALM Creative Writing thesis at Harvard, was nominated to be a part of the 2019-2020 Harvard Extension School Spotlights. “It was my intention to finish my degree in Harvard with a thesis in poetry, and I’m sorry to say they do not have that option available,” she explained. “So, I chose to write my thesis as a collection of short stories. It has actually been extremely useful in my writing by helping me focus my narratives and economize the language. I have also done a bit of stage play writing, and hundreds (thousands?) of pages of unpublished work. And I’m writing a novel this year, as well.”
When Tamarah isn’t writing and enjoying the literary life, she’s tending to her five children and her small flock of ducks, as well as spending time with her husband of 20-plus years, Ben.
“I enjoy life, I enjoy poetry, I enjoy noodling over things, I enjoy reading literature, I do not enjoy reading YA literature, I am in love with 1930-1950 movies from TCM, and, despite living in a PNW forest, I am not keen on long hiking.” – Tamarah Rockwood
For more information about Tamarah, visit her website at Home (tamarahrockwood.com)
*Image/photo credit: Tamarah Rockwood
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