Kathleen Flenniken didn't show much interest in poetry until after the birth of her second son in 1993.
The former Hanford engineer was taking night classes as a way to get out of the house. Her classes were sometimes eclectic, such as one on handwriting analysis. But a poetry class sparked something inside her.
"I think I was interested (in poetry) and didn't know it," the 51-year-old told the Herald.
This week, the Richland native and Washington State University alumna was named Washington's poet laureate for 2012-14. She now lives in Seattle with her husband. She has three children.
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She will serve as the state's primary spokeswoman, supporter and promoter of poetry during her tenure. Poet laureates are chosen through an application process.
"The best part about this job is you get to do what you want to do," she said.
She serves president of Floating Bridge Press, a nonprofit organization that teaches poetry to students with the support of several arts organizations.
Flenniken will be the state's first poet laureate since Gov. Chris Gregoire suspended the program in 2009 because of budget cuts. The position, which comes with a $10,000 stipend, now is entirely funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other private contributions.
Flenniken earned an engineering degree from WSU in 1983 and another from the University of Washington. She obtained a master's in fine arts degree from Pacific Lutheran University. She grew up in Richland, attended Marcus Whitman Elementary School and graduated in 1979 from Columbia High School, now Richland High School.
Her first book of poetry, Famous, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Her second collection, Plume, is scheduled for release later this month.
Plume recently was chosen for the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series. The poetry collection is about her experiences as a Hanford engineer and her thoughts on what she read in declassified documents about the nuclear facility, Flenniken said.
"It's a re-examination of my identity as a citizen of Richland," she said.
Flenniken said she's excited about her new position and has pledged to visit all 39 counties in the state. She's particularly interested in taking poetry to the state's and Mid-Columbia's more rural schools.
"Kathleen's background and talent make her the perfect person to generate conversation about poetry throughout our state," said Julie Ziegler, executive director of Humanities Washington, one of the state organization's sponsoring Flenniken's position, in a news release.