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In 2016, when Miriam Wagoner wrote a thank you letter, it turned into a poem. That poem, “Wounded Eagle’s Nest,” was published in the Capital City Weekly’s Writers’ Weir section that October, in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness month. A year later, that same poem now appears at the beginning of her first collection of poetry, “A Poem Book From My Kaasei Nook to the World.”
Local poet publishes first collection 101817 AE 1 Capital City Weekly In 2016, when Miriam Wagoner wrote a thank you letter, it turned into a poem. That poem, “Wounded Eagle’s Nest,” was published in the Capital City Weekly’s Writers’ Weir section that October, in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness month. A year later, that same poem now appears at the beginning of her first collection of poetry, “A Poem Book From My Kaasei Nook to the World.”

Miriam Wagoner at the Great Alaska Book Fair in early October. Image courtesy of Wagoner.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Story last updated at 10/17/2017 - 5:31 pm

Local poet publishes first collection

In 2016, when Miriam Wagoner wrote a thank you letter, it turned into a poem. That poem, “Wounded Eagle’s Nest,” was published in the Capital City Weekly’s Writers’ Weir section that October, in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness month. A year later, that same poem now appears at the beginning of her first collection of poetry, “A Poem Book From My Kaasei Nook to the World.”

Wagoner, a domestic violence survivor, was penning the thank you letter to Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE) for letting her be the first to live in Kaasei, the organization’s transitional housing facility for women.

“I just meant to write the thank you card to AWARE because it really meant so much to live (at Kaasei). That was our fourth move in less than five weeks. About two hours after that move it was my daughter’s birthday. We were displaced, me and my pets, so when we finally had a home it meant so much, so when we celebrated one year of being there I thought ‘let me write a thank you note.’ …it just turned into a poem,” she said.

She hadn’t planned on publishing it, but was encouraged to by a friend who also nudged her to use her real name instead of a pseudonym, she said. Her experience with domestic violence initially felt to her like something that should be private, but she is glad that she shared her words with others. She dedicated “Wounded Eagle’s Nest” to those who had stories like hers.

Wagoner had written poetry in past, but began writing more after publishing that poem. Other poems she published in the last year are “Clove, Simba, and Mr. Fishie,” “Comforted,” “The Leaf,” “Immigrant,” “A Sonata for Pa,” and “Season’s Reflection.” She’s been approached by people telling her they enjoy her work, some saying they’ve hung her pieces up in their offices. One man told her he keeps a copy of one in his wallet. Another domestic violence survivor told Wagoner she could relate to “Comforted,” she said.

“I am really blessed that people embraced my writing,” she said.

She recalled going to IGA in downtown Juneau to pick up copies of the Capital City Weekly to see the printed version of “A Sonata for Pa,” a poem she wrote for her father Rolando Cortes, who died in October 2016. She was unable to reach the stand because employees were cleaning, so a staff member offered to hand her one. To explain why she wanted so many copies, she told him her poem was inside.

“He opened it and his face went red,” she said. “’You like it?’ I said and he said ‘yeah,’ and then said he lost his mom when he was three…He said if he was not at work he would cry. But I thought of him and cried… I went home. I changed ‘A Sonata’ to his mom, put it in a frame…I went back to him the next day with my daughter and gave it to him…we ended up taking a picture together,” she said. She said she hopes he’ll be available to read it at one of her public readings.

This summer, she decided to create a collection of her work. She printed 250 copies at Alaska Litho, and consulted with the Alaska Small Business Development Center. In early October, she participated in the Great Alaska Book Fair in Anchorage.

She will do a public reading and signing in Juneau on Thursday, Oct. 19 at Hearthside Books’ Nugget Mall location at 6:30 p.m. She will also do a signing at Alaska Dames’ Mendenhall Valley location on Sunday, Oct. 22 from 1-5 p.m. To raise awareness of domestic violence, she encourages attendees to come wearing purple.

Wagoner describes her style as “practical.”

“I use simple words,” she said. “That’s how I am able to reach hearts, especially those whose second language is English. They can easily relate to my writing and thank me for it. Even the ones who are not from my country … they relate very much to what I say.”

An example is her piece “Immigrant,” which discusses the difficulty of transitioning from one’s home country to the U.S. It’s an experience she knows firsthand. English is Wagoner’s second language. She was born and raised in the Philippines and later immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 on a K-1 Visa, commonly known as the fiancé visa, and became a U.S. citizen. She plans to write more on the experience of becoming a U.S. citizen, growing up in the Philippines, and her life in Alaska in her memoir, which is in progress.

“Every morning, the rays of the sun would penetrate the walls of the house that is made up of light materials like coconut leaves, so that’s what would wake me up. Now what wakes me up in wintertime are the blazing icicles outside my Kaasei window shining. I’m from both worlds,” she said. In the Philippines, she grew up on an island near warm ocean waters. There she could swim. In winter in Alaska, however, she walks on water.

Wagoner’s favorite poems to read are uplifting ones, like “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, “Do Not Judge Too Hard” by an unknown author, and “Who Are My People” by Rosa Zagoni Marinoni. Those who inspire her write short verses with a big impact, she said. She hopes that she can do the same for others.

“It is my prayer that the poems that are in (“My Kaasei Nook”) will bring (people) hope and inspiration,” she said. “I hope to send a message that you do not have to feel like a stranger. If you have the talent and gift you can definitely share. You don’t have to be shy. You can talk like normal and make a difference. There’s no limit.”

“My Kaasei Nook” can now be found on Kindle, and physical copies can be purchased at Hearthside Books, alaskalitho.com, and directly through Wagoner.

Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly’s staff writer.