Olympia's Poet Laureate Ashly McBunch reaches out with healing verse
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
Photo by George P. Hickey, Dignity City
Ashly McBunch is focusing on healing and bringing art into some of the city of Olympia's projects.
Olympia’s Ashly McBunch is a retired army veteran who grew up in Missouri. They moved to Olympia in 2017 when they were stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord. Their term as Poet Laureate uses art and poetry to bring about healing and inclusion during troubled times. McBunch counters her military background by performing in burlesque and drag shows under the name Luna Delyte. They see it as a bit of artistic rebellion to the strong structure imposed during life in the military.
By Michlle Matlock
Dignity City arts contributor
I read that your theme for your Poet Laureate term is healing and inclusion. I'm wondering how that process has been going during the pandemic? We are in a time when healing is seemingly needed everywhere. And inclusion has the extra onus of proximity barriers, vaccine cards and masks. So how is it going with that theme of healing and inclusion so far for you?
Well, you know the healing portion, I've been trying to incorporate that and I guess, taking the time for poetry and healing process, seeing the art of the work, being a part of like, art therapy. You know, a process to get whatever emotions out you're talking about. Right now, the workshops I'm doing are going to be focused on everyday poetry things that you see in everyday life. And right now, everyday life is a lot different for us. So just bringing out the poetry in those little bits and pieces, that maybe aren't so fun or enjoyable sometimes and seeing them in different ways and different perspectives and in a poetic way.
Also, I'll be working with the city of Olympia on a project that they have going on in the spring. It’s called “Reimagining Public Safety.” And so, I'll be working on bringing art into that project and to focus on healing.
As far as inclusion goes, I’m trying to bring in other art forms into poetry. So, I do abstract art. I had a workshop about abstract art, a few months back and I'll probably bring that back again and try to do something called “Creative Branches,” where art is a tree and all the branches are all of the different art forms. So, you have poetry and you [have] abstract art and you have dance and all these different aspects of it. I try to incorporate that and different ways to do that in any workshop I do. So, when they say inclusion, I took it however I felt like taking it. And just because I do multiple art disciplines, I wanted to incorporate and include[so]that anyone, even if you are primarily a painter or primarily a dancer, you can bring that into your poetry and vice versa.
I'm wondering if you have any poems, that Express that sentiment?
I was [contacted] by a local artist here in Olympia to respond to their artwork. It was called “A Place to Mourn.” And so, I just wrote a poem for that. It’s called “The Grief We Hold.” It’s just a few lines. I want to say maybe it's like 10 lines, but it's just a response to the space that she provided for people to come and just mourn. It was flowers that were set up on this person's lawn; she had wrapped around trees and water to bless the stuff around it. It was very beautiful. And so, I just responded to that artwork. I believe, like a lot of poetry is about responding to the things that are going on around you.
The Grief We Hold
Blackbirds carry tear filled carnations wrapped with green fern leaves, twisting together memories floating among laced flowers as words trickle like blessed waters through summer rivers. Carved stones, on sheltered ground, comforts fallen names whispered into cyclic breaths of remembrance. And peace brought forth within small moments honor timeless dimensions where love for those lost nourish all the life that follows.
I also read that you have a military background. So, I was curious. How does your military background influence your art and performance?
I feel like my military background influences my art and performance because like, that was so rigid, right? Some things are so rigid about the military that my in my artwork it can be the other extreme. It can be something that if I was still in the military, someone would be like, “Oh, wow, they are doing that? Shocking!”
It influences me by giving me a rebellion feel. When I got out of the military it was rebellion to do all of these things. I didn’t, because I didn’t want the view of myself in the military to be jaded. Sometimes you can’t do what you want to do while you are in the military.
That's great. That leads me into the next question I have for you. I heard you performed Drag shows. And so, what is your drag name?
Luna Delyte. Everything I do as Luna is Luna. Everything I do as Ashly is Ashly.
So how does one transition from performing drag shows to Family Poetry Night?
Well, poetry came first, so that's always been there and it's definitely a different feel at family, poetry night. You know, I’m not hiding those things, because when I applied for the poet laureate, I put it out there — because you have to submit a résumé. And I was like, “so I also do that.” I also do burlesque. I also do drag. I do all these things, so if that was ever a problem for anyone then, you know, I wouldn’t be the right person. I wasn’t going to stop that because I was just artistically doing things and all of it is art. So, I might mention it, but I won't go deep into it because it's not really for the kids. But I mentioned that I danced and that I express myself. And all of it is a good form of expression. I have done all-ages drag shows, too.
That's super cool. I know in Seattle and other parts of the country the Drag Queen Story Hours have gotten a little bit of a blowback. Do you feel like the drag part of it is breaking down barriers in Olympia? Or have you gotten any resistance around that?
Not in Olympia. I know that there's some organizations working on trying to have some drag story hour stuff happen. It just hasn't happened yet and I want to be a part of that because there's all different types and forms of drag queens and it's just me being, “You’re born a female and being a drag queen and dressing up like a princess.” It's just something that I'm doing and it's about the makeup and about the history of it — and the expressiveness. And that's what we want to bring across. I try to just live as authentically as I want to. These different costumes that I wear are very me. Because I see myself as a Queen Moon Goddess. That's what Luna is. And I see myself as a poet, and that’s what Ashly is. I see myself in all these different ways. And people are allowed to express themselves in those ways. That's really what I want to get across is that You have this ability to pull the stuff out of you and just do it.
Amazing. That's awesome. Is there anything you want people to know about you, your poetry, your existence? Anything that I didn't ask you that you want to get out there?
I guess. Like you can find poetry in anything, right? My day job is working for the state; I work for the Department of Commerce. I write contracts. So, I made time on my calendar for this interview so I can sit here and put in, and because I have the time I put it on my calendar, put it on my off-sheet and took the time. Right? Because I believe it's important. And I think that when you find those things that are important, you have to sit here and say, “yes,” and do them. And so, some people are like, “Oh, you do a lot!” Because I do abstract art, and I do poetry, and I do burlesque, and I do drag, and I have kids, and a dog, and a wife, and cats; and I just think that when you bring art into your life, you can sit here and embrace some things a little bit better.
During this pandemic, it has been even more important to bring art into our lives. People find new art. I found new art for myself and whether or not it's embracing the good, the bad, the indifferent and the ugly … Just knowing that I'm getting it out and not stuffing it in, is so important and so healing to ourselves. We have to start healing ourselves to get that vibration to rise and reach out to each other and actually build everyone around us. Because, once we heal ourselves we can start helping and healing others. And that's what I want people to see. When I perform anything, it is that I am not just having a great time — I am also healing.
I hope that healing radiates out to the audience when I'm having that exchange with them.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.