What can you say about Portland? That it's the slacker middle sibling of San Francisco and Seattle? That it didn't used to have about a million hipkidz handcrafting, baristaing, and lining up in front of food trucks? That it's got deep roots in native culture, healing arts, and old Oregon rock? That is hosts a hidden tribe of stunning writers, ready to come out of the woodwork at just the right birdcall? Yes! Yes! Yes yes! This town is a hard nut to crack, poetry-wise. Try looking up readings online, and finding anything but Powells, Powells, Powells. Try showing up and asking around for them in person (which I've done a couple times and failed). But once you've found them, once you crack that nut, you're in for a whole fruitcake of ardent wordsmithing, and I mean one that lasts.
Our contacts for the last couple years, dearly sought, have been Christopher Luna and Toni Partington of Printed Matter Vancouver (that's Vancouver, WA, just north of Portland, and not B.C.). Printed Matter is a small press and reading series that they've been chugging along with for several years now, and for our Portland event this year, we participated in a small press double-whammy, with P.M. and gw4M each calling forth their Portland-area wordbirds. This was the last big event of the tour, and was held at the Clinton Street Theater, an old movie theater who lent us a couple hours of stage time for free (yes, you read that right, so go see a movie there, y'all!). A bit strange munching on popcorn to poetry, but a trend that should definitely start NOW.
Chris and Jane Ormerod waved hello, and Chris intro'd the three Printed Matters poets-at-hand. Whereupon:
TONI PARTINGTON immediately becomes storms and crows in her empathic lyrics that sneak into your head like portents of rain.
"Imagine me cawing at the neighbors, shiny black wings extended under afternoon sun."
JENNY PAUER launched us into the absolutely personal through a passionate diatribe on the state of public educationand her mom's mental health tribulations, leaving her
"like some human equivalent of a capillary wave"
Don't that zing the nerves.
CHRISTOPHER LUNA wrung us with personal and artistic dilemmas and transformations, tackled with lightness and a touch of wonder, even when he says,
"Don't you get the feeling that the teddy bear is about to explode?"
Yes, Christopher, I do.
Jane then threw us great weather bunnies up on the stage:
I once again asked appropriate questions, and this time got a few responses. To be less enigmatic:
"Do we raze the heap in a sated rage, and pummel the earth again into a shape that we can use, or do we let the vines come in..."
How's that for a question?
GINA WILLIAMS – who booked this fabulous space, btw – ladled out a stream of astutely observed social foibles run through with wit and optimism, noting that
"the corn this year looks like anorexic palms"
and of the politicos who couldn't notice less, she dutifully suggests,
"Let the bastards eat fish balls."
I'm warming some up right now.
Personal fave DAN RAPHAEL slammed us with his acute identification of body & earth, noting that he
"can't remember how my head looked before it was clear cut"
"Why am I peeing gasoline?"
Every time I see him, Raphael is overflowing with witty witty witty passion passion passion –
"like a police car turned into a fruitcake we keep regifting"
(no notes on what that's about and I don't care) and Note to All: THIS MAN KNOWS HOW TO END A POEM:
"As soon as my head is through the pillow, I'm no longer contained."
Let us not forget BRAD GARBER, a pro Portland reader who's been gracing this town with joyous eccentric whimsical constructions for decades, and who can actually get away with a philosophical piece on the picking of the nose:
"you search for the essence and garbage of every breath"
astride a gorgeous ode on the birth of his daughter:
"When you were born I stole you and walked through light clutching you to my chest."
Did I say pro?
And at last, JANE ORMEROD got a moment to share, and runs us over with a raging bull:
"moon over, come let's drink, right and left and right again like animals and more"
She's got that right.
Festivities continued afterward with a big gang at Dot's Cafe across the street, who proffered marvelous food and drink to our unexpected crowd with culinary and tapwise aplomb. Implied, I know, but the food was great (as in great weather). Go there.
And also go, if you're in Seattle, tomorrow, Wednesday, November 20,to the Breadline Series at Vermillion Theater, to catch the final installment of great weather West 2013, where Jane will cant, Mary Mackey will astound, and I will fling mud everywhere. Seeya there!