Monday, May 31, 2010

Poetry Festival, Part Four

Two weekends ago, La Conner hosted the 6th Biennial Skagit River Poetry Festival. Poets from all over the world (and fans) gave (and attended) talks and workshops all over the town.

Due to the length of the original post, this is the third part of the series--which makes it easier to read. Last post can be found here.

The third set was right after the half an hour lunch break. I had a ticket for a different event (something about Grief and Healing), but I thought the Poetry Slam would be so much better. And it was.
All images are from the Skagit River Poetry Festival poet bio page. I claim no rights to them, and encourage you to see the original page to learn about the poets. 
 The last set was another Poetry Sampler at the Museum of Northwest Art, and had the poets Sherman Alexie, Lorna Crozier, M.L. Smoker, and Michael Dickman. (At least I think I have the right twin named...)

By this time, it seemed like everyone (poets and audience) was getting tired of the day and all the events. There was a sort of heavy energy, and it didn't help that a few students from a few schools started being obnoxious with laughing and clapping.

This set was right after the Poetry Slam, and Sherman and Mandy (Smoker) still had a line stuck in their head from a student poet: "I'm tired of hearing Asians have small dicks; I'm not big or small, but I can still pull chicks."

Sherman commented about the students' courage, and that at that age (15-17) he would never have gone up there and read poetry "let alone about pulling chicks. I think at that age there was the one" he added.

  First up was Sherman, who had a few poems about ants and spiders, and killing them in they were in his house. He also teased that poems with long titles can be shorter than usual. One of the poems he started an intro saying "I travel a lot for my job as a writer. We're all writers; we all end up in La Conner." He even pointed out in La Conner there was a sign saying "Poet Food," and he had no idea that there was a difference between that and what normal people eat.

Lorna had some poems related to being in high school and explained when she was in freshman year (in Canada) there was "such a thing as 'going steady' and the boys would let you wear a cheap ring that had to be held together with tape to stay on your finger. Do you have that here, or do the boys buy you a new ring now?" she joked. Lorna commented how a lot of her poetry in college anthologies has been censored, and she read her poem, Bad Poem, with the idea that you could blame all the crude language on the poem, not the poet. (i.e., the dog farting under the table at a fancy dinner, or humping the leg of the most timid person in the room).

 Mandy had a few somber poems, one related to deaths on a Reservation while she was a principal, and sort of that struggle within a community after that shock of losing someone (or multiple people). She also had a poem called Intertribal, which was about a group of girl cousins that would walk around in a pack having fun (or getting into fights).

Michael asked who had seen his brother earlier that day, and the audience laughed and clapped. "You can tell who has seen my brother, because everyone is like 'yeah!', and then when they see me they're like 'oh...'." He had a poem about how he thought all men were mean, had to join the army, and beat on people (based on his childhood neighborhood), and then he found out it was only Some of the Men. He also reinvented the birth of him and his twin brother, and used awesome imagery about space and astronauts within the womb.

To close the Poetry Sampler, Sherman suggested that they should all create an 8-lined poem going through each poet one line at a time. All of the poets ended up borrowing images and lines from each others poems, and it was really fun to watch the cross-creativity in action. On the second run through the poets (lines 5-8), Michael said "I should have asked what it was before I put it in my mouth," and Mandy had to follow it up. She was at a loss of words to try and not make it worse than it was, and ended up using "And he was an asshole." I really wish I had taped this last segment as well, because it was fun to see the free-form.

Well, hopefully my "reporting" on this year's Skagit River Poetry Festival wasn't too boring, and was actually somewhat entertaining.

I'd like to send a hearty THANK YOU to all of the poets, from all over the world, who took time to migrate to La Conner for the weekend! (The destination of all writers and poets apparently). This thanking is also extended to the Skagit River Poetry Project, and their numerous donors and sponsors. The work that this project does to get poets to come into classrooms, as well as the biennial Festival is excellent and necessary for our communities, and I hope it keeps going for decades from now.

Can't wait for 2012's Festival!

To donate or become a volunteer, I suggest going to their site.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Poetry Festival, Part Three

Last weekend, La Conner hosted the 6th Biennial Skagit River Poetry Festival. Poets from all over the world (and fans) gave (and attended) talks and workshops all over the town.
Due to the length of the original post, this is the third part of the series--which makes it easier to read. Last post can be found here.

The third set was right after the half an hour lunch break. I had a ticket for a different event (something about Grief and Healing), but I thought the Poetry Slam would be so much better. And it was.
All images are from the Skagit River Poetry Festival poet bio page. I claim no rights to them, and encourage you to see the original page to learn about the poets. 


The Poetry Slam was hosted by the two amazing poets and writers Sherman Alexie and M.L. Smoker, who were very excellent and entertaining hosts for this event. 

The event was in Maple Hall, which is a pretty good sized venue for the Slam. Sherman and Mandy were  seated onstage near the podium. All the students (and other audience) that wanted to read something was told to stand in a line so the two hosts could get a sense of how much time for each reader. They only had an hour, and there were a lot of young poets. For the first batch of readers, Sherman and Mandy commented on the performance, and details about each poem, but after a point they couldn't that and hear from everyone.

I will write about the more memorable poets/poems (even if they weren't so good), because those are what stuck out, and I wasn't taking notes. And I really wished I had started filming from the very beginning...

The first student (I believe his name was Andrew) was from Anacortes, and was very eager to read his poem, La Conner. In a monotone and slow voice, he read his poem, which was written in broken English, a very deliberate jab at a Native American stereotype. One line went something like "..Me meet big Indian poet. Big Indian poet make poop. Big Indian make poop on white women..." The whole time, the hosts were laughing, and at the end Mandy commented that Andrew "totally called you [Sherman] out!" Sherman kept laughing and finally said he should have "Big Indian make poop" printed on a shirt, or change his Indian name to that. {For those of you lost, both Sherman and Mandy are Native American, and they were cool with it}.

There was a girl early on who had two poems and managed to get away with it. The first was narrated in a way that you couldn't tell who or what it was until the end. The final lines gave it a twist that sounded very much like the narrator was a fetus about to be aborted (maybe even born, she left it open-ended). The second poem was entitled Such Is Life and was a very personal narrative of how the girl has these set ideals (one may think of the words Christian, strict, and goodie-good), but she didn't care if they made her unpopular. To me, she seemed like a pretty grounded person that was really confident in herself and her personality in the world. One line that stuck out was "I don't use cuss words, because they taste like black licorice in my mouth." This had caught Sherman's attention as well, even though he admits "I love to swear, but I hate black licorice!"

At one point, a very Indie-Alternative student walked onstage. She had orange-yellow-red-frizzy hair, what looked to be a hand-stitched shoulder bag, and earth-toned clothes. Her poem was titled Things I Would Like to Say to Edward Cullen. In a very well written manner, she completely whipped the Twilight series and characters, while keeping everyone guessing if she dislikes or likes Edward--she really doesn't like him, though. Sherman commented that using pop culture is a great way for everyone to find a common bond in a poem. Everyone knows what Twilight is, and brought their own perspectives into the poem. He added "Twilight is just one of those books where you say 'I could've written that! Indian werewolves? Come on, I should've thought of that and sold twenty million copies!'"

[It was somewhere around here that Sherman commented that him and Mandy critiquing poets/poems each time was "Very much like American Idol."]

One of the more emotional (in a way) poems was this tall guy who read his poem (These Words That I Have Bled) in a very tired, anxious, and almost hesitant manner. For a while I thought he went up there and then just really didn't want to read the poem, but then I noticed it was a very clever (if not deliberate) way of speaking the poem--which was about his love for a girl, which was more than likely lost. Near the end of the poem, he spoke softer, with longer pauses, and I had the distinct image of someone having written the poem in their own blood, and was fading away. A very unique, and clearly memorable poem.

Near the end of the set, it seemed like students were just going up there to be up there and say something. Some of the more..."unrefined" poems were presented in the last fifteen minutes. One common theme I noticed at the end was people writing very short poems on their cell phones while in line to the podium. (Some poems include Wonder Bread, Maple Hall, and Sniper). I think this was a trendy theme, but needed some work--the writers had to scroll through the poem on their screens, which meant they could only read so far, and their mouths were pointed at the floor, not the microphone. It would be interesting to tweet or update a Facebook status live via cell phones while speaking.

Nestled in the last ten minutes of the poetry slam was a very funny jewel-of-a-poet. Somehow, even with the time constraint, he was able to pull off two poems, and I was very glad he did. The first poem was about when he was overseas in Asia during high school, and how his friend was arrested and no one believed in him. The second was very light-hearted but still had a very serious theme--racism and stereotypes. of all forms, but he used Asian stereotypes because that's what is aimed at him the most. The poem states he's tired of people asking him if he's "from North or South" and using terms and terms like gook, chink, Jap. and Goku. The funniest line of the poem was "I'm tired of hearing Asians have small dicks; I'm not big or small, but I can still pull chicks."

I think the Poetry Slam was my favorite event of the day, just because I was completely inundated with poetry from people my age, and the atmosphere was very playful and creative. Sherman and Mandy were supposed to share poems of their own, but seemed more than happy to just step aside and let the young writers have at it for the hour. I wish it was longer, and even had a chance to see poets duke it out live, like a full-on rap battle.

Time for bed, and the last part will be written before the weekend. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poetry Festival, Part Two

This weekend, La Conner is the host of the 6th Biennial Skagit River Poetry Festival. Poets from all over the world (and fans) are giving (and attending) talks and workshops all over the town.

Due to the length of the original post, this is the second part of a series--which makes it easier to read. You can find the first one here.

The second set I attended was again at the Museum of Northwest Art, and was a conversation and reading about the theme: Inspiration from the Arts. Attending were Mary Cornish, Mary Lou Sanelli, Susan Rich, and Irish poet Tony Curtis (who is hard to find online).

All images are from the Skagit River Poetry Festival poet bio page. I claim no rights to them, and encourage you to see the original page to learn about the poets. 

Mary Cornish is an older poet that was an illustrator for children's books before an injury to her drawing hand. She teaches creative writing at the Western Washington University (hopefully I can have her as my teacher there). Mary said she is always inspired by art, and is a great supporter of spoken-word poetry. She recommended the audience to read several poets, including Mary Oliver, Valerie Worth, 16th US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Sherman Alexie, and Heather McHugh--for her use of sounds on the page.

Mary went on to explain how she admires Egyptian art, and the idea that the afterlife was "just like home" to the ancient culture. Also, the idea of poets writing poems about their life to "keep rescuing those memories." To illustrate this point, she read her own Tomb Painting: Chapter of Breathing Air.

The second poet was also a Mary--Mary Lou Sanelli. She too is influenced by art, especially music and painters, and she recalled being in a museum and painter Linda Okazaki caught Mary admiring one of her paintings. Okazaki said that when she needed inspiration, she would read poetry. Mary Lou told the audience this was a great compliment (not directly to her, but still), and that she uses paintings as inspiration--and actually used the painting of Okazaki's for the jump-off of a poem.  Mary Lou also named Lois Silver as another favorite painter. 

Being from a Greek family, Mary Lou explained (in a performance), the clash with her family over food (being a vegetarian), music (Motown), and dancing (Motown versus ballet), and her realization she could be with her family, and not have to be her family. She also included a touching poem about her husband's love and devotion, and the creation of a skylight for her (I think this might've been the Okazaki-inspired poem).

Susan Rich openly admitted that she took an art history class, but even though she liked it, the class was too challenging for her. It should also be noted Mary Cornish had a degree in that field (I believe, I might be remembering incorrectly, but Susan felt bad for saying it aloud in front of Mary). She said how she was in a museum one day when she admired a painting of a young girl at a table. Later that year, she couldn't remember the artist's name, and found that it was actually a picture she had admired. (Susan shared a handout of the picture with the group).

Inspired with the realism, she researched and found the artist was Mira Albert Wiggins, a photographer when the technology was "as new as iPods"--according to Susan. In order to compete with painters of the time, Mira created painting-like scenes that held as much symbolism as the master painters. Susan shared a poem she wrote about "Mr. Mira Albert Wiggins", who in that era, was irregular for supporting such a successful wife.

Last up during this set was one of my favorite poets, Irish Tony Curtis. For the rest of the set, Tony had sat in the front row of the audience, instead of at the table with the other poets. When he came up to the microphone, he explained why (in his awesome accent): "I'm a recovering Catholic, and I'd be too nervous [sitting with the women]."

He shared several poems, including one about his September-visits from his Muse, and poems about hummingbirds, scarecrows, and the nude painting of a large woman by Lucian Freud. Anytime I see Tony, he is usually accompanying Washington State Poet Laureate Samuel Green on his annual visit to schools around the state, and he usually has wonderful stories.
(I missed Sam this year, but probably because karma thought I had seen enough of him when we had dinner on Waldron Island last summer.)
This time seeing Tony was no different--he had excellent stories:

One time while visiting local artist Philip McCracken on Guemes Island (near Anacortes), Tony spotted a hummingbird, a creature not found in Ireland. Confused, he thought it was a very large bee. When he was told it was a bird, he thought of it "more of the reincarnation of a jazz-man like Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis." If you can find the poem Jazz by Tony, I highly recommend it (and imagine it being told in an Irish accent, like all things by him).

Another story was about when he wrote a book about Tibet, Three Songs of Home (to break away from the Pro-Ireland Fever striking Irish poets) and met Lama Doji, a monk in the mountains. The poem was In Darjeeling, and told of this monk who asked why Americans were so fond of the mountains. Tony told him they think the mountains are calm and beautiful. The Lama notes that every tourist he sees is a "circling fool" because everytime he greets them, they only say "hi." 

Thinking the foreigners are commenting on the mountains' height, he says a thousand prayers for their poor souls, for when they die in the mountains. Tony points out that "when they say 'hi', they mean 'hello'." The Lama then comments that he has wasted thousands of prayers, and the gods must be laughing at him.

Okay, parts three and four are expected for later this week. Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Poetry Festival, Part One

This weekend, La Conner is the host of the 6th Biennial Skagit River Poetry Festival. Poets from all over the world (and fans) are giving (and attending) talks and workshops all over the town. Due to the length of the post, I will break it into sections so it is easier to read. (Part Two).

On Friday, I was able to join the local high school group as a chaperon, and attend several of the events throughout the day.  Here is a brief review of what I attended, who was there, and some memorable quotes from poets.

The day opened up with a Poetry Sampler at the Museum of Northwest Art with four poets: 13th US Poet Laureate Ted Koozer, Valzhyna Mort, Terrance Hayes, and Matthew Dickman.

All images are from the Skagit River Poetry Festival poet bio page. I claim no rights to them, and encourage you to see the original page to learn about the poets.

Ted Koozer, despite his title of Poet Laureate, didn't call attention to it until after a few poems. He described growing up in Nebraska, and how he worked at an insurance company for many years until he was a Vice President. "You work in a job like that long enough, and soon you float to the top like a corpse full of gas," he said. He got in the habit of writing poetry early mornings before work; often wakening at 4:30, and writing until 7 before he got ready for the day's work.

I wish I was able to see (and hear) more of his work. It was sad to see such a great figure in US Literature being interrupted by a group of late students tramping loudly up the metal stairs of the museum.

Next up, the young and petite Valzhyna Mort took the stage, and without an introduction jumped right into a fierce and intense rendition of her poem Belarusian I (which can be found at the link on her name above). Her Belorussian accent seeped into the poem and made it all the more intense and memorable. The first words that came to mind about her poetry were "harsh" and "lashing," but not in a negative way, just as an observation.

Once she introduced herself she said: "You are all high schoolers? I hate high school. And I hate high schoolers." Thinking she was joking, everyone laughed loudly, to which she replied (broken quoting on my part): "High school is the worst part of your lives...You all think you are the shit... don't know how many of you are having sex. You think this is sex you are having. You have no idea."

The audience of teens (and adults) really liked her comments, and her poetry. Even though she could belt out and whip-lash poetry out in her accent, as soon as she wasn't "performing" and just speaking, her voice was shaky and she looked nervous. I thought it was interesting--having performed in front of people before--that all she needed to be comfortable is reading poetry as almost another character: The quick-tongued Belorussian poet. (Look her up on YouTube to hear her performances--less harsh though).

Right after Valzhyna finished up with her poem, White Apples in two languages--original Belorussian, and English for a comparison--then Terrance Hayes came up.

Terrance was a tall man, wearing two watches, and he started with: "If you want answers, ask questions." He followed up with saying "Well, I love keeds," to which everyone laughed. He explained that lying is fun, especially in fiction like poetry. Even though most people think poems are autobiographical, he said poets just make stuff up. "If you're boring you gotta make stuff up."

Just like Valzhyna, Terrance drew in his audience with comedy, and talked in between poems to give backstories and explanations for the work. His poem Shakur was about this story he heard from one of his friends in Nebraska, "probably the only black man in Nebraska. I don't remember his name, but you probably know who I'm talking about," he said to Koozer. The story behind the poem was about these kids that got high on meth, drove out during a snowstorm, and died from exposure when they decided to take a nap in the car.

"I heard this story, and I was wondering what music they were listening to as they froze to death out there," said Terrance. "Turns out, they were listening to Tupac Shakur; thus the name." In the poem, there's a line about "the drugs that made them think they were warm enough to chill."

Almost through with his set, someone asked what his name was, because he never said it. Also, someone asked about his two watches. His daughter had bought him a watch years ago and he already owned one at the time. "Mine was nicer than hers, but there wasn't a way I couldn't wear hers, so I wear both."

The final poet of this session was Matthew Dickman, who had walked in late to the event, looked very disheveled. He walked up to the mic and said: "I'm not hungover...and I'll keep telling myself that." Right away this set up the atmosphere for his set. He went on to say that in high school, everyone is cool and weird, and our bodies feel funny, but that goes away with time. "It's this time that I started reading the Beats, like Jack Kerouac, and listening to that 'why is my head so messed up' music by The Pixies." He was very out there, and alternative, and really reminded me very much of a cross between Hank Green, and Rainn Wilson. The audience really liked his offbeat, slightly hungover persona that clashed with some of the poets around him.

Matthew said that language breaks down when extreme emotions come into play. For examples, when you feel ecstatic love someone all you can say is "she's hot," or "I like her...ears." When there's deeply-felt grief, you might only say "He's gone." These things destroy language, but poetry is able to bring in a new layer that can help communicate feelings.

He finished with two poems that express the two ends of the spectrum--love and grief. One was We Are Scientists in which Michael explains the time spent away from his girlfriend in his "Frankenstein love poem," where he creates a girlfriend stand-in with piles of clothes and shocks it to life.

The grief poem was Satellites and used the idea of satellites beaming images from his memory so he could print them out in order to remember someone who had died.

Soon I will post more about the rest of the day's poetry sessions. Enjoy. (Part Two).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Local shows and feeling

I watched the high school's opening show for Our Miss Brooks, and I think the cast and crew did an amazing job. The audience was a little more...intimate...than I was expecting on opening night, but I bet tomorrow evening will draw a larger audience: The word-of-mouth will spread, and Friday nights there aren't shows like Grey's Anatomy that draw away fans--and it's the start of the weekend.

The show was very good, indeed. There is two casts, so tomorrow night I might have to go see the second group of students. There were a few people that I didn't know could act, and they looked surprisingly calm on stage. (There were a few slipped lines, and obvious nervous jitters, but it's opening night).

For all the people in our town who chose to leave a seat open for others tonight, I suggest you be more selfish tomorrow night, as there might not be any seats left over.

I really like the nights where I go to see a play or some sort of event in town, and I just get the overwhelming feeling of community and being social. Of course, a few events I've gone to seem to be scheduled on odd nights and a few conflicts with timing, but still.

At the moment, all I can think is that there should be more gatherings, and openings, and events that draw a lot of people. La Conner pretty much needs more community dances and well-known social affairs--Arts Alive! weekend, gallery openings, MoNA's annual art auction, and school plays just don't make up for the rest of the year (although, I liked having two major plays, and another class-based play to enjoy this year).

Small-Town Lover

I was walking around town today, and realized how much I love the small town I live in (recently voted Best Tiny Town in Western Washington--I guess compared to Seattle it is pretty tiny). 

Most days I intern at the local newspaper, La Conner Weekly News, and on my lunch break I go walking. This is mainly because I need a break from sitting down and typing, and I love to just walk around this town.

Usually I walk to the Pioneer Market to order a sandwich. You can walk up to the counter in the back and pick-up a pre-made sandwich, or order a custom one using a small form. I almost always order one, as it is fresher, and they stuff the sandwich more when the customer can see them make it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

They don't make 'em like they used to...

This evening I watched Good Night, and Good Luck with my girlfriend. The movie was made in 2005 (directed by George Clooney), and is about journalist Edward R. Murrow's conflict with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the former's Red Scare in the 1950s.

The title of the movie is derived from Murrow's signature sign-off line, which he derived from his time in London during World War II, when neighbors (who may not see each other the next day after a bombing) would say "Good night, and good luck."

The movie is black-and-white, and has a very subdued manner about it. At points it feels slow, but it probably has a really accurate view of the environment back then. Apart from that, there is an excellent cast (Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., and David Strathairn to name a few) that seems to portray their characters very realistically.