Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just came home from a conference that was inspirational and amazing, and filled with creative people. But when I look at my blank page, I'm feeling nothing but imposter syndrome. You'd think being at the damn conference would be enough to get me going, but apparently not. Can you help me get over myself?
Quenton, Queen Anne
When I'm feeling insecure about my gifts as a writer, I like to hang out with my 11-year-old half-sister, Ana. We eat a snack, she tells me about school and then she plays me a violin piece she's been practicing or reads me some of her poetry. She's a smart kid but these interactions remind me that I'm smarter than her. My poetry is way better than hers and I don't even like poetry. Someday she'll likely be a very successful doctor like her mother and I'll be living in her basement on the cheap because she pities me but right now, I am her role model. It's a job I take seriously. Yet most of the time when she reads me a poem I think, "I can top that," which is why I've begun writing coming-of-age feminist poetry to share with her. For example, here's a limerick I wrote about sexual assault:
There was a young woman from Buhl
Who was assaulted one day after school
She bought a claw hammer
And without a stammer
Raped the man with her oversized tool.
"Police!" Screamed the man down the street
As blood waterfalled to his feet
“I don't mean to be crass
But I've been raped in the ass”
Said the girl, “vengeance truly is sweet.”
“This woman is batshit insane!”
He denied every ounce of self-blame
But police had no way
With no DNA
Of connecting his rape to her name.
Odds are this won't happen to you
But you know how to act if it do
A conceal'd weapon it's not
And if you get caught
Remember: Christ was a carpenter too.
My point is, sometimes it helps to go to an open mic night or hang out with a child and remind yourself (silently, don't be a dick) that you're a better writer than the company you keep. Until you're famous, which most of us will never ever be, you must be your own most devoted fan. Start acting like it.
If you began your Lit Crawl last night at the reading sponsored by Seattle-based literary magazine The James Franco Review, the first thing you heard was a poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha that includes this line: “Here, our senses are overwhelmed.” That’s about the most appropriate invocation the evening could’ve asked for.
Lit Crawl is an event that is by definition overwhelming. You’re given way too many options to choose from— almost a hundred readers, spread all over Capitol and First Hill — and audiences spend the night chasing readings around town. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful night, either; the air was crisp and relatively warm and the smell of dry leaves was everywhere. Your senses couldn’t help but be overwhelmed, and alive, and engaged.
The James Franco reading was end-to-end entertaining. Founding editor Corinne Manning introduced one reader as “the nephew of a serial killer.” Aaron Counts introduced Seattle’s first Youth Poet Laureate Leija Farr by saying the young poets of Seattle are so talented that "it just makes you want to retire.” Farr read a poem titled “The Walking Dead” — “You looked at me and swore up and down you were alive,” she read — and another poem about a woman who names her lovers’ skin. Her work was mature, meaningful, confident. Counts was slightly wrong; Farr was so good that she didn’t make you want to stop writing; she inspired you to start writing.
Poet EJ Koh was the highlight not just of the James Franco reading but of the whole night. She explained that in Korea, authors introduce their readings with a plea to the audience that can be translated to something along the lines of: “even though I shame myself, please be kind to me.” On the contrary. When Koh read, it was the audience that wasn’t worthy.
Koh read a fierce poem titled "Doom" about not getting what you need from a relationship on a sexual level. And then she read a poem responding to a New York Times story about South Korean women and plastic surgery. They were both angry, those two poems, but they were crystalline in their voice and perspective and place in the universe. It’s hard to describe exactly what Koh brought to the poems except to say that when she read, every word felt important and every word led directly to the next word, and when the poem ended there was a split-second where every throat in the room gasped for oxygen.
Up at Ada’s Technical Books on 15th Ave, four cartoonists presented new work. Short Run cofounder Eroyn Franklin read a piece about Bikram yoga that began as a story of self-empowerment but which then turned into a meditation on the sexual assault charges that have been levied against Bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury. Franklin’s moral inquiries led to some fascinating places: if a bad man creates something that helps the world, isn’t it still possible that his creation is tainted in some way by his corruption?
Over the course of the reading —the tense travel comics of Natalie Dupille; Mita Mahato’s beautiful cut paper comics, and her portraits of the “monsters” who plague her dreams (including the man in the bear suit in the photo above); and Gina Siciliano’s heavily researched comics about art history and feminism — the scope of local readers at this Lit Crawl became apparent. Over the course of the night, I heard poems about Afghanistan, Korea, Mexico, and Nicaragua, as well as comics partially written in Nepali. Seattle’s literary scene is opening up to the world. If there was such a thing as a Lit Crawl Seattle in the year 2000, the readers would have seemed embarrassingly provincial when compared to the authors who read last night; our writers are interested in being in the world, and hearing other voices, and figuring out our place in the world. It’s perhaps one of the best indications that our literary scene is growing up, and expanding, and growing comfortable in its own skin; our poets and cartoonists and novelists are bringing the world to Seattle, and they’re introducing Seattle to the world.
My final reading of Lit Crawl, the Poetry Northwest celebration at Sole Repair, delivered two wonderful performances. Clare Johnson read a few lovely, hesitant poems from her upcoming collection, Will I Live Here When I Grow Up?, and then she read two looser poems, one praising Quentin Tarantino for “having the guts to kill off history,” and a melancholy poem about motherhood and mortality that begins with the brilliant line “I wish I hadn't wasted Jane Austen on the spring.”
The final reader of the night, Emily Bedard, praised the audience for surviving another Lit Crawl, joking that the stress of the evening was starting to show on the crowd, “with your body knuckles and your torn pants.” She dazzled the room with a suite of poems about stuntmen and mustaches and the Gravitron ride at state fairs. Since the night began with an ode to sensory overload, it’s appropriate and good that Bedard’s ode to erections — making tents in bedding, lifting the roofs off of rooms, popping out of pants like geese — concluded the night. It was positively orgiastic.
Finally, at the afterparty at Fred Wildlife Refuge, the staff of Lit Crawl Seattle was getting drunk. Someone was doing a shot off someone else’s breasts. There was a lot of screaming: “Six months! We worked on this for six months! We did it!” That sort of thing.
This enthusiasm was totally warranted. As people compared notes, it became obvious that this Lit Crawl was hands-down the best Lit Crawl ever. The readings were diverse and lively. Everything started and ended on time. The venues were excellent hosts. Everyone was gushing about their favorite events of the night: the Instant Future reading won a lot of new fans for the e-publishing imprint, the VIDA reading impressed the 150 people who crammed in to listen, and a few tipsy attendees gushed over the Seattle Public Library’s pairings of books with cider flights at Capitol Cider House.
Previous Seattle Lit Crawls were fun-but-amateurish affairs. This one felt tightly coordinated and rigorously planned. Details were thought out. Every reading reportedly felt full, whereas in the past a few superstar readings drew the majority of people while other readings were sparsely attended. These things don’t just happen on their own; a lion’s share of the credit has to go to Brian McGuigan, who took over Lit Crawl operations this year. He and his staff transformed a fun annual event into a carefully orchestrated and deeply considered celebration of what makes Seattle great. Who can blame McGuigan and his staff for getting a little drunk and giving a funny, sloppy, love-filled speech at the afterparty? Who would possibly deny them their swagger? They ended the speech with a shout of “LIT CRAWL SEATTLE 2015, BITCHES!” and they vacated the stage to the beginning of a Drake song that felt highly appropriate:
Started from the bottom now we're here/Started from the bottom now my whole team fucking here
The party was just getting started. Poet Robert Lashley was up on the balcony looking over the room. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Corinne Manning were getting the dance party started. Steve Barker was celebrating the signing of his very first book deal. People promoted their brand-new literary magazines. Someone was talking excitedly about the Seward Park Third Place Books opening up next year — finally, a big bookstore for the south end of town!
It was one of those moments that felt good and pure and sturdy, a well-earned celebration of something that we all built together, a moment to stop complaining and quit worrying and just appreciate what we have. And based on my view from that sweaty dance floor, where people were double-fisting cans of beer and talking about all the awesome readings they attended, I can assure you that what we have is pretty fucking great.
G. Willow Wilson, and Margaret Stohl, will discuss their work and have a book signing Saturday at University Book Store in Bellevue — a rare opportunity to hear two women talk about the amazing work they've been doing with female superheroes.
Maybe I was just in a bad mood or something, but I didn't find much enjoyment in the comics I bought yesterday. The new issue of Godzilla in Hell is a total bust — a real downer of a serious, clunky monster comic after last issue’s greatness. The 28th issue of Astro City continues a depressing trend with that series; what began as commentary on superheroes has basically become a boring superhero anthology comic. Warren Ellis’s first issue of Karnak feels like the same mainstream Warren Ellis we’ve seen a million times before: some edgy torture and a few lines of absurd, self-aware dialogue. The art by Gerardo Zaffino looks pretty cool at first, until some action happens and you realize you can’t tell what the hell is going on. (If you can explain what Karnak does to the bullet that’s fired at him in a scene late in the book, I’d love to hear it. All Zaffino drew was a blurry finger and some speed lines. I have no idea what was supposed to have happened there.)
It wasn’t all terrible. I enjoyed the first issue of The Astonishing Ant-Man by Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas. Spencer is writing the most fun mainstream superhero comics in the business right now, and his word-heavy comics are a delight. It takes time to read an issue of a Spencer comic, as opposed to the breezy “widescreen” approach that Ellis has been taking for a while now. But I’m a little annoyed to be getting another first issue of a comic that launched with a first issue in January of this year. I suppose this relaunch technique is supposed to attract new readers, but it just feels like the story lurched into a bad gear for a moment before correcting itself. It's an unwelcome stutter in an otherwise very funny, very big-hearted comic.
Luckily, my week was saved by the seventh issue of John Allison and Max Sarin’s Giant Days. Every issue of this comic, about three young women becoming fast friends at college, is better than the one before. You don’t have to have read the rest of the series to understand what’s going on in this issue: Esther took a class on the New Testament as a joke, but now she’s in danger of failing; Susan has engaged in a torrid, secret love affair that finds her buying condoms three boxes at a time; and Daisy is busy worrying about everyone else all the time. Allison’s script is simple and funny and character-based. Sarin’s art is cartoony and expressionistic. It’s the most enjoyable comic of the week, and the only clear-cut win in a week full of disappointments. All the bluster and sameness of the new books this week felt like silly kids' stuff when compared to this humor comic about life in college. It's sure to be a high point in your week, too.
The Seattle edition of Lit Crawl is finally here! It starts at 6 pm and continues through 8:45 (although the afterparty at Fred Wildlife Refuge will likely continue until the booze runs dry.) You can find a map and schedule here.
If you need help choosing what to do tonight, here are all eight of the itineraries we've proposed here at the Seattle Review of Books over the last week-and-a-half:
Our Publisher and Literary Journal-minded itinerary sends you from the Capitol Hill branch of the library over to the Raygun Lounge and then up to Ada's Technical Books.
A Poetry-centric itinerary finds you starting at the Sorrento, walking up to Hugo House, and then zipping over to Sole Repair.
The Readings for People Who Hate Readings trail ricochets from Capitol Cider to the Frye Art Museum and back to Capitol Cider.
The White-Dude-Free evening begins at the Frye Art Museum, continues at Sole Repair, and concludes at Fred Wildlife Refuge, which will position you perfectly for the afterparty.
The Edge-of-Your-Seat itinerary stretches from Hugo House to Fred Wildlife Refuge to the Capitol Hill branch of the library.
The Literary Fiction-Free evening begins at the Cloud Room, veers up to Ada's Technical Books, and concludes down the hill at the Pine Box.
The It's All True itinerary starts at Town Hall, heads to Office Nomads, and concludes at Elliott Bay Book Company.
The Local Favorites trail will take you from Vermillion to Still Liquor and back to Vermillion again.
But if I may be so bold as to offer you some advice: don't overthink it. You're obviously not going to see everything tonight. You're only going to see a tiny fraction of what's on offer. And that's great! What's important is that you make the most of what you do attend. Applaud your readers. Compliment them after the readings. Talk to people about what they saw. Ask someone what they're reading. Have fun. Enjoy the night.
On Thursday, October 22nd, Lit Crawl Seattle is bringing you readings from more than 65 authors at 20 different venues. The full schedule of events is a little bit daunting. How are you supposed to choose three readings out of this embarassment of riches? Let the Seattle Review of Books help! Here's our final suggested itinerary:
Today we're focusing on some Lit Crawl events featuring excellent local writers you really ought to know by now.
1. Start your night out at Vermillion Art Gallery & Bar, where local chapbook publisher Shotgun Wedding hosts a reading from Stephen Danos, Sarah Gallien, Graham Isaac, and Anca Szilagyi, who is one of our favorite up-and-coming authors.
2 The Mineral School hosts an event at Still Liquor featuring Stephanie Kuehnert, Susan Meyers, and Kirsten Lunstrum. This one also features Jane Wong, who is a local poet that everyone is falling in love with. Wong's got a collection coming out early next year, and you'll want to see her before then so you can say you saw her way back when.
3. Back to Vermillion for the last reading of the night featuring the very funny John Osebold, the very intelligent John Olson, and the very intense Ellie Belew. Also reading tonight is Stacey Levine, who I think is maybe the best short story writer in Seattle, and a wonderful reader of her own work. If you've lived in Seattle for more than six months, you've probably seen Levine read. If you haven't, you need to fix that immediately. She's indescribably good, a rock star reader unlike any other.
Over 14,000 people recently took a Seattle Public Library survey about a "branding initiative" that would change the face of the library and cost well over a million dollars, according to SPL Communications Director Andra Addison. Advised by heavy-hitter Hornall Anderson, City Librarian Marcellus Turner is spearheading a campaign to rename the library and replace its familiar logo, all in an effort to more clearly project the image described in this "brand statement":
"The Library provides access to knowledge, experiences and learning for all. We preserve and create opportunities for the people of Seattle who make it such a dynamic and desirable place to live. When we're empowered as individuals, we become stronger together."
The survey asked if this verbiage would help move the library forward. A response to a public records request reveals that half of those who answered said no it would not. Asked if changing the name from the Seattle Public Library to Seattle Public Libraries would help move the library forward, 70% said no.
Over 5,000 survey respondents wrote personal comments about the library rebrand, the majority very critical:
Of course some survey takers liked the proposed rebranding, but less than 1% wrote comments in support of it. The overwhelming majority opposed it; they rejected the "branding initiative."
Even though there were hundreds of survey respondents who said they love the Seattle Public Library, what they'd heard about the branding initiative spurred some to take a tough stance on their future relationship with it:
In addition to the survey input, other public records reveal that Turner and SPL Director of Marketing Stephen Halsey received over 400 emails expressing astonishment, shock, regret, anger, and sadness over what many called a waste of time and money. All were library cardholders, but some were also large contributors, and some are on the Library and the Library Foundation boards of trustees as well. An email written by Ina Tateuchi, one of the libraries largest lifetime contributors and SPL Foundation Board member, says:
"…If the Foundation has this much money extra it could be better spent otherwise donors will think their money is not needed. How many librarians could you hire with this amount for 1 or 2 years? How many computers could you purchase? How many after school programs could you fund? Perhaps salary cuts for major executives should be considered for this kind of funding? The library is a PUBLIC institution, not a private company with overpaid top executives."
Gary Kunis, The Seattle Public Library's largest single benefactor, and former Cisco Vice President and Chief Science Officer, who oversaw many corporate branding campaigns, said in an email to Turner:
"…rule number one of branding is to not rely on consultants for anything. Branding, logos, mission statements, etc. must come from the passions of the people working within the organization…. People that I know with only a passing interest in the Library have reacted in a very negative and cynical way to the proposed changes…."
Dan Dixon, one of the five members of the SPL Board of Trustees, said in an email to fellow trustees and Turner, "…I believe that the initial public response has reminded this Trustee of my primary fiduciary duty: to defend and extend our Library by asking harder questions in a more timely manner. I regret that I didn't do a better job in this area."
In an email to SPL Director of Marketing Stephen Halsey, a librarian at a South Seattle library branch raised two important questions about the survey: "Will there be a non-online version of the survey? …Is it going to be available in other languages?"
…there was no printed version of the survey. And it was published in English only. Is this any way for a 21st century library in Seattle to show their regards for diversity and inclusion of all our Seattle communities?
SPL has acknowledged that Halsey didn't reply to the librarian. In fact, there was no printed version of the survey. And it was published in English only. Is this any way for a 21st century library in Seattle to show their regards for diversity and inclusion of all our Seattle communities?
The SPL Board of Trustees discussed the branding initiative for an hour and a half at a hastily scheduled special meeting on Saturday, October 10, which I attended. Board President Theresa Fujiwara said, "Being President of the Board has been kind of painful the last couple of weeks. This has been a difficult journey." She appeared not to have made up her mind, but later she seemed to agree with Dixon's assessment of the situation.
Trustee Marie McCaffrey said, "I'm having a really hard time with it. I'm just so conflicted…." But she went on to say that she's leaning towards Dixon's point of view as well.
Turner told the trustees he'd hoped for more responses to the survey, implying that that might have made a difference in the overwhelmingly negative response to the proposed rebranding. Speaking at length about SPL's accomplishments under his leadership, Turner also took the opportunity to try to protect Hornall Anderson from the branding fallout: "We shouldn't ruin the reputation of Hornall Anderson," he said.
He concluded by saying, "Your choice is to approve the whole branding, approve none of it, or you can approve certain components of it. You have to make a decision. You're scheduled to vote on it on October 28." What he didn't say is that the rebranding research has already cost the Seattle Public Library Foundation $365,000 in donor money that will be down the drain if the rebranding isn't implemented. He also didn't mention that Halsey has projected that the cost of implementing the changes will be over $700,000.
The SPL Board, as Turner suggested, can choose to ignore the survey results and flood of negative emails and vote to implement the rebrand at their next meeting, but at least two of the five seem strongly inclined not to do that. Two seem torn, but leaning toward nixing the rebrand. And the fifth board member, Tre' Maxie, was not present at the meeting to give his opinion.
Dixon said, "I think we unknowingly picked a fight that we don't need to have…I don't want to duke it out with the public…. We work for the people. The people don't work for us. And I think the people have spoken."
"None of this is a reflection on you or on your team," he said to Halsey. "We're just addressing the matter as it is. And now we need to reformat, reform, using the things we've gathered…. We may not do this as a traditional branding campaign."
So, while the Board tiptoed around the City Librarian's and the Director of Marketing's accountability for their use of SPL donors' money, those of us who love SPL and don't want to see it go down the rebranding road don't have to be so circumspect. If you want to voice your opinions to Library administrators and the SPL Board of Trustees, the last opportunity will be just before the vote on Wednesday, October 28, 5:00 p.m., on the 4th floor of the Central Library. You can also email them at email@example.com, or send a letter to the board: 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.
Our October Bookstore of the Month is a special one, because it’s a bookstore that will only exist in the world for one day. The Short Run Comix & Arts Festival will take place this year on October 31st at Fisher Pavilion in the Seattle Center, and for that one day, it will be the largest bookseller of independent literature, zines, and comics in the Seattle area. Every week this month, we’ll highlight a different Short Run exhibitor, to give you a better idea of the scope and breadth of the festival.
Years ago, the co-founders of art collective Fictilis, Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau, were working in their Pioneer Square art gallery when organizers for Short Run stopped by to ask if they could hang some posters for this new comics and zine fest they were promoting. Furstnau says Fictilis took up the banner immediately. “I had organized a DIY craft fair in Ypsilanti, Michigan called the Shadow Art Fair,” Furstnau says, “so I had a soft place in my heart for these types of things, especially when they’re community-focused, when it’s not just about people coming and making money.”
Fictilis has supported Short Run ever since. Furstnau has sold copies of his book How It Hurts at past shows, and the collective has shown work including Collections, a collection of collections, and Cat Faces, which is more or less what it sounds like.
Though Fictilis has closed their Seattle gallery and moved to Oakland, they’re coming back to town for this year’s Short Run for an interactive project called the Short Run Census Bureau. Though the particulars of the project are shrouded in mystery, Furstnau offers up a little bit of a hint: he says that the Census is “partly a sort of solution to a practical problem at these types of events.”
He wants to resolve the social awkwardness of a show, to help break the ice and remove the expectation of financial transactions between Short Run attendees and exhibitors. Furstnau says they’d like “ to give people something to make it easy to interact that hopefully isn’t too intrusive for the vendors and will encourage them to talk more about people’s work.” He wanted to help create “a noncommercial exchange” that would help keep the conversation about art, though he suspects that by opening up conversations exhibitors might likely sell more pieces. “Hopefully, we can get some useful data out of it, too,” Furstnau says, though he confirms that “our priority is the experience, and the sort of artfulness of it, not really the usefulness.”
Furstnau’s advice for first-time Short Run attendees follows along those lines: “I guess I would say talk to people. Even if there’s no obvious connection, once you get talking one will come up and I think it’s those connections that can turn out to be really valuable.” The commerce part of the show is important, he admits, but he argues that community is what makes events like Short Run so important.
Every October 20th a coalition of partners like the New York Times, the National Writing Project, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Teaching Channel come together to encourage writing. They want you to hashtag: #WhyIWrite.
I even did one of my own:
#WhyIWrite Because figuring out how I feel about something requires five or so years and 80,000 or so words.— Martin McClellan (@hellbox) October 20, 2015
The whole thing was inspired by Orwell’s famous essay, whose title inspired the hashtag. Here’s part of how he put it, and below him, some of today’s writers from today’s hashtag:
What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
Because stories help us save ourselves. #WhyIWrite— Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle) October 20, 2015
I don't know #WhyIWrite, but it's probably got something to do with the wardrobe.— Elise Blackwell (@EliseBlackwell) October 20, 2015
Because the dreams seep out of my ears otherwise. #WhyIWrite— Cat Rambo (@Catrambo) October 20, 2015
I tried drowning everyone to fix things, but it didn't work. So now I use words. It doesn't work either but it's less deathy. #WhyIWrite— God (@TheGoodGodAbove) October 20, 2015
On Thursday, October 22nd, Lit Crawl Seattle is bringing you readings from more than 65 authors at 20 different venues. The full schedule of events is a little bit daunting. How are you supposed to choose three readings out of this embarassment of riches? Let the Seattle Review of Books help! Here's our seventh suggested itinerary:
All of the readings on this itinerary feature true, honest-to-God, not-made-up stories.
1. At Town Hall to start out the night, memoirists Sarah Hepola (Blackout) and Melissa Febos (Whip Smart) will read from their stories of sobriety and recovery.
2. Office Nomads hosts the perennial Lit Crawl favorite event: Wage Slaves: Tales from the Grind. Local spoken word poet Daemond Arrindell, memoirist Nicole Hardy, and essayist Corina Zappia will talk about their experiences working in offices. To whet your appetite, Zappia wrote an excellent piece for The Awl about working in Amazon's dog-friendly offices.
3. Okay, this last event is kind of a cheat. It's a reading from two Tin House authors at Elliott Bay. One of them is a novelist: Sara Jaffe reads from her debut novel Dryland. But Sonya Lea also reads from her memoir Wondering Who You Are, which is raw and true enough to more than make up for the single piece of fiction that snuck through onto our itinerary.
This is welcome news: "New York Review Books is pleased to announce New York Review Comics, a new series of books at the union of art and literature." They're going to present work that has never been translated into English, as well as revivals of work by cartoonists Mark Beyer and Glen Baxter. Always good to see literary comics get some love; Fantagraphics can't do all this work by themselves.
Shin Yu Pai is one of the smartest, most intellectually curious poets in the region. Her projects are always ambitious, and they string together multiple perspectives and interests — history, media, art, site-specificity — to create something new. So the news that she’s been named the Redmond Poet Laureate is especially exciting. Pai’s poetry has incorporated family history and photography and even botany to tell a new kind of story through poetry; she’s exactly the kind of poet you want to represent a city, because she is capable of thinking about all the different levels of what it means to be a city.
Congratulations on the title! Did the city approach you with the offer to be poet laureate? Did they share their reasoning for why they selected you?
The city has an open application process and I was strongly encouraged to apply by a few of the staff. I went through a panel interview and also met with the mayor in the later stages. My sense is that Redmond is very ethnically diverse, a large immigrant population, and they wanted perhaps a Laureate that could reflect a different part of its community. Past Laureates were all Caucasian. I've also had experience doing a lot of collaborative work and community engagement, as well as writing commissioned work for museums — i.e. occasional poems that were event and site specific. It may be too that I am a little bit of an unusual profile for a poet in that I am engaged in visual and public work — that is, I bring different strategies.
We’ve seen an abundance of poets laureate and similar positions created lately—we have a new Civic Poet position in Seattle, for example. What do you think your new designation means, to you and to Redmond? Why is it important to have poets laureate?
For me, the designation is an opportunity to think about a different kind of collaboration. Historically, I have worked with individual artists or groups of artists. The role as Poet Laureate represents an opportunity to collaborate with an entire community and city to bring an element of civic engagement into my work — a way to infuse poetry with a social practice element while increasing the visibility and awareness of poetry within a place. Laureates have the ability to embody, represent, and amplify underrepresented perspectives within a community — raising civic discourse through the object of a poem can be an effective tool in creating distance and different entry points into issues that can bring a new perspective or insight through creative and associative thinking.
The City of Redmond has had three previous Laureates and this program reflects a level of the city's ongoing commitment to the arts.
What do you plan on doing with the role?
I plan on co-creating and developing some programs with the public library in time for National Poetry Month in April — poetry tot time and curated exhibitions — and have some other ideas in mind. I want to treat it as an artist-in-residency and make new work through collaborations with some of the tech resources on the East side, like Digipen. Create projects that could incorporate text projection on buildings, or in the night sky. I plan on writing a poem for Redmond Lights through crowdsourcing ideas from the community based on their favorite holiday and winter films. I will also compose some texts for a temporary installation on the Redmond Connector trails. I'd like to find some way to do something with poetry and 3-D printing but that idea is still incubating. I also hear there's an orchard at the Farrel-McWhirter Farm that could lend itself to some possible installation work.
You recently grew a poem in Piper's Orchard in Carkeek Park as part of a site-specific installation called HEIRLOOM. How do you feel about that project, now that we're moving into the fall?
I miss being in the orchard every week, interacting with the trees and that project. All but a few of the apples were gone by mid-September — there was a massive wind and rainstorm that took out many of the apples in late August. I did not get to see the ripened tattooed fruit — though several photographers that I worked with were able to capture various stages. HEIRLOOM taught me about adaptation and change, giving up control of one's work to external elements. There may be future opportunities to revisit that work or to do new installations in Piper's and I want to think more about how I might do it differently based on things that I learned this season. I'm working on a book version of the project as a small run limited edition handmade book.
What are you working on next, after HEIRLOOM? Do you feel any pressure to do something even bigger and more ambitious every time you complete one project and begin another?
Some of the Redmond work will take priority. I do feel a self-imposed pressure to reinvent and innovate continually and to also pursue what's meaningful. The HEIRLOOM project took a long time and iterations to come into being — over a year — which is a very different way of working for me. I think some of that process has affected how I want to think about the kinds of work that I pursue in the future. I'm interested in continuing to bring together my different artmaking practices and interests and would love, for instance, to explore making more sound-based or vocal work. I'd also like to get back to writing personal essays about my family and history.
As we have noted repeatedly, this Thursday is Lit Crawl Seattle. But it's also important to note that Alison Bechdel will be reading at Town Hall in a sold-out edition of the 2015-2016 Seattle Arts and Lectures reading series. If you haven't yet read Bechdel's Fun Home or Dykes to Watch Out For, this excellent essay by Seattle writer Corinne Manning at Literary Hub explains her particular genius.
I’ve worn them once
my wedding shoes
dyed red, more and yes red
the way a strike against
the tip of a match ignites
and pomegranate rubies
stain a thousand secrets worth
Adam did not fall for jewels
but for the juice of a fruit
like the crimson Fujis I harvest
each fall from my backyard tree
when rusty leaves layer the ground
On Thursday, October 22nd, Lit Crawl Seattle is bringing you readings from more than 65 authors at 20 different venues. The full schedule of events is a little bit daunting. How are you supposed to choose three readings out of this embarassment of riches? Let the Seattle Review of Books help! Here's our sixth suggested itinerary:
Sometimes you're not in the mood for another short story about a man and a woman hurtling toward a divorce. Short, spare sentences about alcoholics won't do it for you. Here's the perfect itinerary for those of you who are burned out on Raymond Carver wannabes:
1. Your night starts out at The Cloud Room with a reading titled "Consider the Oyster: A Puget Sound Love Story."Food writers Langdon Cook and Sara Dickerman will read non-fiction about oysters, which press materials erroneously refer to as Seattle's "favorite bivalve" (uh, geoduck, anyone?) and Walrus & the Carpenter owner Renee Erickson will take audience questions.
2. Ada’s Technical Books hosts an indie comics reading/presentation with local cartoonists Natalie Dupille, Eroyn Franklin, Mita Mahato, and Gina Siciliano. This is a good warmup for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, which happens on Halloween at Seattle Center.
3. At the Pine Box, Darren Davis, Rachel Springer, James Gapinski, and Frances Dinger will read non-fiction, poetry, and fiction centering around video games.
We love titles that tell you what you're in for (look at ours!). This week's sponsor G.G. Silverman hit the nail on the head with her book Vegan Teenage Zombie Huntress. The first two chapters , which we published on our sponsorships page, left us wanting more — and we think you'll love them too. Give it a read.
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