LANGUAGE ARTS

Gigglefest’s mission in McMinnville: Make ’em laugh (again)

After a warm reception last year, producers of the sketch-comedy show promise to take off the gloves this time around

The United States has a long tradition of sketch comedy, with origins in vaudeville and later popularized on radio and eventually on television shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Carol Burnett Show from the 1970s. Ty Boice and Cassandra Schwanke, formerly of Portland’s Post5 Theatre, are keeping the tradition alive in Yamhill County under the banner of Gigglefest, an occasional and limited-run comedy-sketch series that returns Thursday for an April run.

The couple’s Soul of Wit Productions launched Gigglefest last summer with four weekends crammed with more than two dozen performances, with a new “episode” each weekend. Tucked into a makeshift theater in Mac Mead Hall (a “Viking-themed” mead-and-honey-wine bar that hosts game nights and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets) on the second floor of the Union Block building in downtown McMinnville, Gigglefest sold out night after night, winning friendly reviews on Facebook.

Gigglefest 2.ohhh! director Cassandra Schwanke discusses a scene with comic Chad Sharpe before a rehearsal. Photo by: David Bates

Gigglefest 2.ohhh! director Cassandra Schwanke discusses a scene with comic Chad Sharpe before a rehearsal. Photo by: David Bates

It was a strong start, Schwanke told me, but it was also too much.

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A great beach read

Cannon Beach's Get Lit at the Beach gathers writers and readers in an intimate setting to talk about books and reading

I am lucky enough to have attended literary gatherings all over the country, leaving me with great memories of meeting writing giants face to face, hanging out over cocktails or dinner, and, of course, scoring their signatures for my collection of autographed books. More importantly, I was lucky enough to be nurtured by some fine writers.

At one of my first conferences, Sandra Scofield took me under her wing like one of her own, and nearly 30 years later, I still turn to her for advice and support. At the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, I remember rising at some ungodly hour to gather in a small classroom with the late director and screenwriter Gill Dennis to explore themes in our work. And at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, a handful of us shared the living room of our clubhouse with Richard Ford who signed his short story collection, “For Lori… with very good wishes for you, for you know.” Seriously, I never knew for sure what he thought I knew, but I always hoped he was right.

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during 2017's Get Lit at the Beach. The 8th annual festival is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during the 2017 Get Lit at the Beach gathering. The 8th annual event is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

That intimate setting I experienced is what sets Cannon Beach’s Get Lit at the Beach, A Gathering for Readers apart from other, larger events. Not a conference or a workshop, the April 5-7 event is a weekend of small gatherings designed for the purpose of talking words and stories and all that goes with them. Events range from free of charge to $95 for the whole package.

Now in its eighth year, Get Lit can claim some pretty fine bragging rights by hosting authors such as the late Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Award finalist Jess Walter, and the late, and much-loved, Brian Doyle. This year’s authors are Terry Brooks, Pierce Brown, Deb Caletti, Carol Cassella, Sophia Shalmiyev, and Leni Zumas.

The weekend starts with a reception Friday evening.

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National Poetry Month draws near, and Yamhill County is lit

April brings readings, workshops, performance, and a documentary about poetry slam to venues around the county

In his introduction to The Best American Poetry 2018, published last fall by Scribner, editor Dana Gioia took a swing at the question, “What is the state of poetry?” and concluded with a wink and eye roll that it was both awful and had never been better.

Alas, never have so few read poetry, he lamented. And yet, this happy proclamation: The audience has never been bigger, etc., until finally: “All of these contradictory statements are true, and all of them are false, depending on your point of view,” he concluded, ceding to the obvious subjectivity in play. “The state of American poetry is a tale of two cities.”

Denice Frohman

Denice Frohman performs Monday at Linfield College.

If your point of view originates from Yamhill County, there’s cause for optimism. Poetry is alive and loud here, even when it’s not National Poetry Month, as it will be in just a few days. April marks the 23rd annual celebration, which was conceived by the Academy of American Poets in 1995. I’ve mapped out the month for poetry lovers in wine country, so this is a column to bookmark.

Ongoing: The McMinnville Public Library’s annual Spring Poetry Contest is live, with a 2019 theme of “literary spring.” It’s open to adults 18 and older. Poems must be original, unpublished, and no more than a page in length; limit of two entries per person. Bring them to the information desk upstairs or email to libref@mcminnvilleoregon.gov through May 21. Entries will be judged anonymously, and winners will be the featured readers for the library’s Poetry Night on June 4.

Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown

April 1: The month begins with a tough act to follow: Activist, educator, and poet Denice Frohman will perform “Stories of Ourselves: Celebrating parts deemed unworthy” at 6 p.m. in the Ice Auditorium, which is tucked away in Linfield College’s Melrose Hall. Frohman, a former Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, has appeared on hundreds of stages in the United States and around the world, including the White House (when the occupants valued the literary arts), the Nuyorican Poets Café, and The Apollo. Frohman is a CantoMundo Fellow whose work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color, and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, and she is the organizer of #PoetsforPuertoRico. The performance is free and open to the public.

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Barbara LaMorticella: a woman of her words

From her Mime Troupe days to "Talking Earth," the Portland poet has been a potent force for writers. Now Soapstone gives her Bread & Roses.

On a recent Monday night a familiar voice returned to the airwaves of Talking Earth, KBOO community radio’s long-running interview show about poets and other writers and reading aloud. The voice was soft and conversational, confiding, helpful, gently guiding the talk into topics not usually considered on modern American radio: the structure of a poem, the ways that words and lives braid together, the themes that define a poet’s career. Five years after her last turn in the interviewing booth, Barbara LaMorticella was talking with her friend and fellow poet Judith Barrington about life and loss and language and Barrington’s newest book of poetry, Long Love.

LaMorticella, who has interviewed hundreds of writers on KBOO beginning in the 1980s, had taken a break from the studio for personal reasons. She was caring for her husband of 56 years, Robert (Roberto), who died last year, and the Talking Earth interview was something of a reemergence into public life. That fact was delivered with an exclamation point a few mornings later when I met in a Southeast Portland bakery with Ruth Gundle of Soapstone, the women’s literary organization, which has named LaMorticella the first recipient of its biannual Soapstone Bread and Roses Award. Meant to honor a woman writer who has created opportunities for other writers and helped sustain the writing culture in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, the award, which includes a $500 check, will be presented at a private luncheon on March 8, which not coincidentally is International Women’s Day. “We wanted to honor women who’d been here over the long haul, who’d been mainstays of the literary community,” Gundle said. “Barbara was the obvious choice.”

Two days after talking with Gundle I met with LaMorticella in a Northeast Portland coffee shop near her daughter’s house, and there was that voice again: warm, earnest, smart, almost always with a touch of humor near the surface. It reminded me that although we usually read poetry and therefore think of it as a literary art, it is also oral and musical, and so ideally attuned to live performance or the radio dial. “Poetry is an audible art. Or should be,” LaMorticella commented. “When I finish a poem I always read it out loud. And if it doesn’t work out loud, I change it.”

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Barbara LaMoricella, up close.

In the KBOO studio LaMorticella took the long view of a life in words, going back to Barrington’s childhood in Brighton-on-the-Sea, England, and surprising her audience with stark revelations delivered in the most congenial of tones, underlining without having to say so directly that personal history shapes a writer’s art. Barrington was born in wartime, she informed her listeners, “… into a bombing raid, and … you were born into a world which in one poem you said, ‘This is the world I came in, and I have to learn to love it.’”

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Racism through the eyes of the oppressors

Artist Anne Mavor's installation in Newport uses self-portraits and stories of her ancestors to explore identity, privilege, and white supremacy

When Portland artist Anne Mavor attended a meeting a few years ago to learn about Native Liberation, the movement to free native peoples from capitalism and colonialism, she was already thinking about collaborating with a Native American on a project. But after hearing the speaker’s thoughts, she changed her mind.

Anne Mavor’s portrait depicts the artist in her studio.

“The speaker said, ‘White people need to go and find your people, you need to discover who they are.’ As soon as she said that, I realized I was off track,” Mavor said. “I was just another white person hanging on the coattails of Native America. I asked myself, what would it look like if I claimed my white heritage?”

Her answer, I Am My White Ancestors: Claiming the Legacy of Oppression, is on exhibit through Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Mavor’s installation includes 13 life-size photographic self-portraits printed on fabric panels, each accompanied by audio and written narratives from the perspective of each character. The exhibit invites people to approach and understand racism and related oppressions from a historical and personal perspective.

Mavor, a Portland artist whose work ranges from painting to photography to book arts, hoped that in studying and portraying her ancestors, many of whom she already knew about through family genealogy research, she might learn more about herself.

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Kim Stafford: To be welcome in the house of writing

Oregon's poet laureate and "roving listener" will speak in Newport about poems and the mysteries related to writing

Poet and essayist Kim Stafford is nine months into his two-year appointment as Oregon’s poet laureate. In that time, Stafford has made appearances in big and small towns around the state, with plans to visit many more in the coming months. On Sunday, he’ll be the guest speaker at the meeting of Willamette Writers’ Coast Chapter in Newport.

Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford at Eagle Creek. Photo courtesy: Oregon Humanities

Stafford said his Feb. 17 talk is inspired by a quote from Oregon poet Gary Miranda, who said, “People who don’t read or write may be spared the inconvenience of thought.”

Stafford plans to dive into that inconvenience by sharing poems, questions, stories, and mysteries related to the practice of writing. We asked him to talk about his experience as poet laureate so far.

What have you learned in your first few months as Poet Laureate?

Kim Stafford: I cherish my conversations with writers, teachers, readers, parents, veterans, inmates, people in the halls of power, and people on the street. In these conversations, I’ve learned that clear, evocative, inspiring language is treasured by people in all walks of life. This may be poetry on a page, a story someone tells, a letter someone has kept, or some other form of language doing all the work it can to connect one person to another, one generation to another. As I’ve said in many places:

Poetry is our native language. Everyone is welcome in the house of writing, and festive explorations on the page make communities more democratically inclusive, emotionally informed, and ready to face the challenges of these mysterious times.

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McMinnville’s gallery scene primed to expand

An old house gets new life as a destination for arts immersion; plus, on the arts calendar: gallery shows, arts walk, a film festival, and poetry on the radio

There’s a buzz in McMinnville concerning an 84-year-old house on the corner of Baker and Northeast Seventh Streets, which marks almost the exact center of town. In the last decade or so, it’s functioned as a florist, a salon and a home-goods store. Now, there’s great news for art fans. Come spring, it will reopen as the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts.

Holli and Mick Wagner will open the McMinnville Event Center for the Arts at 636 N.E. Baker St. in March. Photo by: David Bates

MECA is owned by Holli and Mick Wagner, who also run nearby vacation rentals. They will open the gallery at 636 N.E. Baker St., a few blocks north of the city’s downtown district, as a home for visual art, as well as readings, live music, and classes. I got a sneak peek behind the papered-over windows last week as they prepare 2,500 square feet of space for a stage and works from more than two dozen artists.

“The mission here is really to create a destination space for people to come and immerse themselves in the arts,” Holli Wagner told me. In recent years, Yamhill County’s wine industry has exploded, with one result being a downtown district that is thick with restaurants and tasting rooms. Wagner sees a future with an equally active gallery scene. Already, more than a dozen can be found just in McMinnville.

“Not only are we a destination for agriculture and wine,” she said, “but now we have an opportunity to set ourselves another goal and become a destination for art.”

They’ve set a March 9 opening date, and they’re dishing out teasers on the usual social media. Check them out here.

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