LANGUAGE ARTS

Rick Bartow’s spirit inhabits play premiering in Newport

A Portland writer imagines an encounter between the world-renowned artist and three famous poets from whom he drew inspiration

Fourteen years ago, I was reporting a news story when I encountered a man weed-whacking. His back was turned and he wore a headset meant to protect his hearing. Few things are more awkward — and possibly risky — than approaching a stranger who can’t hear you, can’t see you, and has no idea you are there. I managed to get his attention. He greeted me with a smile and, reaching for my hand, introduced himself: Rick Bartow. He invited me inside the family home, offered me a glass of something cold, and introduced me to his wife and child.

Rick Bartow was photographed in 2015, the year before he died, by K.B. Dixon. From Dixon’s book, “Face to Face: 32 Oregon Artists.”

That’s how I met Bartow, an everyday guy who just happened to be a world-renowned artist. In Newport, it seems everyone has a story about Bartow, who died in 2016 at age 69. He was the guy you saw in the gym, jamming at the local café, perusing the library shelves. He was a member of the Northern California Wiyot Tribe, with close ties to the Siletz tribes of the Oregon Coast. He was kind, generous, straightforward, multi-talented, and possessed a certain instinctive wisdom, both enviable and humbling.

Portland writer Merridawn Duckler says her play, “Rick Bartow: In Spirit,” includes projections, songs, and a little bit of dancing.

That’s the man Portland writer Merridawn Duckler set out to portray in her new play Rick Bartow: In Spirit, which concerns an imaginary encounter between Bartow and three writers who inspired him. The play, directed by Marc Maislen, premieres at the Newport Performing Arts Center Dec. 14-16. Tickets are $20 and $25.

Duckler never met Bartow, but describes herself as a “huge fan always.” The path to writing a play based on Bartow’s art is a one-thing-leads-to-another tale, beginning with her work years ago as a writer for Tom Webb at a Portland arts magazine. Duckler went on to write an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Informer; Webb moved to the coast to manage the Newport Visual Arts Center. Bartow had donated a collection of 17 portraits of acclaimed writers to the Newport Public Library, the drawings were subsequently displayed at the Visual Arts Center, where Duckler’s adaption was performed. The conversation — plays, portraits, artists, shows — began and In Spirit was born.

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The strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of

Linfield professor Sonia Ticas is part of the team translating a 456-page work by Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio for Portland’s Tavern Books

Nothing was foreseen.
All was imminent.

— “The Fire’s Journey, Part I: The Integration of the Parents”

With offices tucked away in Union Station, Portland-based Tavern Books is in the home stretch of an ambitious project that began more than five years ago: the translation and publication of more than 400 pages of the strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of. Written in the mid-20th century by Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio (a poet you’ve also probably never heard of), it’s called The Fire’s Journey. Tavern Books claims that it is the first book-length translation into English of the work of any Costa Rican woman poet.

Eunice Odio (1919-1974) is considered the leading Costa Rican poet of the 20th-century, according to Tavern Books, which is publishing “The Fire’s Journey” in four volumes.

The idea to bring this mysterious and complex work to English-speaking readers was the brainchild of Keith Ekiss. A Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford (where he still lectures) from 2005-07, Ekiss is the author of Pima Road Notebook, a poetry collection published in 2010 by New Issues Poetry & Prose.

Ekiss had help on this epic literary excavation, and as Tavern was preparing to release the third of what ultimately will be four volumes, I sat down with one of his collaborators, Yamhill County resident Sonia Ticas.

Since 2001, Ticas has taught Spanish at Linfield College in McMinnville, along with classes in Latin American literature and culture, women writers, and history. Before we dive into my conversation with her, an introduction to Odio is in order, because she’s an obscure figure who has only in the past couple of decades started getting attention in the poetry world. Let’s start with an excerpt from the introduction Ekiss wrote for Vol. 1: Integration of the Parents, which Tavern published in 2013. After noting that Costa Rica is largely viewed as the “Switzerland of Central America,” with a prosperous democracy, high literacy, and national health care, Ekiss continues:

But when it comes to the arts, and poetry in particular, English-speaking readers and literary translators have mostly turned their attention elsewhere in Central America, gravitating to the more politically-charged writers of war-torn Nicaragua and El Salvador, to the poetry of Rubén Dario, Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel Alegría and Roque Dalton. Eunice Odio’s poetry has thus remained almost wholly unknown to readers outside Latin America, obscured on the margins of the region’s avant-garde and proletarian-poet traditions.

Odio was born in 1919 in San Jose, Costa Rica. According to Spanish American Women Writers, she learned to read when she was very young and gravitated to science-fiction writers such as Jules Verne and Emilio Salgari, preferring getting lost in a book to paying attention to her classroom teacher. She wasn’t much for hobnobbing with the region’s literary and publishing world, and while she associated with the political left early in her life, Odio eventually fell out with them. She was clearly a fiercely independent woman, and what little I read about her made me want to know more. Her letters must be fascinating.

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Demanding to be seen in a faceless bureaucracy

Mohamed Asem's memoir "Stranger in the Pen" reflects on identity and belonging

Mohamed Asem is a man between countries and cultures, which puts him squarely at odds with bureaucratic systems that crave neat little scribbled-in circles. When everything is carefully defined, there are fewer choices. No gray area. Nothing to consider or worry about. So what happens when it isn’t?

Asem is a man of independent means with no permanent ties, free to explore the world when and how he chooses. Yet he learns abruptly, rudely, and quite painfully that “where” is not always a possibility. Not all doors are open to him. In his short memoir (131 pages), Stranger in the Pen, newly published by Portland’s Perfect Day Publishing, Asem recounts in his understated prose how he’s detained overnight at Gatwick Airport in London in July 2016, a few days after the Bastille Day terrorist attack, in which a semi-truck drove through crowds in Nice, France, killing 86 people.

Mohamed Asem for Perfect Day Publishing, June 2018. Photo by Jason Quigley.

Like a film lens moving in and out of a close-up, throughout the airport story Asem deftly weaves in memories and details about the rest of his life, one that defies categories and easy identification so that it stymies Border Control agents. Born in California and raised in Paris and Kuwait, he’s not truly at home anywhere.

His accent doesn’t fit no matter what language he speaks. He’s comfortable with family and friends in Kuwait, but his introverted ways (so “Western”) make him a tough fit in a culture that is so social, and his perpetual single status inhibits his ability to buy property so he can have privacy and write. On top of that, he’s light-skinned because his ancestors moved to Kuwait from other countries, so even in a Kuwaiti airport he’s often asked to get in a line for non-citizens. Where does the meta stop?

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The ultimate gift for your family

Upcoming Coast events include a workshop on writing your own obituary, as well as "It’s a Wonderful Life," Irish fiddler Kevin Carr, and the Gearhart Art Walk

Aging and dying may not usually be considered art, but you could argue that aging well – and perhaps dying, too — calls for a creative touch. And there’s no doubt that writing an obituary — at least an engaging, memorable obituary — is clearly an art. That’s the topic Wednesday afternoon at Manzanita’s Hoffman Center for the Arts in the ongoing The Art of Aging & Dying series.

Writer Kathie Hightower will lead the two-hour workshop beginning at 3 p.m. Nov. 14. Like many of us, Hightower likes to read obits.

Writer Kathie Hightower will teach a workshop on obit writing in Manzanita.

“No, not to be morbid, but as an honoring and out of curiosity,” Hightower said in a press release, which continues: “You know there is a wide variety. Many are pretty darn boring, just the facts in response to the template most funeral parlors ask you to fill in. Others capture the life and spirit of the individual, the true person who lived between the lines of roles like career, parenting, volunteer work. Which would you rather have represent you when you are gone? Boring or spirited?”

Hightower will share advice from professional obituary writers, as well as examples to inspire your own obit, and get you started writing it. It can be your gift to those who will write your obit when it’s time. (Or your way of ensuring it’s already done to your liking.)

“This exercise can be a true celebration of your life,” Hightower’s release adds. Participants should bring pen and paper or a laptop. They’ll leave with a start and questions to fill in additional details after the session, Hightower notes, as well as an assignment of choosing a favorite photo they’d want attached to their obit.

The Art of Aging & Dying series is held the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, alternating topics on aging and dying. The Nov. 28 program features a conversation on the humor and wisdom of spiritual teacher Ram Dass. Admission is $5. Check out future programs here.

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Having it all: Seven days of art in six Wine Country cities

The week's offerings include lesbians eating quiche, plants eating people, safari-animal art, High Fiber quilts, Russian art song, and "The Barber of Seville"

I’ve looked at the calendar, done the math, calculated driving distances, and something hit me: Over the next week in six cities sprawled across three counties in Oregon wine country, there’s enough going on in the arts scene — live theater, exhibitions, artist receptions, and music — to keep you busy every day. If you do it right, you can hit every single one. There’s some overlap, but we’ll take ‘em in chronological order. Try to keep up.

Andi Moring (from left), Mindy Mawhirter, and Phoebe Medler are three of the “5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” in Western Oregon University’s fall play, which opens Thursday at the Rice Auditorium in Monmouth for a two-weekend run.

WESTERN OREGON UNIVERSITY OPENS THE FALL THEATER SEASON Thursday with a serving of double entendres and quiche in the comedy 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood and directed by the university’s Kent Neely. The show follows five women in the midst of Cold War 1956 to the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein Annual Quiche Breakfast, only to discover that they are not widows — they’re lesbians! The show runs two weekends through Nov. 17 and includes matinees and two performances interpreted in American Sign Language. General admission is $14. For more info, click here.

Lorrie Quimby’s paintings and sculptures in the Seufert Winery Tasting Room focus on safari wildlife.

IN DAYTON ON FRIDAY, Seufert Winery Tasting Room is showing off a new art exhibit of painting and sculpture by Lorrie Quimby. Her acrylics and bronze statues feature safari wildlife. Best of all, she’ll be there herself from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. If you need directions, check this out.

PENTACLE THEATRE IN SALEM on Friday night opens Little Shop of Horrors, by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and based on the Roger Corman film. Directed by Robert Salberg, the show runs through Dec. 1. You can buy tickets here. Be careful making that left turn off Oregon 22 if you’re coming from the west.

MISSED THE YAMHILL COUNTY Art Harvest Studio Tour? Or, do you miss the Yamhill County Art Harvest Studio Tour? No worries. Willamina has you covered Friday and Saturday with the 27th annual Willamina Coastal Hills Art Tour. Artists featured from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the downtown walking tour include Rosemary Heuser, Lorri Maynard, the Grand Ronde Art Guild, Coastal Hills Quilters, William Lindberg, Reflections Photography, and many more.

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An Introvert’s Guide to Portland Book Festival 2018

Advance preparations for the Portland Book Festival are advised.

By KATIE TAYLOR

As a typical book-loving wallflower, I find festivals overstimulating and at times overwhelming, but when it comes to books, they’re important. In America, things loved by quiet people have a way of being ignored, shouted over, trampled on and phased out. Events like Literary Arts’ Portland Book Festival (formerly Wordstock) make a dazzling public smile their umbrella over a very private love, and by doing that, help keep that love safe, strong and thriving.

The Portland Book Festival can start to close in on the bookish introvert. But you can beat this! Preparation is the key./Photo courtesy Portland Book Festival

With some 62 book-related events loaded into a single 10-hour day, Portland Book Festival is an unparalleled opportunity, even for those of us who don’t like to leave our couches, teapots and teetering stacks of books. So gird your loins and screw your courage to the sticking place, my friends—you still have a few days to prepare. And prepare you must!

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Have an old-fashioned Dia de Muertos — with Aztec dancing

In Newberg, the Mexican holiday is greeted with dance and a memorial offering. Meanwhile, Linfield College welcomes two authors and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

When Jose Carlos came to Oregon in the mid-1990s, he didn’t see much of his own Mexican culture in the community. Other Latinos attended his Woodburn high school, but public displays of culture from south of the border? No. “I didn’t see those things here,” Carlos told me recently. “I didn’t see celebrations of Day of the Dead, I didn’t see marches or Mexican celebrations, and now I see a lot. A lot of people are learning, sharing, teaching, and doing.”

Carlos and his wife, Kelly, are doing all four of those things with their Woodburn-based Aztec dance group, which increasingly finds itself in demand around Mexican holidays, particularly the annual Day of the Dead celebration. They’ve been regulars for the Chehalem Cultural Center’s Dia de Muertos celebration in Newberg the past few years, although they missed 2017 because they were in The Dalles with their company of more than a dozen dancers, helping with that community’s first public celebration.

Jose and Kelly Carlos of Woodburn will bring Aztec dancing to the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg for a free performance at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.

They return Friday, Nov. 2, for a 5:30 p.m. performance that’s free and open to the public.

Jose started the group and is lead dance captain, while Kelly is executive director for Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli (pronounced wee-chee-zo-polsh-tlee), which does educational outreach and performances around the Willamette Valley and Southwest Washington. Jose credits Rigoberto Hernandez, a Chemeketa Community College teacher whom he met when Jose was a Woodburn High School junior yearning both for his own culture and fellowship. He and Hernandez started doing Chicano theater and Aztec dancing.

“In the beginning, I was shy,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to wear those kinds of clothes, I don’t want people to see my stomach.’” Today, Jose is the teacher. While you probably wouldn’t have found Aztec dancing in Oregon when he started learning it in the 1990s, now, at pow-wows, he’s accustomed to seeing nearly a hundred participants, including his group of about 17.

“Every dance we do has a meaning for the time,” he said. “We have dances that are only for the Day of the Dead, and we have dances for other holidays. These dances have been passed on to us from teachers who learned from their families.” Who, he added, have been passing dances and other traditions down through hundreds of years.

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