$1.1 million for poets laureate

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Laureate Anis Mojgani has projects for the money. Plus: Classical gets up close, theater busts out all over, Mosaic, egg art, more.

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY THAT ARTSWATCH GETS TO ANNOUNCE MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS GOING TO THE POETS OF AMERICA. Today is one of those days. On Thursday morning the Academy of American Poets announced awards of $1.1 million for the 2021 Poet Laureate Fellowships, “given to honor poets of literary merit appointed to serve in civic positions and to enable them to undertake meaningful, impactful, and innovative projects that engage their fellow residents, including youth, with poetry, helping to address issues important to their communities.” Funding comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That breaks down to $50,000 each for 23 state or city poets laureate in the United States ($25,000 each for the two poets who share Montana’s laureate position). And Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate, is among the award winners.

Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani: $50,000 for projects around the state. Photo: Tristan Paiige

If large sums of money and the quiet pursuit of poetry seem somehow incompatible, consider the words of Dolly Levi, as she famously declares in Hello, Dolly!, the Broadway-musical adaptatation of Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker: “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

That’s precisely what the award will help Mojgani do. The awards announcement spells out his plans: “Working in collaboration with Oregon Humanities, Mojgani will create a printed quarterly newspaper that features poetry and art and distribute it across the state. Mojgani will also establish a poetry telephone line which will allow the public to call and hear a weekly recorded poem, and have the option to record a poem of their own and/or their impression of the poem. Lastly, Mojgani will launch a poetry prompt postcard campaign, creating poetry writing opportunities and correspondence between communities across the state, seeking to give specific attention to youth and historically marginalized communities.”How does Mojgani, a two-time National Poetry Slam individual champ and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam, feel about it? “Just really excited,” he said on Thursday in an email exhange, “for how it can hopefully allow me to feel a bit freer in both the imaginings of what is possible of connecting folks to poetry and making those ideas tangible, especially with moving into this new phase of the pandemic with vaccinations and warm weather.” 

Being Oregon’s poet laureate in a time of quarantine has been on Mojgani’s mind since he began his two-year appointment. TJ Acena talked with him in April 2020 for Acena’s ArtsWatch story A poet laureate for new times, just after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had appointed Mojgani to succeed Kim Stafford as the state’s poet laureate, and at a time when coronavirus shutdowns were putting most everyone in isolation, “(T)hat’s a very human thing, to be both alone and to be with each other,” the new laureate told Acena at the time. “We are alone but we know we’re not the only person who is alone right now. Everyone right now around me is being alone. And to me that’s the most human thing you can be. For me that’s what poetry does; it gives space to what it means to be a human. To pinpoint it so we can recognize it in others and ourselves. In times like this poems are a way to make us feel concrete. More understood. More known.”



THEATER: HENRY x 3, DROMIO OF HARLEM, “HIGH DIVE” & MORE


Ensemble scene in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s snappy 2014 production of “The Comedy of Errors,” streaming from the festival through June 26. Photo: Jenny Graham 

REGARDING HENRYS. If it’s summer, this must be Shakespeare. And if it’s Shakespeare, can the period antics of the troupe Original Practice Shakespeare be far behind? Valarie Smith talks with Jennifer Lanier, the Portland company’s co-artistic director, and discovers that, yes indeed, OPS has a trio of Henrys coming up this weekend: consecutive-night performances of Henry IV Part 1Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V, streaming live Friday through Sunday. That’s a lot of Henrys to bite off in a 72-hour period – and as a bonus, a lot of Falstaff, to boot. The company will return to its traditional live-in-the-parks summer season, complete with rowdy audience interaction, for 29 performances encompassing 23 plays June 21-Aug. 29. Virtual or live, Lanier tells Smith, OPS is banking on spontaneity: “That’s what keeps people coming back. They don’t know how that story’s going to get told on this night, and so it’s kind of like, ‘Who knows what those crazy people are going to do? What are they going to show me tonight?’”

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS AT OSF. Meanwhile, as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival waits to get back to live performance (it’ll start with Cheryl L. West’s Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, beginning July 1) it’s been streaming taped versions of past hits. New to the lineup is the company’s witty, fast-paced, Harlem-set version of The Comedy of Errors, which Marty Hughley praised highly in his ArtsWatch wrap on the festival’s 2014 early-season shows.

PORTLAND PLAYHOUSE PICKS THE PLAYS. One sign of  increasing optimism in what may or may not be the latter days of the Covid-19 pandemic is the announcements by performance companies of new, live-show seasons. Portland Playhouse has just joined the crowd with a five-show season beginning in October: Robert O’Hara’s Barbecue, Oct. 20-Nov. 19; a musical version of A Christmas Carol, starring Cycerli Ash as Scrooge (a non-subscription show), Nov. 28-Dec. 31; George Stephens Jr.’s Thurgood, about the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, starring Lester Purry and directed by Lou Bellamy (both back after their 2018 Playhouse collaboration on August Wilson’s Fences), in a co-production with Penumbra Theatre Company, Jan. 26-Feb. 27, 2022; a new production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus starring Nigel Gore and directed by Tina Packer (who starred at the Playhouse with Gore a couple of years ago in Women of Will, her fascinating exploration of the women in Shakespeare’s plays) and Brian Weaver, March 16-April 10, 2022; and Bella: An American Tall Tale, with book, music, and lyrics by Kirsten Childs, May 4-June 5, 2022.

‘HIGH DIVE.’ “I turn fifty in three weeks. And, I am here, clutching the hot railings on a hot platform twelve feet above the water in a pool at a hotel in a little village in Greece.” Lisamarie Harrison stars in Triangle Productions’ live, in-the-theater production of Leslie Ayvazian’s nervous comedy, opening Thursday and running through June 19.

Lisamarie Harrison, hanging on for dear life in “High Dive.” Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics


STAGE & STUDIO: TALKING ABOUT THE VANPORT MOSAIC FESTIVAL


Photo from the upcoming film adaptation of “SOUL’D: the economics of our Black bodies (the Black Joy edition),” in the 2021 Vanport Mosaic Festival.

STAGE & STUDIO: VANPORT MOSAIC 2021. The sixth annual Vanport Mosaic festival is in full swing, with a broad range of virtual and indoor & outdoor live activities and events across the metropolitan area through June 30. In her latest Stage & Studio podcast on ArtsWatch Dmae Roberts talks with founders Damaris Webb and Laura Lo Forti about the ideas and ideals, collaborative nature, and blend of social, political, cultural, historic, and artistic impulse behind the festival, which began as a commemoration of the 1948 Vanport Flood. The disaster destroyed the city that at the time had the most diverse population in Oregon, but in many ways Vanport’s impact lives on.



CLASSICAL UP CLOSE: SUDDENLY, MUSIC


Violinist Greg Ewer gets a kick out of kicking off Classical Up Close. Photo: Joe Cantrell

CLASSICAL UP CLOSE: SWEET & LIVE. Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand for ArtsWatch on a sweltering Monday evening for the kickoff of two weeks of intimate outdoor concerts by the top-notch musicians of Classical Up Close, and caught the action and the atmosphere when violinists Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte got things rolling. “An audience of about forty people brought lawn chairs or sat where they wished for the program,” Cantrell said. “Both the temperature and reception for the recital were unseasonably warm; both featured appropriate breezes that made it all perfect.” It felt very different, violinist and Classical Up Close executive director Sara Kwak added, from last year’s festival, which in the midst of lockdown had “a kind of sense of desperation. … This year, it’s more of a reawakening.” 

CLASSICAL UP CLOSE: BASSIST INSTINCT. In the festival’s second free outdoor concert, bassist Colin Corner and friends got the kids up and dancing in a parking lot. The grownups had a very good time, too.



JUNE IS BUSTIN’ OUT ALL OVER (AND WE HAVE THE LOWDOWN)


Detail of work by  Morgan Rosskopf in the two-person (with Manu Torres) show “Color Burn” at Well Well Projects.

SUDDENLY IT’S JUNE, and ArtsWatch’s writers have been busily gathering the rosebuds of the month after May. In a series of stories, they’ve provided a guide to what looks good and promising on the arts & cultural calendar in the next four weeks:

  • VIZARTS MONTHLY: NEW OPENINGS AND MOMENTS OF NOSTALGIA. June’s gallery openings ofter a perfect opportunity to take your newly vaccinated self out into the world and see some art, including Morgan Rosskopf’s florals (above) at Well Well projects, Lindsay Costello writes.
  • LITWATCH JUNE: PRIDE AND PLENTY TO READ. June is still a Zoom month for readings and lectures, and there are lots of them, Amy Leona Havin writes, from the debut of AE Hines’ poetry collection Any Dumb Animal to a deep Delve into Gabriel Garcia Márquez’ modern classic novel Love in the Time of Cholera
  • JUNE DANCEWATCH: BACK ON STAGE. Jamuna Chiarini draws up an increasingly busy monthly dance calendar, and sits in on rehearsals at Oregon Ballet Theatre for its pair of new premieres – “in the flesh. I could not have asked for a more perfect way to break my year-and-a-half-long fast from seeing a live performance.”
  • FILMWATCH WEEKLY: A SAUDI SURPRISE, PLUS HOT AND COLD RUNNING FRENCH MOVIES. Marc Mohan checks out the new releases, and also lets us know Portland’s Hollywood Theatre is getting ready to greet live audiences.
  • NOW HEAR THIS: JUNE EDITION. Robert Ham embarks on his monthly browse through the pages of music distributor Bandcamp and discovers some good stuff from Oregon musicians: rough cuts, sludgey rock, darkwave, and more. 


AROUND & ABOUT: ART NEWS FROM ALL OVER


Art on the grid: a series of 49 of the first 52 eggs in Mike Zacchino’s series of photographs of daily fried eggs, arranged by choice, not sequentially. Photo montage by Mike Zacchino

THE EGGS AND I: A LOVE STORY. Early this year Grants Pass photographer Mike Zacchino (he’s assignment manager at NewsWatch 12, the ABC affiliate in Southern Oregon) began to take photos of the egg he fries every morning for his wife, Anne. It’s become something of an obsession, a fascinating exercise in variations on a theme (early in the process? Almost done? Yolk centered, or to the side? Duck egg or chicken egg? Double yolk or single?) and an evolving modular art project. Here, he tells the tale of how it all began and what it means.

JASON HOLLAND: ROOTING ARTS ORGANIZATIONS IN COMMUNITY. Lori Tobias talks with Holland, the new executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, which operates the Newport Performing Arts Center and the city’s Visual Arts Center. Holland arrives on the Oregon Coast through the Disney universe (in which his father worked), Florida, Kansas, Asia, and for the past 18 years at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. 

BALANCING ACTS: DAWN CERNY AT MELANIE FLOOD PROJECTS. “I recently learned that tightrope walkers are also called funambulists,” Lindsay Costello declares. “The word derives from the Latin funis (meaning rope) and ambulare (meaning to walk), but funambulist also conjures up a sense of, well, fun: excitement, daring, a sense of the unknown.” And that reminds her of the delicately balanced tabletop mobiles and gouache paintings in Cerny’s recent show: “Mobiles can be childlike and gentle, or precarious and uncertain. They’re a bit like miniature versions of a tightrope act—it’s thrilling to watch an object, wobbly and fragile, learn to balance. There’s suspense in suspension. This tension is constant in our lives; we are all learning to balance, endlessly.”

Dawn Cerny, “Mobile for overwhelming antique sensations” (2019-2021). Wood, paperclips, epoxy clay, aqua resin, fiberglass, paint, wire, paper clay, puffballs, twist tie, bread bag clip, paint, hand-blown glass. 15 x 13 x 16 inches.



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About the author
Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been writing about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki OhtsuJames B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Prologue, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series “Today I Am.”

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