TJ Acena

 

A poet laureate for new times

As the world turns, new Oregon laureate Anis Mojgani embraces his role: "Writing a poem is the answer to an unknown question."

On Monday, April 27, Governor Kate Brown named Anis Mojgani as Oregon’s 10th Poet Laureate. Mojgani, whose two-year appointment begins May 4, succeeds Kim Stafford, who has held the post since 2018. In a press release Brown praised Mojgani as “the pragmatic optimist Oregon needs in these unprecedented times. His words breathe fresh air into the anxiety and negativity that we all feel. He urges us to resolutely reflect in the moment and with each grounding breath, our hearts ‘come closer and come into this’.”

The role of the Oregon Poet Laureate is to foster the art of poetry, encourage literacy and learning, address central issues relating to humanities and heritage, and reflect on public life in Oregon.

Mojgani is the author of five books of poetry, most recently In the Pockets of Small Gods, published in 2018. He is a two-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam and a winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and he has performed at venues around the world, including the United Nations.

Born and raised in New Orleans. Mojgani received a BFA in Sequential Art and a Master of Fine Arts in Performing Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design. He first called Portland, Oregon home in 2004.

Anis Mojgani takes over as Oregon’s 10th poet laureate on May 4. Photo: Hilde Frazsen

What does it mean to win this award, especially right now, in this world?

It’s strange and weird and bananas. One feels very excited and validated while at the same time humbled and unsure. But (it’s) also terribly exciting and fantastic for a number of reasons. As many years as I’ve had a relationship with Oregon I haven’t seen a majority of the state. To be tasked specifically to go to places I haven’t been is in itself a wonderful opportunity. To get to do that while introducing poetry to people or fostering the reading and writing of poetry and widening that dialogue and space and permission to engage in that with folks is very exciting.

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Vision 2020: Joamette Gil

The Power & Magic of creating an indie comics universe that tells the tales of life, love, and adventure in a nonbinary culture of color

Born to the Cuban diaspora in Miami, Florida, Joamette Gil moved to Portland to study illustration after graduating from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where she studied psychology. In search of community, she had founded the Olympia Comics Collective for local comics creators to network, collaborate, and promote the comics medium. The collective put out two anthologies, both edited by Gil, planting the seed for her future as a publisher.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


In 2016 Gil opened Power & Magic Press, an award-winning independent comics publisher striving for the creative and economic empowerment of queer creators, creators of color, and creators at the intersections. The press’s flagship anthology series, POWER & MAGIC: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, collects short fantasy comics by women of color and woman-aligned, nonbinary POC. Volumes one and two are available for preorder online, and the companion title IMMORTAL SOULS is for sale as well. In 2019, P&M Press also published HEARTWOOD: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, the first ever all nonbinary comics anthology, which sold out within six months of publication.

In addition to writing and editing for P&M Press, Gil is a communications coordinator for Weird Enough Productions by day and letters graphic novels for various creators by night. Outside of her own anthologies, her cartooning has most recently appeared in The Nib, Puerto Rico Strong (Lion Forge, 2019 Eisner Winner), and Drawing Power (Abrams ComicArts, New York Times’ Best Comics of 2019).

Joamette Gil, an independent force in the comics world. Photo courtesy Joamette Gil

What was it that attracted you to the medium of comics?

I fell in love with cartoons in general before I actually got into comics. As an introverted, low-income immigrant kid, escapism was my thing, and my favorite way to escape was watching Sailor Moon. The way she made me feel convinced me that, when I grew up, I wanted to make others feel the same way using characters of my own. I eventually gravitated to the comics medium after getting my hands on a manhwa (Korean comic) called Kill Me, Kiss Me about a girl who poses as a boy to attend her crush’s all-boys school. It taught me that comics could be about anything — not just superheroes — and that a single creator could have total control over the art and story. Comics are singular in that they can contain the breadth and depth of a feature film on a shoestring budget and one vision. Sequential art also happens to be the one true lingua franca. Consider airplane safety pamphlets and IKEA instructions; when universal understanding is at stake, the language of choice is comics.

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Boom! Big changes as season ends

Boom Arts founder Ruth Wikler takes a top circus job in Montréal; Tracy Cameron Francis takes over as the company's new artistic director

The end of a season is always a moment of transition for a company. But for Boom Arts this year the transition will be much bigger than normal. Company founder Ruth Wikler has announced she is stepping down and taking a position as Director of Circus Programming for TOHU in Montréal, Canada.

Boom Arts’ board has selected Tracy Cameron Francis as the company’s next artistic producer. Francis is a first-generation Egyptian-American director, producer, deviser, dramaturge and educator. She is the festival director of the Cascade Festival of African Film and has worked in greater Portland with Milagro, Corrib, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and Bag & Baggage, and PICA’s TBA Festival.

Tracy Cameron Francis, Boom Arts’ new leader.

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Dreaming about ‘Tomorrow’

Boom Arts 8: The New York ensemble The TEAM talks about "Tomorrow Will Be ...," its new, made-in-Portland show, playing Friday-Saturday

The three members of the New York theater ensemble the TEAM don’t call Tomorrow Will Be…, which they’ll present Friday and Saturday in Portland at Boom Arts, a show. “I feel weird calling it one thing,” says Zhailon Levingston. “A person who is looking for a one-sentence description might need to take a leap of faith.”

Tomorrow is also a switch in plans. Originally TEAM was going to present Primer for a Failed Superpower, an all-ages community concert featuring a multigenerational group of singers performing new arrangements of classic protest songs, for the last show of Boom Arts’ season. But early this year the company announced that TEAM would be presenting a new work, Tomorrow Will Be….

The “Tomorrow Will Be …” team, clockwise from top left: Zhailon Levingston, Orion Johnstone, Nehemiah Luckett, Ben Landsverk.

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Boom update: hold the choir

New York's The Team drops "Failed Superpower" and its community choir from its Boom Arts run in Portland, substitutes a new show

The last show in Boom Arts’ season of “festive revolutions” was set to be New York-based the TEAM’s Primer for a Failed Super Power. But last week Boom announced in a press release that while the TEAM still will be the final artist of the 2018-19 season, Primer for a Failed Super Power will no longer be the show they present. Instead the Team will perform Tomorrow Will Be…, an “interactive evening of song-sharing and community celebration inspired by the TEAM’s choral concert project Primer for a Failed Superpower.”

The Team’s “Primer for a Failed Superpower” in New York. Set to be recreated in Portland with a community choir, it’s being replaced by a new work. The Team photo

The largest difference between the two shows is that Tomorrow Will Be… does not feature a community choir the way Primer for a Failed Super Power did. The new production will debut in Portland, and still involves Portland-based musician and choir director Ben Landsverk. Different guest artists and activists are slated to appear in each of the performances and be followed by a social justice fair.


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: UPDATE


As part of our ongoing series on Boom’s season, we’ll talk with the TEAM about this new project and how it’s different from Primer for a Failed Super Power. The performance dates and venue remain unchanged, May 10 & 11 at The Old Church, and tickets are available at Boom’s website.

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TJ Acena has been covering Boom Arts’ 2018-19 season from inside and out for Oregon ArtsWatch. His previous pieces in the series:

  1. Boom Arts’ festive revolution. Embarking on a new season of theatrical celebration and social change.
  2. Boom Arts: Puppets from Kiev. From Ukraine, a 10-day dash of song, theater, puppetry and culture.
  3. Penny Arcade, back in town. Boom Arts brings the celebrated performance artist to town for the second time in a year with an old favorite and some new projects.
  4. Boom Arts: the executive chair. New executive director Kamla Hurst talks about planning, risk, and growth.
  5. Boom Arts: The halftime report. Acena looks back on the first half of the 2018-19 season and ahead to what’s still to come.
  6. Boom goes fishing with puppets. “Puppetry is a way of looking at acting,” Dominga Gutiérrez, co-founder of the Chilean troupe Silencio Blanca, tells Acena.

Silencio Blanco understands that you can do a lot with a little. The Chilean theater group works with silent puppets, simple constructs of paper, chopsticks, and masking tape to tell deeply empathetic stories. Portland audiences will be able to see its work Pescador/Fisherman at Imago Theatre the first two weekends of February as part of Boom Arts’ “Festive Revolutions” season.

Fisherman at work in “Pescador.” Silencio Blanco photo

The group didn’t set out to do puppetry. Co-founders Dominga Gutiérrez and Santiago Tobar were students at the Theater School of the University of Chile and interested in questions of acting and expression. Puppets, they discovered, provided a good way to explore the questions.

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Boom Arts: the halftime report

In the fifth chapter of his season-long look at the world-performance company, TJ Acena takes the midseason temperature and looks ahead

Boom Arts is halfway through its 2018-2019 season, and so far it’s been a season of growth. Kamla Hurst became the risk-taking Portland performance presenter’s very first executive director. The company, which calls itself “a boutique presenter and producer of contemporary theatre and performance from around the world,” brought Teatr-Pralnia, a 10-person performance group from Ukraine, to Portland. And it brought back Penny Arcade, one of America’s most respected performance artists, for an encore show.

The Ukrainian performance troupe Teatr-Pralnia raised the roof. Photo: Friderike Heuer

So far, so good. “Pralnia delighted us with a fabulous show,” says producer Ruth Wikler. “Word of mouth traveled over the week they were in town and our audiences literally quadrupled between the first and second weekends.” She was also pleased with the community-engagement programming: a workshop with students of theater and of Russian language and literature at Salem’s Willamette University; a program at Central Library; and a visit to Art & Learning Studios, where the artists made connections with adults with developmental disabilities, including native Ukrainian speakers.

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