TJ Acena

TJ Acena is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. He studied creative writing at Western Washington University. His prose has been published most recently in Somnambulist, Pacifica Literary Journal, and Hello Mr. He fell into arts journalism by accident in 2015, becoming the theatre reviewer for PQ Monthly. In 2017 he was selected as a Rising Leader of Color in the field of arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He currently writes for American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to his work here. You can find out more at his website. He also sporadically updates a burger-review blog for Portland as well. Twitter: @ihavequalities

 

Tales from the traumatic edge

Review: As things fall apart, the stories in Keith Rosson's collection "Folk Tales for Trauma Surgeons" ask readers to hold out hope

Everything is falling apart in Portland writer Keith Rosson’s new story collection Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons. Marriages, record deals, motels, and even the four horsemen of the apocalypse are fraying at the edges. Many of the stories in this collection predate last year, but it still feels like a collection written during a time of intense existential dread. While Rosson’s characters may struggle under the weight of the worlds they inhabit, they never buckle. Most of them, anyway.


It’s hard to forget the opener of the collection, The Lesser Horsemen. Pestilence finds himself
sidelined (which is how you know this story was written before 2020) along with War and
Famine. Listless and alienated from his companions, he’s taken to writing sijos, a style of Korean
poetry from the 10th century. God sends the three bickering horsemen on a team-building
cruise to Alaska, where they do trust falls with a therapist named Linda.


In review: Keith Rosson, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, Meerkat Press, 2021



The fantastic nature of The Lesser Horsemen highlights Rosson’s descriptive abilities.
Pestilence’s body is “crafted from red and green mountain ranges of ruined skin, a body
volcanic with expectorate.” Disgusting for sure, but done in broad strokes, letting (or forcing)
the reader to make sense of what that might look like. The physical form of God is off-putting
in a more mundane way, a pot-bellied man with “shiny doll eyes” who gives off the impression
of someone “who when in restaurants left very small tips, in coins, as some kind of statement.”
Not the kind of person anyone should trust. Even a horseman of the apocalypse.
Rosson crafts details of the world that get across strong visuals but also atmosphere. The
opening paragraph of This World or the Next:

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Graphic voices of Guantanamo

Portland writer Sarah Mirk's new illustrated book delves deep to tell the tales of lives in limbo at the prison built on the War on Terror

Forty prisoners of the “War on Terror” are still held in the United States prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Out of the 779 prisoners who’ve entered the military prison following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., they are the last ones left. Most of the others were released or transferred to other countries. A few died, having never left the prison. Some of these men were picked up off battlefields, or captured by intelligence officials. But most were turned in for lucrative bounties offered by the United States.

The 40 who remain exist in a dystopian legal limbo, not charged with a crime but unable to return home. The George W. Bush Administration insisted the Geneva Convention did not apply to these men, and over the years a confusing bureaucracy has sprung up that keeps them in this limbo. While protests against police brutality erupt nightly in cities across the U.S., those men go to bed unsure if they will ever be released. Portland writer Sarah Mirk’s new graphic book Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts From the World’s Most Infamous Prison asks us to consider the lives of those men who were released after years of imprisonment, and those who still remain.

The dilemmas of observing. Illustrator: Hazel Newlevant

Mirk might be best known for her work as a former online editor for Bitch Media and her reporting for The Portland Mercury. She now spends most of her time in comics, as an editor on The Nib and through publishing comic zines daily on her Instagram. In Guantanamo Voices she’s stepped back into the role of journalist, employing an international lineup of artists to bring her reporting to life.

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Claudia: Love in the age of virus

Profile Theatre's surprising and uneven audio play follows a globe-trotting pangolin as it spreads viral-like havoc across nine scenes

The pangolin is a small scaled mammal (the only scaled mammal, to be exact) native to Africa and Asia. Scientists in China have been looking into this creature as the link that spread COVID-19 to humans. Pangolins’ scales are valued by traditional Chinese medicine, and the trade in these animals may have brought them into contact with humans at the Huanan Market in Wuhan. A pangolin is also the titular character for Profile Theatre’s first audio play, Claudia, A Viral Love Story.

Based on a playwriting prompt from Paula Vogel, Profile commissioned nine writers to craft a story using a list of prompts that spans the globe. At a time when theater everywhere is on hold, it’s both a bold and risky move: How can a company reproduce the feeling of live theater when people can’t gather together? What tools do they have available that they can use? And how can they deliver it to their audience? Audio drama, delivered via streaming, seems a viable option.

How has the experiment worked out? Profile has released all five episodes now (you can listen to or download them here), so you can see the show in full. The shows are free, but Profile is urging donations to help Cascade AIDS Project. From Wuhan, to Tehran, to Mar-A-Lago and onward, each writer builds off the last’s work and takes the story in a new direction. Split into five 20-ish minute episodes, the exquisite corpse structure means Claudia, A Viral Love Story is both surprising and uneven.

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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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