LANGUAGE ARTS

Gather round, grown-ups, for tales of pets and marriages

Actor Liz Cole pulls a circle of adults around her reading chair, her lamp and her mama's rug to relive the childhood pleasure of being told a story

Remember when you were a kid and the teacher gathered your class in a circle and read you a story? Well, turns out you don’t have to be a child to savor story time.

Professional actor Liz Cole came up with the idea of Story Time for Grown-Ups one day while she pondered what she really loved to do. The answer was two-fold: ride a bike and read beautifully written poems and stories. She took her idea for a series of story times to the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita and got the go-ahead. She’s been hosting a story time about once a year for the six years since.

“It’s been just wonderful,” she said. The content of the shows is a mix of poems and little stories, with a heavy emphasis on poems because of their conciseness. Each show lasts a little over an hour, followed by any conversation the audience might want.

“Nearly all the poems and stories are the work of others, culled mostly from my bookshelves and the internet,” Cole said. “I gather a whole bunch of material, then identify common themes, do a lot of winnowing, and end up with what I hope is a fine balance between light and dark pieces. I’ve increasingly emphasized lightness the last couple of episodes, possibly because there’s more than enough darkness around.”

Actor Liz Cole says her Story Time for Grown-Ups aims to create an atmosphere like childhood, "or like childhood should have been." She will share stories and poems this week and next in Tillamook and Manzanita.

Actor Liz Cole says her Story Time for Grown-Ups aims to create an atmosphere like childhood, “or like childhood should have been.” She will share stories and poems this week and next in Tillamook and Manzanita.

In the coming week, Cole will present the series in two locations. This weekend, she’ll be on stage April 13 and 14 at the Tillamook Association for the Performing Arts (TAPA) with Reigning Cats and Dogs. On April 17, she will present Marriage and Other Lapses of Judgment at the Hoffman Center. Tickets are $15 and $10.

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‘It started with poetry’: A conversation with Darnell McAdams

The Portland-area photographer talks about his "Black Santa Project" and the storytelling link between poetry and photography

Those of us who write about the arts at some point trot out “visual poetry” to describe something other than actual verse — a painting, a film, even a tour de force staging of a dance or scene in a play. Though we’d likely stumble in trying to define what we mean, “visual poetry” seemed like the obvious descriptor for Black Santa, Darnell McAdams’ remarkable photography that was included in Photo Club PDX’s Photographic Intentions exhibit in Newberg earlier this year. Next month, The Black Santa Project will take up residence in Photo Club PDX’s Community Drawer at Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery, from May 14 through June 11.

While it may seem a stretch to fold his work into my series of interviews with poets this month, I wanted to circle back to McAdams because of a line from his bio that stayed with me: “It started with poetry.” Soaking up the sensual black-and-white imagery of Black Santa, one recalls the plainly self-congratulatory but nevertheless apropos remark by Orson Welles that “a film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.” McAdams brings a poet’s sensibility to his work, which I sensed even before learning that “it started with poetry.”

"Be Calm and Keep Breathing" is part of Darnell McAdams’ “Black Santa Project,” selections from which were part of a photography show at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg this winter. It will be exhibited May 14-June 11 at the Blue Sky Gallery in downtown Portland.

“Be Calm and Keep Breathing” is part of Darnell McAdams’ “Black Santa Project,” selections from which were part of a photography show at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg this winter. It will be exhibited May 14-June 11 at the Blue Sky Gallery in downtown Portland.

So I asked him about this.

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Children, meet Charlotte’s dad

Newport author Barbara Herkert's picture-book biography of E.B. White is a finalist for the 2019 Oregon Book Award in children's literature

Barbara Herkert’s story is the classic tale of the would-be artist who shelves her dreams to pursue a more practical path. Starting out as an art major in the 1970s, Herkert switched to nursing at her parent’s urging.

Ten years later, she followed her heart, pursuing an MFA. The Newport resident has written picture-book biographies on artists Mary Cassatt and Harriet Powers and is an 2019 Oregon Book Awards finalist in the children’s literature category for her third one, “A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White.” The book awards ceremony will be held April 22 in the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland.

Newport writer Barbara Herkert has written three picture-book biographies for children.

Newport writer Barbara Herkert has written three picture-book biographies for children.

White is well known as the author of three classic children’s books — Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. He wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1927 until his death in 1985, and his revision of William Strunk Jr.’s writer’s handbook, The Elements of Style, is known to legions of college students and writers.

We talked to Herkert about her craft and admiration for White.

What led you to picture-book biographies?

Barbara Herkert: When I was at Hamline University, I had the great good fortune of working with Jacqueline Briggs Martin, who wrote the picture-book biography Snowflake Bentley and many others since then. She was my mentor and I fell in love with the genre. I started out illustrating my biographies. Then my editor asked how I felt about using an illustrator. So I’ve had three different illustrators for the three biographies. It brought a whole new level to my words and was very exciting. I’ve been very pleased.

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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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