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.”
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 Poems must be original, unpublished, and no more than a page in length; limit of two entries per person.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 firstname.lastname@example.org through May 21. Entries will be judged anonymously, and winners will be the featured readers for the library’s Poetry Night on June 4.
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.
April 2: Double the fun the following night with a Reading at the Nick (also at Linfield College). Poets Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs, who are married to each other as well as to a life of poetry, will read their work from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Nicholson Library on the McMinnville campus. The couple hails from Asheville, N.C. Jacobs is associate editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal, as well as the author of Pelvis with Distance, which was winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry and a finalist for the Lamda Literary and Julie Suk awards. Brown is the author of Sister, a 2007 “novel-in-poems,” and a 2015 “biography-in poems” titled Fanny Says.
UPDATE! NEW LOCATION! April 4: If you need an introduction to Kim Stafford, first of all: Welcome to Oregon. Poet Laureate Stafford will visit McMinnville twice this month. His first appearance will be in the McMinnville Public Library for a reading originally scheduled part of the monthly Poetry Night series at The Gallery at Ten Oaks. Anticipating a large crowd, organizers decided March 29 to move to the roomier library. Bethany Lee will provide music, and an open mic session follows. 6 to 7 p.m.
April 11: Does the idea of a documentary about poetry sound like a snoozer? To be set straight, check out Louder Than a Bomb, a rip-roaring 2010 film about talented inner-city Chicago kids competing in a poetry slam. Linfield College offers a free public showing on the big screen at 7 p.m. in Room 127 of the Nicholson Library.
April 12: Turner’s KMUZ isn’t in Yamhill County, but you can stream it anywhere, so make a note: Steve Slemenda’s twice-monthly Poetry on the Air broadcasts on the second and fourth Friday of each month, from 10 to 10:30 a.m. April guests weren’t available at press time, but the web site usually gives advance notice as the date approaches. Repeats April 26.
April 13: Yamhill artist Adam Rupniewski (who had an amazing installation in last year’s art harvest studio tour) will be joined by another local, Stephen W. Long, for a poetry reading from 5 to 8 p.m. in the newly minted McMinnville Center for the Arts, 636 N.E. Baker St. Keep an eye on the gallery’s calendar; at press time, more readings were in TBA mode.
April 16: Educator, theater artist, and poet Amber West will give a reading from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Linfield’s Nicholson Library. The University of California teacher’s work has appeared in journals and anthologies, including: Calyx, Puppetry International, The Feminist Wire, Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, Furies: A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors, and The Routledge Companion to Puppetry & Material Performance. Her poetry collection, Hen & God, was published in 2017.
April 18: The McMinnville Public Library and The Gallery at Ten Oaks join forces again for Paintings to Poems. Here’s how it works: Browse the gallery, pick a piece of art that gets your creative juices flowing, and write a poem about it. No pressure. Read it (or not) at an open mic session. 6 to 8 p.m. Wine will also be flowing.
April 20: The Terroir Creative Writing Festival is where the writers — and poets — are. Kim Stafford and Courtenay Hameister are keynote speakers at the all-day event held on the Chemeketa Community College campus in McMinnville. More than a dozen writers will be on hand to lead workshops in fiction, poetry, memoir, and more, including: Michael Copperman, Alice Derry, Barbara Drake, Bette Lynch Husted, Molly Gloss, Guadalupe García McCall, Buddy Lamorey, Kristina McMorris, Peter Nathaniel Malae, Lynn Otto, Keith Rosson, and Susie Sweetland and Moriah LaChappell of Blue Hour Press. There’s still time to register. Do it here.
April 25: Open Mic at the Linfield College Library, Austin Reading Room. 6:30 p.m., open to the public.
ARTS JOURNAL: I’ve been listening to a terrific jazz CD set, The Original American Decca Recordings of Count Basie recorded for the now 90-year-old Decca label during 1937-1939. Fantastic stuff. Also finished reading Sarah Prineas’ The Magic Thief series to my 9-year-old son. Now we’re into Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief.
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.