poetry

Local literary talent blooms in ‘Paper Gardens 2019’

More than 50 Yamhill County writers of poetry and prose are featured in the collection that recently hit bookstore and library shelves

Over the past couple of decades, Yamhill County writers and arts advocates have developed an infrastructure to assist their own, and the most visible of those efforts — a published volume of local prose and poetry — recently hit the shelves in libraries and bookstores.

Paper Gardens 2019 is a 116-page collection featuring work by more than 50 writers of all ages. They were among hundreds who submitted work in the categories of traditional poetry, free verse, haiku, fiction, and nonfiction. Two professional judges (one for poetry, one for prose) narrowed the field, and the book featuring their selections was released at a ceremony at the Chehalem Cultural Center earlier this year.

More so than live theater, music, or visual art, a region’s literary scene can be tough to track. The work is produced largely in isolation, often by those who are disinclined to call attention to themselves, and only a few of whom reach a level where the resources of a major publisher or magazine are brought to bear in nudging an author’s work into full public view.

The Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has published Paper Gardens 2019, featuring the prose and verse of more than 50 Yamhill County residents. The cover art is by Jeanne Cuddeford.
The Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has published “Paper Gardens 2019,” featuring the prose and verse of more than 50 Yamhill County residents. The cover art is by Jeanne Cuddeford. Photo by: David Bates

Paper Gardens, sponsored by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County and made possible with sponsorships by McMinnville Kiwanis and McMinnville Noon Rotary, has (with other events) helped raise the visibility of such writers.

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Poet Alice Derry: Speaking out against barbarism

Derry, who will lead a workshop on writing political poetry at the Terroir Writing Festival, says the personal is the way to approach bearing witness

Aspiring poets who struggle either with writing or getting published should take heart from the example of Alice Derry. She doesn’t consider herself a natural; a teacher even once “shut down” her work in school, she said. But she discovered early on that poetry provided her with “necessary oxygen,” and she made it her life’s work.

On Saturday, Derry will lead a workshop at the sold-out Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville on “Writing the Political Poem.” Many of her poems are political in nature, with topics that range from the psychic scars left by Nazi Germany to the Sandy Hook school shooting. Derry’s approach, according to the workshop notes, is to “begin with the personal and vulnerable, and then reach out, drawing honest and authentic parallels.”

Alice Derry says she “came to poetry consciously mostly through desire and not through an inherent love of language.” She adds, “My first book of poems involved a 10-year process of reading, writing, revising, revising, revising.”

Alice Derry says she “came to poetry consciously, mostly through desire, and not through an inherent love of language.” She adds, “My first book of poems involved a 10-year process of reading, writing, revising, revising, revising.”

Derry’s “personal and vulnerable” approach is evident in her work, which includes six poetry collections, the most recent of which is Hunger, published in 2018 by Tillamook-based MoonPath Press. Prior to corresponding with her this spring, I sat down with Hunger and then later with an earlier collection, Strangers to Their Courage. This book, according to her website, was “distilled from more than thirty years of experiences with the Germans and their language” and explores the meaning of “her investment in a population compromised and reviled” by 20th-century fascism and the Holocaust. Poems in this collection are based in large part on conversations with relatives who lived in Germany during World War II. The book was a finalist for the 2002 Washington Book Award.

Derry is an Oregon native raised in Montana and Washington, where she taught writing and German at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Wash., for 30 years before retiring. Her work has appeared Southern Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Portland Review, The Seattle Review, Hubbub, Crab Creek Review, and Raven Chronicles. She also can lay claim to having had Raymond Carver say this about her first manuscript, Stages of Twilight: “I felt she was writing about real things, things that counted. Her poems seemed honest in their conception and execution — they made a claim on my interest right away. I would even say they made a claim on my heart.”

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‘Writing poems gave me the chance to know myself’

Oregon poet Lynn Otto, who will participate in McMinnville's Terroir Creative Writing Festival, talks about what people seek in reading and writing poetry

This weekend marks the 10th annual Terroir Creative Writing Festival, which for the first time in the event’s history has sold out. Organizers hit the legal capacity for their venue in McMinnville weeks ago and started a waiting list. Fortunately, we reached out to a couple of the poets who are giving workshops this weekend and today offer the first of those interviews below. On Wednesday, look for a conversation with Alice Derry.

Lynn Otto earned her MFA from Portland State University and serves on the board of the Oregon Poetry Association. Prior to our email exchange, I read her first collection, Real Daughter, published this year by Unicorn Press. In more than 60 poems, Otto shifts gracefully and sometimes mysteriously from writing as a daughter who is bearing witness to her parents’ advance in years to her capacity as a mother. Even here, the perspective is not always clear. In one poem, Makeup (The Mother, the Daughter and the Other Daughter Speak), she appears to be writing as her daughter. The cover features artwork, Knit Process V, by Carol MacDonald.

"I read somewhere that most poets are people who, for some reason or other, have not been able to speak in any other way," says Lynn Otto. "I wonder whether more people are writing poems because they feel unheard."

“I read somewhere that most poets are people who, for some reason or other, have not been able to speak in any other way,” says Lynn Otto. “I wonder whether more people are writing poems because they feel unheard.”

Publication was originally set for last October after the book won the North Carolina publisher’s 2017 First Book Award, but flooding in that state delayed the book until January. Otto said she met Unicorn editor Andrew Saulters at the recent Association of Writers & Writing Programs book fair in Portland and learned more about the delay. “Unicorn Press hand-makes their books,” she explained. “The pages are hand-folded, punctured with an awl, and sewn, and the signatures [sections of pages] are hand-glued into each cover. After that, each book is trimmed. The hardcovers take even longer.” All that for a print run of 501 copies.

Otto has presided over poetry workshops before in Yamhill County, and this weekend she’ll work with a lucky few at the Terroir Festival. At the top of our interview, I asked for her thoughts about the poetry world.

I suppose it’s a bit silly to inquire about “the state of poetry,” as that’s so subjective, but let’s start by throwing the door open for you to call attention to any issues, trends, problems, etc. you see. Basically, what’s on your mind?

Otto: I’m not a cultural analyst or part of an academic community that might be discussing such things, so my take on “the state of poetry” is indeed subjective. There’s certainly no lack of it. You can read poetry all day without even cracking a book, thanks to websites such as the Poetry Foundation and scads of online journals. New titles are printed all the time, especially by indie presses.

What I suspect, though, is that there are more people writing poetry than reading it. I see so-called poems posted on Facebook and Instagram, for example, that are little more than emotional outbursts broken into short lines. Writing is a great way to process emotion, but, because most readers don’t read poems in order to find out what it’s like to sit in the therapist’s chair, writers need to offer something more satisfying if they’re going to make their work public.

You’re giving a workshop at Terroir called “Moving Your Reader to Move Your Reader.” Could you elaborate?

One of my aims is to help writers think about how their choices affect where readers find themselves as they read — where the poem takes them in place and time, and in relationship to the poem’s speaker and subject. As a reader, I don’t want to be put in the therapist’s chair. It’s not a place that allows me to be moved by the poem.

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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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Kim Stafford: To be welcome in the house of writing

Oregon's poet laureate and "roving listener" will speak in Newport about poems and the mysteries related to writing

Poet and essayist Kim Stafford is nine months into his two-year appointment as Oregon’s poet laureate. In that time, Stafford has made appearances in big and small towns around the state, with plans to visit many more in the coming months. On Sunday, he’ll be the guest speaker at the meeting of Willamette Writers’ Coast Chapter in Newport.

Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford at Eagle Creek. Photo courtesy: Oregon Humanities

Stafford said his Feb. 17 talk is inspired by a quote from Oregon poet Gary Miranda, who said, “People who don’t read or write may be spared the inconvenience of thought.”

Stafford plans to dive into that inconvenience by sharing poems, questions, stories, and mysteries related to the practice of writing. We asked him to talk about his experience as poet laureate so far.

What have you learned in your first few months as Poet Laureate?

Kim Stafford: I cherish my conversations with writers, teachers, readers, parents, veterans, inmates, people in the halls of power, and people on the street. In these conversations, I’ve learned that clear, evocative, inspiring language is treasured by people in all walks of life. This may be poetry on a page, a story someone tells, a letter someone has kept, or some other form of language doing all the work it can to connect one person to another, one generation to another. As I’ve said in many places:

Poetry is our native language. Everyone is welcome in the house of writing, and festive explorations on the page make communities more democratically inclusive, emotionally informed, and ready to face the challenges of these mysterious times.

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Rick Bartow’s spirit inhabits play premiering in Newport

A Portland writer imagines an encounter between the world-renowned artist and three famous poets from whom he drew inspiration

Fourteen years ago, I was reporting a news story when I encountered a man weed-whacking. His back was turned and he wore a headset meant to protect his hearing. Few things are more awkward — and possibly risky — than approaching a stranger who can’t hear you, can’t see you, and has no idea you are there. I managed to get his attention. He greeted me with a smile and, reaching for my hand, introduced himself: Rick Bartow. He invited me inside the family home, offered me a glass of something cold, and introduced me to his wife and child.

Rick Bartow was photographed in 2015, the year before he died, by K.B. Dixon. From Dixon’s book, “Face to Face: 32 Oregon Artists.”

That’s how I met Bartow, an everyday guy who just happened to be a world-renowned artist. In Newport, it seems everyone has a story about Bartow, who died in 2016 at age 69. He was the guy you saw in the gym, jamming at the local café, perusing the library shelves. He was a member of the Northern California Wiyot Tribe, with close ties to the Siletz tribes of the Oregon Coast. He was kind, generous, straightforward, multi-talented, and possessed a certain instinctive wisdom, both enviable and humbling.

Portland writer Merridawn Duckler says her play, “Rick Bartow: In Spirit,” includes projections, songs, and a little bit of dancing.

That’s the man Portland writer Merridawn Duckler set out to portray in her new play Rick Bartow: In Spirit, which concerns an imaginary encounter between Bartow and three writers who inspired him. The play, directed by Marc Maislen, premieres at the Newport Performing Arts Center Dec. 14-16. Tickets are $20 and $25.

Duckler never met Bartow, but describes herself as a “huge fan always.” The path to writing a play based on Bartow’s art is a one-thing-leads-to-another tale, beginning with her work years ago as a writer for Tom Webb at a Portland arts magazine. Duckler went on to write an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Informer; Webb moved to the coast to manage the Newport Visual Arts Center. Bartow had donated a collection of 17 portraits of acclaimed writers to the Newport Public Library, the drawings were subsequently displayed at the Visual Arts Center, where Duckler’s adaption was performed. The conversation — plays, portraits, artists, shows — began and In Spirit was born.

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The strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of

Linfield professor Sonia Ticas is part of the team translating a 456-page work by Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio for Portland’s Tavern Books

Nothing was foreseen.
All was imminent.

— “The Fire’s Journey, Part I: The Integration of the Parents”

With offices tucked away in Union Station, Portland-based Tavern Books is in the home stretch of an ambitious project that began more than five years ago: the translation and publication of more than 400 pages of the strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of. Written in the mid-20th century by Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio (a poet you’ve also probably never heard of), it’s called The Fire’s Journey. Tavern Books claims that it is the first book-length translation into English of the work of any Costa Rican woman poet.

Eunice Odio (1919-1974) is considered the leading Costa Rican poet of the 20th-century, according to Tavern Books, which is publishing “The Fire’s Journey” in four volumes.

The idea to bring this mysterious and complex work to English-speaking readers was the brainchild of Keith Ekiss. A Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford (where he still lectures) from 2005-07, Ekiss is the author of Pima Road Notebook, a poetry collection published in 2010 by New Issues Poetry & Prose.

Ekiss had help on this epic literary excavation, and as Tavern was preparing to release the third of what ultimately will be four volumes, I sat down with one of his collaborators, Yamhill County resident Sonia Ticas.

Since 2001, Ticas has taught Spanish at Linfield College in McMinnville, along with classes in Latin American literature and culture, women writers, and history. Before we dive into my conversation with her, an introduction to Odio is in order, because she’s an obscure figure who has only in the past couple of decades started getting attention in the poetry world. Let’s start with an excerpt from the introduction Ekiss wrote for Vol. 1: Integration of the Parents, which Tavern published in 2013. After noting that Costa Rica is largely viewed as the “Switzerland of Central America,” with a prosperous democracy, high literacy, and national health care, Ekiss continues:

But when it comes to the arts, and poetry in particular, English-speaking readers and literary translators have mostly turned their attention elsewhere in Central America, gravitating to the more politically-charged writers of war-torn Nicaragua and El Salvador, to the poetry of Rubén Dario, Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel Alegría and Roque Dalton. Eunice Odio’s poetry has thus remained almost wholly unknown to readers outside Latin America, obscured on the margins of the region’s avant-garde and proletarian-poet traditions.

Odio was born in 1919 in San Jose, Costa Rica. According to Spanish American Women Writers, she learned to read when she was very young and gravitated to science-fiction writers such as Jules Verne and Emilio Salgari, preferring getting lost in a book to paying attention to her classroom teacher. She wasn’t much for hobnobbing with the region’s literary and publishing world, and while she associated with the political left early in her life, Odio eventually fell out with them. She was clearly a fiercely independent woman, and what little I read about her made me want to know more. Her letters must be fascinating.

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