TJ Acena

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:


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.


ArtsWatch Good Reads 2018

2018 in Review, Part 9: A Fab 15 of ArtsWatch well-told tales worth a second look

Marc Mohan wonders if it matters that the Oscars are a flop. Martha Ullman West revisits the Big Apple of her youth. John Foyston considers sleek cars and fast motorcycles at the art museum. John Longenbaugh starts a podcast “for some very stupid reasons.” Maria Choban and Brett Campbell relate the fascinating tale of a Sri Lankan engineer determined to build the first Pandol new year’s shrine in America. David Bates dives deep into the strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of. Laura Grimes recalls a day of traffic jams, lost glasses, Ursula K. Le Guin, and … pickles. TJ Acena talks gentrification with performance artist Penny Arcade.

The world’s overflowing with stories, and in 2018 ArtsWatch writers grabbed hold of a bunch worth a second look. Here, for your enjoyment, is a Fab 15 of tales well told.



The Oscars are dying. So what?

March 9: “This year’s telecast drew record low ratings, down a whopping 20 percent from last year’s already dismal numbers,” Marc Mohan wrote in the wake of this year’s television debacle. “… As someone who religiously watches, and even generally enjoys, Tinseltown’s annual festival of self-love, I find myself, perhaps surprisingly, not the least bit perturbed.


ArtsWatch’s hit parade 2018

2018 in Review, Part 1: Readers' choice. A look back at Oregon ArtsWatch's most read and shared stories of the year

When we say “hit parade,” that’s what we mean. In the first of a series of stories looking back on the highlights of 2018, these 25 tales were ArtsWatch’s most popular of the year, by the numbers: the most read, or the most shared on social media, or both. From photo features to artist conversations to reviews to personal essays to news stories, these are the pieces that most resounded with you, our readers. These 25 stories amount to roughly two a month, out of more than 50 in the average month: By New Year’s Eve we’ll have published roughly 650 stories, on all sorts of cultural topics, during the 2018 calendar year.


Like ArtsWatch? Help us out.

We couldn’t bring you the stories we bring without your support, which is what keeps us going. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit journalism publication, with no pay wall: Everything we publish is free for the reading. We can offer this public service thanks to generous gifts from foundations, public cultural organizations, and you, our readers. As the year draws to a close, please help us keep the stories coming. It’s easy:


And now, the 25 of 2018, listed chronologically:



Legendary jazz drummer Mel Brown. Photo: K.B. Dixon

In the Frame: Eleven Men

Jan. 2: Writer and photographer K.B. Dixon’s photo essay looks graphically at a group of men who have helped shape Portland’s cultural and creative life, among them jazz drummer Mel Brown, the late Claymation pioneer Will Vinton, Powell’s Books owner Michael Powell, gallerist Charles Froelick, and the legendary female impersonator Walter Cole, better known as Darcelle. Dixon would later profile eleven woman cultural leaders, a feature that is also among 2018’s most-read.