Seattle: more than ever a poetry center

Several events this month suggest the depth of Seattle's writing talent, and raise questions about why there is so much good poetry here.

Several events this month suggest the depth of Seattle's writing talent, and raise questions about why there is so much good poetry here.

You might be familiar with some of the area’s long-standing poetry establishments: Seattle Arts and Lectures hosts formal readings downtown, Copper Canyon Press produces collections by renown authors, and Poetry  Northwest consistently offers excellent content. But these aren’t the only avenues to find good writing: In a number of smaller venues, poetry is hopping off the page this month.

SPLAB (SPokenword LAB) has a cozy space that it calls “the living room” inside a former school in Columbia City. They hold weekly open writing sessions from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays, (September through June).  Tonight (April 3), the session focuses on the bizarre neurological condition of synesthesia where one sense overlaps with another. While synesthesia might be disconcerting as an on-going condition, the mixing and mingling of sensoria can inspire metaphor. The old school building on Edmunds hides SPLAB in a maze of classrooms, but it’s worth seeking out.  The “living room” itself is a cozy space. Crammed full of books, posters and arcana, the room is the habitat of living, working writers.

Raven Chronicles will hold an opening reading on Friday, April 20 at Jack Straw Productions to celebrate the CD release of the journal's latest edition, "Matters of the Spirit.”  The journal, a co-sponsor of SPLAB’s recent conference, promotes work of Pacific Northwest authors in their biannual issues. Participants will read selections from their contributions. 

That same Friday, you have a difficult choice between that event and another sure-to-be engaging reading at Open Books, the all-poetry bookstore located in Wallingford. Local artist and writer Sierra Nelson and Portland poet Zachary Schomburg each read from recent, acclaimed collections.

The Richard Hugo House on Capitol Hill has long made a commitment to featuring the spoken word.  This month they are going all out by presenting the "performance group" Sister Spit, a sure to be raucous event.  In a mixed-media event, novelist Dorthy Allison joins slam poet Kit Yan and other poets and memoirists to perform a bonanza of words and sound at 8 p.m. on April 11 (a Wednesday).

Why all these poets speaking out in Seattle? At recent conference at SPLAB, Northwest poet Tim McNulty and others considered the effect of Cascadia on the literary mind. In a session called “Images as Windows,” McNulty emphasized that the landscape here has had a profound effect on many writers who take inspiration from the natural life endemic to Cascadia, our greater Northwestern geographic region. As SPLAB’s Cascadia-focused conference suggests, there seem to be a surprising number of writers per capita in Northwest. Why should that be? What kind of writing does the northwestern part of the Americas produce?

You might have to attend some of the events to find out. Let me veer from journalism into speculation and suggest that there is something more going on in this city to produce good writers than the rain that drives us inside to pens and keyboards. The key is to note that the Northwest offers a home not only to a quantity of writers but to good quality writing.

Hearing a poet in person identifies and fosters the members of the community at work rather than leaving them to await acclaim in obscure journals. Good culture begets good culture, it would seem.

If you go: SPLAB session on synesthesia, 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, SPLAB, 3651 S. Edmunds. More information.

Raven Chronicles reading, 7 p.m., April 20, Jack Straw Studio, 4261 Roosevelt Way NE. More information.

Sister Spit, 8 p.m. April 11 at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave. More information.

Sierra Nelson and Zachary Schomburg reading, Open Books,  2414 N. 45th St. More information.


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