Take, for example, Seattle treasure Patti Warashina’s fantastic new sculpture, recently installed at the corner of Westlake Avenue and Republican Street in South Lake Union.
The beloved local artist and ceramics professor, now 82, has created an oversized, playful piece: a woman idling on a platform in a pond within a public plaza. (When completed, the “pond” will capture stormwater from the new building’s roof.)
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Painted in a geometric patchwork of black and peach — with one striking red eyebrow — the 14-by-18-by-8-foot figure lolls on her stomach, accompanied by two finned friends. “Fishing, wishing,” a poetry-minded passerby might posit. The real title is “Dreamer,” but I doubt Warashina would mind the poetic fishing license.
Part of what’s wonderful about the new piece is that it seems so out of place — so curvy and calm — within the rectilinear tech mecca of the neighborhood.
Seeing “Dreamer” in that context reminded me of a new book of poetry by an old friend, Betsy Aoki, a Seattle poet and video game producer, whom I met in the ancient days of an “HTML for Writergrrls” class at the old Speakeasy internet café. Her debut collection is called Breakpoint.
“This is what coding looks like from behind,” she writes in one poem, “knob over knob of spine hunched over.” Dedicated to women in tech, these are clever poems from a fresh (and often funny) perspective. Aoki also scatters sections of real code between the pages. Even for those of us without a technical understanding, lines like “def collide (self,other_object)” reveal an inherent poetry, and give the sense of being inside the machine.
Her words reflect the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated field (putting on “girl camo and corporate face,” worrying about a breast lump that “ticks like a grenade/ in Gears of War”). She also writes about her heritage, from Japanese incarceration camps to the kickass heroines populating video games: “There is no new world without a girl leaping.”
Aoki will have a virtual reading at Elliott Bay Books (April 1 at 6 p.m.), with poets Erin Malone and Aby Kaupang.
Let’s travel backward from current tech to the origins of industry … with the excellent new show Anthropocene (through April 30) at Method Gallery in Pioneer Square. Created by longtime Seattle artist Karen Lené Rudd, the installation is an homage to the first workers of the Industrial Revolution — “ordinary people,” Rudd writes in her artistic statement, “who, often unwittingly, launched and participated in practices that created the environmental catastrophes we see today.”
The figures take the form of humble clothing, made entirely from crumpled kraft paper donated by a mill in Port Townsend. Using antique sewing machines — and stunning attention to detail — Rudd turns the thick tan paper into garments (buckled overalls, stitched uniforms, laced-up work boots), then embellishes these with scraps of language from 1960s conservation textbooks, old promises long broken.
Where the clothing tag would be, she includes odes to seamstresses of the past, including Sarah Boone, the formerly enslaved African American woman who patented a revolutionary improvement to the ironing board.
The pieces sway slightly, suspended from the ceiling, ghosts of a shared past that haunts our future. In addition to poetic calligraphy, Rudd stains the garments with black ink, suggesting the carbon impacts that can never be washed out of the Earth. This is echoed in the thin line of coal-black objects that traces the surrounding walls. Step closer and you’ll see teeny tiny tableaus: tractors, body shops, smokestacks and electrical poles — all meticulously made from plastic castoffs.
Rudd says she imagines the line as a geological stratum from the industrial era, something future archaeologists might crack open in search of clues to what happened to our planet. She’ll be at First Thursday Art Walk (April 7) and will give a talk about the show on Earth Day (April 22).
April showers make poets flower, so we have a lot of local readings coming up.
Humanities Washington is hosting Poetry and Civic Life (April 2 at 12:30 p.m., in person at Hugo House and also livestreamed). The event will feature readings and discussions with Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest, Seattle Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith, former Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall and Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Zinnia Hansen about the intersection of poetry and politics.
Esteemed poet Rae Armantrout has relocated to the Northwest, and will appear virtually at Elliott Bay Books (April 4 at 4 p.m.) to talk about her newest collection, Finalist. Seattle poets Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon are also bringing new books to Elliott Bay, and will talk about them in person (April 7 at 6 p.m.).
Local poet Shin Yu Pai brings her latest collection, Virga, to a reading with Ken White at Northwest Film Forum (April 3 at 7 p.m.). And yet another Seattle poet, Don Mee Choi — a 2021 MacArthur fellow who won a National Book Award for DMZ Colony — joins Seattle Arts & Lectures for an in-person talk at Hugo House (April 7 at 7:30 p.m.).
Clearly, our poetic cups runneth over (and onto the carpet). But there are other events worthy of your attention this week too:
• LANGSTON is presenting the annual ACES (Artists of Color Expo and Symposium, April 2-3), a community-curated program featuring visual art, film screenings, live performance and discussions about the challenges and opportunities for Black artists in the Northwest.
• Legendary author and activist Angela Davis will share her vision of an enlightened future as part of Abolition. Feminism. Now., a free community event (April 6 at 3 p.m. online via Seattle Arts & Lectures).
• And this weekend is your last chance to see Metaplay, an explosively vibrant collection of paintings by Seattle artist Soo Hong at AMcE Creative Arts on Capitol Hill (through April 3; artist talk April 2 at 4:30 p.m.). Accompanied by an equally energetic soundtrack curated by KEXP’s DJ Sharlese, these abstract works are poetry in paint.
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