Bellingham Repertory Dance presents "Phrasings in Word + Dance," its seventh annual collaboration with Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater, Friday through Sunday, April 5-7, at Firehouse Performing Arts Center. One of the featured poets is Carla Shafer, director of Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater.
Question: What's your background?
Answer: I grew up in Sedro-Woolley, went to college at Lewis and Clark College in Portland and, after a career in teaching and community organizing, I went to graduate school at Bank Street College of Education in New York City while working at the Bellingham Community Child Care Center.
After that I was the dean for development at Northwest Indian College, where we set up the NWIC Foundation, and I am currently a grant writer at Everett Community College. I've been working for 46 years and I've been writing poetry even longer.
Q: How did you become interested in the power of words, poetic or otherwise?
A: My family believed in the power of words, and my high school English teacher inspired me to believe in poetry as something truly important. Poet William Stafford was one of my instructors in college and sealed my growing interest in poetry by his writing and incredibly supportive teaching style. Writing was what I did on the side and was my own thing until my English teacher husband encouraged me to pursue it more fully.
Living in the South Fork Valley in the '70s made a huge impression on my writing. The valley is filled with stories and visual richness that fed me, and I built up a body of work. Then I got to know more writers, followed some around like a puppy. (Favorites are Naomi Shihab-Nye, Lee Young-Li, Rita Dove and Bethany Reid, and, of course, Stafford.)
Q: What's the history of Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater?
A: When I moved to Bellingham (from Whatcom County) in 1993, I had quite a number of poems and no place to test them. I went to the Red Sky Poetry Theatre at the Ditto Tavern in Seattle and read through my terror to what seemed to me a tough crowd. But it was a start.
I thought closer to home would be better, so I publicized an open mic at the now-closed Cookie Café downtown on Cornwall Avenue and people came to read. Every gathering of writers brought new voices and a wonderful sense of purpose for writers to keep at it.
One night, the group of writers named the open mic "Chuckanut Sandstone," because at first, like poetry, it looks tough. It appears to be a rock, but when you dig into it, even a little, it breaks apart into small easy pieces. And sandstone, like poetry, has grit.
The people who came provided the impetus to keep it going and continue to help CSWT thrive at the Firehouse Café on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m.
Q: How did you become involved with Bellingham Repertory Dance, and what might the audience expect at the performance?
A: When CSWT met in the Firehouse Café, dance classes provided motion and fluidity in the background. One dancer-writer, Matt Christman, and one poet, Scott Stodala, thought it would be wonderful to have a collaboration between dancers and poets and they asked if I could help make it happen.
After a few meetings with members of Bellingham Repertory Dance Company and CSWT, "Phrasings In Word Dance" was created. It is totally unique, and absolutely wonderful.
It depends on the incredible dancers and the innovative choreographers who are all the time reaching into new modern dance territory. Poets from throughout the Northwest and across the country and Canada get involved, and from December to April the show evolves from original ideas to new expressions in word and dance.
In conjunction with the performances, don't miss "Coffee and Poets." On Saturday morning, April 6, from 10 a.m. to noon, many of the poets selected for this year's phrasings will do a featured reading, and coffee will be served. It will be at Saint James Presbyterian Church, 910 14th St.
This year's poets who will be reading on Saturday include Gregory E. Bem, Lydia Swartz and Jason Conger from Seattle; Cindy Williams-Gutierrez from Oregon City; and Bernice Lever and Ashok Barghava from Vancouver, B.C.
Poets selected for "Phrasings" also include Kevin Miller from Tacoma; Imani Sims, originally from Seattle, (now San Diego); and Briar DeHaven from Asheville, N.C.; and me.
Q: What are some of your other interests?
A: I am an active member of Saint James Presbyterian Church, an avid supporter of the Community Boating Center and an organizing president of the Everett Community College Professional Staff Union.