SpeakEasy event in Fairhaven to let listeners probe the minds of poets

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 23, 2013 

If you've ever attended a poetry reading, you've probably had this frustrating experience.

The featured poet reads a poem that catches your attention. Perhaps it's a line, a phrase or a single word. You wonder how the poet came up with the idea, and how he or she wrote the poem.

While that's swirling in your brain, the poet goes on to read another poem, then another, and then several more. The poet might take audience questions at the end, but by then you've lost your train of thought or you don't want to appear stupid asking a "Why did you do that?" question.

Luther Allen, a Whatcom County poet and the organizer of SpeakEasy, an occasional series of poetry readings, has had that experience of hearing an intriguing poem left in the dust at a reading.

"It doesn't really give me a chance to digest that poem and find out what it's all about," he said.

That's why his next SpeakEasy event, the 11th one, features a new format to present poems in a highly digestible manner.

At "Poet's Mind: concept and process," June 29 at Firehouse Performing Arts Center, 11 local poets are scheduled to each read one of their poems. Each poet will have 10 minutes to read it, talk about it and answer questions from the audience. While the poet reads, the poem will be projected onto a wall so audience members can read it during the discussion.

"There's desire on the part of the poets to be understood," Allen said. "This will really be of interest, both to serious poets and to other writers, but also to the general public who might have a passing interest in poetry."

Allen's goal with SpeakEasy is twofold: Provide exposure for local poets, and entice people generally not interested in poetry into giving it a chance.

Innovative approaches he's used for earlier SpeakEasy events include Valentine poems by local couples, "road trip" poems, and poems presented in an "out of the box" manner, including call-and-response readings and poems read along with Scottish songs and saxophone accompaniment.

The 11 poets scheduled for "Poet's Mind" are Caleb Barber, Matthew Brouwer, Oliver de la Paz, Ryler Dustin, Susan J. Erickson, J.I. Kleinberg, Nancy Pagh, Sheila Sondik, Caitlin Thomson, Jeanne Yeasting and Allen, himself.

Pagh, an award-winning poet who teaches at Western Washington University, plans to discuss "Oars," a recent poem she wrote using a new approach.

Before, she wrote poems in the way that many people presume that poets write; slowly, crafting one line at a time, with constant rereading to polish the words, structure and flow.

Lately, her approach involves coming up with random lines of writing that she later massages into a poem. To come up with the initial lines, she takes a book of poems, picks a line on a page at random, and then writes her version of the next line of the poem in the book. Her new line, and others written after she turns to other pages in the book, form the raw material for a finished poem of her own.

At "Poet's Mind," she plans to discuss "Oars," and an early draft of it, while the poem is projected on a Firehouse wall.

"There's something about seeing it while you hear it," Pagh said. "You can understand it on more levels."


COMING UP

What: "Poet's Mind: concept and process," part of SpeakEasy, an occasional poetry series organized by Luther Allen. Eleven poets are scheduled to read and discuss one of their poems. Admission is by donation.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 29.

Where: Firehouse Performing Arts Center, 1314 Harris Ave.

More: To read "Oars," go to online to valpo.edu/vpr, click on "Spring/Summer 2013," then click on "poetry" and then on "Nancy Pagh."

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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