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Bellingham poet Robert Lashley awarded writing honor

Bellingham’s Robert Lashley is among the poets reading Friday, May 6, at Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle.
Bellingham’s Robert Lashley is among the poets reading Friday, May 6, at Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham poet Robert Lashley received word a while ago that he’s a 2016 Jack Straw Writing Fellow, and he will read from his works, along with Kirsten Sundberg Lundstrum, Ruby Hansen Murray, and Shin Yu Pai, at 7 p.m. Friday May 6, at the Jack Straw Cultural Center, 4261 Roosevelt Way N.E., in Seattle.

Jack Straw is a nonprofit, multidisciplinary arts organization founded in 1962 that assists artists, educational institutions, and community organizations in a variety of programs.

Lashley says growing up in Tacoma, his life was “almost idyllic.”

I aspired to do for the Black Tacoma that nurtured me what Federico Garcia Lorca did for flamenco culture in Spain: intertwine the folk traditions of his people in various poetic forms.

Robert Lashley, poet

“My mother and aunts graduated with literature degrees. My grandmother — who ran a bar and a pool hall for 28 years —was fervent about arts and culture,” he says. “My Uncle Moe was the first writer in my family, and the most serious scholar of African-American literature I’ve ever known. My grandfather, steeped in conversations about art for most of his life, was elated when I decided to become a serious writer.”

Lashley says he comes from what he calls a “singing school” - not a true educational institution, but a body of knowledge one develops in regards to writing and reading poetry, with a particular emphasis on folklore, symbolism, and an appreciation of speech as it relates to poetry and the oral tradition. An aesthetic tenant primary to almost all writers who come from these schools is the belief that a poem should be read on the page as well as it is read on the stage, he says.

Lashley’s Uncle Moe wrote poems about surviving Jim Crow Mississippi. He was deeply scarred, says Lashley; he lost his parents at an early age, came back from World War II a broken alcoholic, and “was overwhelmed by an America that gave Ezra Pound more rights for spitting on it than they did him for sacrificing everything but his natural life.”

I’m proud of so much of ‘The Homeboy Songs;’ there is a lot going on in there in regards to processing deep blues in relation to crack era, hip hop, racism, and self-destructive community dynamics.

Robert Lashley, poet

“He didn’t get what he put in to this world, but he put in a lot in my life; and I’ve made sure to fly through doors he wasn’t allowed to walk into,” Lashley says.

Lashley’s collection of poems, “The Homeboy Songs,” published in 2014, came from his own singing school.

“I aspired to do for the Black Tacoma that nurtured me what Federico Garcia Lorca did for flamenco culture in Spain: intertwine the folk traditions of his people in various poetic forms.”

“I’m proud of so much of ‘The Homeboy Songs;’ there is a lot going on in there in regards to processing deep blues in relation to crack era, hip hop, racism, and self-destructive community dynamics.”

Lashley says its publication changed his life by making him a visible figure in many literary communities, and he’s grateful for that. The Jack Straw Foundation provided him a place that both nurtured him and pushed him to be a better writer.

“Up South,” the book he just finished, is partly a response to being in a program with writers who are that good.

Although Lashley says he’s not affiliated with any upcoming poetry reading in Bellingham, he praises two shows in our town that are moving Bellingham’s literary culture forward: The Write Riot Poetry Slam, hosted by Jessica Lohafer; and Kitchen Sessions, a group that meets at a private house run by Bellingham poets Elizabeth Vignali, Dee-Dee Chapman, and Erica Reed.

Bellingham Fringe

On The Precipice Productions and Seattle’s Minion Productions have partnered up to create the Bellingham Fringe Series, which will kick off this fall with shows that pair the touring fringe-theater artists with local performers, says Precipice founder Angela Kiser.

“Music, Magic, & Mayhem,” to be performed 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, at Firehouse Performing Arts, Center, 1314 Harris Ave., is a sneak peak of what’s to come. The show combines two pieces that have played to sell-out crowds and received great reviews all over North America.

The opening act is a busker cabaret from Bellingham’s accordion-juggler-punk auteur Strangely, who performs frequently at Bellingham Farmers Market.

The headliner is a comedy-magic show, “More Bange For Your Buck,” with magician and mime

Christopher Bange

. The two solo artists are their own carnival sideshow for the adult set.

Tickets, $15, are available at the door and at OTPprod.com/fringe. Details: 360-635-3251.

Margaret Bikman: 360-715-2273, mbikman@bhamherald.com, @bhamentertainme

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