Wednesday, 30 April 2014

7 Asterisks, or Why I Got into this Cascadia Thing When I Kept Saying I was Already Exhausted and Trying Not to Do So Much

Tomorrow starts the Cascadia Poetry Festival, four days of lots and lots of readings, workshops, panels, critique groups, open mics, and slams all weaving their way in, through, and around the theme of Cascadia. This is probably the largest single event-co-ordination I've been involved with. Specifically, I've been co-planning the Beer Slam and the Afterparty, both events which will hopefully provide the splashing, fun, raucous dolphin caught in an otherwise fairly serious tuna net.*

That said, when co-planning as a loose part of Seattle Poetry Lab, there's a fluidity to the conversation and action that can be electrifying**; a sense that the crew is more than just a collection of folks executing specific tasks to fit a schedule, this is a group of people united around ideas, or at least the discussion of them. Of bringing ideas to a table.***

I think, as Paul Constant points out in his excellent Stranger article, that discussion is in its infancy, or maybe its pimpled teenhood, but it's still growing. There are specific elements of the Cascadian Thing I'm interested in; Place has always tormented my writing no matter how much I tried to get away from it**** and the idea of a Cascadian Voice is intriguing to me, partly because of its simultaneous specificity and vagueness. It's far more specific than just "The Northwest," and more inclusive-- CPF (as it forever shall be known) draws heavily from Canadian poets.

But it's also a little vague; as a generations-native Seattlite, I can tell you there's a big goddamn difference in experience, perspective and artistic input between someone who grew up in Maple Leaf, Seattle, and someone who grew up in Walla Walla, or a farm outside La Grande, or a condo in downtown Vancouver.

What I hope is that discussions of Cascadian Poetry can grow to acknowledge this variety and encourage a more global view of Northwest/Cascadian/WABCOREGONSOMECALIFORNIAANDMAYBEMONTANA poetics.***** As a Seattle writer, I've gotten more and more interested in how that translates to writing about and experiencing other places, and how the experience of other places influences writing Seattle.******

I'll be interested to see where all the talks-- formal and especially informal-- go. More than most fests, what interests me about this is the conversation. This is a poetry fest for people who want to be interested, who want to engage. I suspect I'll probably disagree at some (many?) points on what constitutes "innovation," and I'll be straight up that the more hardcore political/anarchist/decolonize elements of the Cascadia movement hold no interest for me. I'm glad though, that a wide swath of writers are included******* and, that, as hard as it's been to program, a competitive element is included; the Northwest has had a long history of producing or housing performance poets whose work interacts with and crosses over into academic circles, blurring (what I think are largely manufactured) lines.

Okay. I told myself I'd not get past 7 asterisks, so read all my clarifications below and come to the fest. It'll be less work than reading this whole thing was, I swear.

*the other events will probably also be fun, but mine are the ones with "beer" in the title, where FUN IS ON THE AGENDA.
**Which is important, because this has been a lot of goddamn work.
***Or, you know, just bringing the table.
****The writing about place, or the place itself.
*****As opposed to a less global view, which so many NW-focused writing events tend to do, inadvertantly. There's a certain element of privilege that happens here, I think, especially when writing gets too exclusively nature-y. But that's a convo for another time, especially since I'm helping out with a fest whose flag has a tree on it.

******There's a certain Seattle Travel Poem boilerplate that seems to go "I went to New York and it was amazing but kind of dirty, and I thought about Frank O'Hara. . .  I went to LA and blah blah smog. . . I went to the midwest and relished their hospitality but oh! their politics. . . I'm glad to be back in the land of (lame joke about coffee or flannel, and SCENE.)" I am so weary of that boilerplate.
*******For the record, between myself, Aaron K, Paul Nelson, and some help from Jocelyn M, and Nadine M (different Ms) we scheduled near on fifty poets for just the runoff slam, beer slam, and afterparty alone. ALONE. So we aren't suffering for volume, that's for sure.

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