An extraordinary thing happened on April 15 in conjunction with the Wordstock festival. For one day, mayor Tom Potter renamed the city, simply by changing one letter. Thus, the rain-chilled, beer-soaked streets of Portland gave way to the effusive, well read, beer-soaked streets of Poetland.
Over a period of eight hours, in eight separate venues across the city, eighty different poets took part in a festival celebrating blank verse, slam poetry, modern sonnets, battle haiku, free verse and any number of variations on the poetic form. The poets read to crowds that varied in size and voracity for periods not exceeding 15 minutes. Some read well, some didn’t, but the sheer immensity of the event was certainly a score for Portland’s poetry scene that has waxed and waned as scenes are wont to do.
Gone are the days of Cafe Lena, where a well loved and oft remembered open mic flourished for many years. Gone too are the days of the poetry slam which, despite this very newspaper’s attempts to keep it alive with an event like Verbal Graffiti, seems to be going the stylistic route of the villanelle and sestina. Still Portland seems to attract talented writers who imbue the city with new life.
For instance, hosting the Powell’s portion of the Poetland event was Arlo Voorhes, who currently runs one of the hottest open mics in town at the Alberta Street public house. The reading, known as the Broken Word, has, in its short existence, already produced a professionally bound anthology that was widely hocked during Poetland. Many of the poets who read are regulars of the Broken Word reading and are included in the anthology. Readings like the Broken Word keep the juices flowing for area poets and help create a strong sense of community among an otherwise cagey and insular group of individuals. Still, when dealing with ego and performance, rivalries and clicks can and do develop.
That is why Poetland, organized by the incredible hallucinatory poet, Dan Raphael, was such a breath of fresh air. Most performers kept their egos in check and everyone appeared happy to simply be a part of something so big. Quiet confessional poets read side by side with loud, rambunctious, performance poets and each was given their due attention and respect.
Due to the fact that many performances often over-lapped in various locations around the city, there was no way that a person could have seen all eighty poets. However, the scattering of performance places did lead to the kind of venue hopping that makes an event such PICA’s TBA fest such an exciting time. Many audience members rushed from place to place to see a favorite poet or friend read. Due to this audience movement it is difficult to say what the actual attendance was for the reading, although reports are that most venues were fairly filled over the course of the eight hours.
The finale of Poetland occurred at the Tugboat brewery tucked in an alley behind Mary’s Club. The smoky room was filled to capacity as poets and spectators straggled in from outlying areas to heft a beer and good-naturedly heckle the remaining readers.
Finally, a somewhat dazed Dan Raphael took the stage to read his poetry and the crowd burst into generous applause and then slipped into a rapt silence as Raphael launched into his wild imagistic poems.
An event like Poetland may not happen again for a while, but it is good, at least for one day to see Portland’s poetry luminaries like Doug Spangle and Walt Curtis reading beside the men and women who continue to give life to what at this moment appears to be a thriving and lively poetry scene.