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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
This City Could Be Your Poet: Seattle
One of the fantastic things about calling Portland home is being able to partake in our kinetic and flourishing poetry scene. Not only are there a number of ridiculously well-curated reading series (Bad Blood, Sleep, If Not for Kidnapped, to name drop a few) but our poetry and poets can be found in the fabric of everyday life, whether it be hosting the best dance parties in town or collaborating with fashion designers and boutique advertising agencies.
As Xenophobic as we Portlanders can be, we know our city is not alone when it comes to having a vibrant and eclectic and wild poetry community. In an effort to discover these territories, we have reached out to some of our favorite poets, asking them for an introduction to the city in which they write, read, and live in.
Kicking off the series is Rich Smith, whose poem “FOR SARAH IN HER BLUE JUMPSUIT” appeared in our most recent Summer Reading issue.
Tin House: Where do you live?
Rich Smith: Seattle, WA, right on the border of Capitol Hill and the Central District.
TH: Are you from there?
RS: No. I’m from Belton, Missouri. But I think it’s sort of an achievement for an organism to land here in Seattle. The earth piles up on itself majestically. There’s water all over the place. Everyday I see some plant I’ve never seen before. Mountains on my left, mountains on my right, one giant volcano behind me. Cordial mosquitoes. In summer, you get one habitable sapphire after the next to live in as you please.
TH: Describe the poetry scene of your city in one line…
RS: Bunch of rogue scholars and slam poets and indie darlings all hunched under one monocloud and trying not to write about the rain.
TH: What are three of your favorite collections to come out of Seattle?
RS: Maged Zaher’s Thank You for the Window Office is up there. Heather McHugh’s Hinge & Sign is required reading. Jane Wong’s little chap Kudzu Does Not Stop is excellent, too.
TH: What local poet are you most excited for the rest of the country to read?
RS: SARAH GALVIN. Ready thy forearms for this tattoo, young poets of the world: “If a well-dressed Victorian lady burst out of the floor of your basement and said, “Could I ask you a question?” Would you call poison control about the bottle of Robitussin you just drank? Would poison control call you, and tell you that you’re smart, and that your hair looks good? Because I would. You should take off your shirt.”
TH: Is there a poem that best describes your city?
RS: The other day I heard Karen Finneyfrock read a poem called, “Monster,” and I was transported to a town I was already living in.
TH: Do you have a favorite local press?
RS: Are you asking me to choose between Wave Books and Copper Canyon Press? Is that what you’re asking me to do? Copper Wave Canyon Books Press.
TH: Do you find the poetry scene to be isolated or is it in conversation with other mediums?
RS: Every year the APRIL festival redefines what it means to be “in conversation with other mediums” through a series of amazing readings. They pit poets against drag queens in hotel lobbies. Just the other day they convinced Zachary Shomburg to drive up here from Portland and open up for a special screening of JAWS. Last year they tapped local visual artists to create work in response to Heather Christle’s poems from The Trees! The Trees! and then they organized a gallery opening to present all that. They’re young, bright, brilliant, and only just starting out. And that’s not all. There’s also the Vis a Vis Society, helmed by Sierra Nelson and Rachel Kessler. They fuse poetry and scientific inquiry to sublime and often hilarious effect. They put poems in bathrooms, buses, and art museums. And that’s not all. The Breadline performance series presents poets, prose writers, and other interdisciplinary wizards in a space called Vermillion, which is an art gallery that’s also a bar. And that’s not all. There’s the Richard Hugo House, hub of all things literary in Seattle. And that’s not all.
TH: If we were visiting, what reading series would you take us to?
RS: I have the most fun at the Six Pack Reading Series. What happens is we all crowd into the Washington Ensemble Theatre, and then we watch different kinds of writers and performers read something in response to a prompt. The first prompt was, “Too Drunk To Fuck.” So everyone had to write THAT poem. Or THAT story. Or THAT song. The next one is called “Too Bored for the Lord.” I’m excited.
TH: Booze and dancing seem to go hand-in-hand with poetry. Where can we get a drink and shake it after a reading?
RS: I’m glad you asked. I got a mean two-step and a shimmy that’s not too happy to see you either, so I stick to the soul clubs. You basically have three options. Havana is for amateurs. Talcum at Chop Suey is one step up. At Lo-fi, they don’t let you in the door unless you’re wearing a top hat and hot pants. I frequent all three.
TH: If you could choose one poet to move to your city, who would it be?
RS: I would pluck the great Jaswinder Bolina from the tropics of Miami and set him down on top of the Space Needle. And if Olena Kalytiak Davis ever wanted to get back in the game, I’d grab a chair for her, too. We would sit and sip bourbon and talk all night about what the mountains were wearing.
Rich Smith holds and M.A. from Ohio University, and is currently enrolled in the M.F.A. program at the University of Washington. His poems have appeared or will soon appear in Tin House, Guernica, Barrow Street, City Arts, Bellingham Review, The Southeast Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Seattle.