Birds of Skagit River

(it’s ridiculously late to be posting this, and a bit long, but wanted it for the archive, and also for Elee, cuz she asked and we missed her there)


Driving in to a sleepy quiet flower-print sort of town with my poet friend Adrienne.  Have lunch in a cafe. Jericho Brown wanders in and we invite him to sit with us. When I tell him where I’m staying he goes “You’re sleeping in a tent?” His laugh has enough energy to power all the flowers of this town.


Don’t have a ticket for the “Poet’s Dinner” event so I drink a beer in a bar overlooking the water and write some  sentences.


Sleep that night in the aforementioned tent on a beautiful waterfront lawn at Rachel Rose‘s folks place. Kind and intelligent people. First night alone in a long long while. Miss my baby and wife. A bit of a sleepless night, birdsong in the morning.


At my volunteer shift, hand out program guides to chattery high-schoolers coming in to see the morning’s school-only events. All the poets do well at not talking down to the kids and even amp up the edginess. I introduce myself to Tony Hoagland who is bemused at the ‘squareness’ of the town.  In the following `Taking Humor Seriously` panel, he makes a good comparison of poetry to jokes while suggesting  how a funny poem can still have complexity and sadness  folded into it.


Checked out the “Going Public with Private Feelings” panel (Carolyn Forche, Marie Howe, and Kurtis Lamkin). Each of them spoke openly and beautifully.  There was moving discussion when a young girl talked about signing her poem ‘Anonymous’ in a Chapbook anthology because she didn’t want her parents to worry about her. Because of this panel and witnessing the tendency towards more personal and narrative themes in the festival, I start rethinking my tendency to avoid writing about my life directly. More on this later.


Bob Hicok and Lorraine Healy at Poems as “Prayer: Poems as Weapons” both shrug off the idea of poems being weapons, but approach it from a social justice perspective. Hicok reads beautifully. I remark to him how his poems aren’t prayers for personal needs, but go out toward or on behalf of others, sort of like grace before a meal. This leads to good conversation.


Evening closes with Tony Hoagland, Patrick Lane, Carolyn Forche, and Vancouver band, The Fugitives. Hoagland goes sharp, Lane goes heavy, and Forche seems to possess the power to levitate everyone in the room. She also does a funny imitation of her friend, poet Ilya Kaminksy. The Fugitives are great and dynamic, and their energy is a much needed relief from the heavy stuff.


Sleep better the next night. Fish jumping in the morning. A birdcall I later understand is a mourning dove. Still miss my baby like crazy. Then to see Nikki Giovanni, Tony Hoagland, and Patrick Lane at the “What Man has Made Of Man” reading. They speak of their coming into writing and how it was desperately necessary to them as young people. Also go into what it might mean to be a young writer in this time. Really lovely. Giovanni rambles off topic quite a bit but makes a good point about needing to audio/video archive these talks/readings. She said it enough at different times at the festival, I’m sure it will be on the agenda for next year.


Poetry, Music and the Visual Arts with Lorraine Healy, Rachel Rose and Mark Schafer. Poems turned into opera, into rock, Poems in dialogue with photographs, poems as words hanging from a tree. All good ways to see the possibilities outside the book. I mention my poetry phonebooth idea to Schafer who seems excited enough about it to maybe make it real.


Gathering of Poets! Every poet at the festival reads for a minute. I had misgivings about this one, thought it would be too rapidfire and channel-changey. But it was actually very good. I was pretty overwhelmed by the end but in a good way. Rachel and I go for a nice walk to clear our minds after, sit and write at a cafe. See someone with a birdcage backpack (with a real bird inside it).


Rachel is sweet enough to take me as her guest to the dinner with the poets. Feel very honored and a bit weird, like a kid who sneaked backstage. Talk a bit with Simon Ortiz, Elizabeth Austen and Kurtis Lamkin.  Tasty tacos and good wine.


Final reading has Giovanni, Hicok, and Howe throw down. Don`t think much of Giovanni`s poetry but boy can she work a room. The poems seem almost incidental to her freewheeling stand-up routine. Marie Howe is good but maybe a bit too straightforward for me. Bob Hicok owns the room in a powerful and quiet way. He is wearing a red t-shirt in front of red curtains which makes him seem to be half disappearing. But yes, easily the most powerful reading I witnessed, and I heard from a number of people that he was their best discovery at the festival. I talk with him a little after and suggest we meet up when he visits Vancouver in a couple weeks. This happens.


Not over yet! Jericho Brown has graciously invited poets and friends to come over to the magical little bed and breakfast he wis staying in, so I go with Rachel and a few others and sit around in the living room with pretty exhausted but glowing writers. People take turns reading. I feel bad that I didn`t bring any writing with me, so I attempt to read something from memory (that loopy Saturn poem) which I have never done before. I can barely remember haiku I have written! Surprisingly, it works, and goes over well. I have this moment of feeling a little less like a fan-boy, and more like one of the writers in the room.


Next morning a workshop with Tony Hoagland that I won`t get into now, because this has been too long a post. and Elee, I should save something to talk about over coffee. Which we should do soon, yes?

Hope all is well and thrumming in your world.


One thought on “Birds of Skagit River

  1. This was the closest thing to being there. Thanks for the lovely immediacy of the descriptions. I missed you all! This post was well worth waiting for, but I do want to hear all the tiny backstories,too.

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