Poets read between the lines at downtown literary event

April 10, 2017 GMT

Poets are paid in a currency called applause and this weekend at the Inland Poetry Prowl in Ellensburg, poets, both award-winning and those unheard of, were anything but bankrupt.

Crowds of about 50 people filtered into local venues throughout the downtown over the weekend in what could be called an infusion of art and poetry. In its second year, the prowl teamed up with the First Friday Art Walk to combine visual art with poetry.

“It’s just tying the community and the arts together because so many of the artists are also writers, or they’re artists and also musicians,” organizer Joanna Thomas said about bringing together creative people. “This year it’s bigger and better.”

The prowl, hosted by Inland Poetry as part of National Poetry Month, featured poets, several of them local, from around the Pacific Northwest.

The event also hosted Todd Marshall, the Washington State Poet Laureate. Marshall was the last performance on Saturday night, and his visit was something that Thomas said helped get the word out about the prowl.

“People wanted to share the stage with him,” she said.

High school students

The event also gave high school poets a shot at performing. Set up in the Hal Holmes center, students signed up to recite poetry from memory, as learned for the Poetry Out Loud event.

“Once you get going, you forget everything,” high school junior Ashley Higdon said, drawing a comparison to playing sports like soccer and tennis.

For Poetry Out Loud, students first begin by reciting poems to their classrooms, then in front of the school, and then at a regional competition if they advance.

Higdon said she did not make it as far as she wanted to this past competition, but said she’d participate as a senior. Her poem, “Broken Promises” by David Kirby, is one of her favorites.

“There’s so many different ways to connect with different poems that no matter how you take it, if it touches you in some way, I think it’s really cool,” she said.

Finding a voice

Ellensburg poet Belle Randall emphasized the importance of connecting with poetry and finding your voice during her reading.

“I’ve always been looking for it,” she told a crowd at Dick and Jane’s Spot on Saturday.

Randall was surrounded by art, a wall of small colorful portraits of all styles neatly lined up behind her. She would adjust her glasses before reading out of her chapbook, sometimes forgetting to put them on, cracking jokes and offering poetic wisdom to anyone who would take it.

She said she liked to remind crowds during her readings that their voices can change, and recited persona poems, one about being a coat girl, another about escaping prison, and one about marijuana, as evidence.

For organizer Thomas, having diverse poets was a goal. Her parameters for the prowl’s roster were “gender, genre and geography.”

“Women and men, we want nature poetry and slam poetry, we want people from east, west, south,” she said.

Xavier Cavazos, another organizer, said his biggest criticism of literary events in Washington was a lack of diversity. The prowl, he said, is trying to be a diverse festival, both dynamic and inclusive. He was impressed at the turnout, which he called phenomenal.

“I think that this larger idea about design, and not just design on the page or design in terms of a prowl, or design in terms of building a community, that those aesthetics that you would actually do on the page or with art is the same sort of design principles you do with building something with human equity and social equity and creative equity,” he said about the prowl.

Words matter

Vancouver poet Armin Tolentino, who recited his poetry at the Soup Bowl, said coming together with other poets was nourishing. During his pauses, one could hear the clinking of spoons as people ate soup.

“Poetry is a very isolating work, it is at least in my case where you’re alone and looking at a piece of paper,” he said. “This is an opportunity to actually come together and realize that words matter.”

He said he started writing poetry at a young age to impress girls, something he learned from watching a sitcom called “Silver Spoons.”

“And I’ve never met a girl who’s been impressed by the poems that I’ve written,” he laughed.

Tolentino read poetry about things like caterpillars and dinosaurs and about the current mass extinction as part of the theme of animality.

“It takes no tea leaves to divine our die off,” he recited.

Olympia poet Lorna Dee Cervantes also grazed the topic of climate change with her poems about water, land, and being an indigenous woman.

“I am the land,” she said during one of her poems, holding a dog-eared manuscript in her hand as she made her way around the room at Iron Horse Brewery, another venue.

Members of Central Washington University’s Inklings Writing Club took turns introducing writers at venues. Megan Epperson called out for poets to sign up for open mic at the Blue Rock Saloon on Saturday, the final venue of the night.

Epperson, secretary of the club, said the book sale went better than last year in terms of the range of poetry available.

“I want to expose as many people as possible to the incredible range of poetry out there,” she said.”There really is something for everyone.”