You’re on your way to a poetry reading, and honestly, you’re skeptical. In your head you imagine brooding beret-wearers with black turtlenecks yelling into the microphone about the agony of oppression. But when you walk into the coffee shop, order your latte and sit down near but not too close to the stage, you start to get the idea that you were wrong. Way wrong.
Instead, a group of regular-looking — as in, not clichéd — people files one by one to the microphone to share a part of themselves with the audience.
And you realize: It’s kind of cool, right? And it’s only getting cooler, according to Portland poet Skyler Reed.
Reed is organizing the second annual Northwest Festival Poetics, taking place this weekend at various locations in Corvallis. Last year’s festival ran two days at The Arts Center.
“(Festival Poetics is) local and regional poets getting together and sharing their work,” Reed said. The festival includes six readings and features local and regional artists as well as nationally recognized poets.
Reed also said that his vision for the festival includes the combination of literary and performance or slam poetry. Slam poetry is a lot about presentation and expression through performance; literary is more about the written word as it lies on the page.
“You have the traditional style of written poetry that’s being read aloud as opposed to performance poetry which is written to be read on the stage,” he said.
A sneak peek of a few of the poets performing at this year’s festival:
• Leyna Rynearson, featured poet Saturday evening: Rynearson is the co-slam master of Portland Poetry Slam and has received numerous accolades, including becoming the 2007 Anchorage Youth Grand Champion and traveling to New Mexico for the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam. On Saturday, Rynearson will host a showcase of Portland Poetry Slam poets, including Ty Bennett, who began writing after attending a Poetics reading at Interzone.
• Greg Gerding, featured poet Friday evening: Gerding is the founder of the University of Hell Press and the author of several poetry collections, including “A Loser Makes Good” and “The Idiot Parade.” Gerding also read during last year’s Festival Poetics, backed by avant-jazz band The Van Meyers.
• Dena Rash Guzman, featured poet Friday afternoon: Guzman is a poet, feminist, beekeeper and author of the collection “Life Cycles.” Guzman uses her poetry as a voice for women and minorities in the writing community, and has been experimenting with the theme of modern male identities in her “Joseph” series of poems.
• Alex Dang, featured poet Friday evening: Dang is the co-captain of the University of Oregon Slam Team and became an internet poetry phenomenon when Upworthy posted the poem “What Kind Of Asian Are You” to YouTube and garnering over a million views.
Reed said he hopes to expand the art of the poetry reading outside of the typical arenas, such as the coffee shop. While one or two events do take place at Interzone, some also take place at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library and even at The Majestic Theatre.
“I want to bring poetry and the literary arts outside of these very small venues,” he said, “and bring them to a new audience — let the general public interact with these communities.”
There are many reasons why having a festival like this important for poets and their audience, Reed said. One is poetry’s increasing popularity.
“Poetry has been more popular than ever in the last two years,” Reed said. Names like Derrick Brown, Andrea Gibson (who recently performed in Eugene) and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz have made performance poetry popular and raised the profile of poetry across the nation. Regionally, Alex Dang and the University of Oregon slam poetry team recently competed in a nationwide collegiate slam competition, the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. Videos of their performances uploaded to YouTube have gained millions of views.
“It’s more popular than it was when I was doing poetry slam in Corvallis in, like, 2000,” Reed said. “I’m watching this form and this community that I’ve been a part of for years kind of blow up in a way that wasn’t very expected. I’m trying to capture it and bring it back to Corvallis where I spent a lot of my time with the arts community.”
Reed said he hopes to make an impact by bringing all of these groups together: the nationally recognized such as Clementine Von Radics, the regional poets like Alex Dang, the literary traditionalists, the slam poets, the local and the visiting.
“(The festival is) bringing them together in one place, and will have that kind of impact that will hopefully jumpstart more artistic things in Corvallis, like the Corvallis Arts Walk, like da Vinci Days,” Reed said.
Poetry groups aren’t new to Corvallis. Jimbo Ivy, now the Majestic Theatre Supervisor, started the Poetics community in 2010, which hosts monthly readings at Interzone.
“He brought these amazing poets to town that nobody had heard of,” Reed said. “(Festival Poetics) is my attempt to put more of a spotlight on not just our little poetry community that we have at Interzone, but also have a bigger show… where this is the event, this is the one thing that you’re going to come and see — poetry in Corvallis. We want you to come and spend some time with our community.”
Northwest Festival Poetics kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday at Interzone with a reading from “Root of Lightning” author Michael Spring, a Poetics Corvallis open mic and music by JD Monroe and Dave Trenkel.