Celebrating Poetry Throughout Clark County This Spring
A short film on Clark County Poet Laureate Christopher Luna
Poetry suffused Clark County well before WSU-Vancouver professor Dene Grigar sought to capture it in a wide-ranging public project.
Some of it hatched in Leah Jackson’s downtown Vancouver art gallery Angst, or in her adjacent wine bar, Niche. In 2010 she began hosting a competition among aspiring poets to create short verses in a display of posters at Niche, and saw a strong response that year grow even stronger, with submissions in 2012 from throughout Clark County and elsewhere.
Clark County’s first poet laureate was inaugurated under Jackson’s auspices, too. Christopher Luna staged a number of readings at both Angst and Niche, including an anniversary reading of Allen Ginsberg’s epochal “Howl,” before Jackson dubbed him “the poet laureate of Niche.”
“And then Arts of Clark County said we really should have a poet laureate,” Grigar says today.
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Luna, an educator, among many other roles, is in his second year as the county’s official poetry ambassador. Meanwhile, with support from a Humanities Washington grant, Grigar is steering the first year of “Enriching Our Lives with Words,” a county-wide poetry movement that’s broadcasting verse to residents throughout April’s National Poetry Month and into May, via several different outlets.
There was the launch back in February of “Poetry in the Shops,” with local poets and poet-aspirants competing to have their work displayed on posters pinned up in Clark County merchant spaces. There are lectures and open mics, with poetry happening off-the-cuff before participating live audiences. There’s an “Electronic Poetry” exhibit opening April 24 at Vancouver Community Library, with an emphasis on poems that can only be constructed or presented through a computer.
The latter is organizer Grigar’s specialty. As director of WSU-Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture Program, she teaches the humanities with an emphasis on digital creation and curation. An eight-year resident of Vancouver, she sees it as “a very art-hungry area,” and sought the Humanities Washington funding.
“My stance about poetry is that it’s a part of what we think of as human expression,” Grigar says. “It probably does express the human condition better than any other art form. People were telling poetic stories for thousands and thousands of years before it was ever written down.”
Her idea for the community-wide project was exposure to poetry in every walk of life, on all fronts.
“If we just do, like, poetry workshops, then only people who write poetry are interested,” Grigar says. “… It made sense to come into (this program) with different perspectives, from children to adults to practicing artists.”
Who: Enriching Our Lives with Words: Poetry in Clark County
Mission: “To involve the citizens of Clark County in conversations about poetry and provide them with opportunities to explore their poetic expression.”
On the Web: http://dtc-wsuv.org/wp/enriching-lives
Electronic poetry, for Grigar, is sort of a return to pre-written forms. Until printing, most poetry was transmitted by human voices, and while books enabled its transmission in a new form, Grigar believes it also closed off poems as a performative art.
“When we went into print, we went into private mode. Words no longer had life in the air — they became stagnant on the page,” she says. “… But essentially, poetry is an oral art form, and it needs to be heard.”
Poetry continues at Niche, although it’s not formally a site for the countywide movement. There are verse-oriented events about once a month, and each year Jackson goes so far as to host multilingual events, with poetry staged in other languages. Czech-born artist Olinka Broadfoot, from adjacent Portland, Oregon, has been key to that element. And Luna still holds poetry workshops at the gallery and wine bar.
But, Grigar says, “Since he’s become the poet laureate of the county, he’s much busier now.”