Although Catherine Barnett and Renee Simms had never met before, Catherine had specifically asked if they could share the stage at WordsWest. And consequently, a literary friendship was born on a Wednesday night at C & P Coffee Company. The braiding of the two writers' work together was brilliant as many in the audience mentioned to the curators after the show. The night centered on a "living anthology" where both authors explored different notions of time. Catherine (who flew in from the East Coast for the reading) began with poems from her new book Human Hours (Graywolf Press) and offered the audience a definition of lyric time (time outside of the clock) and narrative time (time of the schedule, or her college-age son's time). Barnett's deadpan humor and poetic generosity was moving and the crowd felt it. Renee Simms (driving up from Tacoma) read from her short story collection Meet Behind Mars (Made in Michigan Writers Series). Was a father's wife was poisoning him? Had a writer's family been killed off literally or only figuratively? How does one leave the midwest? Gabrielle Bates of Open Books joined us to share a show-stopping Favorite Poem, Richard Siken's "Scheherazade" from his collection Crush; Open Books sold books for the evening; and Abi Pollokoff (also of Open Books) and former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen took up Catherine's challenge to create spontaneous poetry out of questions. The evening was alchemical: the spring equinox changed into a time out of time where high caliber literature was all that mattered.
WordsWest 41 - Michele Bombardier and Natasha Kochicheril Moni / Favorite Poem by West Seattle High School student Mihna Born
In the wake of Seattle's two back-to-back snow storms, WordsWest #41: What We Do, What We Say, was a breath of fresh air for a city of folks finally able to roam the streets and sidewalks freely. Michele Bombardier and Natasha Moni read in a "braided" reading style on the themes of work, death and nature.
For the West Seattle Favorite Poem Project we welcomed our first ever youth reader, Mihna Born, a West Seattle high school student who read an untitled poem by Rupi Kaur that began with the line “i want to apologize to all the women i have called pretty…” The poem reminded us that beauty is not as important as intelligence, kindness or bravery, which is why Mihna told us she chose this poem as a favorite. Also noteworthy is the fact that Mihha, her mother Reya and her father Maketa have all three read their favorite poems at WordsWest!
Floating Bridge Press’s Michael Schmeltzer attended the event and offered some incredible poetry giveaways! Not only that, but 2019 is Floating Bridge Press's 25th anniversary! Writers note: Floating Bridge's chapbook contest is open until March 15, 2019.
Podcast excerpts are below.
WordsWest 40 - E. J. Koh and Juan Carlos Reyes / Favorite Poem by Fawn Coussens, MSPT. of Kinetic Physical Therapy
A magical WordsWest evening with E. J. Koh and Juan Carlos Reyes, musing on the vulnerabilities, fears, and aspirations of "Past and Future Selves." Juan Carlos read from his novel-in-progress that touched upon life, death, and hidden parental anxieties. E. J.'s poetry and letters in translation ranged across the terrain of jeong (love), han (sorrow), and indescribable beauty. In the words of a regular WordsWest audience member, "My favorite WordsWest ever!"
Fawn Coussens, MSPT, kept us all grounded with her Favorite Poem: "Love After Love" by Derek Walcott.
Podcast excerpts are below.
WordsWest 39 - Bruce Beasley, Carol Guess, and Susanne Paola / Favorite Poem by and Dessert Benefit for West Seattle Food Bank
Bellingham brought it to West Seattle! And it was a feast of words that the WordsWest crowd will chew on for a long time. Carol Guess read from her latest book True Ash where we met Elvis, a microchip coder living in the booming Amazonian neighborhood of South Lake Union. Suzanne Paola shared an unforgettable creative non-fiction piece about commensal rats (commensal meaning "a companion at meals"). Last to read was Bruce Beasley, who shared three longer poems beginning with "A Study in Hallelujah" in which he kneaded the process of finding things to be grateful for as so many disheartening events unfold around us.
A volunteer from the West Seattle Food Bank read her favorite poem as part of the West Seattle Favorite Poem project and it was a special moment. Maggie Dieringer read A.A. Milne's "The More It Snows" from Winnie the Pooh, asking the audience to chime in "tiddley pom." Maggie mentioned how this poem connected with her as she thought about the people in need in our community and how cold their feet may be in the growing snow.
And, of course, it was the WordsWest annual dessert benefit for West Seattle Food Bank. May we always have a place and people to turn to in our time of need.
The podcast excerpts are below.
WordsWest 38 - Stacey Levine & Anca L. Szilágyi / Favorite Poem by Hannah Tyne of Reading Partners Seattle
On October 17, 2018, WordsWest Literary Series was thrilled to host Stacey Levine and Anca L. Szilágyi, who read passages from their novels that touched on the theme of "Girls and Daughters" (and sisters). From a runaway teen and Argentina's Dirty War to a party in which the Charlie the egg man may or may not be dead, Anca and Stacey ranged across terrain in turns harrowing, mundane, and surreal.
Did you know that 3 out of 4 fourth-graders in Washington state are reading below grade level? Hannah Tyne, Volunteer Coordinator for Reading Partners Seattle, wants our community to come together to change that. It all begins with kindness, which is why Hannah presented her Favorite Poem "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye. Volunteering an hour a week could change someone's life.
The audio from Stacey and Anca's presentation and Q & A is below.
WordsWest Year 5 kicked off with a bang as short-story writer Greg November and poet Joannie Stangeland joined us to muse about "New Beginnings." While Greg left the audience with a cliffhanger in a short story called "Show Me the River" about a high-school boy growing up in the rural Northeast, Joannie read poetic diptychs, collages, and sketches from her newest book The Scene You See as well as poems never before heard in public ... including what she deemed to be one of less-common "happy" poems ("Sketch in Yellow Whether the Sky Looks Blue") and Susan's favorite poem ("In the Country Called Marriage"). Heidi Seaborn shared a Favorite Poem: "Letter to Peterson from the Pike Place Market" by Richard Hugo.
So honored to have closed out WordsWest Year 4 with an amazing Kids Night featuring Suzanne Selfors and Dana Simpson. It was also fitting that a girl upfront named Phoebe brought her Spirit horse figurine and a unicorn.
Suzanne read a passage from her recently re-released novel Fortune's Magic Farm, which Harold's 9 year-old daughter proclaims is "the best novel ever written." Dana read from a number of works but brought down the house with a singing, Gilbert and Sullivan version of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Magic Unicorn." We loved having Jenny Cole of Page 2 Books selling books and reading her Favorite Poem, "I'm Just No Good at Rhyming" by Chris Harris.
Technical difficulties meant most of the evening did not get audio recorded ... but below are some snippets.
The theme was "Home Unsettled Home" and our readers both touched on that theme in unique ways through the presentation of their work. Rachel Kessler is currently working on a cultural/historical/personal mapping of Yesler Way, a main thoroughfare in Seattle that runs from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington, so she shared some history and self-revelations in the form of non-fiction essays as well as poetry. She then handed the mic over to Matthew Zapruder whose work also touched on the idea of home and how the last election "unsettled" home. After he read, Rachel changed what she'd planned to read based on what Matthew read and in this way the two made connections and echoes within their "braided" reading, each taking three turns at the mic.
Our West Seattle Favorite Poem reader was Eva Deluba from our local Mud Bay Pet Store. She was a fantastic reader! Her poem was "Self Love" by Rupi Kaur and the audience was truly touched by her honesty and self-reflection as she talked about why this was her favorite poem.
The night ended with a writing exercise lead by Rachel. Drawing on inspiration from Neruda's questions, the audience was instructed to write a question starting with "What is ..." on one side of an index card. The question could be about anything. The cards were collected and redistributed with the blank side up. Without looking at the other side of the card, we were then instructed to write and answer to a question. The cards were then redistributed and we each read our card, though we ourselves had not written them. The audience loved it!
What is your worst nightmare?
It is the color of the sky seen through the last dragonfly's wing after it has left a high school cafeteria where all the kids are laughing except for the future poet.
What is the most beer allowed to drink daily?
It is who we are, what we do and do not know.
What is the reason for all these tears?
It is bright red, like the flower in the planter outside the coffee house.
National Poetry Month at WordsWest was a true celebration of how reading and hearing poetry contributes to "Expanding Existence"---the theme of this event. Poets Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Susan Rich shared poems that felt like they stopped time and opened into moments that continue to change a person long after the moment has passed. Aimee read poems from Lucky Fish and from her new book Oceanic, just out from Copper Canyon Press. Susan bravely and beautifully shared poems from her manuscript in progress. Susan is usually behind the scenes or emceeing the WordsWest event, so it was a real treat for the audience (and co-curators Harold Taw and Katy Ellis) to get to hear Susan's work read on our beloved WordsWest stage!
After the intermission, we got to hear an installment of the West Seattle Favorite Poem Project, a memorized excerpt from the long poem"Alphabet" by Inger Christensen, recited by Abi Pollokoff, of Open Books: A Poem Emporium, She did an amazing job tying in the theme of expanding existence, declaring "apricots exist!" The crowd was amazed and delighted.
The evening ended with an inspiring Q&A session with Aimee and Susan. One takeaway being that even serious writers might not write every single day, that there are many ways one can be a writer and still have a full life outside of writing.
Sadly, technical glitches got in the way of the audio so there is no audio of the one-of-a-kind evening.
In a celebration of Women's History Month and women's stories, writers Melinda Mueller and Dianne Aprile read on March 21, 2018 to a full house at Words West 33, "Who Tells Her Story?" Melinda Mueller began the evening with her poem about the Virgin Mary, whose story was "conceived years later by men / who had not been there." Mueller continued with poems of other Marys often overlooked, including Mary Easty, hung during the Salem witch trials, and Mary Anning, a "fossilist" likely the source of the "She sells sea shells" tongue-twister. Dianne Aprile read from her hybrid memoire about her aunt whose story of trauma—repressed by the family—led to anxiety and a lobotomy. The audience was mesmerized by the poems and the memoir—and how the different silences and dismissals they told of resonated with each other.
For the West Seattle Favorite Poem Project, West Seattleite Glenn Brooks shared William Carlos Williams's "This Is Just to Say," and then he followed up with a riff on it from his daughter, which began, "This is just to say I killed the cockroach." To wrap up the evening, Melinda and Dianne took time to answer questions about their research and writing processes. The energy between them was electric, and people lingered to talk long after the official event had ended.
WordsWest Literary Series
Here's where you'll find information about our past events. For a complete list of past featured writers, favorite poems, and sponsors, consult our "About" page.