Behold the Cascadia Poetry Festival



In his essay “Why Cascadia, Why Poetry,” Paul Nelson, founder of the Seattle Poetry Lab, asks a question that this weekend’s Cascadia Poetry Festival seeks to answer: “If it is true that the west coast of North America is often ahead of cultural and economic trends… how does Cascadia lead the way for a new bioregionalism, providing a model for bioregions all over the industrial world? And how does that sound in song?”

The Cascadia “bioregion” to which Nelson refers here extends from the tip of northern California to the tip of British Columbia and includes most of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Citing Peter Berg, Nelson describes bioregionalism as the idea that ecological boundaries should dictate political boundaries and that sustaining the environment of that particular region should be the chief goal around which citizens organize themselves. Nelson goes on to argue that because good poets can serve a prophetic function in society, it might be a good idea to wrangle the bioregion’s top brass and get them to talk about place and perhaps to let the audience decide for themselves the role that place plays in the projects of the region’s various writers. Enter the Cascadia Poetry Festival.

To present the various facets of this notion, the festival’s organizers set up an impressive array of events. In addition to several compelling panels and readings, there’s also a small press book fair, workshops run by veteran poets and a few Living Room Readings where you can sit in a circle of others and read your own work. Admission to individual events is $10, so you’re better off buying the $25 Gold Pass, which gets you in everywhere.

If you can’t devote your entire weekend to noodling about the bioregion, then be sure to hit up at least the following events:

Keynote Reading
Friday, May 2, 7:30 p.m.
Pigott Auditorium at Seattle University
Tonight’s reading features Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Bowering; San Francisco Renaissance Joanne Kyger and George Stanley, and Portland mega-stars Kaia Sand and Emily Kendal Frey. If you don’t have Emily Kendel Frey’s new book, Sorrow Arrow, then do yourself a favor and pick it up so you can sing along.

Cascadian Poetics: Innovations from Here
Saturday, May 3, 10:20 p.m.
Paccar Atrium PIGT 103 at Seattle University
Nadine Maestas runs the panel that explores techniques spearheaded by some of the bioregion’s best poets. Panel includes Jeanne Heuving, Joanne Kyger, Stephen Collis and George Stanley.

Force Field/Feminists (Allergic to Cats) Reading
Saturday, May 3, 7:30 p.m.
Pigott Auditorium at Seattle University
Nadine Maestas and Jocelyn MacDonald host this wealth of women poets, featuring Force Field poets Joanne Arnott, Yvonne Blomer, Kim Goldberg, Heidi Greco, along with Jeanne Heuving, Linda Russo, Marilyn Stablein, Sharon Cumberland, Gail Tremblay, Alysse Knorr, Emily Mundy, Jane Wong, Shae Savoy, and Tashi Marin.

Closing Reading
Sunday, May 4, 7:30 p.m.
Pigott Auditorium at Seattle University
Half of the people on this list have been deemed geniuses by one organization or another. Tonight, check out the 826 Seattle poets from the Mountains of Poetry workshop led by Jared Leising, Heather McHugh, Frances McCue, Stephen Collis, and Maged Zaher.

Super-scenic bioregion photo by Rich Smith.