City Arts Fest Lit Crawl Seattle

I don’t like readings unless they’re happening in bed. Lit Crawl Seattle changed that. Historically for me, attending a reading is like going out for sushi. When someone suggests sushi, I think, well, there are California rolls, and there was that sublime fatty tuna at that one place, but everything else is bizarre and I’m always hungry an hour later and…can’t we just get pizza?

In the same way that I was embarrassed for people doing karaoke until I became one of them, the turning point in my appreciation of The Reading is imminent. This disclaimer is for those of you who, like me, think readings are usually stuffy, boring and pretentious. Well, sometimes they are bizarre and obtuse. So is a piece of eel that looks like a bloody finger. But boy, it can taste like butter. 

Pretension presupposes a degree of distance that I experienced the opposite of during last night’s totally fun Lit Crawl—a pub crawl, with literature, that has happened in other happening cities via San Francisco’s Litquake Foundation. By totally fun I don’t mean balls-out bonkers either. (Except, I hear, at the Hideout’s appearance of The Four Hoarse Men, Interrupture and Lydia Swartz). Everywhere I went, people read poems and stories that were a blend of tender, funny, serious, silly and deeply-felt.

It began at 5 p.m. at the City Arts Fest Culture Club outpost on Union St. Genevieve Brazelton kicked off the crawl properly by reading a sweet and sour story on the parallel adventures of falling for her husband and creating his namesake cocktail. Then people scattered to tackle three phases of readings, at one-hour intervals each in various venues on First Hill and Capitol Hill, before convening again at Hugo House at 9.

Mostly I followed the young organization APRIL around, because I kept meeting its super-friendly members (all strangers to me) in the street, getting caught in conversation and forgetting about my other options. APRIL stands for “Authors, Publishers and Readers of Independent Literature,” and their mission is connectivity between all.

Phase I: APRIL’s readings from Matthew Simmons, Richard Chiem and visiting poet Megan Kaminski at the Quarter Lounge. Concurrently, there was a “Funny Ladies” reading at Town Hall with writers I enjoy, but I’ve always wanted to go inside the seedy-looking Quarter Lounge, which has a huge rooster head on the sign. Inside, the non-mic’d readers in the pool table room genially battled noise bleed from the Seahawks game and spectators around the bar. Occasionally a hoot or holler seemed to punctuate the end of a sentence or passage. Simmons read about dignified lives and deaths, ending with a piece that questioned the meaning of a newish hip hop phrase, “YOLO.” You Only Live Once. Is this nihilism or optimism? Simmons seemed to settle on the conclusion that it’s how you perceive it. Chiem also invoked hip hop culture by painting an immersive picture of a Southern California freeway cruise gone terribly wrong. Kaminski’s poetry swung the pendulum to a more abstract place. 

Phase II: Twice as many options, but I sidestepped two bookstores, a bar and Gay City to see what was going on with poet Crystal Curry at sex shop mecca Babeland. Curry thought people would be filtering in and out, “crawling” through, but instead they circled her under too-bright lights and stood waiting with fizzy flavored water and chocolate chip cookies. Standing in front of a shelf full of fake appendages of varying size and shape, Curry launched into readings from a manuscript that involved firefighters getting it on with ghosts, the zombie apocalypse, true love and self-improvement. It was spellbinding. Afterward, a burlesque performer named Lily Divine danced an ode to her favorite book. Think about those “bibles” that actually hold flasks of liquor. This one held a different necessary vice, cylindrical and covered in rhinestones.

En route to the next location, I popped into Saint Johns Bar to catch the final three performances of “Poetry + Motion.” The Shunpike-sponsored organization is dedicated to “providing professional opportunities for African American poets and dancers to showcase their talent.” In the dimly, warmly lit bar with salon-style art climbing the walls, each poet’s reading was choreographed by a dancer. I didn’t get the names of the performers, but their collaborations were lovely. Only one of them seemed overly literal or interpretative dance-like.

Phase III: While City Arts’ Mark Baumgarten read from Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music at Porchlight Coffee, I had my first beer of the night at the Comet, while watching APRIL’s final performer, Zachary Schomburg, read poems about sex, refrigerators and terrifying dreams. Afterward, seemingly all of the Lit Crawlers packed Hugo House for readings from poet Elizabeth Austen and novelist Peter Mountford. As a bracingly unique closing, two actors from Book-It Repertory Theatre performed a preview of a forthcoming adaptation of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. If you could’ve seen through Hugo House’s rain-clouded windows, at the cramped tables, cups of apple whiskey and everyone chattering with everyone else, you might not believe you were in “antisocial” Seattle. Or maybe this is how readings always are. It’s certainly how they should be.