On Saturday night as the sun fell behind the cloudless western horizon, a crowd gathered outside the Greenwood Public Library for the third stop of the final Greenwood Lit Crawl. The library was closed and a noticeable chill was in the air, but none of that mattered for those celebrating the end of the crawl’s yearlong literary reign in the North Seattle neighborhood. Saturday’s trek began at 6:30 p.m. at Furnishments, a furniture consignment store on 72nd and Greenwood, and boasted performances from fourteen writers and musicians at five venues along the district’s main thoroughfare.
In front of the library, standing above the crowd atop a sculpture of boulders, poet Christine Deavel began reading a series of poems all fittingly centered on the theme of walking. Deavel, along with her husband, runs and owns one of the few all-poetry bookstores in the country, Wallingford’s Open Books, and so spends much of her time entrenched in the art of poetry. As she read, her natural cadence and sharp enunciation displayed her comfort and learned poetic expertise to the audience. Coming after heavy-handed political poet Benjamin Schmitt, who’d read at Makeda Coffee as part of the crawl’s second stop, Deavel’s quick-witted, smoothly rhythmic poems seemed to reinvigorate audience members who were now beginning their third hour of readings.
The marathon-reading model of the literary pub crawl seems far from novel in Seattle at this point, in part because of the frequency of the Greenwood series. Over the last year and a half at least seven such events have taken place around the city. The APRIL Festival produced Seattle’s first lit crawl in March 2012, followed by the inaugural crawl of the Greenwood series in July and the City Arts Fest lit crawl in October of last year.
As someone who attends at least one literary event every week, the idea of a lit crawl is pragmatic as way to see a crew of local writers read all in one night, but it’s also headache inducing. Why? Ask any writer or patron of the literary arts what makes a good reading and you’ll find one answer in common—a good reading is a short reading.
Clocking in at five hours long, Saturday’s crawl was anything but brief. With so many readers, it would have been nearly impossible for every reader to rub every audience member the right way. Perhaps that is part of the appeal of such a grand event—that there is a little something for everyone’s taste. But for an event that takes all night, the less honed, more proselytizing readers seem especially taxing, particularly when paired against tried and true talents such as Deavel and screenwriter/critic Charles Mudede.
For his set outside the library, Mudede read a series of in-progress, but nonetheless brilliantly crafted and eerily amusing philosophical vignettes about his personal obsession with ghosts. His prose rode the line between desolate and sidesplitting, kept the audience visibly on edge, and then repeatedly punctuated the quiet with collective howls of laughter. “It’s impossible, you can’t have a ghost,” Mudede said between pieces, and then emphatically, “But I love them!”
The penultimate stop at Chocolati provided a surprise highlight of the evening, a reading by poet Luke Johnson. Johnson, who is about to depart Seattle for Virginia, read a series of pastoral and unabashedly American poems. Unfortunately, while Johnson’s poems seemed ripe for the evening’s summer haze, Chocolati proved a loud and fairly unwelcome venue for such a subdued reading, making Johnson compete with the loud bustle of the café’s espresso machine and non-crawling patrons.
The final reading of the night was held at Naked City Brewery and featured spoken word artist Imani Sims, experimental poetry group Interrupture, and poets Summer Robinson and Maged Zaher. Interrupture is a unique band of poets and performers, a kind of comedic poetry symphony wherein one member is always conducting the other members on how to recite their lines. Saturday’s cacophonous piece was a strange and hilarious breakdown of the top ten soap opera tropes, but had more to do with the chaotic sounds being made by the players than the ridiculous, if mostly unintelligible content of the words.
Summer Robinson, former owner of Pilot Books, read some of the most varied and satisfying poems of the night, twisting together comedy and poignant sincerity into the same lines. While her subject matter zipped from the natural—bird-watching and crabbing—to the silly—a discussion of her confusion between George Sanders, George Sands and George Saunders (among other Georges)—her words were uniformly amusing, precise and beautiful.
Maged Zaher, the final poet of the evening, began his somber reading by sharing the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial, which had been announced nationally during the crawl, followed by the reminder that “this country is still racist as fuck.” If any audience members were losing steam by this point, as it was nearing 11 p.m., Maged’s loud, hoarse, sermon-like recitation demanded all attention in the room. The surreal language of his poems, which let off a fog of politicism, displayed the awe-inspiring, healing nature of poetry—the highest note on which a night like this could have ended.
Photograph of Christine Deavel by Willie Fitzgerald.