Category Archives: Poetry

It’s hard to go home again, or is it?

By Laura Grimes

The Small Large Smelly Boy and I have been on the road for a while, bravely negotiating a clogged highway along a lavender festival, fording a large body of water by ferry, climbing mountains, and gingerly making our way through Sasquatch Country.

JoJo can prove it. Our parenting thinking is so warped that we brought along a buddy to keep him company. Meet Bog. We’re hoping he will keep JoJo’s insatiable appetite for making friends in check. (After the whole embarrassing episode with the Stumptown Tart, we decided we better do something.)

JoJo and Bog hobknob with Sasquatch

We gladly travel through hill and dale for good reason. Now we’re in Eastern Washington, where the family roots run deep and the surrounding hills stay shaved and tan all summer long. Growing up, I played softball in these parts and got horribly sick on irrigation water (I was the stupid kid from the city who didn’t know any better). Good times.

Continue reading It’s hard to go home again, or is it?

Listen up, Oregon: Your poet laureate is on the air

By Bob Hicks

Some Scatterers may remember this story, from way back in February, when Oregon was searching for a new poet laureate to replace Lawson Fusao Inada, who had filled two terms and was departing gracefully.

clip_image003Mr. Scatter suggested in The Oregonian that, historically speaking, the best qualifications might include a good beard (or at least a good shock of hair) and a cool-sounding name, like Colley Cibber or Seamus Heaney or Blind Harry or, well, Lawson Fusao Inada.

Once again ignoring Mr. Scatter’s unsolicited advice, Gov. Ted Kulongoski instead appointed Portland poet Paulann Petersen, who does not have a beard but does at least have an alliterative name.

Paulann Petersen, Oregon's new poet laureatePetersen seems like an excellent choice, actually. A good poet laureate is, in a sense, an ambassador of the word, and Petersen stressed that point to the committee that recommended her. “Poetry is not the domain of just a few, nor the realm of the elite,” she said. “Poetry is as natural and accessible as heartbeat and breath.” In April, Jeff Baker introduced her well in the pages of The Oregonian, and a few days later the O’s editorial board even chipped in with this nicely considered look at the laureate’s role and how Petersen might approach it.

This afternoon the Oregon Cultural Trust sent notice that Petersen will be the guest Tuesday morning on OPB Radio‘s Think Out Loud public affairs show, with host David Miller. Considering that poetry began as a spoken art form, this seems good and appropriate: We can all gather and listen around the virtual campfire. The show will be broadcast live 9-10 a.m., and rebroadcast 9-10 p.m. The shows are downloadable on the OPB Web site, too.

And that, fellow Scatterers, is the word.

Journalism and poetry: Is a new romance in the air?

By Laura Grimes
Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of my last day at a large daily news organization. So it seems only fitting to reimagine a new, inspiring era of journalism … that incorporates poetry.


For more than half my life I was a journalist. At least that’s the occupation I wrote on insurance applications and medical forms. But in the beginning it just seemed like one paycheck away from my real occupation: a big liberal arts question mark.

When I was fresh out of college and looking for work I vowed I would never work for a newspaper. I hated being pressed to finish term papers, why would I subject myself to deadlines every day? But I loved the whole messy process of publishing and had ever since I walked into Mrs. Wallis’ yearbook class my junior year of high school. The pull was still strong. After college, a quick accounting of publishing job options revealed:

  1. Literary magazines, tops on my list at the time, had no paycheck.
  2. Glossy magazines meant moving to New York.
  3. Book publishing ditto.
  4. Leaving the idea of working for a large daily newspaper really appealing.

So at a once-large publishing company in Portland, Oregon, my love affair with newspapering began, slowly at first, but eventually growing into a deep passion. The job taught me to work with speed and economy.

Continue reading Journalism and poetry: Is a new romance in the air?

Josephine, Chapter 2: The long return

By Laura Grimes

I said hello and called her name. She sat on the side of her twin bed, reading an aged book. She didn’t respond. I called her name again. I stood in front of her for several moments. I raised my voice. Nothing. I finally stooped down and looked into her face.

Josephine raised her head just a little, looked at me and smiled. She put a mark in her book and closed it. Gold serif type spelled out two words on the blue cloth cover: Silent Spring.

Silent SpringI put my bag on the floor and moved a portable potty out of the way to give her a sideways hug.

I looked at her square in the front again. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. “It’s been a long time.”

“I know. I never meant to stay away so long.” It had been more than four months.

I looked around for the low wooden stool I usually sit on and found it under a wastebasket. She was wearing a purple dress with white polka dots, the material a thin synthetic. Two strands of Mardi Gras beads matched the color of her dress, one of little hearts and one of little dice. She wore a short-sleeve jacket with a cut out lacy design on the collar, all white like her hair.

Continue reading Josephine, Chapter 2: The long return

Miracle elixir, that’s wot did the trick, sir

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage against the dying of the light with a well-mixed martini in your hand.

W.H. Auden, Library of Congress/Wikimedia CommonsIn a recent post about a Vox spoken-poetry performance, Art Scatter mentioned in passing “the magician’s drone of listening to the likes of W.H. Auden reciting his own work.” That phrase caught the attention of playwright, novelist and filmmaker Charles Deemer, who passed along the following memory of the great gimlet-eyed poet. (And, yes, we know it was Dylan Thomas who advised against going gentle into that good night. Thomas was known to pack away a brew or two, himself.)

Since you mention Auden …” Deemer writes, “his magical readings were more magical than meets the eye.

Dirty little martini/Wikimedia CommonsIn 1963 I had the honor of hosting Auden, who was giving a reading at a community college I attended at the time. There was a dinner and reception before the reading, during which he drank, by my own nervous count, a dozen martinis! And seemed drunk. We didn’t know what to do, and when approached he assured us all was fine, no, he didn’t want any coffee …. so off we went to the reading, nervous as hell. He still seemed drunk to me when he went to the podium. Then somehow he didn’t. He gave a brilliant, flawless reading. Then he stepped away, seemed drunk again, and wanted to know when he could have a drink.

Remembering Auden’s feat got Deemer going, and he passed along another couple of encounters.

Continue reading Miracle elixir, that’s wot did the trick, sir

Poetry off the page, or, the fat lady sings

On Saturday night Mr. and Mrs. Scatter went down to the industrial east Willamette waterfront, to Waterbrook Studio, the little theater-in-a-warehouse just north of the Broadway Bridge, to catch Poetry Off the Page.

voxpostcardIt’s the latest in Eric Hull‘s Vox series of staged — I almost want to say composed — poetry readings. Composed, because it’s done by a chorus of actors in a chamber-musical fashion.

Brunnhilde, George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of CongressWaterbrook is basically a room with an entrance area and a door leading to what serves as a green room for the performers. Somewhere around the corner, down a broad-plank floor, is a restroom. On Saturday the performance space had a few rows of folding chairs for the spectators, a lineup of music stands up front for the six performers, and three chairs to the side for the performers who occasionally sat a poem out. In other words: all the tools you really need to create some first-rate performing art.

It helps, of course, if you have some first-rate performers, and for this show Hull has cast impeccably. His six actors are adept at making their diction precise without squeezing the life out of the words. They are masters of rhythm, as crisp and casual at passing the ball as a good basketball team on a fast break, and beautifully cast for pitch, color and range. Grant Byington is the tenor, Gary Brickner-Schulz the baritone, and Sam A. Mowry the bass. The women — Adrienne Flagg, Theresa Koon, Jamie Rae — are similarly cast for their complementary vocal qualities.

What they do is this. They take a poem (twenty-five of them, actually), break it down to its component parts from stanza to line to syllable to vowel and consonant, settle on a rhythm, and deliver it as a group, sometimes passing it around phrase by phrase, sometimes word by word, sometimes in unison, sometimes as a soloist and chorus.

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Books are for lovers: Meet Josephine

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne FadimanI’ve been keeping someone to myself much too long. I’ve collected reams of notes and have a stack of material. Now I feel somewhat prodded, thanks to Rose City Reader, who posted this review of Anne Fadiman’s “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.”

I left this comment on her post:

My copy of this book first belonged to my friend, Josephine, who was exactly twice my age when I first met her. She writes in pen in all of her books. She underlines words she doesn’t know, she makes little comments, she traces routes on maps, and on the very last page of every book she reads she signs and dates it and sometimes writes a short comment. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paperback or a gorgeous leatherbound edition from Easton Press. When I pointed this out, she shrugged and said simply she was a carnal book lover. When I was confused, she said I had to read this book and gave me her copy. In the middle of Fadiman’s essay about courtly vs. carnal book lovers, Josephine wrote in very scratchy script at the bottom of Page 40: “Mom used to use a bill to mark her place in a book. She told me to look through her books when she died. Yes, I found a few bills. I was astounded a couple of months ago to find $60 in a book I had read some time before. My mother’s daughter.” The last page is signed: “J.D.P. Jan. 16, 2009. Truly loved this book!” She was 92 years old at the time.

Continue reading Books are for lovers: Meet Josephine

Damn everything but the circus!

Just in time, on a gray Portland day with far more static than electricity in its air, comes this note from Allan Oliver, who runs Onda Gallery on Northeast Alberta Street.

 "Show Time," acrylic on canvas, Deborah Spanton/Onda Gallery“Damn everything but the circus!” Allan advises, quoting the great, undercapitalized e.e. cummings, who wrote in full:

Damn everything but the circus!
. . . damn everything that is grim, dull,
motionless, unrisking, inward turning,
damn everything that won’t get into the
circle, that won’t enjoy, that won’t throw
its heart into the tension, surprise, fear
and delight of the circus, the round
world, the full existence . . .

Mr. Scatter finds himself in complete agreement today, and feels a sudden compulsion to wheel his unicycle out of the garage and go cavorting with a trained elephant. Citizens of the world, we have nothing to lose but the liars, lackeys and cheats!

Before Mr. Scatter dons his clown costume, though, he should explain why Mr. Oliver sent this most appropriate of poems. It was to announce a new, circus-themed show at the gallery of paintings and prints by Deborah Spanton (that’s her acrylic on canvas Show Time pictured) and prints by Gene Flores. The show doesn’t open until April 29 (it runs through May 25), but we simply couldn’t wait to spread the news.

Excuse us, please. We’re off to find the hurdy gurdy man.

Mr. Scatter shares the wealth

Mr. Scatter has been a writing fool lately, and not all of it for the virtual pages of this illustrious blog.

Louis Untermeyer, laureate lionine. Wikimedia Commons.He has also composed essays that resulted in actual financial recompense, including a trio of pieces for that fine and noble stalwart of legacy media, The Oregonian.

This piece, about Oregon’s search for a new poet laureate, analyzes the situation and reveals the two most important qualifications: a cool name and cool hair. In the old days it also helped if you could rhyme on a dime, but that is less important in our times of free and cut-rate verse. Mr. Scatter is given to understand that sometimes poems don’t rhyme at all!

Colley Cibber: Bad poetry, great hair. Wikimedia Commons.Mr. Scatter is, in fact, in favor of this position and its title, and he admires Oregon’s retiring laureate, Lawson Fusao Inada, in whose hands the post has been not simply ceremonial but also active and engaged: He has taken poetry and learning to the far corners of the state, in situations ordinary and unusual, and persuasively held that language matters.

Today, by the way, is the final day to nominate someone to be Oregon’s next laureate. Find out how here.

This morning’s Oregonian features this story about the artist Joe Feddersen, whose most recent museum exhibition, Vital Signs, is at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem.

Joe Feddersen. Photo: Mary RandlettIt’s a fine show, worth the trip. And speaking of trips, Mr. Scatter pauses for what might seem a brief diversion but in fact is not.

Mrs. Scatter ceaselessly admonishes Mr. Scatter that he should join a social network club called Facebook. Mr. PAW goes a step further, proclaiming loudly that Mr. Scatter must Tweet.

In fact, Mr. Scatter has trouble with the 200-odd emails that jam his computer daily, and does not fully understand his so-called “smart” telephone. So please drop in on this reconstruction of the interview portion of How Mr. Scatter Got That Story:
Continue reading Mr. Scatter shares the wealth

Blog comes on little cat feet


to evewybody else: shhh! be vewy vewy qwiet. let’s see how long it takes mr. scatter to notice i’ve posted something.

(hey, what’s up with the dreadful new digs?)


My timid, sneaky she-cat

Behold. My own blog sign-in. Not that I have bloglegs to go with it. I’ve had the superblogpower for a while and have been mulling over the perfect first post. Big? Little? Not that the passing days mattered a wit because I didn’t have time. As I kicked around ideas and poked in the cobwebs of my inner files, I kept coming back to a quiet little place I think of as a beginning. It’s my cat, really. My timid, sneaky she-cat.

It’s not my he-cat. He often lies in a basket next to me as I work. That is, when he’s not rubbing his white hair against my black pants and clawing my thigh. By most accounts, he’s a demanding brat. He’s big. And loud. Though I find his penchant for carrying around little stuffed animals adorable, I’m not so keen about his nosings-around on the kitchen counter.

She, on the other hand, takes off for days. She goes back to the old stomping grounds a few blocks away. Sometimes she walks home with me at night. But only if it’s really black outside. Even in the dark, she skirts the edges and the byways. She comes to me sideways and looks up past me. If she lets out a soft little trill my heart skips. Because it’s so hard to come by.

I pick her up and hug her to my cheek and smell poetry. Elusive. Mysterious. A silence like no other. A wellspring.

She disappears. But she always comes back to me. She bumps her forehead against mine. I smell the rich loam buried deep in her fur. This is how we say hello. She lets out a soft little trill.

She is where I started to write a few years ago.

A sweet little poem came out. And then a funny thing happened. It became a prelude. This is how it went.

Two cats: A prelude
One is strong and cocky.
He jumps on the counter
when he knows it’s wrong
and dines fine
in a beam even,
meowing loudly.
He rubs my thigh
and laps my love
no matter what.

The other is quiet and shy.
She slinks in under shadow
and finds food
in the dark.
Curled in a hollow,
she sleeps in the small space
pressed next to me,
speaking nothing.
In the night
when all is silent
I touch her softness
and she carefully
turns her belly bare
to meet my hand.