It seems very American, somehow, to try to improve something simply by making more of it. That seemed to be exactly the aim of the 2012 Lit Crawl Seattle last week, and weirdly enough, it worked.
Any public reading of poetry or fiction is a hit-or-(mostly)-miss event that's considered a success when more people sit through it than drink through it, talk through it, or sleep through it. More often than not, it's bewildering how many smart people will attend and create something that just doesn't come anywhere close to awesome. (And I've gone to, read in, and organized enough readings to know first-hand.) Lit Crawl had a nice vision—writers and listeners stumbling from dive bars to bookstores in a celebrant literary frenzy—but I was dubious about the payoff. If your average reading is a dud, what will seventeen readings, with over 60 readers, be like? That's a big pill to swallow for even the most devout. And yet, Lit Crawl delivered the goods. I think I enjoyed about as many readers as I hated, which is a pretty typical split, yet I left feeing atypically great about the experience. Was I just happy with the size of the portions?
Doubt it—with so much going on, I remember the Crawl more for what I missed than what I caught.
For example, I skipped the opening party and the First Act entirely, although I later felt particularly remorseful about missing The Four Hoarse Men and Interrupture, a performance group that showed up at both the Hideout and the Fireside Room of the Sorrento Hotel and, well, interrupted. For the Second Act I chose the Bent reading at Gay City, which was markedly underattended but no less vigorous for it. (Later, I learned everyone had been eating cookies at Babeland instead.) Next, I didn't go to the Tin House reading, even though I've loved that Portland magazine long and hard. I didn't go to the Seattle7 event, either, which I heard some grizzled biker later describe as “murderous.” I was watching Portland author Zachary Schomburg speak his piece on the stage of the Comet.
One thing for which I give major props to the organizations hosting the Crawl is the employment of venues where poetry is not only unusual, but sometimes unwelcome. Last Thursday, the Comet was split down the middle, with half the crowd rowdily and vocally watching the Seahawks game, and the other half milling around in peacoats and periodically flinching when the sports side would erupt into roars. I'm used to seeing loud bands perform on the stage Schomburg was standing on, but he was my highlight of the evening, partly because it was great to see a poet rise to the occasion of the venue. His banter was perfectly on point (a highlight: “I have binders of poems about women,”) and the crowd was eating it up, heckling him to read some “sexy poems” and laughing at all his WTF lines.
And after the party was the afterparty, where the booze line wrapped around several walls of the Hugo House and Elizabeth Austen gave a reading that was both boring and uncomfortably erotic. But it was touching to see so many supporters of the literary arts in the same room, reunited after the readings they were or were not at to have some kind of crescendoing fraternal hootenanny.
I'd expected to leave the Lit Crawl feeling like I'd had way too much of a bad thing. I didn't. I felt great. Maybe it was from being part of something bigger than any single stage and its captive audience, but I wanted to do it again. And when Seattle has another Lit Crawl, I'll definitely be there, with low expectations and a buzz on.