Donald Dunbar took off his sweater when he brought us outside. He stood on a cement barrier, lit a cigarette, and read poetry. “Come closer for this part. I need to coo.” Everyone got closer, and the bartender in the world of Dunbar’s long poem started cooing a series of man-walks-into-a-bar jokes, while a baby wailed like a telephone, a woman came so hard she shattered the beer mugs, and a European orders a flight of pig's blood while the Mexican gets a pint.
Dunbar took off his sweater because, when he told everyone to follow him out of the upstairs room at the Pine Box, he didn't want anyone to think he was doing it to get more comfortable. He wasn't comfortable at all, and everyone could see him shaking in his t-shirt. His fellow reader, Patricia Lockwood, offered him her long, spotted, fur-collared coat, which he refused. (Her coat was as fabulous and unignorable as her poetry.) But Dunbar played through the pain, projected, inflected, etcetera, and his crowd kept rapt.
Why leave the Pine Box? Well, it was really loud. The Seattle debut of Portland's infamous Bad Blood reading series yesterday took place above a noisy bar, where “Shot Through the Heart” and other 4/4 hits kept trying to steal the show. The first two readers, Lockwood and Seattle-based Rich Smith, read above the noise like champs. Smith opened with some approachable verses about realism and the magical, including getting too drunk to play cards well. He then spent the rest of the evening getting drunk, and I learned that he's never paid for a coat in his life.
The second reader, Lockwood, began by saying that the night before, she'd had a drink before her set for the first time, and that it had improved her personality enough to convince her to do it every time from now on forever. Maybe it was the drink, then—Lockwood was on fire, reading a long poem about the tits of American poetry in a voice like Julia Child mixed with Zelda Fitzgerald. Lockwood told us about how Walt Whitman once nursed eight wild dogs at once, and Emily Dickinson measured her tits in units of time, not cup sizes, while the whole audience produced a kind of cozy collective hard-on for American poetry.
It's funny that the reading was competing with the crowd downstairs, because the night before, Dunbar and Lockwood had read with Eileen Myles in Portland to a crowd of over 200 for Portland's Bad Blood. The Pine Box might have seemed like a downgrade, but there was the most fantastical sense of us-against-them, of brothers-in-arms, and we few, we happy few, felt really lucky to be there for such inspired new work, even when we were freezing in the parking lot. Bad Blood hopes to host more readings in Seattle, and anyone who hasn't felt turned on by contemporary literature lately would be welcome to come.
This post has been updated; Ben Mirov couldn't make it, and Rich Smith read instead.