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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can a Poetry Festival Identify What Being from Cascadia Really Means?

Posted by on Thu, May 1, 2014 at 12:37 PM

(The Cascadia Poetry Festival begins tonight and runs through Sunday. You can find all the events in our readings calendar.)

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All writers are regional writers. From haiku to textbooks, writers always manage to somehow stuff the place they live inside whatever they're working on. Even if they never once write about the actual place where they live, there's still a home haunting the text. Consider Frank Herbert's Dune: You might argue that the harsh desert planet of Arrakis bears no resemblance to the Northwest where Herbert was born and raised, but it was inspired by Herbert's newfound ecological concern. Dune is a cautionary tale about what the Northwest could become, a story about the heartrending absence of the greenness that we take for granted, when the forests and the mountains are sucked dry, leaving a brutal landscape behind. I'd argue that Northwestern writers are even more regional than writers in many other parts of the world. This is a landscape that embeds itself into the consciousness of people who live here, that changes a person more than other places. Writers are not immune to this place; if anything, they're more susceptible.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk in many circles about Cascadia. It's a redefinition that expands to absorb the entire bioregion; Cascadia stretches clear down to Northern California and way up past Vancouver. The idea has been around for decades, but lately groups have been possessed by a powerful urge to define the place and the people, to come to a conclusion about what Cascadia really means.

From Thursday to Sunday, hundreds of people will be taking part in the second Cascadia Poetry Festival, an event organized by local poetry collective Seattle Poetry Lab (SPLAB). The festival brings dozens of authors to town from all over Cascadia and includes a small press fair, workshops, panels, open mics, poetry slams, and readings. Highlights include a presentation from Cascadia Institute founder David McCloskey; a panel about geography and activism; and the concluding reading featuring Seattle poets Heather McHugh, Frances McCue, and Maged Zaher, along with Vancouver poet and activist Stephen Collis.

It's important that poetry is embracing the idea of Cascadia because poetry is at the forefront of literature: It embraces and exhausts trends faster than prose, it allows for more experimentation, and poetry's exquisite little bursts of passion are perfect for the beginning of a movement, when everything feels new and alive. The Cascadia Poetry Festival is probably paving the way for a larger and broader-aiming Cascadia Book Festival 10 years down the line, when the idea has a little more definition and when some of the harder edges have been shaved down. But this is where everything gets hashed out, where the poets drink and fuck and fight about Cascadia, and what Cascadia means, and whether Cascadia is even worth the trouble...

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