Corvallis is full of literary communities, from CALYX, Cloudbank, and the Marys River poetry group to Oregon State’s undergraduate literary magazine and its soon-to-be-launched graduate literary magazine, Grass Roots Books & Music author events, Oregon State’s Visiting Writer’s Series, and many more. But of all the literary and writer support groups in Corvallis, one that often flies under the radar is Poetics.
Poetics is a community-organized poetry open mic that meets every month at Interzone. If you spend any time at Interzone you have seen their posters, imaginative and often bizarre—the work of different local artists. Created in November 2010 by Jimbo Ivy, who now runs the Majestic Theatre, Poetics started out as an open mic at Cloud 9 (now Cloud & Kelly’s). It then moved to Old World Deli and was run primarily by Charles Smith, and eventually ended up at Interzone because so many of the organizers had connections there. Bill McCanless, the owner, says he’s seen many poetry reading series come and go, but Poetics is one of the only ones that’s lasted. Tenaciously, it seems. Poetics will celebrate its third year at Interzone this November.
It’s hard to say who is in charge of Poetics both because of its frequently changing organizers and because it has always been a community collaboration. According to Frank Hall, Poetics is “very grassroots. Many people are involved and new people join in all the time to help out.” In fact, when I singled out Hall as one of the current main organizers and asked him some questions, he posted them in a Poetics open chat so that everyone involved could contribute. Chris Gray, who has been involved with Poetics for three years, said, “The meetings we have always have been by consent. For the people who are the leaders of the group it’s always been egalitarian. I think that method is what has kept it going for so long.”
Poetics also operates with very little in the way of funds. Despite this, the organizers procure featured readers each month to start out the evening, inviting poets from Portland or Eugene or drawing on local writers. In June the featured reader was Greg Darling, who’s been a poet in the community for decades. Hannah Baggot, an Oregon State graduate student who was a featured reader in June 2014, said, “It was really great at that time because it was getting to read in front of my friends. It was a really positive experience.”
Poetics likes to collaborate with Corvallis’ other literary communities, hosting a joint reading with CALYX last year. And though there isn’t as much direct collaboration with Oregon State University as there was many years ago when Roger Weaver hosted an open mic, many OSU students participate in Poetics.
Poetics has also hosted two festivals and printed a chapbook. This year’s festival was in April and lasted four days. Largely organized by Skyler Reed, it included performances at the Arts Center, the Majestic Theatre, and the Corvallis Library. Until recently Reed was heavily involved in Poetics; he has since moved to Portland and is starting a similar project called Moved by Words.
Baggott, who helped in the creation of the chapbook This Love Is Legendary, said the goal of the chapbook was to collect “the major voices of Poetics and have a physical representation of them, particularly for people who have never published a piece. It was an open submissions process and the only guideline was that the piece that was submitted had to have been read at Poetics at some time.”
The chapbook is a good example of what Poetics is all about: a welcoming, inclusive space to grow as a writer. Gray said Poetics’ structure of a featured reader followed by an open mic allows “less established poets to play on the same stage as more established poets.” And though the majority of their performances lean aesthetically toward slam or spoken word poetry, all poetry is welcome.
“The thing I like about Poetics is that we encourage young voices, all voices, to freely express themselves, and there’s always support,” said Gray. “It’s not a critique group; it’s a group that encourages talent. And we encourage it in a big way by clapping, by giving moral support to young writers. And ‘young’ could be older people who are just coming up, and I like that about it. It’s not hierarchical, it’s not elitist, it doesn’t put anybody down.”
Poetics usually happens the first Friday of the month at Interzone; this month’s open mic is Aug. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
By Kelsi Villarreal