October 09, 2013
On Oct 2nd, the first LitHopPDX literary pub crawl, organized by Kevin Sampsell, Jeff Alessandrelli and Bryan Coffelt, served as a prelude to PDX Literary Festival Wordstock. LitHopPDX commandeered six venues to host 56 readers on Hawthorne Boulevard in Southeast Portland. It was a literary trick-or-treat for writers and their lovers, and it was all about dreams and selfies with Zachary Schomburg.
Judy Ossello, intrepid event reporter and writer, met up with me and Sarah Gilbert at Thorne Lounge to hear Julia Clare Tillinghast. Sarah was to chauffeur us up and down Hawthorne on her cargo bike, but she arrived soaking wet. We walked the venues with umbrellas instead.
Thorne Lounge used to be other places. Judy ate lobster ravioli here once or twice when it was called something else. That night, it was the temporary headquarters of the reading series If Not for Kidnap. Poets brought in the rain on their backs and in their hair and filled empty spaces until the windows started to fog. Matthew Dickman got the memo that all poets must arrive in hats, and host Jamalieh Haley came armed with elephant jokes and a list of incredible readers. Alyssa Morhadt-Goldstein wore a crown of roses and sat in beauty, preparing for her later reading for YesYes Books.
Angelo’s, temporary home to Sister Spit, was practically bleeding with the fervor of fans of readers like Ariel Gore and Lidia Yuknavitch. We entered just in time to hear Ali Liebigott invite us to push past the crowd and take a seat on the floor to listen to Gore. We did, and Gore read to us from a book she wanted to call Lung Cancer Noir, but has since decided to title it The End of Eve. Her reading was exquisite. Our time at Angelo’s was brutally short, but the green carpet I was sitting on grossed me out and anyway, this was business. No time for sentimentality and a drink. I really did want a drink on the way out, but instead, I jumped onto the lap of Milcah Orbacedo and walked away with a copy of her new chapbook.
As we wandered down the street, Mark Russell reminisced about nights sacrificed to the Bar of Gods, which was referred to as “high hipster heaven.” Tonight it’s a sardine can packed with literary genius. I couldn’t see over the top of everyone’s shoulders–I knew I should have worn heels.
Patrick deWitt was watching musician Brian Mumford, the sole person we met that night who didn’t identify as a writer, smash a pig in the video poker section near the back of the bar. Cheston Knapp stood near the pool table. Cari Luna, Tin House author and social media mistress of LithopPDX, looked lovely by beer light. Tin House had taken over the bar. We found room in the back as Vanessa Veselka began her reading, which quieted the house, but the bodies in front of us muffled the sound too much to hear well. We would’ve loved to stay, but we were women on several missions. One of those missions included selfies with Zachary Schomberg. Mission accomplished.
Top to Bottom – 5: Judy gets a selfie with Schomburg. Whatever. I’m not jealous. It looks like their limbs were torn off in a selfie accident. 6: People who got seats must’ve been drinking since six. 7: Kevin Maloney outside Sewicks, temporary headquarters of Now’s Ours. 8: deWitt with Mumford (Sun Foot)
Time was running out and we’d only made it to three venues. Several time slots involved brutal choices between two or three writers we absolutely did not want to miss. We decided to split up. It was especially painful to have to walk past Sewick’s, temporary home of Now’s Ours. When we peeked inside, Martha Grover and Brian S. Ellis were holding court in a room full of cushy chairs and couches. The mic was set up in front of glowing electric dart boards. We totally missed out.
Judy headed toward the Bad Blood reading at the Eagle Lodge. According to her, it turned into more of a vision quest than a sit and listen type of affair. The Lodge immediately had her craving a cup of Lipton tea with a little Tang in it, and she wanted the woman who asked her to sign the Mead notebook to be her grandma. There was sign asking all non-Eagles to sign in. It didn’t help that the bingo scoreboard was frozen in time, probably a black-out game and not something short like Four Corners. Too many numbers had been called before the win. How many numbers had been called for her? As she struggled to fix her mind on the present and ignore the swoosh of family memories, Tyler Brewington finished reading and Kelly Schirmann took the mic. Nirvana was sort of attained when Judy was able to match Schirmann’s line breaks with the distant sound of bowling balls crashing into pins. When Judy told me all this, she blamed it on being surrounded by poets.
Top to Bottom – 9: Brewington. 10:Schirmann.
I had to get to the YesYes Books venue, Common Grounds, to hear Tanya Olsen, Aaron Gilbreath and most of all Ocean Vuong. Plus, I had my own reading at nine. As I stumbled and laughed down the street, I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t have had that last margarita. I arrived just as Elaina Ellis was finishing her set, and got a coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. I noticed YesYes Books organizer KMA Sullivan was neglecting her sandwich. She said, like the kid in that Disneyland commercial, “I’m too excited to eat!” By the time I got a hold of my inner Woody Guthrie and PJ Harvey, it was my turn at the mic. Judy later said my reading was a mix of a Van Halen song and a smart article you read alone in a cafe and need to talk about later, so my faith in coffee and bacon as a tequila antidote stands confirmed.
On her way back down Hawthorne, Judy accidentally went back to Thorne Lounge and ordered a third gin and tonic during the end of Rodney Koeneke reading for If Not for Kidnap. She was supposed to be across the street at Common Grounds for YesYes Books so she put her entire drink into her purse and casually held it steady while she crossed the street to find a seat in a place that looked like it didn’t serve mixed drinks. Realizing she was officially drunk, she distributed the perfectly preserved drink between two water glasses, careful not to add the lime to either, and gave them to friends. The YesYes reading was cozy and sublime, a perfect almost end to LitHop. But wait: there’s more.
We wound up dancing our asses off with all the crazy writer kids like Robert Duncan Gray, Lindsay Allison Ruoff, Jamie Iredell and the unstoppable B Frayn Masters at the Eagles Lodge for about ten minutes until the Eagles put a solid end to the festivities. At first, thinking it was the DJ, Masters and I tried to rouse the crowd into a chant of MUSIC MUSIC, but it didn’t work, so we went looking for answers. Sampsell, whose reading for Tin House we heard mixed the best of slam style loudness and delivery with the serious edge of a writer about to see his millionth book released, told us something about why, like the Eagle Lodge didn’t expect 250 people to show up to the party, but it’s all a blur. It might have been blurry for Kevin and Alessandrelli too, seeing that they were sharing a whiskey and Coke and looking perplexed, excited and relieved. We felt happy and the drinks were brutally stiff. By the time Monica Storss noticed my purse was attached to my scarf which was wrapped around my neck and told me not to Isadora Duncan myself, I knew it was time to go. We sang “Hang the DJ” all the way home.
Top to bottom – 11: Vuong is liquid amazing. He turns us all into poets. We may never hear such a beautiful reading again for the rest of our lives. 12: Eagle Lodge afterparty gathering into a short-lived but mighty dance storm.