Someone more equipped to do arithmetic should figure out how many possible combinations of readings were available at Lit Crawl last night. With 35 readings stretched across four hours, your Lit Crawl experience was guaranteed to be different from mine. And that’s sort of the appeal: to overwhelm your senses and to give you too many options. You’re supposed to finish Lit Crawl feeling as though you missed out on something.
That said, my Lit Crawl was pretty damn great. I started my evening at the Poetry Northwest reading at Folio downtown. The strict 45-minute time limit made a perfect length for a poetry reading, and all three poets were seasoned performers who know how to keep a crowd entertained. Sierra Nelson started out the night with a delightful array of poems mostly taken from her upcoming collection to be published by Poetry Northwest’s brand-new press. She read a pantoum about pickup trucks, an ode to lactation, and she closed with a poem about death that did not feel in the least funereal. Megan Snyder-Camp read poems from one of her two new collections this year, The Gunnywolf, and Jane Wong read an old poem titled “Aphoristic” and poems from her new collection Overpour. All three represented a generation of Seattle poets who are just now coming into their own, publishing books, presenting their work with great confidence, and fortifying their work with the wisdom that comes from years of writing and reading. It was a bill I’d like to see replicated at future events.
The “It’s All Relative” reading at Barça was marred by a lack of microphone: save for a few random words carried over on currents of laughter, I couldn’t hear the first two readers at all. Happily the third reader, Hanna Brooks Olsen of Seattlish and—full disclosure—my day-job colleague, was loud enough to overcome Barça’s sound quality issues. Olsen told a funny story about her history of eating disorders that, if told by another storyteller, might well have been completely horrifying. Part of the appeal of her reading was the way she told the story: Olsen doesn’t read in the ostentatious “I’m-going-to-talk-at-you-now” style that plagues some memoirists. Instead, she sounds as though she just wandered over to you at the bar and started telling a story about being poor and instinctually hating “fancy people.” It was casual, confessional, and the scathing observations on class practically stripped the paint off the walls.
In the basement of Capitol Cider, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore hosted a miniature edition of her “Contagious Exchanges” reading series that usually takes place at the Hugo House. Readers Tobi Hill-Meyer and Elizabeth Colen joined Sycamore for a conversation about sex and violence and attraction. Sycamore is an incisive interviewer, skipping over the how-do-you-do’s and jumping directly to the biggest issues in the room, asking Hill-Meyer about a line in her story claiming that “the opposite of attraction isn’t repulsion, it’s indifference.” They discussed the way transphobic people — mostly men — obsess over trans people, and that conversation naturally led to Colen’s book about a queer couple moving to a small town.
Sycamore also touched on one of the challenges unique to LGBTQ writers right now. When Hill-Meyer found herself to be one of the elders of the trans community at the age of 26, she realized that there wasn’t much of a history of functional trans culture to fall back on. All the writers agreed that because there’s relatively little out and proud LGBTQ history and culture to rely on, the accepted vocabulary changes over the course of very small generations of three or four years. Hill-Meyer recounted reading a piece she wrote less than a decade ago and being surprised to find quite a few words that would not longer be considered acceptable in the community. Queer writers, then, have to simultaneously discover, explore, and map new terrain in real time.
For the final hour of Lit Crawl, memoirist and animator Steph Kesey read a very strong and funny 15 minutes about a relationship. Unfortunately, her reading went on for over 50 minutes. The premise of Kesey’s “Hey There, Macaroni” is clever: it’s the story of a relationship, as told in animated slides of semi-anthropomorphic macaroni. (“Macaroni is the only thing that’s a penis and a vagina at the same time,” she explained.) The slides were fantastic — crudely animated gifs of macaroni rutting and penetrating each other and nibbling at each others’ ends in a somewhat pornographic Möbius strip—but there were just too many of them, and after a while the narration became numbing. (Kesey was a very likable host, assuring the audience after one especially explicit slide that “if at any point this makes you uncomfortable, remember: they're just noodles.” If Kesey had presented a shorter show with two other animator/writers, or presented two or three different short projects, “Hey There, Macaroni” would be a high point in the evening. Kesey plans to put “Hey There, Macaroni” on Instagram, and perhaps the piece will scan differently when the audience can read through it at their own pace, but in the end the audience was stuffed beyond bursting with fornicating pasta.
The low point for many people’s Lit Crawl probably came during the after-party, when I guest-bartended for a half-hour. For those who had to wait while I struggled with a cork, or who patiently stood holding their Rainiers as I figured out the credit card reader, or who didn’t grimace when I handed them a fistful of wet bills: thank you. Your sacrifice to the literary community has not gone unnoticed.