What happens when you mix a poetry reading with Fashion Week?
You get Poetry Press Week, a unique event dreamed up by Liz Mehl and Justin Rigamonti, in which the works of five Portland poets are read and performed by models in front of an audience comprised of publishers, press, and the public. Inspired by New York’s Fashion Week, the event is a fresh way to bring together local poets, their work, and their audience.
November 7th saw the launch of the first biannual Poetry Press Week at Literary Arts at 7:00 p.m. Models performed new, unpublished poems by Matthew Dickman, Ashley Toliver, Britta Ameel, Carl Adamshick, and Zachary Schomburg while the audience enjoyed a variety of snacks, beer, and wine. The poems were projected onto a screen behind the models so the audience could read along. At the end of each poet’s set, the models and performers walked the runway together to a round of applause, as is traditional of a fashion show.
The evening started off with a series of list poems by Matthew Dickman, which were read by six models and incorporated three other performers to bring a visual aspect to the poems. Photographs and newspapers were some of the props used, and one performer draped in scarves ventured, hissing, into the audience as she tossed the scarves on the listeners.
The work of Ashley Toliver was second, in a ten-minute series called “IDEAL MACHINE,” which was read in unison by two models dressed in white. Each woman spoke slowly and deliberately, without emphasis on any particular word, as they stared straight ahead. Combined with the pulsing, ambient music in the background, as well as black-and-white scientific diagrams projected behind the models, it made for a hair-raising, unnerving performance——in the best kind of way.
Britta Ameel was next, read by Laura Gibson, who sang soulfully and strummed her guitar. At times she encouraged the audience to hum specific melodies as she read. The audience participation created a warm atmosphere, and Gibson occasionally offered insight on her relationship with Toliver.
Carl Adamshick’s poem “Black Snow” was read by four models who all wore black clothing and rotated through sections of the poem. In a way, this set was most like a fashion show, with each model walking up the runway to the microphone, speaking their part, and then falling to the back of the line for the next model’s turn.
The last set was arguably the best of the night. The hypnotic buzzing of a bass filled the room, and a childlike voice steadily recited the story of a missing boy while the words played across the screen. As the tension in the audience built—everyone thoroughly creeped out—the model stepped through a curtain separating himself from the audience. Tiny seven-year-old Hamza Akalin, dressed in the classic ghost costume (a white sheet with two holes cut out for eyes), made his way to the middle of the room and launched into the next excerpt from Zach Schomburg’s upcoming book Agnes the Elephant. He read seriously, if with some difficulty seeing the book he clutched, and was helped by a kind audience member who held the microphone for him. It was a perfect and unexpected way to end the evening.