Sometimes all the good things happen in a single night. These are the nights where you want to throw yourself into a large sterile glass tube, flip a mad-scientist switch, and then send a clone or two staggering off into the night, just so you’re sure you won’t miss a thing. Thursday, June 23, is one of these nights.
The poetry collective Margin Shift has for years been presenting some of the liveliest, most diverse readings in town. Every one of their events is, well, an event. But on the 23rd, they’re hosting an outdoor “Almost Solstice”-themed barbecue/reading that looks like it could be one of the more fun, laid-back poetry events of the year. The lineup includes a mix of Seattle poets (Sarah Baker, Tracy Gregory), Seattle poets who are moving to Buffalo, of all places (Travis A Sharp), and poets from the Midwest (Laura Burgher) and Colorado (Denise Jarrott). They’re young and vivacious authors, reading outdoors on one of the longest days of the year. Throw in a little beer, barbecued meat, and exposed skin, and this is a reading that could get you laid.
But across town in Greenwood, the Couth Buzzard is hosting one of Seattle’s most important poets, Koon Woon, whose memoir, Paper-son Poet, tells of his childhood in China, his immigration to Aberdeen, and his time as the unofficial poet laureate of the International District, where he became a mentor for many of the strongest poets in town.
Koon has lived through enough to pack a thousand memoirs. He has publicly struggled with mental illness and lived on the streets of Seattle. He has worked dozens of odd jobs, become a small-press publisher, and written books sporadically throughout his life. (He published his second book, Water Chasing Water, at age 64.) Koon is a foundational force in Seattle’s literary scene, but has not received the mainstream recognition he deserves. This memoir and this reading are hopefully the beginning of the end of obscurity for him.
“I entered the literary world through the back door, writing to channel my emotions instead of acting out in the streets,” Koon wrote for Poets & Writers magazine in 2013. “I wrote because I could assuage my mental illness by clarifying to myself my feelings and perceptions of reality.”
Press materials for this reading refer to Koon’s “consensual” relationship with reality, and that’s perhaps the best description of a poet that I can imagine: Koon’s work is visceral—he writes about flesh and blood and bone and work—but it is not quite realism. In fact, his writing always feels as if it’s coming from a different plane, and that he’s visiting us here on this godforsaken mudball because he likes us and wants to spend time with us. But he doesn’t need to be here: He’s one of those rare talents whose presence feels like a gift—surprising, spontaneous, overwhelming. Margin Shift, 1809 E John St. 7 p.m. All ages. Free. Paper-son Poet, Couth Buzzard Books, 8310 Greenwood Ave. N., buonobuzzard.com. Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.