By Steven Barker
– The Capitol Hill Times –
A group dressed in trench coats and fedoras filled a dark bar with no sign. Some wore Groucho Marx glasses and others quietly strained their eyes, flipping through issue six of the Seattle-based literary journal Hoarse. They gathered for the release party following the theme, “Undercover.”
“We came up with the theme on a car ride together,” said Greg Flores, Hoarse’s designer. Emily Wittenhagen and Elena Moffet take care of submissions. “When the three of us get together we just throw out ideas.”
They chose the Electric Tea Garden because it had an intimate atmosphere and no sign. Wittenhagen said they wanted a place that would be hard to find, to reflect the undercover theme. They looked at a few places and this one just seemed right, she said.
Each issue has a theme for submissions and the release party reflects that. For the “Field Day” issue, the release was held at Miller Play Field Community Center with games and snacks. “Houdini” was held at The Rendezvous and a magician performed.
Following the theme “Undercover,” local bands played cover songs between readings of the latest issue. A group called Roy Orbison’s Wife and Kids, featured a singer sporting an Orbison-esque wig and sideburns. He joked that he planned on wearing sunglasses too, but the room was so dark that he couldn’t see anything. They performed Orbison’s “Crying Over You” and “Pretty Woman,” then switched gears to Rolling Stone’s “Under My Thumb,” with Hoarse editor Wittenhagen on vocals.
“I was so nervous [about singing] I could only eat apples all day,” she said.
Flores introduced the reading portion by inviting everyone to take a seat on the floor around the stage. The first reader, Seth Rasmussen read his poem from the latest issue then asked the audience a series of personal questions, “Have you ever measured your penis?” a few hands rose. “Did you use inches or meters?” There was an awkward silence. Then he asked the women, “Have you ever measured your parts?” No hands rose. Rasmussen apologized then went into a poem he dedicated to his grandmother about a Japanese garden.
Alex O. Bleecker introduced his poem by assuring the audience that he loved his therapist. “You sat there in your knowing chair, so I asked if you knew what meaning was,” he said to an attentive crowd. “If I wasn’t running from something, I’d be sitting in your office learning how not to,” he ended to loud applause.
Although the reading was held in a bar usually filled with drinking and dancing, the audience was respectful to the readers and quiet throughout each set. It only erupted to express gratitude to the readers for sharing their work.
Flores lowered the microphone for the last reader of the night, Elena Reitman who read a poem called “Agent Openteau,” which had the crowd laughing at the line, “The bathtub is claw-footed and the low-rise jeans are ass-enhancing.”
“Short people rock!” someone yelled when she finished.
The reading portion of the night ended and the crowd moved to the bar. The invitation asked guests to arrive in their best trench coats and many obeyed. Organizer distributed Groucho Marx glasses to those who didn’t show up in costume. A few people puffed on candy cigars.
People gathered around the merchandise table to purchase the latest issue. The cover looks like a CIA document with the majority of the words redacted. Inside, there is undercover-based poetry and prose from a variety of writers. Some pages have erasure poems where only a few words are visible. The journal also includes an envelope filled with short poems based on the theme “Secret Admirer.” It was an earlier submission call they planned to unveil for Valentines Day, but had been delayed.
A gang in fake wigs and mustaches set up their gear. Considerably clad in denim and facial hair, they felt like they should have been opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Flores announced the band as Lake and invited the crowd to move closer. In typical Seattle fashion, the crowd shoe-gazed during the first two songs. Then the band broke into The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.” Dance circles cropped up around the room. Boots stomped and hands clapped. Everyone seemed to have forgotten the undercover theme and let loose. Just as the good times started rolling, the song ended and everyone was told it was time to clear out. The Electric Tea Garden was booked for another party that started at 10 p.m.
As people found the exit, Wittenhagen, Flores and Moffet posed for a picture, all doing their best Undercover face. They were obviously excited and relieved to have completed another successful issue.