“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Steven Barker
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The back room of Vermillion Art Gallery and Wine Bar was packed on a sunny Seattle evening with a crowd eager to hear poetry. All the tables were full and people scoured the bar for the last bit of standing room.
They gathered for Breadline, a monthly reading series held on the third Wednesday of the month. A year earlier, Breadline coordinators Greg Bem, Alex Bleecker and Jeremy Springsteed met at the SPLAB Living Room, a weekly poetry workshop, and after some encouragement from SPLAB founder Paul Nelson they started the reading series in January 2011.
“The back space [of Vermillion] is perfect for our needs,” Bleecker said. “It’s a comfortable, relaxed, non-stodgy environment, and the art in the ante-room really lends itself to the kind of multimedia forms we look to incorporate.”
All three curate the event and are also poets themselves. Springsteed has lived in Seattle for ten years, while Bem and Bleecker are recent transplants to the city. Bleecker is from New York and Bem is from Philadelphia, where they both produced poetry events.
“We like to have a wide range of readers,” Bem said. Featured readers vary in style, age and art form. Bleecker added, “We wanted to bring something new to Seattle–create a performance community on the Hill that was poetry-centered, but not limited to poetry.” Previous events have included spoken word poets, animators, and fiction writers. Scientist Andrew Pendergast spoke about faith and the human genome project. “It’s our job to keep our eyes and such open for something new that a poetry audience wouldn’t expect to see,” Springsteed said. Every event is recorded and available at www.breadlinepoetry.com.
The first reader of the night was poet Graham Isaac. Isaac had been a regular on Breadline’s open mic, but this was his first time featuring. Isaac is a confident reader, who’s performed all over Seattle. He told a humorous story about writing a letter to his sister while he was in a bar with walls decorated in satanic art. “You’d hate this place,” he told her. He later cracked up the audience with the line, “Learning the hard way like a one armed rowing champion.”
Graphic novelist Megan Kelso was the second performer of the night. She read an essay about her love of Herman Melville, which was accompanied by a slide show of sumi-e paintings, an Asian style of art, which uses only black ink. Kelso is an accomplished artist with three books. Her latest, “Artichoke Tales” was published by Fantagraphics in 2010. Her essay was about Melville’s work not being appreciated during his lifetime and how that related to her own work. She explained that Melville’s life of poverty and depression was due to the times and people not being able to, “Understand the shit he was throwing down.”
The crowd cheered when Roy Seitz took the stage, “Well, do you folks want to do some killing?” He said in a deep voice. He’s a big guy with a tough attitude. Seitz, a Vietnam vet, read poems about firefights and the horrors of war. He painted a picture of life on the battlefield with the line, “Death smell stuck in your nose.” He waved off applause from the crowd to get to the next poem as quickly as possible.
Cooper Smith, AKA Coopersmith Grotesque, took the stage with his acoustic guitar. It was his second time featuring at Breadline. “I met up with him when I first moved out here in 2010,” Bleecker said. “His musicianship simply blew my mind. He started out doing a few songs before we decided we definitely needed him to feature.” Smith told the audience he felt pressure to be great, because he was following such talented acts. The crowd clapped along to his songs and it was evident by the smile on Smith’s face that he was having just as much fun as the audience. At one point he flubbed a line, but laughed it off along with the crowd. He ended to the longest applause of the night.
During a short intermission the crowd took the opportunity to unpack themselves from the cramped room and grab another drink. Some people admired the art in the front of the room while others gathered on the sidewalk to smoke cigarettes and talk about what they had just experienced.
Breadline is a free event that asks for donations. The curators recently bought a projector with the money they raised at passed events. Donations go towards advertising and other poetry related projects.
Springsteed introduced the open mic with one of his own poems, then informed the readers that they have two minutes or one poem. It was a mix of newcomers who shakily read poems they’ve never shared with anyone and open mic regulars. Evan Peterson read a poem about horror character Freddy Krueger, and The Four Hoarsemen, a group of Seattle poets that includes Bem and Nelson, as well as Joe Chiveney, Jason Conger and Jeanine Walker, answered questions from the audience with sound poems. Springsteed made sure to point out the first timers and thank them for participating.
“We find a lot of our features at the open mic,” Bem said.
The next Breadline will be 6/20 at 7:00pm featuring Poets Gregory Laynor and Robert Lashly and music by Single Malt. The event is free.