Thursday, November 20, 2008

Alice In Your Pocket

If you live in Seattle, well you're lucky indeed, because on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday 27 November, starting promptly at 10 a.m., the entire text of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll will be read aloud, in one standing, by your neighborhood pocket poet, A. K. “Mimi” Allin. This reading will take place in a cozy neighborhood pocket park in Fremont called Fremont Peak Park.

Free to dogs, mice, horses, monkeys & humans. Especially free to cats. No crows please. Tea & cookies encouraged. Puppets provided for the nervous. Join anytime, early or late. Bring a chair & read along or just close your eyes & listen. There will be bread & butter & marmalade. When the Queen shrieks, “To be con-tin-ued…” get ready for games, a race & even a court hearing! Some rain, some shine & some light breezes expected. Dress appropriate. And remember, like every good story, this one will end. But for a good story to end, it must first begin. So.. shall we begin?

Alice In Your Pocket intends to bring live readings of Alice In Wonderland to all of the pocket parks in Seattle over the coming year. Look out for Alice In Your Pocket flyers on telephone poles in your neighborhood of check back in here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Spoon River Installation

Tieton, Washington

It was the children who decided the spoons should hang from the trunk. I knighted this tall pine "Old Spoon." Together we read every shoe down the river of gingko leaves, looking for the happy people in Spoon River. There weren't many. Poor Henry Chase. Poor Minerva. Sad old Doc Hill. Later we tied spoons to our fingers and walked in funny ways along the river - baby steps, big steps, backwards, very slowly and finally we pretended to be trees and let the spoons dangle and clang in the breeze.

I spent Friday night and Saturday morning picking candy wrappers and wads of gum out of the grass in town square. At noon on Saturday, I began installing Spoon River. The kids gathered round. What are you doing? Can we help? It was the skinny boy with bent ears who offered. I let him take the shoes out of the bags and soon everyone was scattering them around and tying laces.

Once I'd formed the river and placed all the signs, books and shoes, I went for soup at Vicki's Cafe.

And then the magic began!

Out the window I saw it happening, Lisa and Marco reading to the children from the book I'd placed under the pine tree. Kids running to the entrance to wipe the rain from my signs and read them.

I dropped my lunch and went to meet them.

A teddy bear named Andrew, a heathcliff named Jainy and a pearl in a blue dress, I've lost her name.

The boys playing soccer moved to the other side of the park without a question. The younger boys and girls stayed with the project all afternoon, running up and down the river, questioning everything, listening to poems and reading shoes. They needed help with the cursive writing, so I read those aloud. A group of children even came back at dusk to help light candles. In the morning, not a thing was missing, only a few shoes had been gently turned to avoid them filling with rain.

Some adults had expressed concern that the children might rip my installation apart. But it was the children of Tieton who most fully engaged with Spoon River. When I walked on top of the path of leaves that made Spoon River, the girls cautioned, "You're in the river." Yes," I said, "it's cold!"

Yet another "aka installation" happened on 1 November, 2008, this time in the little town of Tieton in Eastern Washington. Tieton is a town of 1100, an apple picking town, currently being revitalized by Ed Marquand and the Tieton Arts & Humanities Association.

Great humps rise up out of the undulating brown and black-tuft landscape in Eastern Washington. Tieton is built on one of these humps, west of Yakima. Up a curvy road, on the back side of a cliff, sits the windy orchard town of Tieton.


This Spring, Michael Schein asked if I'd present a Guerilla Poetry class for his annually-occurring, weekend-long literary festival, LITFUSE, which marries poetry, meditation and letterpress printing. It brings prominent local and national poets to Tieton every November.

I said yes, of course, then asked myself --what kind of guerilla poet would I be if I didn't make something happen right there in Tieton? So I needed to know, where do the people congregate? How do they move? What is their history? And how can I tie it all into LitFuse?

I knew early on, it was town square I was after, a solid plunk of space with a significant presence. I used up hours here and there thinking, long winding questioning, sketching and finally SPOON RIVER for this little world atop the hill. Clinton, Ed and Vanessa were my closest collaborators, helping to iron out the details.

SPOON RIVER was installed in town square for 28 hours. Candles were lit. The shoes filled with rain. The sun shone. Wind clinked the spooncups together. The festival participants and town children embraced it. I lived it for a full day. What thanks I have for all those involved!

It was inspired by Tieton's town square and by the American classic, Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Master. Spoon River Anthology is a book of 244 poems, each about a different character who lived in the fictional town of Spoon River.


In the hot light at the center of a black-painted cold storage room in Mighty Tieton, Dia De Los Muertos expert, Raul Sanchez, prepares an incredible and collaborative altar for Day of the Dead. Participants were later invited to place photos and various articles that reminded them of their deceased loved ones. Then Raul sewed us all together. With a strong blast through his conch shell to the north and the east and the south and the west, then a whistle in the ocharina, and finally a rattling of bones. We gave voice to the names of those we had lost, one after the other. Que viva! Afterwards, we were invited to read the poems we'd prepared. Many were moved to tears by this collective remembering and shedding of grief. Thank you, Raul, for introducing us to this rich celebration and for the allowing us to share and witness our histories.


I've been focused on bringing poetry to life through performance, installation and instigations for the past 5 years. When Michael Schein came to me and offered the chance to share what I've learned, I felt a door open. It gave me the chance to define my process and plan and teach my tactics to two classes, in an effort to inspire and encourage poets to use actions to make their poems happen.

I prepared writing and listening exercises and a host of outdoor activities. The weekend went terrifically! I was thrilled to be teaching something I love.

DAY 1: We spent an hour thinking and writing creatively, transforming poetry into actions and altering public spaces. I started with a photo of the moon projected on the wall and, miraculously, while waiting for the group to assemble, I found her - The Poet in the Moon! I'd been looking these past two months and while I thought I knew where she was, I hadn't really seen her. But standing there before class, in that cold storage room in Mighty Tieton, I found her, plain as day, entranced in a poem. What was she writing about? I showed her to the class and encouraged them to teach the world to see like this.

INSTALLATION: Participants were invited to help install and experience Spoon River right there in town square, Tieton. The children of Tieton chipped in right away.

DAY 2: We began by writing an imagined sound landscape and then we prepared poetry for action.

OPEN MIC: Bravo! Three of my four groups presented poetry as actions for the open mic. I was bursting at the seams, so proud of their freshness, braveness and genius. Great job everyone! If you ask me, it was the blood in the body of poetry at the open mic. Group 1 (Carol Trenga, Elaine Bishop, Don Berk & LeAnne Ries) wound, revealed and named the burka. Group 2 (Vanessa DeWolf, Heather Gosnell, Judith Walcutt, I need one more name here, and myself) ushered the audience outside to watch "The Poetry Generator" at work. Group 3 wrote something specifically for their reading and presented "Shake the Shaker Till We All Lie Down." Their poems was read in turns, while lying side by side, on the floor.