Ashland salutes Lawson Inada

On April 15, 2011, nearly 200 people gathered in Southern Oregon University’s Schneider Museum of Art to recognize Lawson Inada, who served as Oregon’s poet laureate from 2007 to 2010. The program opened with a short tribute from Tacoma poet Rick Barot called “Bringing Words Together: Lawson Inada’s Contribution to Literature” followed by a collaboration between Lawson and musicians Terry Longshore and Todd Barton.

Lawson Inada and Friends

Collaboration was the theme of the daylong workshop on April 16. As Lawson pointed out in the roundtable discussion at the end, collaboration was once frowned upon. If you were a collaborator, you were not thinking for yourself. Today, collaboration is more appreciated as a way of creating openness and energy and new ideas across media, languages, genres and borders. SOU professors Miles Inada and Robert Arellano, collaborators in a new Center for Emerging Media and Digital Art, talked about their collaboration process and showed their digital poem called “The Soul’s Mailbox.” I’ve been wondering for a long time whether animation will become this generation’s poetry, with metaphor and meter replaced by scene, sequence and frames per second. Maybe.

Rick Barot read from his own work including the wonderful poems “The Poem is a Letter Opener.” The mailbox and letter opener reminded me that the imagery of sending letters remains well entrenched even if the actual practice seems to be on its way out.

Portland poet Kirstan Rian read from her book “Chords: Poems as Part of the Whole” and talked about her work in Sierra Leone collaborating artistically with the victims of that war-torn country. And in the afternoon, Paul Merchant, of Lewis and Clark College, read from and discussed his translations of the poetry of Yannis Ritsos and his own historical poems.

There was a lot to absorb and reflect on—the role of craft and whether poetry can be taught came up leading to the question of whether collaboration can be taught. The speakers debated the cheapness or regency of content–is content king or just filler? And they described how content is translated and reinterpreted and how those processes allow us to reinterpret ourselves and others.

I picked up some new expressions too—from Rick Barot, who described the “amniotic slick” of a new piece of writing and the “Whitmanic” style of a particular poem, and from Miles Inada, who pointed out the need to “future-proof” art. As for Lawson Inada, his work is already future-proofed.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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