From P-Town… A Salon Grows in Portland

1. A smoker’s view of SE Mall Street around 7:45pm. 2. The kitchen meets the dining room at the intersection of Dunbar and Coffelt.

On Friday, If Not for Kidnap, a living room poetry series curated by Donald Dunbar and Jamalieh Haley, brought Kevin Sampsell, Edward Mullany, Chloe Caldwell, Bryan Coffelt and The We Shared Milk to Dunbar’s house in Southeast Portland. Only one of the above is a poet, unless you count the band.

SE Mall Street is not well-lit compared to the glare of an iPhone’s Google Map in the hands of my passenger; however, we obtained a visual of what appeared to be several band members carrying amps and equipment headed towards a large house. After initiating pursuit we were led straight to Dunbar, who was greeting guests from his porch in front of a one-smoker audience. I was unable to get a usable picture of Dunbar at this point and waded through the people who like to stand in the kitchen towards a table with cold beer and book donations for Crow Arts Manor to get a better look at the crowd.

1. Jeff Diteman played cello for last year’s January Kidnap and adores Future Tense Books, especially for introducing him to Gary Lutz. 2. Edward and Anjali Mullany — sidekicks and pals. 3. Jessica credits Dunbar with introducing her to poetry and loves the atmosphere and people. Jeffery likes art and stuff and brews beer. He came because Jessica invited him.

Dunbar is a very skilled host and excessively brave for bringing this series into his home. His invitation was simple: “Doors open at 7:30, bring anyone you like (seriously, if you don’t like ’em, don’t bring ‘em), and if you’re able, bring books to donate to Crow Arts Manor, money for the donation jar, snacks or refreshments to share, and your own gorgeous face.”

The We Shared Milk kicked off the night in the crowded living room you imagined when you were planning for childhood talent shows, without realizing you didn’t have that many people in your family or that all your friends couldn’t come over at once. A lot of people finished their conversations somewhere in the dark, close to the kitchen or near the booze.

1. Kat, Kaija, Zach and Chase stake their claim to a living room corner. Kaija came to support Coffelt, a fellow Ooligan Press graduate, plus her friends said this was an awesome series. 2. Evan P. Schneider and Melissa Reeser Poulin of Boneshaker Magazine with Poulin’s husband, Lyle, and Michael Heald of Perfect Day Publishing.

Coffelt read through a stack of micro-fiction with the steady hum of an idling engine. Caldwell read two selections, one from her soon-to-be released book, Legs Get Led Astray, entitled “The Shit You Say.” Due to a recent knee injury, I asked Evan P. Schneider to report on the second half of the night:

The other guy [Mullany] read about two sentences, then everyone clapped and then Kevin Sampsell came up and was tremendous, reading from a novel he’s been working on for quite a while that he has “been very close to finishing for about year, and might edit for probably another year.”

1. Caldwell reads to a crowded living room and whoever was standing quietly in the kitchen and dining room. 2. Dunbar’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment, in which we are informed of a break in the proceedings.

As soon as the readings were done, more people seemed to come (Lisa Wells, author of Yeah. No. Totally, for example, who looked stunning) and then the house owner [Dunbar] announced they were out of beer and asked two brave individuals to go on a run (which they quickly did), but there was still plenty of hard stuff left on the counter. I had enough Old Crow to make things pretty blurry, so I headed home not long afterward.

If Not for Kidnap provides a monthly opportunity to meet litsters in a scene-agnostic environment. I forgot about House Parties being so fun, even during the Portland winter. Next time, I will bring some food. I guess I didn’t really read the invitation before showing up.


— Judith Ossello currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find her at

— Evan P. Schneider is the author of A Simple Machine, Like the Lever and the founding editor of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac.

More Like This

You Will Bear This Pain Long After You’re Gone

Nobody will say how much death is too much death

Nov 14 - Courtney Zoffness

A Look Inside the Spookiest Literary Party of the Year

Highlights from the Masquerade of the Red Death, a night full of revelry, books and dancing

Nov 3 - Nzinga Temu

Predicting the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

This year’s top contenders for the most prestigious award of American literature

Apr 28 - Bradley Sides
Thank You!