From P-Town… Ladies at the London

1. Rialto is in downtown Portland, near Ross. 2. Rialto is also near this guy with handcuffs and a cop with gloves. 3. I’m okay at pool. This was my quick effort to line-up a shot.

The bartender handed me a Gin Rickey as Margaret Michelle finished reading a poem. Her voice hinged on occasional words in the same way that an observant and wise stoned-girl leads you through an impromptu thought or theory, disorienting and captivating you at the same time. The only seats left were at the bar, and no one was waiting for a drink. I had missed Nina Rockwell and Kira Clark, but Domi Shoemaker, Lisa Wells, and Lidia Yuknavitch were up next.

1. Dena Rash Guzman and Jenny Forrester on stage between sets. 2. Nina Rockwell with Nick Strum, who was in town from Akron, Ohio.

Co-founded by Dena Rash Guzman and Jenny Forrester, the Unchaste Readers series showcases local female writers. A collection of local poets, writers, publishers, communists, socialists, and their friends filled the Jack London basement bar on a sunny Portland evening. I saw several familiar faces and met some out-of-town visitors from far-flung, exotic places like Qatar and Akron, Ohio.

1. Lisa Wells, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Michael Heald, in one of seven configurations. 2. Ian Patrick Miller teaches lit at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar when he isn’t waiting for a drink at this bar. 3. Hobie Anthony, Sam Snoek-Brown, and Julien really tied the room together.

Before starting the second set of readings, Guzman tried to give away an extra mimosa and asked Forrester for her opinion on euphemisms for vagina as a way to better understand where one might draw a line between categories of funny, rude, and antiquated. Guzman had received 138 suggestions via Facebook earlier in the day and had no issue belting them out to a somewhat demure Forrester who was clearly uncomfortable with a few of the suggestions. When Guzman mentioned beaver, a member of the crowd shouted, “Go Oregon.”

1. International Socialists and communists, talking in the foreground. 2. Yuknavitch being amazing.

Shoemaker’s reading referred to parts and positions of the body located within the context of a girl named Mary Lou. I imagined myself in a wood-paneled basement of a small town or suburban tri-level as she read. Napoleon Dynamite has less grit and honesty than her story, but they could’ve been neighbors in my imagination.

Wells read some new poems for the very first time (not even in her house). The words seemed to gather in her shoulders and hands until it was time for them to be spoken. She held a hand to her heart once, as if additional breath was needed to coax them along at the desired rate or to reminder herself not to hold on to them any longer.

Yuknavitch introduced two of her students at Mount Hood Community College and spoke about her opportunity as a teacher and mentor to witness and help nurture writing that is alive. She added, “If I like it, it’s fucking good.”

She read from her new novel, Dora, A Headcase (Hawthorne Books), which is based on Sigmund Freud’s case study of a woman named Dora, and is something Yuknavitch read when she was in her twenties and never quite got over. I highly recommend going the audiobook route, if Yuknavitch lends her voice to the task. Instead of sharing the story, she invites you into it as she reads. Her last line of the reading: “Every day, my father drives me to his shrink so he can drive away from what he made.” I took it personally, too.

1. Max with fiction writers Kristin Kearns and Tatiana Ryckman.

It’s difficult for me to leave a sunny balcony to go to a basement bar, even for a night of amazing readings from local women writers and a capable bartender. Luckily, the next event will be in October. I plan to be on time.


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

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