From P-Town: Marsha, Marsha, Marsha

1. Waiting for LDM to start. 2. Kristin “Shhh!”; Ali “Ruckous”; Vinnie “Death Fight”; and Jeremy, who hopes this is the literary referential equivalent to a rap battle so he can watch the saliva fly.

Opium Magazine’s second Literary Death Match in Portland was at times a cruel reminder that Marsha is out there to make you feel second best. No one wants to be Jan Brady, especially not in Portland. Fortunately, competitive readings like LDM offer some great feedback for writers who want to be interesting off the page.

Disjecta hosted the event in their new space, a former bowling alley, in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, which is home to other performance arts venues such as Dancin’ Bare. They decided to tear up their parking lot to create an outdoor space so I had to create a parking space at the bank next door and walk through the archeological dig that would become somewhere to sit sometime in the future.

1. Dating a camera is totally fine, but I think both drinks are for him. 2. Judges Rozz Rezabek (punk legend who writes about it) and Courtenay Hameister (writer, filmmaker and host of Live Wire Radio).

Giant fans blazed a path through the conversation. The crowd was stacked in everyone’s favor, with Portland lit scene movers and makers who support new and upcoming writers. I grabbed a glass of wine and the last empty seat near the stage and the director of Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, Lance Cleland, who was wearing an after-market invisible cloaking device. After a bit of judge roasting and MC intros, we got a quick explanation of how the whole thing would go. Two pairs of writers are each given seven minutes to read, then judged. Winners of each preliminary match progressed to a final round. Book toss, begin.

1. Lance Cleland, associate director of the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop and an editorial assistant of Tin House magazine. 2. Kevin Sampsell, writer and publisher of Future Tense Books, endures his intro roast. 3. Scott Poole, in the moment. Winning!

I had to miss the final round because Little Dragon was playing across town for MusicfestNW, but I saw all four writers read the prelims. Round 1: Poet, Scott Poole, versus Cheryl Strayed, memoirista. Round 2: G. Xavier Robillard’s ’80s rock reminiscence versus the travel memories of Fiona McCann. Three of the four were humorous, all were worthy of a holiday dinner table conversation.

1. Cheryl Strayed, in the counter moment. 2. Uncomfortable crowd participation, which lasted about five minutes.

Performance judge, Rozz Rezabek, stated it best — know your crowd, move a little, live it. Literary merit judge, Kevin Sampsell, remained calm and conclusive throughout the readings while intangibles judge, Courtenay Hameister, provided numerous assists and levity, much appreciated by all.

1. B. Frayn Masters, Co-host & Co-Producer of Back Fence PDX, and producer of Entertainment for People. 2. Matty Byloos and Carrie Seitzinger can be seen at Small Doggies events at Blue Monk on the second Tuesday of each month. They were also huge Courtenay fans.

Marsha doesn’t need to be there in order for Jan to show up. Writing well and reading well need not be mutually exclusive or require amusing antics to draw a crowd, but maybe it does if you want regular people to come to lit events. Successful LDM writers make a decision to re-live their written work rather than re-read it with the monotone incantation most often heard in bookstore readings.


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

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