From P-Town… The Shanghai Tunnels Project’s Poetry Film Competition

1. Dena Rash Guzman, the event’s co- host, and I got there around the same time. 2. Holly Hinkle, editor of Unshod Quills, on the stairs with artist Jason W. Herzog. 3. While waiting for a drink, my investigative waiting uncovers The Jack London’s copy of The Call of the Wild.

On Monday night at the Jack London Bar, Dena Rash Guzman and Monica Storss co-hosted the Portland screening of poetry films. This was part of a competition for second and third place, as part of The Shanghai Tunnels Project presented by HAL Publishing and Unshod Quills. Entries included “Dust” by Liu Xiaobo (2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate), and “Your Limbs Will Be Torn Off in a Farm Accident” by Portland’s Zachary Schomburg, among others.

1. Monica Storss, co-host, at the event table while Guzman greets guests.

While weaving through a few pool cues and attempting to be interested in several flat screens with basketball scores on the way to watch poetry, I wondered if maybe the Jack London Bar was part of Portland’s Shanghai Tunnel system. It’s located in the basement of the Rialto, which is a historic downtown bar sometimes referred to as “church” by people born and raised around Portland. I’d previously stumbled into the Jack London Bar around Christmas to check out a DJ before they started charging cover. I vaguely remembered a white Christmas tree near the stage and leaving early.

Tonight’s experience was completely different. I decided to take a break from drinking in honor of Monday and ordered a kiddie cocktail from the bar. I used to get them as a kid at Chinese restaurants and hadn’t ordered one since my age hit double digits. I couldn’t explain how to make one and ended up with a Cherry Coke.

The tables were filling with interesting looking people, none of whom I recognized from other lit events. I couldn’t tell the poets from the other people. I also couldn’t seem to differentiate the staff from lit event attendees, which made it seem like we were at someone’s house with a really great basement bar. I even took a picture of two employees on break and asked them why they decided to come to the event. They said to make money. The picture was blurry anyways.

1. Miles Browne, silent auction artist in service of Helping Hands for Haiti. 2. Ben and Samantha were sitting at the table in front of me. They never once blocked the screen. Thanks, guys! 3. Matt, Bethany, Caitlin, Emelie, and Megan were looking for something different to do and love to support interesting and innovative PDX lit events.

The screening kicked-off exactly on time with some Shanghai tunnel history from the hosts. I quickly learned that poetry film can be creepy, whimsical, animated, photographed, or filmed on the street while people wait for the bus. I’m not really an expert after one night, but I enjoyed the prioritization of senses required by this genre. Do I focus on the words or experience the film?

Schomburg’s film put the words on the screen with some music and a rambling background so I focused on the words. I remembered the poem, but I enjoyed watching the timing of the words as they were displayed on the screen, in the same way one might realize the song they picked for Karaoke isn’t quite how they’ve been singing it.

1. I asked poets Air Woodbury and Matty Reed what people might want to know about them. Woodbury preferred that I Google-stalk him. Reed does the Westcoast Highlife Podcast. 2. Rob came because he wanted a taste of poetry from in and around PDX. 3. Dawn simulates the voting process for best video.

A third entry, “Left Villain Prototype,” (Jacques Korn, Alex Oyung, and Catvonaufecooper) filmed a guy answering payphones with rapid-fire poetry. I wondered if this might be a madman’s fantasy and listened to most of the words. Afterward, I felt like I had indeed experienced the poem.

I left at intermission because I had to work the next day. It was a hard decision to leave because I probably missed some pretty good poet films in the second half. I didn’t care about voting or who won or the rest of my Cherry Coke.


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

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