Spoken Word

Poets at Pickathon? We're In.

Shayla Lawson may be best known as a poet, but that doesn’t mean she can’t play a music festival.

By Bryanna Briley August 2, 2017

Shaylalawson xdrgrx

Portland poet Shayla Lawson has curated a spoken-word program for Pickathon.

Pickathon's myriad, marvelous stages have hosted all manner of musicians over the years. But poets? Not so much. That changes this year with Pickathon’s first fully staged Spoken Live program, which promises poetry, music, and some serious truth telling.

“Poetry is aural, like music,” says featured poet and Spoken Live curator Shayla Lawson, “but often requires a different kind of patience, more active listening than your average outdoor music performance.”  

Spoken Live will showcase six artists, with local poets Coleman Stevenson, Julia Tillinghast, Trevino Brings Plenty, Anis Mojgani, and Stephanie Adams Santos joining Lawson on Pickathon stages. Lawson will also perform with her Frank Ocean project concept band, the Oceanographers, which features Sean Sanford of Idle Giant.

“I think people still have a hunger for truth,” says Lawson. “The poets performing for Spoken Live are deeply rooted in telling the truth. And, if the poetry isn't loud enough for you, the Oceanographers will close it out with plenty of heart tugs and guitar strings.”

For Lawson, making her poetry into performance isn't new. Having set down her roots in the slam poetry scene in Kentucky with a little prodding from her mom, she found herself drawn to the craft of performing a story. “Performance is extrasensory," she says. "I feel like it’s a much more three-dimensional way of approaching a story. I want to use performance as a way to inhabit the way we’re used to receiving information.”

Though she also has a day job or two—copywriting for a digital design company and teaching writing classes at Portland State and as a visiting professor at other universities—poetry is not just a hobby. “I think the reason poetry fascinates me as a medium is that it’s really plastic,” says Lawson. “I think of poetry as a visual art: the way it shows up on the page is just as important as the words that you’re reading. It’s auditory: for the longest time it was thought of singularly as an auditory experience. I just don’t know another form of writing that has those levels of fluidity.”

It's also a tool of activism. “It’s hard for me to separate poetry and politicism. The idea that we have a poet laureate associated with a governmental time period or campaign is an indicator of how intimately linked poetry has always been, being a marker of our times and innately political.”

Her upcoming collection I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean (Saturnalia Books, April 2018)  will be a powerful testament to the politics of poetry. “I found [Frank Ocean’s] work around the same time that Trayvon Martin died,” says Lawson. She found in Ocean’s work something that was missing from much of the dialogue in America at the time.

“What I wanted as a counterpoint to all the discussions that are happening on blackness right now are very definitive records of black love,” she says. “Making sure that I was doing my part not to just write about what was happening from the perspective of being oppressed, but from the perspective of my love for my family and my love for my friends and the people that I’ve loved romantically. I saw a lot of Frank Ocean’s work doing that and trying to address the times that we were living in. Since that was the story I wanted to tell, I used his work as a framework.”

For this promising collection of work, you’ll have to wait. But for a sneak preview and some serious poetic performance, there’s always Pickathon.


Spoken Live takes place Sat, Aug 5 at the Woods Stage

Filed under
Show Comments