Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ed Skoog Nancy Rawles Jess Walter

Tonight, the Richard Hugo House presented the opening of its Literary Series “Under the Influence.” In its commitment to bring to the stage established authors presenting new works, Under the Influence has been a growing success in the Seattle art scene since its inception in 2007. Tonight featured Poet Ed Skoog, author Nancy Rawles and author Jess Walter.

Ed Skoog

As a rule I don’t care for poetry readings but I respect the craft and the ability of the poet to manipulate the language in a way that is not a part of common vernacular. Ed Skoog, himself, admits many people don’t like poetry readings but then again, Ed Skoog is not your normal poet.

First of all, the man is physically huge. Shake his hand and your whole appendagedisappears behind a fist of flesh. If he squeezed tight it would be hard to guess what would be louder, the sound of my bones cracking or the scream I would generate.

After Mr. Skoog’s introduction he takes the stage behind a far too small sized podium. He has the dignified manner of an Ivy league History teacher but his jokes are working on the the enthusiastic audience. It is his voice that concerns me. It is soft smooth and soothing as yoga studio. In the dim dark auditorium of Hugo House I am sure Mr. Skoog’s voice is going to cause me to drift asleep and plop my head into the lap of author Dave Boling, sitting next to me.

That was until Mr. Skoog began with a poem about drinking in a dive bar. YES! This is the way to start a poetry reading. Open up by channeling Charles Bukowski and I don’t care if the rest of the poems are so sappy I will require an insulin injection. You have won my heart.

Nancy Rawles

Next up is novelist and playwright Nancy Rawlings. Among her work, Rawles is the author of “My Jim” which expands the character of the runaway slave in “Huckleberry Finn” by telling what happened to the wife and children he left behind for freedom.
She is an amazing reader and could make a James Patterson novel palatable.

Her original piece tonight, was inspired by youth and the internal conversations one has when attraction takes over reason. It was a stream of conscious piece with each section covered the range of emotion from jealousy and rage to being silly to embarrassment to physical and intellectual attractions; all things that pass through the range of human emotion.

I am doing a lousy job of describing this piece. It was so complex and so intricate that my pitiful description cannot do this justice. It would be like trying to explain a Picasso painting to a blind man. I hope this story gets published or better yet I hope that if she ever reads at a literary event people go to listen to her talk. The lady is that good.

Jess Walter

Finally there was the headliner Jess Walter. Mr. Walter is the kind of versatile author most college students dream about becoming.

He is the ONLY author in history, to received the Edger Award for Mystery and has been a National Book Award finalist for literary fiction. In an age where every author is shoved into a certain genre so that the publishing houses can slot them, Walter has the freedom and talent to drive a publishing house, marketing department nuts.

Putting Walter’s reading style in context is not difficult. He reads clear and straight forward with little stage drama but an amazing amount of inflection that he draws out of his baritone voice and it is understandable why Mr. Walter does his own reading for the audio version.

So what does the man with this kind of pedigree present to the audience? A zombie story of course. Why not it was near Halloween.

Personally I am over Zombies, I am Zombied out. I understand the social analogies and the appeal to society eating one another but damn it I have had it with Zombies. Of course many said the same thing about Vampires so what do I know?
Walter story was creepy and humorous and strange and by Walter’s own admission unfinished. What as fascinating is that Mr. Walter did something I have never seen before at a reading. He presented an unfinished work.

As my old college professor tried to instill in me years ago, each sentence must stand alone. Each chapter must stand alone from the beginning to the end. Mr. Walter took an opening of a story, found a plausible ending for the reading and like the cliff hangers of old television left the door open for more.

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