Once a month, the lights at Traditions Café dim and the noise of a room packed with poets and novelists dies down to a hushed whisper. The crowd anxiously awaits one of Thurston County’s highest-regarded and longest-standing literary events: the Olympia Poetry Network’s monthly reading and open-mic session. This spring, OPN continues its legacy as the premiere, local, literary organization with its annual Dead Poets Reading.
The Dead Poets Reading is partly a celebration of National Poetry Month in April, partly a continuation of OPN’s monthly reading series, which is held every third Wednesday. In an interview with OLY ARTS, OPN publicity chair Joanne Clarkson and treasurer Bill Yake explained how the Dead Poets Reading has evolved over time. “It sort of accumulated traditions as we went along,” said Yake.
Board members choose a dead poet each year, then dress up in and channel that poet’s likeness in an onstage performance and reading. “It’s my favorite event of the year!” said Clarkson.
In addition to the Dead Poets Reading, OPN offers poetry workshops, seasonal readings, open-mic events and featured-reader performances throughout the year. The group has become a part of local, living history in Olympia after working to spread appreciation of poetry and literary awareness throughout the South Sound for the past 27 years. Clarkson elaborated on how OPN has impacted, not only the local arts community, but herself as well: “I have grown so much because of my participation in OPN…I have gotten insights into all the ways one can be a poet. Each month, my belief that poetry matters is restored, renewed and strengthened. I am glad I can work to keep it going and growing.”
OPN was established in 1991 and has a reputation for pulling in award-winning authors from across the Pacific Northwest, including Christianne Balk, Peter Ludwin and Washington state poet laureates Elizabeth Austen and Tod Marshall. When asked about the relevance of poetry today and the importance of arts funding, Clarkson was quick to champion her craft. “In this climate,” she said, “we have to stand up for ourselves. More and more we have to stand up for ourselves and what we do, and say, ‘This is vitally important.’”
What: Dead Poets Reading
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 19
Where: Traditions Café and World Folk Art,
300 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia
How much: free