LAST YEAR, Liz Mehl and Justin Rigamonti introduced the Portland poetry community to something genuinely new and exciting: Poetry Press Week. Taking cues from the fashion industry's iconic Fashion Week, a handful of Portland poets enlisted "models" to present their poems to an audience of publishers, journalists, and the public. (Highlight:, pictured above: Zachary Schomburg's poetry read by a young boy in a ghost costume.) This year, the event moves from the cozy downtown Literary Arts space to roomier Disjecta. We caught up with Mehl via email to see what was in store.
MERCURY: What makes this event unique and valuable to the Portland community?
LIZ MEHL: It gives Portlanders a chance to see not only locally known poets, but nationally and even internationally known poets, presenting new work on a local level. Because we mandate that the work is new and unpublished, that means Portlanders, right now, get to hear it first. I mean, where else are you going to hear Albert Goldbarth, whose prodigious publishing career spans four decades, present new and unpublished work? Unless you're a publisher, you're not.
How successful was Poetry Press Week last year?
The publicity alone was wonderful. We had numerous write-ups in divergent publications, lending the event wide coverage; this gave the poets' names coverage, all the way from the Poetry Foundation on a national level, right down to solid Portland publications. This proved to be valuable mainly to the emerging poets, whose names weren't necessarily known outside certain regional contexts. Recently we learned that two full manuscripts were picked up (out of just five poets presenting)—which, of course, is exciting to us. The concept worked. Poetry got published as a result, and that was one of our primary goals.
Do you think the event would appeal in other cities? Do you have any plans to take it on the road?
We do! We've heard from organizers in multiple cities across the US and, so far, as far away as Canada. We want to take it nationally in two years, internationally in five.
What are the hot trends in poetry this year?
We're seeing a lot of references to color, or the lack thereof. Lightness vs. darkness seems to be a strong trend right now. And there's a lot of angst. Angst is always around—it's poetry, for Christ's sake—but this year, it feels like the very spine down the middle.
What would make a poetry model become a poetry supermodel?
A poetry model who takes the work of the poet and elevates it in a way the poet themselves, perhaps, cannot, will invariably be a standout. If that particular model is able to do this across the board, with multiple poets and various types of poetry, they'll become increasingly desirable. We would love to see such strong readers that they develop their own names for the work they're doing on behalf of the presenting poets; if they do this, in our book, they'll be poetry's supermodels.
Can you give us a preview of some of the surprises in store?
While we don't want to give away any of the poets' surprises, we can say a few fun things. Look for Oregon's brand-new poet laureate, Peter Sears, "modeling" Chrys Tobey's work. And Kyle Morton, of the band Typhoon, helping Zachary Schomburg present new work. There are some 30 models this year, representing eight poets, and most of these models are fellow writers and creatives whose reputations in their respective industries are formidable in their own right.We are pleased not only with the poets who are presenting, but with their readers; it's a who's who of creatives—we guarantee that!