Two-and-a-half hours’ driving time from Portland and just across the state line from Astoria sits the Sou’wester Historic Lodge & Vintage Travel Trailer Resort, a longtime favorite of Rose City writers, artists, and oddballs. Five years ago, when the folks at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop—one of Portland’s favorite not-giant booksellers—were dreaming up a getaway for the local literary community, they turned to the Sou’wester and the resort’s collection of ’50s and ’60s-era accommodations.
“It began as a group of readers and shop customers going out informally for a weekend of books and writing and hanging out,” says festival coordinator Heather Brown. “But as more book events started happening at the shop, we thought it would be fun to invite publishers out, have readings and workshops, and involve the wider community with more intention, while preserving the feel of an informal gathering of friends.”
Taking inspiration from the resort’s host of handsome, aerodynamically sausage-shaped trailers, they named it the Airstream Poetry Festival. “Mother Foucault’s has a certain orderly chaos and sincere and beautiful charm, and I think the Sou’wester does too, so they make sense together,” says Portland poet and 2017 Airstream Poetry Fellow Zosia Wiatr.
In the years since, the Airstream Poetry Festival has grown from its humble origins as a casual Portland getaway into an annual favorite of poetry fans from around the Northwest. While still informal, the festival has become a loosely packed weekend of readings, workshops, film screenings, multimedia performances, karaoke, beach bonfires, communal meals, and the annual Happy Hour Trailer Crawl.
The festival has become a loosely packed weekend of readings, workshops, film screenings, multimedia performances, karaoke, beach bonfires, communal meals, and the annual Happy Hour Trailer Crawl.
The festival has brought out some of Portland’s most-adored poets (Matthew Dickman, Anis Mojgani, Alicia Jo Rabins, and Carl Adamshick, to name just a few), prose writers (Sophia Shalmiyev, Jay Ponteri, Kisha Schlegel), as well as respected Northwest publishers (Copper Canyon Press, Tavern Books, University of Hell, Entre Ríos). Myrtlewood Cookbook author Andrew Barton often serves as head cook for the fest’s opening-night potluck dinner, and recent years have seen contributions from organizations like the Oregon Institute for Creative Research, Wandering Reel Traveling Film Festival, and Northwest Film Forum, helping expand the bounds of the festival.
“Coming together under the name of poetry really gives license for all manner of expression,” Brown says. “There’s prose there, there’s film, there’s letterpress and bookmaking. But it’s all springing from this idea of poetry. So maybe it gives poetry a unified voice and personality in the literary community—a place to gather and take shape in ways that it wouldn’t otherwise.”
As they’ve done the past two years, Mother Foucault’s will again sponsor one Portland poet to be the Airstream Poetry Fellow and have a week-long residency leading up to the weekend’s festivities. While wanting to keep the fest relatively small, the organizers are always imagining new possibilities. “We’d love it if some larger, even national, presses get involved by sponsoring lodging, either for their own authors or for emerging writers who hope to connect and grow their practice,” Brown says.
But regardless of which authors and presses come out for it, or how it grows, the festival will always reflect its original, simple intentions: to get out of the city and talk about books by the ocean. “The Sou’wester is such a special place to begin with,” Brown says. “It starts by feeling like home, so to have it filled with writers and publishers—and to have the focus on poetry—really feels sort of magical. Like anything can happen.”
The Fifth Annual Airstream Poetry Festival
Fri Oct 25-Sun Oct 27, Sou'wester Historic Lodge & Vintage Travel Trailer Resort, 3728 J Pl, Seaview, WA, $15-20 sliding scale (accommodation separate)
Tickets, schedule, and fellowship application information can be found on the Mother Foucault’s website.