Sunday, September 18, 2011

Variant


It's one of those small community spaces that's not sure what it wants to be. Like many in that vein, it's located in what is euphemistically termed a "transition" neighborhood. But last night, as I attended an event at the Variant Lab, in Portland, I was struck with a most stunning thought.
What if these places became increasingly significant in the years to come. What if, and it's not all that far-fetched, these spaces were the only ones available for people to experience live poetry, avant-guarde ideas, freedom of speech, in all its manifestations, and the opportunity to share artistic expression across generations. What if?
Maybe it was the fact that the polarization is this country seems to be reaching new heights. In a recent piece I heard on the radio, Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked about his relationship with President Barack Obama. "Sometimes it's like we live on different planets," he said. To which, I thought, sometimes?
I don't do a lot of science fiction, but in this case I'll make an exception. Should some of the current crop of politicians and their ilk claim the throne, it's not outside the realm of possibility that additional freedoms could be in jeopardy in the name of national security. Given how widely some of these folks read, their capacity for empathy, (see recent comments on healthcare and capital punishment) their undercurrent of racism, mean-spirited tactics and inability to understand historical perspective...we just might be headed for a rather dim future.
So here I was, sitting in the audience of this barely lit performance space. I'd read a few poems with 3 of my writing group colleagues after one of our number was invited to be part of the evening's program. Our set went well and we all stayed to support the other poets on the program. Like many events I attend around Portland, I'm usually one of the oldest people in the house. Funny, I still feel 19 on the inside. Last night, the room was predominately the 25-35 crowd who are budding creative artists. They usually smoke, have tats, wear anything they want, often in shades of black with colors that pop, and liberally sprinkle their writing with 4-letter words and erotic/pornographic imagery. I have no problem with most of that. But it occurred to me, the aging hipster that I am, that spaces like this could one day be underground bastions of sanity and expression. That metaphor could be literal too.

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