Hours before my mini-tour in Portland, I became a grownup in the animated version of Peanuts; every word out of my mouth was a broken trumpet note. I blamed my girlfriend (she works with children, my immune system isn’t used to it). I begged for solutions on Facebook. I almost cancelled.

I’m a tough bastard. I facilitated several training classes at work while suffering gout. I had my right foot pinned beneath the back tire of a coworker’s car while getting into the backseat. Throat problems, laryngitis especially, are my kryptonite. My voice is one of the few things I can actually say is sexy.

On both planes flying to Portland, I slept, conserving my voice. When I got to Backspace to wait for Eirean Bradley to grab me and take me to his place, I talked as little as possible. The first person I met was Housefire staff member, Robert Duncan Grey, while waiting for my host. I hated that I couldn’t talk to him.

Eirean rescued me on two accounts, first to where I would stay for the next few days, second because of the Safeway in his neighborhood, which had Throat Coat tea and honey. I drank it as soon as I could. A sliver of my voice came back.

My first show was that night at Broetry. Broetry, run by The Sparrow Ghost Collective, is best described as a poetry kegger. It’s BYOB and BYOP. There was some tremendous energy in that room, and I got to hear Ansel Appleton, who I haven’t heard perform in a very long time, and also Stephen Meads, who I last heard perform at the 2009 National Poetry Slam. After alternating between drinking water and gargling with apple vinegar, I finally did my set, How Esmeralda Estrus Got Her Revenge and they were incredibly receptive. I powered through my feature, drank more water, gargled with more apple vinegar.

Friday was my first non-show day so I found a theatre and watched The Avengers. It was better than Thor but not as exciting as I thought it was going to be. Whedon is very good with dialogue and group dynamic work but there was something lacking overall. I wasn’t geeked like I was with Iron Man or Captain America when I first saw them. Go see it, but see it during the day and not in 3D. After, I went to the food truck corral over on Hawthorne & 12th, the corral that was featured in a Portlandia skit. It was the most touristy thing I did the entire time I was out there. When I got back to the house, there was a small gathering of friends, and one of those friends was Mike McGee, someone else I haven’t seen since 2009. It was a great way to end the day.

Saturday, I spent drinking more Throat Coat, talking as little as possible, and finishing up Game of Thrones (which I’m now into), and finally watching Inglorious Bastards in its entirety. Eventually, Robyn Bateman (resident of the house I was in) and I went over to the Whiskey Soda Lounge where Eirean Bradley and L.R. Dalby joined us. Britt Shosak eventually came by and we (Brit, Eirean, Robyn, and I) went to a sports bar, where we watched one of the most amazing Fear Factoresque game shows called Total Blackout. Words can’t describe how amazing this show is so I’ve included a clip below.

Sunday, I met the Housefire crew in phases. Phase I was Riley Michael Parker, who took me out to lunch. We had an excellent conversation about our projects that we were working on. Phase II was meeting Riley, Lindsey Ruoff, and Robert Duncan Grey at the Rialto to talk about Bodies Made of Smoke and how to make the ending solid. Then, I ran over to Backspace to get myself ready for the Portland Poetry Slam.

The Portland Poetry Slam is the most unique slam I’ve ever watched. Rather than use the traditional format of selecting judges (3 or 5) and allowing those individuals to score poems, the entire audience is the judge. Two people perform a poem each and then after both perform, the audience decides who moves on to the next round. According to Eirean, the idea is to not only keep the entire audience engaged during the competition, but also to encourage poets to bring an entourage (more people = more money made at the door). After the open mic, I did my feature, which consisted of:

  1. Would You Like To Take A Survey?
  2. These Are Vows
  3. Quadriplegic
  4. The Genealogy of Irvine Welsh
  5. A Letter From A Former Flightless Bird
  6. The Ten Chambers of Feng Jong

I couldn’t have asked for a better audience.

My smores slice of pie. It was the closest thing I could get to a birthday cake.

After my feature, I watched the slam and after watching the slam in action, I liked the audience as judges format far better than the scoring component. In a scored slam, someone of the caliber like Stephen Meads and Mike McGee (who were in the slam that night), would have most likely killed while the rest of the field would have fought for third place. This format though, no one is safe, no one is sacred, all the things you know about poetry slam are wrong. I watched Mike McGee lose in the semi-final round to the eventual winner, who also beat Stephen Meads in the final round. If I was to do a poetry slam again, I would use the Portland Poetry Slam’s format. It takes out the headache of finding judges, takes away the segregation of the audience, and it really keeps them engaged the entire time.

Monday was my final off day and on that day, I had breakfast with an ex-girlfriend and I went to the flagship Powell’s Books. One word: damn. While there, I picked up Jess Stoner’s I Have Blinded Myself While Writing This and Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson’s I Take Back The Sponge Cake. Thanks to the return flights, I’ve read through both. Both of these books are amazing, concept and content. I don’t want to spoil the surprises of both books but I will say buy them now and you’ll understand why there are no spoiler alerts here. After the pilgrimage to Powell’s, I got back to the Shire Haus and played a pick up game of Magic: the Gathering, which I haven’t played since 1995.

What’s an infect deck?

Somehow, I won, which was surprising and awesome.

Eventually, I made my way to Monday Funday, a large gathering of Portlandians in a public park.

I experienced Portland’s normal weather coming in and the weather that Portlandians celebrate when they get it: plenty of sunlight, little to no clouds, no rain. I watched 200 people play dodgeball on a tennis court. I made it on base a couple of times in a pick up kickball game. A kickball punched the right side of my ribcage when I tried making it to second. There’s something beautiful about watching so many people treat good weather like a national holiday.

Tuesday, I repacked my bag, tried hosting the one year anniversary of There Will Be Words from my iPod Touch, then cell phone (didn’t work out). Eventually, I made my way over to the Blue Monk for Smalldoggies Reading Series #20, my final show, which I read

  1. “We Will Celebrate Our Failures”
  2. “The New Year”
  3. “Expo ’86”
  4. “Tiny Vessels”
  5. “We Looked Like Giants”

Here’s what I learned on this mini-tour

  • Laryngitis is not the end of the world if you treat your voice right.
  • Get over the weirdness of becoming the oldest person in the room.
  • Mexican food, the price of well drinks remains consistent no matter where you go.
  • Your work doesn’t always sell itself. This one I’m struggling with the most because while I perform well in venues, I have a hard time influencing people to buy my merch and I think that might be because of my likability. I’ll admit to being a bit standoffish before a show and that’s because I’m getting myself in the zone. This is something I’ll be working on this upcoming year.
  • Salt Lake City has one of the most gorgeous airports I have ever been in. Mormons know how to design. Too bad they don’t know how to run the federal government.
  • In an ideal world, if Tegan and Sara had sex with The Black Keys, their children would be talented. I saw this was proven so wrong during the Smalldoggies reading.
  • Portland trusts their public transportation users a little too much.
  • Magic: the Gathering hasn’t changed a whole lot since I played it.
  • When someone who works as a director of coffee operations shows you where the best latte is made, they are on point.
  • The fastest way to get into a relationship is to book yourself a mini-tour in a far off place in advance.

I’m looking forward to returning to Portland when my next collection comes out. You are a fine city, Portland. Thank you for having me. Thank you to everyone who came to my shows. Thank you for letting me turn 33 in your city.

My mark left in the Shire Haus.

And here’s where you can see my contribution to the really cool PocketESCs project.


Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. […] meeting up with my then new girlfriend on my birthday while out there. I booked a Portland trip for my birthday in 2012 before meeting my previous girlfriend in late 2011, and I was still in a miserable […]


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About J. Bradley

J. Bradley's is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominated writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals including decomP, Hobart, and Prairie Schooner. He was the Interviews Editor of PANK, the Flash Fiction Editor of NAP, and the Web Editor of Monkeybicycle. He is the author of the poetry collection Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), the novella Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012), and the graphic poetry collection The Bones of Us (YesYes Books, 2014), illustrated by Adam Scott Mazer. He is the curator of the Central Florida reading series There Will Be Words and lives at iheartfailure.net.

Latest Posts By J. Bradley


performances, poetry, publication news


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