Now Reading
Portland Poet Stacey Tran

Portland Poet Stacey Tran

Photo by Mercy McNab
Photo by Mercy McNab

Simply put, Stacey Tran gets shit done. In five years, she has gone from a student at the U of O to an institution in her own right. This past month alone, she curated two events—Togetherness and Pure Surface—and read her own poetry at Valentines for À Reading. Togetherness, in particular, is a fascinating coupling of Stacey’s poetry and dancer Danielle Ross’s choreography that explores the sublime nature of being present with another human being, or the state of “twoness.” It evolved into non-linear narrative, abstractly mixing elements of mythological pairs through the use of shadow and light, the human form, and the spoken word. As an editor at Poor Claudia, she manages the chapbook series Folio, as well as the online series Ten Sources – her pet project where she invites poets to explore the “life of the mind” by just having them list ten things and let their imaginations take over. It’s like a small window into the hyper-active mind of a poet.

When the founders of Poor Claudia were looking to move on, Stacey took over with a laser sharp focus to create something different. In doing so she transformed the established literary journal into one of the most sought after small presses in town for emerging writers and poets. Matthew Dickman, perhaps Portland’s most revered poet, approached her to publish his latest book, which had been only published in France.

As busy as she is, Stacey met up with us on her lunch break from Works Partnership Architecture. With coffee roasters screaming and a young Tom Waits serenading, we talked about her work with Poor Claudia, her own poetry, and what it feels like to be in the midst of a literary movement.

ELEVEN: Recently you’ve been working on several projects that merge spoken word poetry with dance and film. Can you tell me a little about Pure Surface and Togetherness?

Stacey Tran: Togetherness is a project I’ve been working on with a dancer and choreographer Danielle Ross. She and I met two summers ago and we started talking about what we do in town. She’s very connected with the dance community and I feel I’m very connected with the writing and publishing community in Portland. We were trying to think of ways that our friend groups could be in the same room more often, to not just see dance or see poetry, but to see both. Danielle was working on a piece that turned into Togetherness, and at the time she was interested in inviting a writer to contribute an aspect of text and collaborate on a level of language to go with a dance that she was choreographing for a cast. We will be performing that together in early November. It’s been really interesting working with a dancer—and a cast of dancers—as a writer, because writing can be a very private act and dance is not. It takes up a lot of space. I think it’s very interesting to watch a group of dancers commune in order to do their work, whereas writers don’t need that as much. We commune to celebrate, but not to work. So it’s been cool, and I’ve been learning a lot about space and timing through working with dancers. With Pure Surface, it’s another way of inviting our friends and our community together in an interdisciplinary way and seeing if sparks fly. And since Danielle and I also curate that together, the way we select the dancer and the writer and the film artist is that we all know their work, and we’re interested in seeing them blend their different styles together and just seeing what happens.

11: There is an interesting use of line breaks in your recent poem “End Solo.” Can you explain?

ST: I like that space. “End Solo” is the result of the text I’m working on for Togetherness, and a lot of it was not used. So I just formed it into my new work. Before that, I wasn’t writing very much, and working with Danielle was an opportunity for me to think about how I like to create writing. For a long time, I was feeling that I didn’t know what to do with my writing, and I didn’t see a point in it, and it was hard to continue to write aimlessly. With Togetherness there was actually a goal and a vision. So I started working with those ideas Danielle and I had talked about, and came out with “End Solo.” It has a lot of spacing to deliver the work in a certain timing, visually as well as to be read. I think that it’s very sparse as well. There’s not a lot of capitalization. I tried to make it fluid instead of very dense. So I think the line breaks show room for the reader to interpret.

11: Can you tell me about the history of Poor Claudia? How did you get involved? Who are you publishing?

ST: Poor Claudia was started in 2008-2009 by my friends Marshall Walker Lee and Drew Scott Swenhaugen. Marshall moved away, and Drew has been working more with Octopus now. So when he met Travis [Meyer] and I, it’s when he was interested in handing Poor Claudia over to somebody else, while being a part of it in a different way than he was as a founding editor.

So the transition took place two and a half years ago where Travis and I came on board and our other editor Nick Van Eck was also introduced. Drew gave us a lot of room to develop Poor Claudia into whatever we wanted it to be. At the time, Poor Claudia was also a literary journal. They also had a few chapbooks published: James Gendron, Emily Kendal Frey, Zachary Schomburg, and Joseph Mains. A lot of influential writers in Portland—household names. When Travis, Nick and I came on board, we were interested in experimenting more. These writers didn’t need us to publish them, necessarily, so we were interested in seeking writers who were more of the emerging kind. It was a way for us to learn about writing outside of our own scope, and our own friend groups, and we started developing new friends through getting to know their writing. And now we have a full length book of poems series called Signature, and an experimental, shorter length book series called Folio.

11: I have a copy here of Matthew Dickman’s 24 Hours from the last reading at Church. How did you get involved with him?

ST: I met Matthew while he was on tour for All American Poem in 2008-2009, and actually had to go to a poetry reading for an assignment for a workshop that I was taking at the University of Oregon. I had three readings that were our options and waited until the last minute, so I had only one left. Luckily it was Matthew’s. It was my very first time going to a reading and I was very surprised by the power that I felt from his reading, and I had to go up to him and say something. We were both from Portland, and he drew the very meek skyline of Portland in the book for me. I knew that I wanted to keep talking with him and see what his work was all about. I moved back to Portland after spending a year in Eugene, and he was teaching at PSU, and so we’d bump into each other all the time and connected over poetry. We were both very busy, but I kept up with his work, became better friends, and he eventually approached us and asked if we wanted to read 24 Hours. He had published it in France, but wanted to publish it with a local press. It’s kind of scary to work with someone who’s very accomplished. I didn’t want to say no, and it was obvious that we wanted to publish him. It’s a very beautiful chapbook, with beautiful poems, and I really love Matthew’s new work and would do anything to support and share his work through Poor Claudia.

11: I recently was talking to someone at an event comparing the current lit scene to the era of the beat poets. What makes Portland so unique in that way?

ST: It’s funny, because after going to a reading a couple years ago at Donald Dunbar’s house for If Not for Kidnap, Travis and I went into a Safeway for a late night snack because we’d been drinking that night. And as we were walking through the aisles he asked,  “Do you think people will talk about what’s happening right now in fifty years?” I didn’t really know how to respond because we were in it, we are in it.  There are definitely moments that will be talked about, I’m sure, but that’s only marginally representative of what we’re all going through. And I think what we’re all doing is so awesome because it’s so easy. That’s why now we have three or four things happening in one night, whereas five years ago there was a thing happening every four weeks. So I think that’s really incredible in a practical, day-to-day, very straightforward way. I don’t know if we’re making history, but I think that we’re recognizing people who make things and write things and want to share them, and want to perform. That’s our daily bread. We all show up together, and I think that’s really cool. That’s a big reason why I do the things that I do, because I see people showing up, and being with each other, and getting to know each other, and working together. »

– Scott McHale