The 15th season of the Milwaukie Poetry Series kicks off Wednesday, Sept. 8, hosted by the Milwaukie Poetry Series Committee in partnership with the Ledding Library of Milwaukie.
From September 2021 through July 2022, readings by 11 established local poets will be live-streamed from the Willamette Falls Media Center due to COVID-19 concerns. To watch, tune in to the Ledding Library YouTube channel on the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
For those unable to watch in real time, recordings of the livestreams will remain available for viewing on the channel and will be available for DVD rental through the Ledding Library.
This season's lineup features a collection of poets from across the state of Oregon with a guest reading from an out-of-state poet, Christopher Howell, who hails from Washington.
The poet who will deliver the series' opening reading is Salem-based award-winning poet and filmmaker Marilyn Johnston, author of "Red Dust Rising" and "Before Igniting."
Johnston will read selected works and excerpts from both publications during her set Sept. 8, as well as a collection of other poems — including some she wrote during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"My mission is to inspire people to write or to express in any way they feel best," Johnston told Pamplin Media Group. "If what I've said gives them courage to write on their own, or they find a line or a word that resonates and can be taken into their own truth, that is, to me, why I write."
Johnston said she first began writing at an early age but began taking it more seriously in her adult life, using the medium to process the concept of war after her husband returned from service as a Vietnam War soldier.
"When he came back from Vietnam, our children and I didn't understand very much about war and the consequences of that on a family, so I started writing, and luckily in 2001, I received an Oregon Literary Arts grant for my poems about our family," Johnston said, adding that among the questions she ponders in her book "Red Dust Rising," as well as the opening section of "Before Igniting," is whether or not you ever recover from war or simply find ways to express what you're going through.
Johnston founded the Mid-Valley Veterans' Writers group to help veterans express their experiences through writing and is currently an instructor in the Salem Art Association's "Artists in the School" program, teaching writing primarily to at-risk and incarcerated youth who Johnston said she sees as having gone through "a different kind of war."
Johnston's work appears in several publications including the collection "ENOUGH Say Their Names: Messages from Ground Zero to the World," published in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd to commemorate him and the other victims of police violence across the country.
"One thing that we can do as writers is to be involved in a protest with our words. So that has been very powerful," Johnston said.
She said what draws her toward poetry as a medium of expression is not only its accessibility, but its capacity for subjective interpretation.
"All you need is something to write with and a piece of paper, or a computer, you don't need anything fancy," Johnston said. "I write mostly narrative form, but within it there's metaphor; there's metaphor, there's simile … there's voice, there's intentionality. Your words hit people in a way that resonates for them."
Johnston said she hopes that hearing her read her work aloud will give viewers of the upcoming livestream an added depth of experience they may not have been able to obtain from simply reading it.
"I do a couple of spoken word pieces that it's harder on a piece of paper to convey the intention and the emotion behind it, so I think that's certainly part of why going and hearing a reader or doing it on Zoom or livestream helps their experience," Johnston said.
To learn more about Johnston and to purchase her work, visit her website here.
For a full list of upcoming Milwaukie Poetry Series readings, click here.
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