You don’t have to be a whorehouse Henry Miller or Dylan Thomas souse to know that literature and debauched penury often coincide.
Tony’s Tavern and Joe’s Cellar—a pair of the diviest of Portland’s
blue-collar dives, cheap of beer and low of light—each kept this
tradition alive in Portland with an ongoing poetry series amid the drunk
and fallen, behind the juke or in front of the pool table. Each of
these series, sadly, is either defunct or on hiatus as of this year, but
do not despair: The sodden and the storied will ever mix. Here are a
few places where they still do so regularly.
Stumptown Stories at the Jack London Bar
In the basement of the down-and-out Rialto pool hall downtown, an off-track betting parlor has been reborn as the Jack London Bar, a dance hall of the speakeasy variety, where abandon is ground into burnished wood. Though named for the hotel above it and not for the author, this bar in the shadow of hustlers and handicappers nonetheless does the hotel’s namesake justice. Along with hosting occasional Chinese literary prizes, poetry by fishermen or queer writers groups, the London hosts a free weekly Stumptown Stories series every Tuesday night offering lectures on Oregon arts and letters and history and philosophy. Stumptown Stories runs every Tuesday at the Jack London Bar, 529 SW 4th Ave., 228-7605, rialtopoolroom.com. 7:30 pm. Free.
Smalldoggies at the Blue Monk
Likewise hidden in a dim basement bar, in a blue-painted concrete space lit by candles, jukeboxes and strings of Christmas lights and home to occasional jazz, the Smalldoggies reading series has quietly become one of the most vibrant literary nights in Portland, with standing-room-only crowds packed into a subway tunnel of a bar as if they were all actually on a train. The series generally opens with cerebrally inclined music before launching into three writers’ worth of poetry and prose, behind hosts Matty Byloos and Carrie Seitzinger. Smalldoggies runs every Tuesday at the Blue Monk, 3341 SE Belmont, 595-0575. 8 pm. $5 suggested donation. Details at smalldoggiesmagazine.com.
Naked Girls Reading at the Star Theater
And in a turn where the mixture of lowbrow and highbrow becomes monobrow, there is the Naked Girls Reading series. Essentially an offshoot of burlesque, the Naked Girls Reading series offers precisely what it describes: Naked women reading Carl Sagan or Shel Silverstein or local authors until—I suppose—the body loses its surprise and becomes a vessel for the words themselves. Because nothing reminds men of being poor like naked women, and nothing fuels literature like desire. Or something. Naked Girls Reading runs monthly-ish at Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave. See facebook.com/NGRpdx for details. $10-$30.
Matthew Korfhage co-hosts the Literary Mixtape reading series at Valentines.