Poetry party to celebrate word play

Juneau poet Christy NaMee Eriksen prepares for this weekend's Poetry Block Party outside the Canvas.

Local poet Christy NaMee Eriksen and The Canvas Community Art Studio & Gallery is bringing the word to the streets of Juneau in a big way. They’ll be kicking off a Poetry Block Party this weekend, with games, music, food and libations on Seward Street downtown.


“I was thinking, ‘poetry should be a celebration, what if it was a party and everyone was invited?’” Eriksen said. “So that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re closing down the street and we’re celebrating our town, all the artists in it, and the many, many ways that we can play with poetry.”

The event is in honor of National Poetry Month, celebrated throughout the month of April.

There will be a long bill of activities to get involved in throughout the day, including a poetry scavenger hunt, hip hop dancing, hula hooping, open mic readings, a fashion exhibit and a beer garden.

“There should be something for everyone, all ages, whether you love poetry or you’re terrified of it,” Eriksen said.

Eriksen has already found innovative ways to get people in the capital city involved with poetry. Last fall, she started up a pay-as-you-can personalized haiku booth weekly on the sidewalk as a fundraiser for her a popular monthly poetry slam co-created with her friend and fellow wordsmith Na Haan.

Dozens of businesses and organizations have jumped on board with the block party, with area storefronts from Nana’s Attic to Wells Fargo coming up with fun word activities. Other groups in town have gotten involved beyond the immediate surroundings, Eriksen said.

“A lot of organizations and people not on Seward Street are involved — the library, DJs from the radio station, community organizers,” she said, “Simply for their love of art, poetry and people.”

The Juneau Police Department was also very supportive during the street closure permitting process, Eriksen added.

There is no literary cred necessary for entry to the party. This isn’t a stuffy event for professional writers, and, like other activities at the Canvas, everyone in the community is welcome. Eriksen said she wants to go beyond the idea of who’s published and who’s not, and to stop calling poetry “poetry,” and instead call it “word play,” in attempt to re-imagine what poetry actually is.

“Poetry isn’t just lines on a page or a scholar with an inkwell,” she said. “Poetry is … punching holes in magazine words, it’s a b-boy c-walking on the sidewalk, it’s my two-year-old blowing a kiss to the moon, it’s messy, it’s imaginative, it’s play. True to Canvas style, this event will be about enjoying poetry, enjoying art together.”

The celebration of words won’t be over at the end of the day, however. The haiku stand will be back on the street in May (to date, Eriksen has written over 200 personalized haiku). Spoken word classes will be starting up as well. The Woosh Kinaadeiyí (“Parallel Trails”) Poetry Slam will also continue. The slam, heading into its eighth month, has had a full house from the start, Eriksen said.

“That endeavor is probably what I put most of my heart into, because — selfishly — I love to watch everyone give so much life and energy to poetry every month, support each other in their work, and challenge each other as artists to keep growing,” she said.

When she first started working at The Canvas, Eriksen’s boss told her she wanted to make big art, messy art, art that makes people think.

Eriksen thought she had “died and gone to employment heaven.”

“The Canvas is an incredible, innovative, supportive place to work and I feel really fortunate to be a part of it,” she said. “I work with amazing, talented people who keep community and social justice at the core of art. I’m getting to do a lot of word-related things like continuing the haiku stand, organizing and hosting the monthly poetry slam, teaching poetry … but even more exciting, I get to find new ways to mix those things into other art forms. It’s truly a synergistic place.”

The Poetry Block Party will be held on Seward Street between Second and Third Streets (near The Canvas) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. Admission is free and open to everyone in the community. For more information see the schedule of events, or go online at www.canvasarts.org or call 586-1750.


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