Festival of Literary Oddities brings new approach to poetry performance

Photos by Becky Brisley

“Come on up folks! Come see something amazing, something astounding, something you’ve never seen before!”

The ringmaster shouted his mantra all night, clad in a red coat and white-painted face, calling in people off of Grand Avenue to witness a unique event.

“Please, don’t feed the poets — they are savage beasts. Please, don’t look in their eyes — they have co-dependency issues.”

Poets bellowed their original work over curious on-lookers while odd, circus-like performers roamed a room filled with strange pinatas hung from the ceiling.

This was the scene at the first Festival of Literary Oddities, which commenced on Saturday night at the Frontal Lobe Community Space and Gallery on Grand Avenue.

Four Chambers Press, which hosted the event, is an independent community-based literary magazine in downtown Phoenix. Four Chambers aims to not only to compile great local literature, but to integrate it into culture.

“We’re more of a general platform for activities,” said Jake Friedman, founder of Four Chambers. “Yeah, we do publishing, but we’re more interested in trying to build a community and getting literature in more public places.”

The Festival of Literary Oddities was one of the first larger events that Four Chambers has put together. Six local poets, including Shawnte Orion, Jack Evans, Bill Campana, Deborah Berman, Heather Smith-Gearns, and Tristan Marshell, read throughout the night.

“This is a very diverse set of poets, much like the pinatas that are hanging in here,” Marshell said. “It’s a very good cross-section of poetry in the valley.”

The poets stood around the room, three at a time. They read their work as people walked through the gallery.

The unstructured nature was the goal of the event, Friedman said. He said he was inspired by the “Round Robin” event that local music label Rubber Brother Records put on last December, where bands played two-song sets back-to-back.

“We wanted people to be able to just sort of move through them at their own leisure,” Friedman said. “We felt like it would be a more engaging, intimate, personal and casual kind of thing to do because now you don’t have to sit there and be bored.”

In between poetry readings there was also a musical performance by local duo Expat. During the poetry, the duo played more ambient music.

“We kind of play very surreal sounds,” said Amy Ouzoonian, one of the members of Expat. “It’s kind of circus-y, so it ties in pretty well.”

Circus performers during the night included a character wearing creepy costumes who tied people together with string and put Tarot cards up to people’s faces, as well as local slam poet Joy Young, who made balloon animals and juggled.

“I like the theme of oddities because I myself am a literary oddity,” Young said. “Sometimes the (literary) scene gets a bad rap because people think it’s going to be too serious, so it’s kind of nice to have something be silly.”

The night ended with an open-mic session in which participants were encouraged to write with a theme of mutant pinatas. Although not all of the performers did so, a few played songs or read about a particular pinata in the bunch.

Four Chambers is delaying their second issue to put an emphasis on events and programming for the next few months. They plan on providing activities during the summer.

“We’re just thinking of ways we can present forms of literature that people can engage with,” Friedman said.

Contact the reporter at Rebecca.Brisley@asu.edu