SPLAB @ 20

In 2013, for SPLAB’s 20th anniversary party, there were some kind testimonials:

Years ago, when Paul and I became friends, I told him that SPLAB! was the sound of a bad poem at Open Mic as it hit the floor. I also told him to expect no thanks for his efforts, and to do this work only if the work itself was reward enough. I, for one, am deeply grateful for all that he’s contributed to Cascadian poetics over the years. His sacrifice and generosity has brought us all riches of too many varieties to even begin to list.

Happy splab! splab! splab! to my old friend on this occasion.

– Sam Hamill

In  a life of many pleasures and friendships knowing Paul has been one of the special ones — from the time I first heard his voice on the phone decades ago to most recently when he visited us and I asked him to read my newest poems aloud so I could hear them in the comprehension and energy of his voice. I was deeply touched when I saw the tears in his eyes — it was wonderful to see such a living joy in poetry. The range of emotions and intellectivity in Paul’s consciousness and his verse is dynamic — from falling-over risibility to intense realizations of the biome.  This broadband is part of what has made all the SPLAB activities that I’ve been part of  a success — but as much of the success lies in Paul’s openness to making it new and in his mammal human quickness. RD said, Responsibility is the ability to respond… Paul and SPLAB are most responsible.

– Michael McClure

Danika Dinsmore had a cardboard box over her head. There was a hole for her face, and her eyes peered out of the makeshift oven. It was the Dead Poets Slam, where players in the PNW poetry scene descended on Auburn dressed as cadaverous bards. My dad explained to me that Danika was dressed as Sylvia Plath, who decades before I was born had killed herself by sticking her head in an oven. I found Danika’s macabre wit hilarious, or maybe I laughed to get a reaction out of the Seattle poets who still found it off-putting to drive down I-5 to Auburn for a cultural experience.

My dad was always explaining things like that to me, things that most Auburn parents would brush off as not suitable to discuss with an eight-year-old, or, more likely, not know how to parse themselves. At SPLAB, those questions came to a head.

Questions like “Can you help me with my homework?” came often enough, too. We lived in SPLAB, after all, for a while here and there. I’d sift through a deck of Medicine Cards, picking my spirit animal, while my dad worked on what seemed like never-ending grant proposals. I learned how to use the Internet on our prized DSL connection, typing up reports on manatees and the State of Israel for my third-grade class, while Diane DiPrima, Wanda Coleman, Michael McClure, Eileen Myles, Anne Waldman, Andrew Schelling and others paid visits to SPLAB – and even, in Waldman and Schelling’s case, my family’s Seder table. Two days after 9/11, at the Thursday night 19th Draft, Living Room’s forerunner, a subdued group of writers and friends shared their elegies, already mythologizing the day.

SPLAB was a given, one of those things I didn’t give much thought to, even as new friends sputtered incredulously, “Your dad’s a poet?”

“If you had been going to slams since you were five,” I coolly remarked one day to my college peers, “you’d be over them, too.”

But it was always a presence in my life, encouraging me to pursue my own writing after being surrounded by it, living it, ever since I could remember. I ate there, slept there, learned how to tie my shoes there. All the while, I soaked in the idea of working for something you believed in – even if it didn’t make much money, or other people didn’t care as much as you did, or a curfew kept high schoolers from coming to the Teen Slam. Despite the obstacles, it was worth it to keep going. Twenty years on, nearly my entire life, SPLAB has affected my fate – and so many others – immeasurably. Happy anniversary, and love from DC.

– Rebecca Rose Nelson