In honor of National Poetry Month, The Clatskanie Arts Commission and Clatskanie Library will revive the famed Clatskanie festival that attracts fans and biographers from across the globe.
The Raymond Carver Writing Festival returns to the Clatskanie Cultural Center at 75 Nehalem Street on Friday, May 20, and Saturday, May 21.
The two-day event is sponsored by the CC Cultural Coalition and the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Each year starting in 2007, the Clatskanie Arts Commission and Clatskanie Library hosted the Raymond Carver Writing Festival in honor of the short-story writer and poet, known as one of the “most important contributors to American literature,” famousauthors.org writes.
Clatskanie Arts Commission organizer Elsa Wooley said the event was formed by Friends of the Clatskanie Library and discontinued in 2012 after the volunteer group disbanded.
“I think it just kind of ran its course,” she said.
Wooley said a conversation with Clatskanie mural artist Jeremy Furnish inspired the arts commission to bring back the festival.
“Furnish approached us and asked if (we) would be willing to take on the continuation of the mural project, which we were very interested in doing. So we were working with him, and the next mural of course is the Raymond Carver mural,” Wooley said.
Calling it “the perfect marriage of two activities,” she added, “We became very interested in Raymond Carver and figuring out ways that we could educate our community about who Raymond Carver is, and why our community should be very proud of him.”
Event organizers agreed Tuesday, April 5, to discuss plans and preparations for the poetry contest and activities for the upcoming event.
Clatskanie Library Director Maryanne Hirning said she’s already begun informing library patrons about the Raymond Carver Writing Festival.
“What I have mostly done is created a lot of the platform on our website, the library website,” she said. “A lot of the information regarding it, I embedded over that gorgeous presentation and uploaded it to Vimeo and made it available on our website, as well as created a little RSVP document that we’re hoping will give us a clue about how many people are going to be involved.”
The Friday reception from 6 pm until 8 pm will be followed by an informative presentation from Clatskanie Historical Society’s Deborah Hazen and remarks from Peninsula College professor and Raymond Carver podcaster Michael Mills.
On day two of the event, Mills will give an overview of Raymond Carver, followed up by a presentation from poet Elaine Nussbaum.
Lyricist Dr. Margaret Trenchard-Smith and composer Kevin Bryant Lay will also share the spotlight at this event.
See the Clatskanie Library District website for the full schedule of events.
The library is also holding a poetry contest for youth ages 8 to 18 within the Clatskanie School District. The last call for submissions is 5 pm, April 30, and judges will grade the poems based on specific criteria, including poetic elements, grammar, attention to theme, and creativity.
As far as timing goes, Hirning said, “I think it’s such a great time with it being Poetry Month. If you’re a homeschooling family or if you’re in the school district itself, it’s a great way to have that hands-on ability to create as you’re learning about different types of poetry.”
Judges will announce the winners of the poetry contest at 4:30 pm Saturday, May 21 at the Birkenfeld Theatre, where each winner will have the opportunity to read their poem on stage.
There will be two winners selected from four different age groups. A $50 prize will be awarded for first place and a $25 prize will be awarded for second place.
Poetry contest submissions may either be sent through email, dropped off, or mailed. See the Clatskanie Library District website for detailed information.
Raymond Carver was born in Clatskanie and relocated to Yakima, Washington, where he spent his childhood. He studied at Chico State University in Chico, California, with John Gardner and earned his BA at Humboldt State College in 1963.
Some of Carver’s critically acclaimed short story collections include Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), and Cathedral (1983).
Carver’s stories reflect his understanding of the lower-middle-class reality, according to The Poetry Foundation website.
“[Their surroundings are] not for them a still unspoiled scenic wonderland, but a place where making a living is as hard, and the texture of life as drab, for those without money, as anywhere else,” literary critic Thomas J. Edwards wrote in his analysis of Carver’s writings.
Though Carver passed away from lung cancer in 1988, his memory lives on in Clatskanie.
One of the most visible examples is the Clatskanie mural painted along the former hospital building on Nehalem Street. The mural was started in April 2021 by Furnish, who issued a call to artists/request for design proposals for his project.
The winning submission, created by Seaside resident Dylan Eckland, depicts a larger-than-life Carver alongside Beaver Falls and a quote from Carver’s poem, “Where Water Comes Together with Other Water.”
The quote reads, “I’ll take all the time I please this afternoon before leaving my place alongside this river.”
Another visual Carver sighting is a sculpture, located at the Clatskanie Library Park, that pays homage to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, commissioned by Friends of the Clatskanie Library.
While Carver’s birthplace attracts visitors from all over the world, bringing valuable tourism to Clatskanie, Wooley identified what she believes is a more powerful driving force behind the writing festival.
“Raymond Carver, in all of his bios, comments, and interviews, always said he was born in Clatskanie, Oregon. He was proud of that, even though he didn’t live here for a very long period,” Wooley said.
“He always recognized that this was where he was born,” she added. “So I think that he deserves that recognition from us.”