Any idiot can start a reading series—all you need is a venue and maybe a microphone. There are always people who are willing to talk at an audience, but any series that survives for two years, past the awkward birthing period and through the doldrums of repetition, is something to be praised. Here's something even more noteworthy: On Wednesday, December 19, Breadline—Seattle's most consistently innovative, entertaining, and surprising readings series—celebrates its second anniversary with poetry, music, and a "Bring Your Own Spread Extravaganza," featuring bread donated by Columbia City Bakery and the Essential Baking Company.
Breadline began soon after poets Greg Bem and Alex Bleecker moved to town from the East Coast. They joined forces with Jeremy Springsteed, who'd been involved with Seattle's activism and performance scenes for nearly a decade, to make something that didn't exist here. The intent from the beginning was to combine not only Seattle's diverse and often cliquish poetry performance scenes (slam poets, the people who orbited the Red Sky and Subtext readings series, MFA students at the UW), but different disciplines as well, in an all-ages dialogue about poetics. Past Breadlines have featured poets like Doug Nufer, Maged Zaher, and Sara Brickman; musical acts like Led to Sea and the Toy Boats; cartoonists and animators; visual artists; and even a molecular biologist. They're not haughty TED Talks, but they are relentlessly curious investigations—poets discuss optical illusions, DNA, and dance, and musicians allow themselves to reveal the nerdy literary sides that they'd never present in a typical concert.
Last week, the three founders agreed in an interview that their intent with Breadline was to make a community by promoting cross-disciplinary pollination. Sometimes Breadline is a friendly conversation, and sometimes it's not; Bleecker seems happy that there are some evenings when "disagreements" break out between the performers, shaping the presentations even as they're being presented.
Breadline launched in just the right place at just the right time: Vermillion was coming into its own as an exceptional multidisciplinary space, and Seattle's literary scene was metamorphosing into something young and vital. The performances continue to live online, too, at breadlinepoetry.com. "I record everything," Bem says. His documentations change the qualities of the readings—as long as poetry readings have existed, they've always been impermanent appendices to the text, but digital preservation is altering the way performers think about readings, making them both showier and more thoughtful.
After two years, Breadline has created a reputation for itself. Springsteed says when he invites poets to be featured performers, they bring "a sense of 'I'm going to do it bigger'" to their readings, a kind of "reaching for the next step" in their work. Bleecker says he'd like to feature dance in Breadline's next year; Bem would like more scientists. Nobody knows how or when Breadline's going to end—Bleecker insists Seattle's whole literary scene will end five minutes after Bem leaves town—but all three founders seem earnestly impressed by the quality and the duration of the conversation they've started.