Poetry festival at SOU honors Lawson Inada

Former Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Fusao Inada will perform Friday, April 15, during the kick-off of a two-day poetry event named in his honor at Southern Oregon University. The event, "Collaboration: Lawson Inada & Friends Poetry Festival 2011," begins with a reception at the Schneider Museum of Art at SOU.

"This is going to be quite something," said Inada. "It's a collaborative project. It's a showcase for SOU, for all the creative departments."

Although Inada is the headliner for the show, the two-day festival features several local and guest artists and includes activities ranging from a panel discussion on collaboration in the arts to a performance by the SOU Black Student Union Step Team.

Inada, an emeritus professor at SOU, where he began teaching in 1966, will perform as part of a words-and-music collaboration with two of his colleagues, SOU professors Terry Longshore and Todd Barton.

"I've done this before with Lawson ... about 10 years ago at the Schneider Museum," said Barton, resident composer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and adjunct faculty member with the SOU music department.

"These guys are real pros," said Inada. "They have a capacity to play in a very spontaneous way."

The trio is still fine-tuning their performance and working through the challenges of improvising music over words.

"I'll arrange it kind of on the spot," said Inada. "We're going to start with a tribute to Shakespeare, then we're going to do a Fresno piece, and then we're going to finish with a Tolman Creek Road piece, because we all have lived in Ashland."

"All the music will be improvised," said Longshore, director of percussion studies at SOU. "Ad-libbing is about talking, acting and listening. You try to know what you can add that will support and complement the text. I treat the text as inspiration."

"We kind of just try for a mood," said Inada. "Each piece will have a sort of mood. With Shakespeare, we're going to take off with the music of Shakespeare's time. For Fresno, we're going to take a more percussive approach — more edgy, jagged. And for Tolman Creek Road, I was more thinking melodious."

"It's all about listening," said Longshore. "I'm listening and responding to what I hear."

The festival will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at the Schneider Museum of Art and continue Saturday at Hannon Library.

"Everybody knows a lot of poetry," said Inada. "It might not be on the bestseller list, but there's tons of poetry around here. Poetry is in everybody's lives."

Nils Holst is a freelance writer in Ashland. Reach him at holstn@students.sou.edu.

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