In this episode, Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate, talks about the informal performances called Poems at Sunset Out a Window that he has presented from the window of his studio in Southeast Portland—and also about community and art and politics, and how those things go together.
Photo by Keiren Bond
Anis Mojgani is the current Poet Laureate of Oregon. He is a two-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam and has performed at hundreds of universities across the United States; festivals around the globe such as the Sydney Writers Festival, Jamaica’s Calabash festival, and Seoul’s Young Writers Festival; and for audiences as varied as the United Nations and the House of Blues.
Mojgani is the author of five books of poetry, most recently The Tigers, They Let Me (Write Bloody, 2023). He also wrote the libretto for the opera Sanctuaries (Third Angle Music, 2021), which revolves around the gentrification and displacement of North Portland and the African Diaspora, and the forthcoming children’s book Lifespans of a Rock (Neal Porter Books / Holiday House, 2024). His work has appeared in the pages of the New York Times, Rattle, Platypus, Winter Tangerine, Forklift Ohio, Bat City Review, and Oregon Humanities. Originally from New Orleans, he now lives in Portland.
Anis announces Poems at Sunset Out a Window on Instagram a few days before each event.
Midway through the episode, Adam and Anis discuss “Gate A-4” by Naomi Shihab Nye.
The cover photo for this episode is by Ellie Esterowitz.
Anis Mojgani: Good evening, everybody! How are you? Good, good, good. Thanks for joining this evening.
(Acoustic guitar plays faintly.)
Adam Davis: there's a block-long stretch of a street in Portland—Southeast Yamhill, between 34th and 35th—where, some evenings, over the summer, a crowd gathers. People wander up in twos and threes, or alone, or in groups, and they unfold chairs or blankets on the sidewalk, or the street itself, or in the grass on either side of the fence that lines the lumpy field just to the south. They sit down and face north, toward an unremarkable building in the middle of the street. And in the middle of that unremarkable building's unremarkable external wall, about twelve feet up from the ground, there's a window. It is, predictably, an unremarkable window: two rectangular panes, large but not huge, not new, and not old enough to be charming. And one of the windows is slid over, behind the other one.
This is where the remarkable starts. Because leaning out of that opening, with a ball cap tilted on his head, and a wry smile on his face, is a man named Anis Mojgani. Anis is currently Oregon's Poet Laureate, which sounds pretty fancy and official. And in some ways it is, since the Poet Laureate is appointed by the governor and the role itself is enshrined in statute. But there is nothing fancy or official about what Anis is doing, leaning out of that nondescript window every couple of weeks over the summer as the sun sets and the air stills and a crowd of people go silent.
What Anis is doing, without any organizational backing or electronic amplification, is sharing poems and banter and silence and laughter with the people who gather. He puts the word out on Instagram and word of mouth and whatever else, and somehow the word does get out and a couple hundred people show up, or a few hundred, and their combined presence creates that unmistakable burble that belongs only to an anticipatory crowd awaiting something they can't yet fully know.
And then, when Anis leans out the window, that burble stops, and people look north, toward Anis, and his voice, and his words, and the hour or so that follows. It all feels-- I'm comfortable saying, since I've been part of that crowd a few times-- it all feels a little like magic, or enchantment, and it feels a little bit like Portland, or any city, as it ought, sometimes, to be.
For this episode of The Detour, we wanted to talk with Anis about how he sees what he's doing at the window, and what he sees when he sees the people who gather. We also wanted to hear from some of those people, as well as some of the poems that Anis has shared.
Some of these recordings come from inside and outside that window. And much of this conversation came from a day in August when Anis joined us in the XRAY studio in North Portland: a basement room, no open windows to be found. But still, somehow, it all felt-- well, pull up a chair, or take a slow walk, and maybe give it a listen, and see how it feels to you, and maybe let us know how it feels, or show up sometime at that window on Southeast Yamhill, or open a window in your town, and put the word out, and see, as the sun sets and some people gather, what happens?
Hey, this is Adam Davis in XRAY Studios with Anis Mojgani, and, Anis, I hope we're going to talk about things like poetry and windows, but I wanted to ask if you could say, like, when you're at dinner with someone you don't know, and they say, "What do you do?" What do you say to them?
Anis Mojgani: I tell them, these days I usually say I'm a poet and an artist.
Adam Davis: And then do they, how do they react to that?
Anis Mojgani: It depends. You know, like, the example that first pops into my head, cause it was so, it was just fun. I mean, usually I think most folks are very, I think, one of two things: it just sort of like doesn't register or folks become like, like kind of confused in a really good way.
Like, it's like a curiousness that's connected to the confusion of-- you know, all of us have the usual banter that we have and we hear what people say, but it also just sort of goes in and collects on the floor of our interior space. And so when something is kind of like, "Oh, Oh, wait, Oh, what"? You know? There's that seemingly happening. And when that happens, it's sort of like a follow up question of some sort.
We were in France last summer, had gone for this wedding, and there's this guy who would ask, "Oh, what do you do?" and he's-- a lot of folks at the wedding were far younger than I. And He, if memory serves, is a lawyer. And so he was like, "Oh, what do you do?" And I said, "Poet." And his eyes got really big and like any type of whatever shell that may have been around him suddenly went away, and he was like, "Oh, that's awesome."
Not that I like use it as litmus test to test folks, but it's an interesting opportunity at times where things sometimes become revealed about a person. You know, whether it is something that they get excited about or whether it's not. I remember doing my first art residency years ago, and there was a cocktail hour at the start. And one of the folks who had started this residency, had originally owned the property or whatever, was asking what I do. And I said "I'm a poet," and said, "Oh, you know, but what else do you do?" Like, you can't possibly make a living off of that. And I was like, "Oh, well, I do." And immediately he just stopped talking to me and turned to someone else and started talking. As if I'd embarrassed him or something. I don't know. It's very interesting that someone who is very, very connected to the art world was very, very dismissive at the possibility of someone making a living off of their craft and someone that is like on the far side of the spectrum of poetry, practicing law, was very, very intrigued and excited about that.
Adam Davis: The kind of poetry and the ways that you put poetry in the world often exceed the bookstore world. Shows up in lots of places. You show up in lots of places with lots of people and your poetry shows up in ways that I think people don't expect poetry to show up. I guess I want to ask about that in a general way, maybe by anchoring it with the specific, which is in our neighborhood in Southeast Portland. Every few weeks, seems like, you do this thing that you're calling Poetry Out the Window.
Anis Mojgani: Poems at Sunset Out a Window.
Adam Davis: Poems at Sunset.
Anis Mojgani: Yeah. Out a window.
Adam Davis: Out a window. I'm going to be the un— I'm going to be the wrong person at dinner. What the hell is that?
Anis Mojgani: I mean, it's, it's literally that . I read poems at sunset, out of the window of my art studio. And so, yeah, it happens kind of whenever I feel like doing it, which usually is like every two, three weeks. And what it is is me being in this window that's, like, it's a first floor window, but the first floor is some, a little bit higher, so it's like about like six, seven, eight feet off the ground. And I read out of the window to whoever gathers there that dusk and yeah.
Adam Davis: You said whenever I feel like it. Why do you feel, what is it that makes you feel like this is a time to do this?
Anis Mojgani: It's a mix. It's like, definitely there's an aspect that's a little bit outside of me. In that, here's this thing that I've started doing, and I have a relationship to it, and it has a relationship to other people, and so there's an aspect of like, oh well, if there's a thing that I'm making, that part of what it is, is for other people. I want to maintain that. You know? And so it's a thing that, Oh, I haven't done one in X amount of time, or I'd like to be doing one at least once this month. So, like, where in my calendar can I fit this in? Where can I fit this in to make sure that it happens? And so there's like this aspect of like, Yo, you haven't done one in a bit. You got to do one of these. But there's also an aspect of like me wanting to feel that I want to do it. One of the aspects of why it began was because I had been feeling for a while, probably before the pandemic, a thing missing in my life that was given to my life from when I had an ongoing relationship with my local community through my poetry.
I think that when artists have a relationship to things, to spaces where they perhaps can be rougher around the edges can engage with work that is made with more abandonment, not refinement, experimental, whatever it is, like, I want to be able to go try this out. Particularly if one has a relationship with an audience that is a larger one where it's like, oh, I'm a professional working blank creative field, and so like the things that I make have to have x amount of polish because I'm arriving a product to somebody. And so you start losing, I think, the space to be able to be like, "Oh, there's also this thing that I love doing and I just don't get to do it except when I'm doing it under the professional umbrella." Wanting to allow myself to have a space where I could potentially push myself to engage with something when I wanted to engage with it.
Adam Davis: Yeah, it's funny you said professional umbrella, because I do think, I've been to a few of these and there is something about the feel of it. It's not institutionally affiliated. It's not organizational. It's not professional, and I say that in like the best way that, you know, like the distinction between a professional athlete and an amateur is that the amateur is doing it because they love it.
Anis Mojgani: (Reading “In Summer”)
I was loved.
And the hours
they were empty
with golden light.
I was loved
and the hours when
again even when
they were empty
with golden light
And again I was loved
and in summer.
filled with empty
With golden light
I loved and am
loved and am
loved and again
and again I
and again again.
Adam Davis: That was Anis with his poem "In Summer."
There's like this kind of delight around the fact of this happening.
Anis Mojgani: Yeah.
Adam Davis: And it's palpable. And it's palpable even in the way, like, suddenly this street, which is not officially closed, fills up with people just sitting in the street. And then when cars start to come down, you can almost see the car's body language, where they're like, Oh wait, there's something special happening here. And then they quietly turn around and leave. I mean, do you feel that kind of thing?
Anis Mojgani: Definitely. It's a mix of different feelings. It's sometimes hard, when one is making something that is really connecting with folks, to know how to speak to how it's connecting to folks. It's like being fearful of the ego perking up in the other room, like, "Wait, what's that? There's something that we did that's radically impacting folks' lives? Tell us more!" You know? That's kind of like a weird thing, while also I think the aspect of, particularly when it's something like this is that is centered on how to give something to somebody, remain the giver of it while also disappearing, while also being the person that it's being given to. There is a palpable-ness, you know, there is a sweetness, a loveness.
It's really kind of miraculous to me to go to New York, as I did this past spring, and my friend John be like, "Yo, man. I love this window." It's bananas to me. I love it so much. And to then again have my friend Hanif say like, "Yo, this window is just like tripping me out. I don't know what other poet laureates are doing, but I'm over here in Ohio, I'm like, catching these winds and waves of this thing that you're doing with this window." And it's really like, bananas to me. My friend Adam, here in town, being like, "You know, there's something, there is a cultural thing that is happening with this window," and that feels wonderful.
And I want to give the space inside of myself to that while also not wanting to give the space to that, you know? And so it's , I don't know, a kind of like strange at times dance of how to recognize what this thing is doing in a way that feels good inside of me.
Adam Davis: I'm curious if you've run into the Naomi Shihab Nye poem "Gate A–4."
Anis Mojgani: Is that the one where everybody's at the airport terminal?
Adam Davis: Yeah.
Anis Mojgani: Yep, yep.
Adam Davis: So, the reason I thought of it while you were talking is because... So, and maybe we'll read it, you know, at some point for this, but the narrator's going to get her flight, and then she hears this announcement that if anyone speaks Arabic, could you please go to Gate A–4? And she pauses.
Anis Mojgani: Yeah.
Adam Davis: These days she pauses, and then she goes and there's an older woman, dressed like her grandmother, who's sort of collapsing, and the people behind the counter don't know what to do and they want help. And then everybody at the gate's resistant to getting involved. But then somehow it's transfigured by the narrator's connecting with the woman, and suddenly like they're breaking out ma’amoul cookies and everybody's covered in magic dust, and it's a party.
And I kind of love that poem, and I also kind of think, why does it depend on the crisis to build this beautiful community? And so I think the reason I thought of it while you were talking is because the window, somehow, is the thing-- your being at the window and putting the word out-- that creates community without the snowstorm or the flood.
Are you deliberately in your head going, I want to create some community?
Anis Mojgani: It's a mix of stuff that, with regards to it's birthing, is rooted in both the thing that I mentioned before about me wanting to find the opportunity to share work, try out work, explore new things at home. There's that part of it. And there's also the part that's the always ongoing part of my craft of this sort that is connected to, what does it mean to take something that I've shaped and put it in a space with other people and have all of us build something together? That's the continuing, ongoing exploration of that.
And then also that, post-2020, what were the ways that we could conceivably come together? Wanting to figure that out both for the actual reason of figuring out like, you know, this is something that like we are lacking. And how do we do this? But also , part of the thing that I love about making art is trying to figure out new ways of filling the blank, you know?
And in this case, it's like, all right, well, if we live in a world where we no longer can all gather into a theatrical space and share in this thing, what are the ways in which this could happen. Legitimately trying to figure that out, because, like, here's this thing that's very centered in the human experience that we have been denied, you know, for this time.
So all those elements of like why I put it together. At the birthing of it, there's a thing of over the last year and a half that have like continuously revealed, like, well, what is this thing that is ever changing? And I think that there's a big part of like, I have voiced from the window before about how our city is at a very strange place right now where there are individuals and institutions that have sought to seek, using the place that we're in with regards to being inside of this global pandemic, as an opportunity to shape the city in the way that they desire a city to be.
And you know, there's lots of different ways in which a city can be. There's lots of different opinions about that. What is the right one? What is the wrong one? I don't know, but I know that for me, there's lots of ways in which this city has wrestled with its shaping over the years that I've been here, that city leaders right now feel very much even more so committed to pushing in this direction that I don't think is sustainable, beneficial, and very self-serving with regards to a very small part of the population.
So there are people that are like actively seeking to take ownership of the city and make the city that they think is like, Oh, well, a successful city is one that is filled with beautiful things for beautiful people who have lots of money. And it's like that is a successful city provided that those beautiful things are things that everybody can have access to, and really great if everybody in the city who has access to them definitely has the means and the resources to do such, but that's not reality. Reality is that there will always be a wide range of financial demographics. And for me, a successful city is one that embraces that and welcomes that and serves all those different demographics.
So the window, for me, there's also an aspect where this is my opportunity for me to say, The city that I want to live in is a city where a thing like this can happen. And so, ideally, that also then means that, if you witness this, perhaps that also then means that it might reconnect you or illuminate to you what is the city that you want to live in, and what are the ways that you can aid in manifesting that.
And so, to me, that's very much connected to community. And I love that, I get to come to this space, on this street, and a hundred, two hundred, three hundred people will trickle in, and like you said, like, keep cars from going down it, and that I get to see new people, I get to see returning people, that the day after when being tagged in stories on Instagram, that I see different folks, that either I know personally, or faces of strangers that are familiar. It's a really beautiful thing to be able to have familiar strangers around oneself, like in all walks of life, you know, like when we walk. You know, we live in the same neighborhood, and so it's like, it feels great when we run into each other and it also feels great when one like sees people whose name you don't know, but you're like, we live in the same space, we go get coffee at the same . That's a really beautiful thing, I find.
Adam Davis: Assistant producers Karina Briski and Ben Waterhouse chatted with some people in the crowd to see what brought them to hear Anis and friends at the window.
Karina Briski: Would you tell us your name?
Megan: Yeah, my name is Megan.
Karina Briski: Megan, what brought you out tonight?
Megan: I've kind of been following Anis's poetry career for a while. I first kind of learned of him through the To Write Love on Her Arms organization. And he did the Heavy and Light tour with some of his spoken word poetry. And when I was doing my undergrad with creative writing and poetry, he was somebody that I really looked up to and tried to model after in some ways. When I moved out here, I didn't realize that he had lived here too and found out he was the Oregon Poet Laureate and was doing this. I heard through the social media. So, I don't know, just kind of everything I've loved about him and his raw, vulnerable, just whole lot of heart.
Karina Briski: What are some things that you feel like you get out of it or feelings that you have when you leave?
Megan: I'm just inspired a lot of times just for connection, for the craft of poetry itself, and I'm always just left with some sort of contemplation about life or the relationships you have through his poems and what binds us all together.
Karina Briski: Well, thank you very much for talking with us. Thank you, Megan.
Would you mind telling us your name?
Gabby West: My name is Gabby West.
Karina Briski: And is this your first time coming to this event?
Gabby West: No, it's, I think we just established, my third time coming, yeah.
Karina Briski: What brings you to this event over three times?
Gabby West: A general love of poetry, and I'm a fan of Anis's work. I actually first heard his work when I was in high school, and a friend sent me this event, and I was so shocked that it was the same poet, but I keep coming back because it's just our really beautiful time with super cool people. And, yeah, what's not to love about poetry at sunset?
Karina Briski: How does it feel to be like in a group of people in a public space like in 2023 experiencing poetry?
Gabby West: Yeah, I love it. I think it's extremely vital. I love that it is outside that makes everyone feel safe. Also, just getting to block off a public street and making it feel like it's ours. Yeah, it just brings me closer to not being in my bubble of like, Oh, I hate humans. And that makes me feel like, Oh, wait, I guess I like these things that I also am.
Anis Mojgani: (Reading "The Tigers, They Let Me")
they let me
they were so soft
out the front door
with their softness
with my arm
like a puppy
holding but a plush whale
in their mouth
it's not that it didn't hurt
but there was no blood
and another arm arrived
from out of my body
like a daffodil
out of the winter
i have one arm
at the same time
i have two arms
at the same time
i have many arms
all the arms
that have been taken or lost or given
i have them too
under the earth of me
being but a memory
are able to touch
what isn't there
but there still the same
able to lift what is invisible
and ther are a lot of tigers
in the world
to be touched
a lot of tigers
whether flush with rich fur
or belly waxing and backs bowed meeting
in the middle broken-
toothed and belly
as a waning
lots of tigers
of petals jugs
of burnt clay clouds moving
over pastures and songs
made rich by the throats
loving them into loudness
made rich from the earth
up to the elbows planted
and pulled into
the third month's end
it takes a lot of arms
a lot of arms
to touch us all
i am a tiger too
Adam Davis: That was Anis' poem "The Tigers, They Let Me."
it's really interesting that you, in starting to talk about-- I think you've talked about beauty and beautiful things a lot, and about community and craft and the way those two go together, but I think that last thing you were saying about the possibility of a city, in a funny way is political. And it's great that you so explicitly drew out the connection between like a beautiful gift or a beautiful offering and the politics and the possibility of a city. And I just want to say as someone who's been to a few, I think that's the experience for everyone that's there, I think it does compel us to envision what a city might be.
That makes me think again about "Gate A-4," that actually, that there is, in your head even, that there's a deliberate attempt to make the community-- in this case a large extended community, full not just of people we recognize but people we don't-- to make it more than it is and to make it in ways that maybe it hasn't yet made itself.
Anis Mojgani: Definitely. So of course those things are political. Like I was raised in a, a Baha'i household. And one of the things that Baha'is believe in is not engaging with bipartisan politics. And I think when I was younger, that was a thing that sort of became basically like, Oh, Baha'is just didn't engage in politics.
And I think that that's something that's not just a Baha'i mentality. I think that's a person mentality of like, what is politics? What is political? And so thus, what is appropriate to talk about with whatever? And the reality is that I don't care much about politics. To me, politics is like, jackass high schoolers that were obsessed with either like the Republican party or the Democrat party that just wanted to argue about things that they weren't actually a part of. By that same token that which is political, doesn't have to be something that's not beautiful, either, I think
I haven't really thought about that before until you bring this up about what is the relationship between that which is beautiful and that which is political. if it's political to seek to deliver to oneself and to others hope and autonomy and empowerment, well then, yeah, that's a beautiful thing, particularly like in a world where it's so much easier to keep people where they are if they do not have a relationship to beautiful things in the world, you know? And people who do have a relationship with beautiful things, like actual beauty, not like, ooh, you know, like, look at this lovely thing that I wear to show to you that I have this beautiful thing, but in actual relationship to beautiful things, there's a joy and a goodness that arrives to us when we have those relationships.
Adam Davis: That guy at that residency that you were at, who asked what you did and then walked away. What a missed opportunity, because I think that's part of the problem, the part of something like poetry or art ends up getting compartmentalized. Oh, that's at the residency. That's where that happens. Or maybe it gets put in a book and that's where that thing happens. And I think what you have been saying, and even more than that, what you've been showing is, no, it's what we do when we wake up in the morning, and it's how we shape the world we live in. What do I do for work? Well, with other people, I make this place more of what it might be.
Anis Mojgani: It's funny that you bring up Naomi Shihab Nye, because I think a lot of my reign as Poet Laureate-- reign with a soft fist-- has been very much centered on me asking myself like the questions of like, what does it mean to find poems? To see poems. To introduce to other folks the possibility, the idea, the truth that all of us are surrounded by poems, and they happen whether or not we make a poem out of them. Even if we bear witness to them, we don't have to necessarily make a poem out of them.
A lot of that idea I think is very much like what Naomi has, has put forth about that we are surrounded by poems. How can we not be? We think in poems. And I think that there's this aspect where, a hundred percent, that I want us to be in a space where we're bearing witness to all the ways in which there's constant poetry around us. And again it doesn't mean that the end goal needs to be, I experienced this thing. I have to write it down. It can be simply enough to bear witness to a beautiful thing in the world, to bear witness to a painful thing in the world, to bear witness to a joyful thing, a sorrowful thing, a funny thing, a curious thing, a strange thing, but simply bearing witness. Because bearing witness means that we are engaging with the world around us, that we're not simply moving from point A to point B to point C, back to point A, back to point A, back to our beds, and repeat.
Whatever it is that seeks to recognize that poems exist in books. They also exist in books because the book is the impression of something else. The poem is an impression of something else. These have been collected so that we can like share them with folks. But to share them with folks, perhaps in order that they might be able to start bearing more greater witness to the poems that are constantly existing around us.
Adam Davis: Like a window. Like a window. Is a poem.
Anis Mojgani: One-hundred percent.
(Reading) My most beautiful wedding was on a hot day under the magnolia. And after birdseed was thrown into our laughing mouths....
So, my friend Derrick, my friend Derrick. He's also my publisher, like, he published this book. He's read from this window before. He is, I've said over the years that, if the aliens come down, which it seems that they perhaps already have according to this week, what a...
These are strange times, man.
But should they come down and require us to select a champion of ours, to represent for humanity in some unknown competition, my first and only vote is Derrick Clifford Brown. He, for my money, is the greatest poetry showman that I know, and as my friend Chris says, there's just something about living, about being a human, that Derrick has figured out. He does poetry shows largely just so he can have a dance party with as many people who want to dance as possible. He's just a really beautiful, powerfully living person.
Back when I got married, he officiated the wedding. Me and my then-not-yet-then-wife, we had gotten a piñata to place our rings inside of. And Derek was trying to launch this rope over an oak tree branch in the park down in New Orleans. And it wasn't happening. So he has reasonably long arms, and he's a reasonably tall person, so he just gingerly held the acorn-shaped piñata as far from his head as possible, and we took turns swinging at it. My betrothed knocked the rings out of the piñata. They were lost, they were found.
But at the end of the night, when we were exiting from the reception and the two of us were running down this driveway from my friend's backyard, courtyard of their home. We were running through it, and everyone was lobbing birdseed to land in the air and fall down on us. Except for Derek, who crouched down real low. And as we walked past, he had this look on his face that was the look of a demon. And he just laughed maniacally, and launched birdseed from below into our open mouths.
My most beautiful wedding was on a hot day under the magnolias
and after birdseed was thrown into our laughing mouths
sticking itself to the sweat on our limbs, we crossed Magazine St.
and in the warm water of the tub I lowered
my kiss between her knees. Darling
is the word she once used to name me home.
Some of everything was once hers but not everything ever was.
Everything of mine is min—
feeding pancakes to the birds off the Bleeker St. fire escape
the way the -30° night in Fairbanks froze my nose hairs
the moose I saw past the glacier my birthday breakfast
of ice cream and Oreos
the morning after turning thirteen the snow-colored constellations
of the clouds movig over Salvadore
as a nation dressed in white set flowers down
into the waves on New Year's Eve
against the sink top in a hotel bathroom in Augsburg
Sarah taking baths on Barbur by candlelight the fox
my sister and I saw
off Lake Michigan one Fourth of July
my sister telling me not to get too close as it looked sick
how it and I stared and I cannot recall
who disappeared first and now how by way of me
remembering the fox
the fox always comes back
how always the flock in the sky curves
like a sail
in the wind of my heart
Adam Davis: You're listening to The Detour with Anis Mojgani. That was his poem "Addresses."
You said that this started during the pandemic and as a response to the difficulty of gathering and the difficulty of sharing. The pandemic is not fully behind us, but we're operating like it's mostly behind us. What happens to this particular activity?
Anis Mojgani: It's a good question. We did it last year until sometime in October. And then randomly did one on the first day of the year. There was like ten people cause it was like 4:30 and I was like, "Hey, let's do a window." But so this " season" of the window began in March, I think it was, like it did last year. And Every single time it happens, I don't know who's going to show up. Somebody will show up. I just don't know how many. But out the gate this year, it's been full streets. I think like the second one we did, maybe it was the third one. It was so many people, that I asked if everyone would humor me and count out.
And 309 people counted out. And I remember the weekend after that one, I was just sort of like reflecting a lot. And I'm like, well, what does that mean? Of course I don't want to be one of those folks like, "Oh, now that something's popular, it's like, dead. I gotta go do something else."
But in a sense, that's one of the things that I think is out of the cultural fabric of the city that we live in, that is part of it. You know, there's often, I think, a mindset in our city of like, as soon as something becomes bigger, It's time to stop doing it and to do something else, you know, or what are the ways to keep it just exclusive?
So I didn't want to do that, but also at the same time, it becoming this larger thing put forth questions in my head, like, one, safety, you know, but also to this aspect of like, the larger something becomes, the more distance between whatever's at the outside of that shape to what is at the center of that shape. The distance between where it is now versus to where it started. Of course a thing is going to grow and change and develop. But as, you know, my friend Jen, right, he's like, "Hey, you do it till you don't want to do it anymore." There's that very true reality that like, I'll do this until I don't want to do it anymore. And how it might arrive there, I don't know.
How it exists right now within this kind of like weird spot of the pandemic where, as you mentioned, we are definitely not the world that we were in 2020. We're also not like-- like the reasons for the pandemic are still very much part of our life. And there's also a way in which we both engage with that and also ignore that, or have just made do with like, well, this is just how it is now.
What this looks like inside the pandemic, at this juncture feels like, one, I still want to be able to provide a thing that does make space for folks that perhaps are are more vulnerable, thus are not able to like participate with a number of activities that either other people can or other people choose to, and so there's that element, but I also want to continue pushing two things-- maybe, I mean, there's probably more, but like that come to my mind-- one, what, what does it mean to to do a show? What kind of shows, so to speak, exist in the world? And can they be different than what we've engaged? And not just shows, but what are the ways that we can create things that maybe are not so connected to a very direct transactional purpose? What things can be transacted and what things can exist without transaction of any sort?
Wanting to continue allowing that the space of the window, whether on a very conscious level in any participants or subconscious level of what that conversation is. But I think also for me on a more personal level, the other aspect is just like, there's things that I want to do at the window, from the window that I haven't. I don't feel like I have fully welcomed and embraced some of the reasons of why I wanted to do this, which is to explore new possibilities of work. And I share new work. I share untested, so to speak, work. But I also know that there's different types of things that I would like to push myself to do that I haven't yet done from the window, you know?
Adam Davis: You know, sometimes we'll ask people at the end of these, like, as you go back to the window, as you think about the window or about the possibility of the city, are you carrying a question around inside you?
Anis Mojgani: I'm curious as to what this can be. I love entertainment and I love being entertained. And I think that folks who come to the window are being entertained, but nor would I seek to describe the window experience as entertainment. The reason why entertainment often exists is that it's connected to ideas of what is escape, what is a balm mixed with enjoyment. I think that, yes, the window provides escape, it provides a balm and provides enjoyment. It also is seeking to have someone sit there and perhaps start asking their own questions about, what does it mean when I leave this window? What is being given to me? By all of us being here together, not like what's being given to me by Anis, you know, but what is being given to me by being collectively here. And is that a thing that I am able to bloom in some form or fashion, whether that is through a very individualized exploration of my own imagination, or whether that is something that is like connects me to what community is, to what a city is, what a city can be. I think that's the question that sits in my head: What are the ways in which the window is able to keep doing that, and perhaps find new ways to do it? Is it something that can exist separate of the window that I do it out of? If I can do it in a different city, if I can do it in a different space, if it cannot involve a window. What what is the form of it? What is the shape of it? What is the ongoing conversation of this thing?
Adam Davis: Well, I want to say thank you for the window. Thank you for the poetry. Thanks for the community and the possibility. This city, other cities, and for continuing to think about what it might become. I just want to say a huge thanks, and I think I'm saying it not just for myself for lots of people, lots of places and may your reign as Oregon poet laureate continued to exceed the bounds of the position in so many ways.
Anis Mojgani: Thank you so much, Adam. Before we go, maybe I will do a little poem. I do this poem a lot, and I do it a lot because I really love sharing this poem, and there's a number of reasons why. It's a poem that I wrote very specifically about a friend of mine who had posted this photograph of this lemon tree and , as I mentioned, there's certain poems I think that I do often out in the world, and this is one of them, this lemon tree poem, and it comes to mind because it is the thing that started as one thing, and which was just a poem in response to a lemon tree, and it's still that, but is also like grown over the years to, for me, be connected to different things, which also mirrors what is happening inside of the poem itself. And maybe it's something to sit with that thought, under these questions of art and community and cities, and what directions do they go into.
Oh lemon tree I grew from a seed.
How big you've gotten!
You were so little when you were a seed,
and now so big. And soon
you will carry such lovely
lemons, yellow and dimpled.
And when they grow too big for your thin branches
and they leave this kitchen of mine,
ask them not to forget it—this kitchen of ours.
It is my favorite room in the house.
And lemon tree
when you pick up
please do think of me.
I will think of you.
Here, when my tongue
is far too sweet,
and my hands are far too empty
I will think
of the quiet poem that was your shape.
please bring a scarf with you.
Wherever you end up it may be cold.
And if it isn't, perhaps
you will one day travel to a place where it is.
And I wish for you only warmth.
I wish for you
Adam Davis: Anis Mojgani is the tenth poet laureate of Oregon. He lives in Portland. The live music you heard in this episode was by Israel Nebecker of the band Blind Pilot. You can find links to both Anis and Israel's work in our show notes, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Gate A–4." If you liked this episode, please send this to three people you think might enjoy it. We'd be really grateful.
The Detour is produced by Keiren Bond. Dave Friedlander is our editor. Adam Davis is our host. Ben Waterhouse, Karina Briske, and Alexandra Powell Bugden are our assistant producers. Special thanks to Anis Mojgani, the window's musical guest, Israel Nebecker, and audience members Gabby, Blake, and Megan for talking with us outside the window.
We're going to say goodbye with a few poems by Anis. Thanks for listening to The Detour.
Anis Mojgani: (Reading “Sprig” and “Chalcedony” - transcript coming soon)
In the dark I followed
your birds. They brought me
here, to this spruce. See
the sprig of it, brought back you
that I am holding in
my hand? It is from your tree
—oh sprig of my heart
I have broken
off for you.
I saw your heart
when you thought
no one would
you saw my heart
when I thought
no one was looking.
I saw yours
smiling at that color
of turned yellow you love
when your heart thought
no on would
We are all walking home
on the backs of our ancestors.
"In here," he said,
pointing to his chest,
"You smell like spring."
Do you remember when
after we had been eating chicken and rice
and I said to you that I always love you
but today, right now,
I'm in love with you?
And you smiled sheepishly
and sweetly at the same time
and I said to you
that your face looked like an ocean agate, glowing.
Do you remember this?
Surely, my love you must. It was just last week.
And it was such a very sweet thing for me to ahve said to you.
And such a sweet way for you to have made me feel.
So sweet I had to write it down. Here.
For you. For me. For us both.
Adam Davis: That was, in order, "Sprig" and "Chalcedony" by Anis Mojgani. Thanks for listening to The Detour.