When I hear "literary reading," I don't really expect a wild evening. I'm more likely to expect a hushed bar where two or three scarf-wearing 20-somethings deliver short poems before everyone departs to get drunk with their friends.
But the glee with which people describe the annual Cedilla journal launch indicates that this is no ordinaryor briefreading.
"It's a party," says poet and past editor Mark Gibbons. "Everybody reads their best shit and has a great time." He adds that past events have run until the Crystal Theatre's 11 p.m. closing time.
The legendary launch parties have greatly added to the reputation of an otherwise underground publication. Cedilla was founded in 2007 by Timothy Cook and Peter Clavin, then English literature grad students at the University of Montana. Over the years, a crew of volunteers affiliated with the Missoula community has published five issues of the quirky compilation of poetry and prose. (By the way, cedilla, as is explained in the upcoming sixth issue's introduction, is the name for the diacritical mark that softens hard 'c's, as in cachaça.)
Cook says the idea has been to create a communal grassroots journal with no advertising, though the UM English department has helped fund past issues. "Missoula has allowed me to explore literature I couldn't find elsewhere," he says, so a journal celebrating that culture seemed fitting.
The 2012 issue comes out this month, just a bit behind schedule. (Withhold your astonishment that a nonprofit literary endeavor from local creative types might be running late.) UM English professor Casey Charles called for submissions last April and edited Cedilla 6 around the loose theme of "taking a risk." The dozens of contributors, ranging from recent UM grads to published East Coast authors, sent in poems, creative nonfiction and short stories. Charles and other volunteers sat down with about 100 submissions and decided what to print, "not based so much on the theme as on what we liked," Charles says.
While the first poem, "Easter Sunday in Charlie's Bar," conjures a very Missoula scene, the rest of the collection takes the reader many places, from an Iranian street in 1963 to a memorial of real-life New York City drag legend Lee Brewster. Pieces vary wildly in style and tone, which is Charles' intention.
"We were looking for people to send stuff they wouldn't send anywhere else," Charles says.
In the days leading up to the launch, about 30 copies of Cedilla 6 had been printed and bound, and Charles and Cook were anxiously awaiting another 100 copies to come back from the binder. Cook, in particular, seems exhausted by the publishing process, and says he's faced some criticism. "You get accused of printing your friends," he says, but adds Cedilla editors receive more submissions than they can handle just in soliciting work from locals.
In a time when great writing and art appear on so many random corners of the web every day for free, why bother with all the stress of printing something?
Gibbons agrees that digital publishing takes less effort, and he actually posts most of his work on a blog, The Poetry of Mark Gibbons, where he can skip editorial oversight and anyone can read his work for free. "Poetry has never had money in it anyway," he says.
But, Gibbons says, there is something to be said for creating a physical object, and he believes there will always be people who want to hold a book.
"I think it's ambitious," he says of Cedilla. "It's making things. That's what human beings are supposed to do."
It sounds like a great reason to throw a party, too.
The Cedilla 6 release party and reading at the Crystal Theatre is Sat., March 9, at 7 PM, with several featured readers and live music. $5, plus $5 for bottomless Bayern keg cup. Issues of the journal will be available for $15.