Wakefield & Wordstock


Meeting your idols, your favorites, your cherished few, can be a mistake. Or everything you could have hoped for. Fantasy and reality play a sharp contrast here, and what you daydreamed versus what you get may sour or sweeten your feelings toward anyone you adore. A favorite song suddenly hits the wrong note, a treasured line from a poem or novel reads flat and remains on the page, when this meeting goes wrong. Or maybe their words or art matter more to you with a person firmly behind the magic.

When I met poet Buddy Wakefield, his persona took me by surprise. I was lucky enough to meet him at Wordstock, Oregon’s book convention, two years ago. After listening to him and the Write Bloody Publisher Derrick Brown have a hilarious panel discussion, I located his booth amongst all the other vendors, and nervously approached to ask for a picture and an autograph. To my amazement, what I got from him were a few jokes, a free poster, some kind words, an autograph for my copy of his book Gentleman Practice (that I’ve decided to be my future epitaph: “Phillip, the King of hang gliders”) and a big bear hug. What must have only been two minutes felt like ten, in the best way possible. I’m not including the picture because… well vanity, and I look terrible while Wakefield looks giddy and in his element. Like a ringleader performing before a packed house. He was ready to share his world with an audience.

Wakefield has had an eclectic career, to say the least, according to his homepage bio. After quitting his job, he began touring non-stop for two years with his poetry in tow. He has also been “a busker in Amsterdam, a lumberjack in Norway, a street vendor in Spain, a team leader in Singapore, a re-delivery boy, a candy maker, a street sweeper, a bartender, a maid, a construction worker, a bull rider, an incredibly slow triathlete and a facilitator at Quantum Learning Network.” As far as his poetry career, in 2004 and 2005 Wakefield won the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship. He blends his work with performance pieces, has written several books, and done some songwriting. Basically, he does it all. And after meeting him, he does it all with a distinct sense of humor.

Wordstock is an annual book fair in Portland, Oregon, and after a brief hiatus in 2014, it came back in 2015 as a program of Literary Arts with over 8,000 attendees. It’s also where I met fellow curator Jenny M. Chu for the first time 3 years ago. And it’s where this year, BACKWORDS Press hosted a table of our own to sell, smile, and meet writers, readers, and literature consumers from all over Oregon and the country. Good things happen to me at Wordstock, I’ve decided, whether I’m aware of it at the time or not.

I am reminded of a quote from Wakefield’s book Gentleman Practice, where he writes:

There are massive stacks of bad choices in my backyard.

Haven't finished cleaning the place up

but I'm workin' on it

and clearly I have not yet reached enlightenment

for more than a fleeting moment

but I'm tryin'

and I found somethin' here I want ya to have.

It's not much

just a story

but it's all I've got

so take it.

The evening after meeting Wakefield, I went to the